The Solution: Authenticity in Worship

In the last two posts, there has been analysis of both traditional and modern worship, showing both the positives and the negatives. This third and final post will aim to bring both of these together, discuss authenticity and finish off with showing a few examples of each styles.

Tunes

I think it can be agreed that tunes are vital in order for us to sing a song properly. They can stir the heart and they have an important role in bringing words to life. It’s easy to read the words of a song, but if you are not stirred within your heart to sing then the words are pointless.  We must also remember that instruments are just as important as words in worship.  Music was created by God and it must be given back to him in praise.  It is a way that musicians can also glorify God.  Both traditional and modern worship followers get fixated by tunes and both will inevitably deny this; but rather than thinking this is wrong, we should think about tunes and should give our attention to such issues.  What can be seen is that the church, old and new, has the same gospel and the same Saviour, just worships in a different style of music.

Style

I think the biggest issue dividing modern and old churches and worship is the ‘style’. Ideally, this should be irrelevant anyway.

There are the two extremes, one that believes we should only worship unaccompanied; whilst the other brings in lights, stages, electronic guitars and all the razzmatazz. To be honest, both styles can be used to praise God; it doesn’t matter so much about the style, as long as they do not distract or detract from the real purpose of our worship.  It’s about giving our all, with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might to worship our God. For many people worshiping unaccompanied or with an old organ makes worship difficult, and we must adjust to this, the same can be said that many find worshiping with all the modern paraphernalia  difficult and again we must adapt to this. We must be careful to not impose our own styles or tastes on anybody, we need to get back to basics, keeping our worship simple and God-honouring.

We can praise God wherever we are and with all different styles of music, because that’s what we were created for, he doesn’t work in one particular environment that was decided by man.  The real issue is that the style of music has divided God’s family, because we are sinners, perhaps it is time to talk to each other and worship in unity as we were meant to. There is a place for all kinds of worship. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to one particular form of worship. Unaccompanied straight-lace psalm-singing is really powerful, and so is modern worship with guitars and other instruments.

Words

I think it can be safe to say that most Christians, whatever their views on worship, love words that praise and glorify God. In this vein, there is something to be said for all kinds of hymns and songs. Time-honoured psalms amaze us with their power. Old hymns are full of rich poetic truth. Newer hymns help us to live out our faith.  Newer songs and choruses give a direct and simple upwards praise to God. We think repetition is bad, but it helps us grasp a single truth or allows us to remember a particular aspect of God which can be big-ask when surrounded by the world (Psalm 136 is a prime example of powerful repetition).

Unfortunately we seem to have lost the awe and amazement of how great God is, which then stirs us to worship God. This awe and amazement that put Daniel flat on his face (Daniel 10), and set lowly shepherds about rejoicing (Luke 2:20). Words are limited in this respect, they only go so far, so let us seek deeper experiences of God and the Holy Spirit, ‘groans that cannot be expressed’ (Romans 8:26).

Words have been and are still valued by both modern and old churches and I think we all need to see this.

Authenticity

After all of this, worship to God is not in the tune, in the style, or the words, but it’s in the authentic heart.  If we are singing because of tradition, or because it sounds great, we are doing it wrong.  It should be about Glorifying God, it’s about our hearts celebrating God, and it’s about so much more than us as individuals.  Worship shouldn’t be sending us to sleep, and it shouldn’t be about putting a man or a band on a pedestal, but in fact, it should make us awake, and it should be about putting God on the pedestal.  Are our hearts authentic?  Are we really in love in Jesus?  Are we letting tradition rule us?  Are we too mesmerised by lights?  Are we really awake?

 

New and old examples

To finish off my series on worship, I would include a few great examples from old and new songs that show just how great each can be.

New songs

This is amazing grace

Bless the Lord O my Soul

At the cross

New Hymns

Streets of this city

Simple living

O Church Arise

Old hymns

Great is thy faithfulness

Come now fount of every blessing

O for a thousand tongues to sing

So in conclusion, worship from any style, new or old is great if it comes from the heart. It is gotten to a point of utter ridiculousness where we are divided because we all like different songs and music.  We need to draw close to each other to unity, as Christ prayed that we would be (John 17:20-23).  Music is great, let us use it properly and worship our Heavenly Father with authentic hearts!

 

‘Modern’ Worship: Du Jour, but is it Gospel Pure?

