Depth and Mystery

Any lasting cease-fire in these worship wars is not likely to emerge from a resolution of the so-called culture wars which feed them, or from large-scale conversions of taste, or from carefully buttressed historical arguments about ancient liturgical precedents. Finally, such a cease-fire can only issue from the depth and mystery of the gospel which Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrated how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), Page 304-305

Footnotes

I believe that we can move beyond these sterile disputes by putting our discussion of worship within our larger picture of heaven and earth, of God’s future and our present, and of the way in which those two pairs come together in Jesus and the Spirit. . . . This, I believe, sets the right framework for all our thinking about worship, and all discussion of the church’s sacramental life. The rest is footnotes, temperament, tradition, and—let’s face it—individual likes and dislikes (which is what I call them when they’re mine) and irrational prejudices (which is what I call them when they’re yours).

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 157

Get on with It!

As our culture changes, and as change itself becomes the most constant feature of our culture, we shouldn’t be surprised that many people find traditional forms puzzling and off-putting. I’ve met people in the last year or two who have stopped going to their local church because people have started singing new songs and dancing in the aisles. And I’ve met others who have started going for precisely the same reason. It’s time to give ourselves a shake—to recognize that different people need different kinds of help at different stages of their lives—and get on with it.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 167

Old and New

Some churches sing only old songs and some sing only new ones. Both are faulty. To fall to the first side is to fail to take advantage of the legacy of great Christian songwriting. To fall to the other side is to fail to add to the legacy of great Christian songwriting. We faithfully steward our music when we sing the best of the old and find the best of the new.

—Tim Challies, “Why Your Church Should Sing New Songs (Not Only Old Songs)”

Musical Idolatry

How perplexing to think of the burden we have placed on music, this fleeting human construct! . . . The church desperately needs an artistic reformation that accomplishes two things at once: first, it takes music out of the limelight and puts Christ and his Word back into prominence; and second, it strives creatively for a synthesis of new, old and crosscultural styles.

—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 75

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

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

Together

Music directors or song leaders need to have a pastoral approach to the whole church, exhibiting warmth and humility and being able to inspire confidence about singing together, learning new songs and enjoying the contributions of musicians and singers. The glory of the gospel is to unite peoples of every language and culture under the lordship of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22; 4:3-6,13; Rev. 7:9-17). So we should not be content with divisions created by different musical tastes and traditions. As we grow to maturity in Christ we should be looking for ways to express the unity that is God’s goal for us: in gospel action, in the exchange of ministries and gifts, in combined services and in the sharing of musical resources and experiences.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 143

Mutual Charity

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