Acceptable Worship

Every complaint about worship music, no matter which style, claims to be rooted in theological principles.  Yet in every critique, the theology aligns perfectly with the critic’s own musical taste.  What may be more helpful instead is a pragmatic test based on a bit of wisdom from the Gospels:  “The tree is known by its fruit.”  If this is so, then worship music ought to be judged not by the songs themselves but by the people who sing them. Looking at the songs themselves is rather like looking at the bark of a tree and then pronouncing the tree good or bad.  Better to look at the fruit itself – the lives of the people who are singing the songs.  The job of the local church is to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, to draw people into a living relationship with God, and to remold disciples of Jesus into a Sermon-on-the-Mount shape.  Any worship music that aids a church in these tasks is almost certainly a conduit of the Holy Spirit.  In light of this, maybe it is time to substitute charity for condescension.

–Michael S. Hamilton, “The Triumph of the Praise Songs: How guitars beat out the organ in the worship wars,” Christianity Today 43.8 (12 July 1999)

We tend to think that it’s the sacrifice that makes the person acceptable; but actually it’s the person who makes the sacrifice acceptable.

–Daniel I. Block, on the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)


One thought on “Acceptable Worship

  1. One problem with this quote is that it takes all critique of the music itself (words and music, of course) off the table; a convenient thing for purveyors of poor church music.

    Another problem is that this perspective is entirely novel in the history of music in the church, and must therefore be suspect. In other words, the burden of proof should rest upon Mr. Hamilton to thoroughly prove his point in opposition to the overwhelming weight of nearly 2000 years of church history. Applying (misapplying?) one verse of scripture scarcely accomplishes that goal.

    A third problem is that the author does not consider worship music to be a fruit. I would argue that, far from being mere “bark on the tree,” the music we use in worship is the very fruit of our lips, hearts, and lives, and therefore is open to the same scrutiny as the lives of those who provide it. In fact, one could argue that it is the most visible and therefore the most easily examined fruit. A consecrated fountain does not put forth poisoned water (to paraphrase another passage of scripture).

    Finally, considering the title of his article (“How Guitars Beat Out the Organ in the Worship Wars”) it may be that Mr. Hamilton should take his final statement to heart and substitute a bit of charity for condescension, especially with being on the wrong side of history and all.

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