Be From the post on traditional worship, we can see that hymns are beneficial to the church. We now turn our focus towards modern or contemporary worship, choruses, bands, and artists.

We have already defined Godly worship; but before we begin, what is ‘modern worship’? Well it’s about bringing in new styles of music/instruments into the church.  It’s being creative in praise and worship to God.  It has a lot of positives, but at the same time it has its problems.  This post will address both the pros and cons, and examine possible solutions to certain problems.

The Blessings

Modern worship is powerful, and I say this as a witness to its power. The creative engaging power behind songs is great to see, people using their gifts to glorify God.  Congregations sing more.  Whether sung in a folk style, in an electronic style, or even in rock style, we are seeing people from all walks of life lifting up praise to Jesus and God, people from all different musical backgrounds coming together in Christ.  We see worship that allows response and stops us putting God into a singular box.

File:StuartTownendWK.jpg
Stuart Townend © gettymusic.com

Song-writers like Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, and the new hymn-writers such as Stuart Townend and the Getty’s have given us all a treasure trove of glorious songs which allow us to respond to God and live out our faith. The simplicity of the songs allow us to focus on a single aspect of God and to remember His might, His love, His power, that He is with us, that He does the impossible, the songs of today show a straightforward uplifting praise to God, something that is harder to see in the older hymns which in general focus more on doctrine (although there are exceptions).  At the same time we have the new hymns which focus on living out our faith; for example, not being greedy with money, giving to the poor, responding to the call etc.  Modern hymns can also focus on doctrine, but their focus has changed and I think there is a reason for this mainly that we as Christians really need to start doing more!  The modern hymn movement should really bridge the gap between old and new, but still there is resistance.  Why do we restrict ourselves so?  I understand some churches are not equipped or ready for modern songs in the church congregation, but modern hymns should face no problem, are we scared that they will challenge us, or are we just stubborn?  In regards in modern songs, if your find your congregation is not ready for such an inclusion there’s no wrong in using them at home, I do!

Modern worship can be criticised that it is just repetitive, that is simple, or that it’s all about the tune. I aim to disagree.  Repetitiveness is found in the bible, in the hymns, it’s everywhere, and it allows us to focus on those 5 or 6 words.  I love repeating words, as it allows me to lose myself in that truth.  We think that repeating words is for the weak Christian, I think we need to be very careful.  We should also never have the attitude that modern songs are simple, nothing about God is simple, and His love and His power should be celebrated.  Modern songs lift God up and focus on Him completely; again we should be very careful before we judge them.  Regarding tune, there is an issue within the modern church with the church and I will discuss this very shortly, but tunes are there to aid us in worship, it should stir our hearts, but along with words, and I think a lot of modern worship does this.

Modern worship also likes to use technology, projectors, lights etc.…There is nothing wrong with each of these if used correctly. Projectors to me are just a way of the church adapting to the constant flow of new hymns and songs, some of which will last for generations, others that will be forgotten like many of the Wesleyan hymns.

Modern worship needs to be embraced in the traditional church. Modern writers, tunes should not be neglected.  I encourage modern worship leaders to use the vast resources that they have access too, the hymns, the songs and the old hymns, because the best worship is one that isn’t limited.

The Problems

However, modern worship does have its problems, and I shall list them here and discuss them in separate paragraphs. These problems are, performing bands, emotionalism, and weak songs.

One of the biggest problems in modern churches is having bands, which get carried away by the performance side of things. We put our most attractive young men and women up front and put them on a pedestal (we could argue same with pastors mind you, people flocking to certain men and preachers) and the music becomes less about God, and more about entertainment.  I’m not saying this is true with every band, far from me to say such things, I know some amazing Godly worship leaders and bands, but it is an issue.  A way to solve this might be to put the band behind the congregation, taking the focus off them.  Some church meetings more resemble rock concerts and this is dangerous.  Remember worship is only a part of what church is about.  Church is about believers meeting together in fellowship, to sit under the word, to pray together and worship together.  We shouldn’t put the focus on just one side of things.  At the same time, a church that neglects worship in favour for just preaching is also in danger.  So to worship leaders, I advise you to ensure that worship is in balance with everything in the church.

