Don’t Lose the Forest for the Trees!

It is wise for all of us who engage in constructive criticism of worship songs to learn to turn down our analytic mode, especially as we worship. Biologists who study butterflies in laboratories do well to step back from (or look through) their scientific precision as they enjoy a nature walk in a national park or read appreciative poetry about the beauty of butterflies. And those who engage with CWM do well to step back from (or look through) their analytical questions to enter, in a biblically childlike way, into the simple joy of God-centered worship.

—Robert Woods and Brian Walrath, eds., The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise & Worship, 187

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Beyond Style

It is fruitless to search for a single musical style, or even any blend of musical styles, that can assist all Christians with true worship. The followers of Jesus are a far too diverse group of people—which is exactly as it should be. We need, rather, to welcome any worship music that helps churches produce disciples of Jesus Christ.

—Michael S. Hamilton, “The Triumph of the Praise Songs,” Christianity Today 43:8 (7/12/99), 11

Church Music as a Means of Grace

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.

These highly general reflections will not, I fear, be of much practical use to any priest or organist in devising a working compromise for a particular church. The most they can hope to do is to suggest that the problem is never a merely musical one. Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.

—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” in Christian Reflections, 96-97

Bilingual Worship

Music is a type of language that worshipers used to communicate with God and one another. It helps us to sing the great themes of our faith as we tell the wondrous story of God in song. All believers share the language of music….

Musical style functions like a dialect within the language; it consists of the indigenous and natural musical idioms and expressions with which a particular subculture identifies…. Musical dialects (styles) are determined by who we are sociologically and spiritually. We discover them rather than choose them, for the most part….

Do we sing a dialect of our local context and contentedly sing that which is comfortable and familiar to us? Or should we enlarge our song base to reflect a sense of the whole family of God?…

Churches need to become bilingual in their worship voice. People who are bilingual have the vocabulary, the syntax, and the inflection to communicate in two languages effectively and can flow back and forth between the languages with ease in any given conversation. Both languages have become native tongues for them; they do not have to stop and analyze the grammar before speaking; they simply speak and listen. Musical style can be thought of as our first language—the language of origin, the language in which we feel most at home. At the same time, [we can learn] a second language—one that allows us to communicate beyond our familiar circles and our comfort zones, one that acknowledges the music of the whole family of God….

—Constance M Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 187-88