Modern churches and worship can have the problem regarding emotionalism, that music is used to create an emotional state in people. Sadly there are places and churches where this is true and we should pray that those churches see some sense (we shouldn’t ignore these churches; they are still brothers and sisters).  Music is powerful, and therefore can be used wrongly; it can be used to create something that is not there.  We may feel happy because of the key the guitar or because of the awesome rift, but we don’t really look at the words.  This can be dangerous as we aren’t authentic in our hearts.  I am not saying that guitars are bad, I love them in churches and I think churches should encourage their use, but we have to do everything in wisdom.  Remember that God deserves worship, but that we should love to worship Him, and we don’t need music to do this, it should be in our hearts anyway.  Music is a helper; it is not the sole thing we should use to worship.

There is also an issue regarding words. Now the majority of modern worship does a great job with words, even if you somewhat cautious of modern songs, modern hymns are just so powerful and challenge the modern Christian.  Sit down and read them, you will be blown away, I assure you.  However sadly, there is a problem with modern worship and words in the minority.  Some are just the same lyrics to a different tune, others are just focusing on tune, and some you can hardly find Jesus in the song at all.  Stuart Townend addresses the issue here in his brilliant article.

He states

I have to confess that a significant minority of the new songs I come across each year on various websites, events and albums fail to do any of the above. They are little more than a re-ordering of stock phrases in circulation among existing songs, just married to a new tune. It feels to me like the energy and skill has gone into creating a dynamic, memorable melody, and the words are something of an afterthought, which sound ‘right’ but say little.

And in great wisdom he continues:

We can lock ourselves into writing in order to achieve a particular effect: lyrics like “here I stand before You”, “with hands lifted high” and “I lift my voice to worship” are a sure-fire way to get a visible response from a congregation! And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But we don’t just write to create an effect; we write to point to the cause. We need songs that insightfully and imaginatively attempt to explore nature of God Himself, and the depthless wonder of His works, expressed most fully and gloriously in Christ. And when we do this with skill and creativity, the effects will usually look after themselves.

But songs don’t just have to give us an ‘experience’. They can teach us and challenge us. They can retell the stories of the Bible in a meaningful way. They can also (like the Psalms) attempt to explore the joys and sorrows of the human condition in the light of our faith. These kinds of songs may not ‘push the happy button’ for a congregation, but nonetheless they are vital in grounding our faith in reality.

Townend writes elsewhere that worship should create a response, and modern worship does this so well. However, modern worship does have a problem with getting stuck into a style, that electronic and poppy sounding is the only way to go, in a way modern worship is becoming stuck like bad forms of traditional worship, just in a different style of music.  In the modern church, there is a danger to focus on the tune, to focus on how it sounds, and then lyrics after, but when we look back at the old hymn writers, the same could be said for them.    In fact many of the old hymns were written to pub and folk tunes of their own time.  We need to balance our lyrics and tunes, both are important and both should be made important.  A desire to create an awesome song that will praise God by instrument and words.  As said earlier, this problem is only in a minority of modern worship, and most of it is great, but there is still a danger.

We need a healthy balance

So to conclude, modern worship has given us a treasure trove of new music, hymns and songs to use to praise God and we need to embrace that. We can and should be selective in our choice of hymns and songs, but we should not be scared of guitars or instruments and we should not be judging modern churches for such an approach.  Those with a more traditional outlook on worship, I would beg you, don’t go into modern worship with a subjective ideas or judgemental thought; approach it, even if the lyrics aren’t as long and poetic as the old hymns. The real issue is whether we are singing God-honouring words from the heart.  Maybe sometimes, we should just praise God in all that He is; perhaps we as the traditional church are missing out big-time because of our own stubbornness.  Not every church is equipped to have a big band or afford modern worship. However, that doesn’t mean in our own homes, we can’t listen to it, or introduce new hymns into our hymnbooks.

To answer the question, is it gospel pure, I think the answer is of course, but I think the argument shouldn’t be about traditional worship vs modern worship, guitar vs organ.  Rather it should just be about seeking an authentic heart in any style of worship.

To those with more modern views on worship, I would suggest you shouldn’t focus everything on the tune, or on a band, but to put God at the centre of your worship, and avoid anything that get in the way. What we need in the church is a healthy balance, we need traditional worship and modern worship. In the final article, I shall discuss how we can be authentic in our worship and get the best out of the old and new, and examine what is good, and praiseworthy to God.

 

Old Hymns, weird words: Is ‘traditional’ worship stuck in the past?

Welcome to, what is intended to be a three-post series on music worship in and out of church. Essentially, our two styles of worship today can be broadly labelled ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’. The aim of these posts is to explore both, and to address certain divisions which differing worship styles have caused. My aim is not to merely bash both of them, but to look at what best glorifies the Lord and helps us to grow as believers. We start off focusing on traditional worship, mainly hymns and psalms unaccompanied or with an organ or piano.

I must stress that no offence is meant to anyone, but that a dialogue may begin, and perhaps we can listen to each other. I feel I have been led by the Spirit to talk about such things, He has laid unity on my heart and I feel a burning desire to write this.

Before we move on, let’s just get a bit of focus – what is the purpose of worship? It is to glorify God and His Son, our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Along with the Bible and prayer it is a primary means of growing in Christ, by His grace.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 150:6.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” (Psalm 34:3)

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 5:18b-20.

Worship of course is not just music, it is our lives. We are meant to delight in the Lord, to live out lives that represent Christ.  But in terms of music, it’s meant to a celebration, a joyous occasion, a spiritual praise to God and thanks to Him who has done so much for us.  It’s there to help us focus our eyes on Him, to get us engaged with Him.  Worship should be about praising Jesus and the Father, lifting them all up above the noise of the world regardless of our situation.  In doing so, we should also feel closer to God, and feel his presence.  Worship should not be based on ourselves, on what we are used to, or what we have grown up with, it’s not to be stuck in the past, but should be continuing to edifying Jesus.

The problem with the modern day church is that music has become one of the most divisive issues of our times. We argue, we have become arrogant and it’s ridiculous.  Let’s put Jesus back into the heart of everything we do.

Traditional Worship can be great

Traditional worship is perhaps best represented by the hymns of Wesley, Newton, Cowper and Watts, men greatly blessed by the Holy Spirit, in their teaching and hymn writing. Their lives show a real passion for Jesus and this can be seen in their works.  In some ways they were the Chris Tomlin’s, the Matt Redman’s, the Lloyd-Jones’ of their times.  Their lives are an inspiration to us, but of course through it all it was God using them, like He uses people today.  When we look at their hymns, we should realise that it is God speaking to them, to us, that the words in their hymns are rich and can benefit us as believers, in our blessings and in our sufferings.

Traditional worship should never be ignored or shelved. The deep and powerful words of an old hymn really allow us to learn more of our God.  Hymns help us to explore God and to understand what He’s all about.  In sum, most hymns feed us a little bit of doctrine and that is good.  They help us grow in faith and in our walk with Christ, acting as watchwords for our lives.  The same can be said with psalms, which are of course found in the Bible.  Their richness should never be underestimated, and should be welcomed by all churches, even those with a more ‘modern’ outlook on worship. They are great blessings which should be treasured.

When we look at the style of music typically used in ‘traditional’ worship, a simple piano or organ allows us to focus on the words, it’s a less instrumental form of worship and one that can be very effective. Even today in modern churches, the piano is still an important instrument!  The difference being is that traditional worship favours it being played unaccompanied with no worship leaders, guitars or drums.  The focus is put onto the congregation and their voices lifting God up.

 

Traditional worship can be not so great

So far, so good, but traditional worship has its flaws, and hopefully by bringing them to your attention, the church can address the issues. By not addressing them, we risk alienating younger folk, as well as missing out on rich spiritual blessings.

Most of the hymns in traditional hymnbooks come from roughly between 1700 and 1900. Common criticisms are that the language is askew, the tunes old hat and the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10b), in the congregation seems to be lacking.

Sometimes when you look at some of the wording, you feel like you need an eighteenth century dictionary just to understand it! Or sometimes the tune is so slow or hard to sing and that it just does not stir the heart. The singing is poor and halting; everybody sings in low monotones. Does traditional worship really engage the congregation anymore?  Do we focus on this style because of tradition?  And why do we insist of only having a piano/organ instrument?  What did the church do before this invention?  It must have been very hard for them! I wonder how the early church coped without Charles Wesley’s hymns and their hymn books; perhaps they used music and songs from their own time.  The problem with today is that tradition has been added to Jesus and our worship stifled.  It’s got to the point where we think that if Christians sing modern choruses or songs they are backsliding or not true followers of Jesus.  We puff ourselves up, desiring wordy songs and head-knowledge and putting others down, not realising that choruses and modern worship can be just a blessing as the old hymns.  The beauty of worship is not in the eloquence of the words sung but in singing from the bottom of our hearts! Whether we’re singing a shallow chorus or a deep hymn, this is what really matters. Words are important however; this is something we shall consider in another article.

We must be careful not to keep ourselves in the past and decline to engage with our own time. Hymns are great, the words inspiring, but our failure to modernise, the failure to see past tradition, the failure to really sing aloud from the heart, and the fact that we’re not ‘allowed’ to enjoy ourselves in song can make worship boring and tedious.  The failure to recognise that worship is to God, and Him alone, is dangerous; we are swayed by words and traditions, and not by adoration of Jesus.

People often moan at modern-day tunes (which I shall come to next time!), about how the focus is on the tune and the instruments. What they fail to realise, however, is that they do the exact same thing with traditional music, they covert a tune, they covert the instrument and at the end of the day, are like their modern counterparts. Not dissimilar to that of the heavily-harmonised Latin chants (which sound great but are in a foreign tongue), which were very prevalent until the Reformers and men like the Wesley’s unlocked worship for the masses. Well-known tunes combined with powerful Spirit-inspired words – the result: a spiritual explosion!

If we don’t modernise and worship God in the language of our day, then surely we’re no better than those who read and sung in Latin!

 

The ‘Psalms only’ camp

I have always been confused by certain churches which only sing psalms. They are indeed a rich blessing to those who read or sing them, even many hymns and spiritual songs are based on them.  However, they restrict worship, like traditional worship in all its forms, puts God in a box and says this is how you like worship because it’s all I have known.  Paul in the New Testament likely quotes songs that were sung by the early church in his letters (e.g. Ephesians 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:11-13,Revelation 19:6-8). People were constantly writing new songs and poems to praise God.  So we should understand that music in all its forms can be praise to God.  Do not put God into a box, and don’t judge your brothers and sisters in Christ by their music tastes. Read Psalm 150!

Why do we in church, stand so rigid, sing out of key, and generally looked tired or bored? One reason is maybe we stayed up to late the night before, but another reason is because we never let God stir us.  Our emotions should represent what our heart fills.  In the church, we stand to attention, arms folded, without flinching a muscle.  We certainly are not celebrating Jesus and his life.  It can be such a sad sight, and one that is not encouraging.  Christians, we need to be awake in worship, our forefathers never did this standing-rigid nonsense.  It certainly wasn’t like this.  We have let society, our culture; expectation and pressure make us like stuffed animals.  Wake up!  Come to life! Sing with gusto the wonders of His grace!

Yes, but it’s what people want

Finally, hymns are sung because people expect it, because we think their looking for a ‘traditional–style’ church. If we are making ourselves ‘fashionable’ to a type of person, we are doing it wrong.  Our focus should always be about praising Jesus and God, giving Him our praise. Everything else is secondary.  We should never do something because people expect it (itching ears anyone? [2 Timothy 4:3-4]); but because we love Jesus.  If we focus our lives and worship on Christ and lose ourselves in praise and adoration, then surely God will work in us and revival will come.

I think we may find that modern and traditional worship should go hand in hand. But as I conclude this post on traditional worship, let me remind you to look at the old stuff, read it, engage with it.  Modernise the tune if you must, but we can learn so much from them if used correctly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what tune we use, what tongue or language we worship God with, English, Swahili, even bird-song. He will be glorified, and ultimately, one way or another, every knee will bow to His name.  At the same time, traditional churches, do not be afraid of modernising, and do not rely on traditions, do not add things to Jesus.  I think when I come to the concluding series, the word ‘balance’, as is key in all the posts found on this blog, will be used and I think in worship we need to find this balance.  I love traditional worship, my background is mainly in traditional worship, but I believe we are missing out.

To modern worship leaders, open a hymn book; be inspired by the words that you read. Include hymns in worship; lead the congregation in amazing praise to Jesus, the father and the spirit.  Do not be stifled by tradition, but let this be a new era for the church, where old meets new, where the Lord is lifted high, and where we can reach a greater level of unity and not trifling differences separate us.  However we worship: if Christ is central and God is glorified, praise Him!