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!

Our Narcissistic Generation

Everyone lives for something – a philosophy that keeps them going, gets them through the week’s problems, acts as their final source of authority on the meaning of life, morals and other matters. This philosophy or ideology might come from anything or take different forms. There are many different ‘isms’. It might be a person close to you, a political figure, a historical figure, a holy book, or a mish-mash of different things (as is very prevalent today). For many of us, we wouldn’t even see it as a ‘philosophy’.

Narcissistic individualism is one such ism, founded upon sin. Narcissism is incredibly dangerous, and is strongly linked to depression and suicide. But even Christians can be grossly guilty of it, perhaps without even being aware of it. I hope to briefly consider narcissism, and then consider how we can get out of these mindsets, which can seriously stunt our spiritual growth.

This post is not intended to be too philosophical or overly morbid, so don’t be worried!

 

Why Narcissism is so nasty

Narcissus, as the legend goes, was a handsome young Greek man. One day he saw his own reflection in a rock pool and so fell in love with it that he didn’t move. Eventually he died.

Hence, we have ‘Narcissism’ – the worship of oneself, or excessive interest and admiration of one’s personal appearance. I believe we can all be guilty of this, to varying degrees, and without wishing to be judgmental (although I speak to myself as well!), I will explain how.

Narcissism is perhaps best exemplified with social media. Social media, for many people, is all about promoting yourself.

How many Facebook friends do I have? How many likes does my Instagram photo get? Why hasn’t so-and-so liked my post? Take the test: how young do you look? How popular are you?

Our obsessive egotistical narcissistic outlook is most evident with pictures. Our profile pictures are always the most flattering, and often risqué. Look at the intense obsession we have with taking selfies of ourselves. Our phones have whole memory cards jam-packed full of selfies. How many do we have to take to get it right? How many do we delete, because they (quite frankly) were a bit of shock (do I really look that bad!)? Only the best will ever make it onto our Instagram.

Driving license photo v. FB profile pic
This hopefully illustrates the point.

When we go out, the highlight is often when we’re taking the photos that will go up on our social media profiles, rather than the fact that we are spending quality time with our friends or family.

Look at Snapchat, pictures visible for 10 seconds only, inviting the recent craze of posting nude selfies to select individuals. Hasn’t the world gone to pot!

Now you may just say “it’s harmless fun using cool or funny filters, I would never fall into ‘nude-selfies’, ‘sexting’ or anything like that!” But is it? You see, I think we deceive ourselves. We worry about our self-appearance. All good and soundly biblical, but we worry too much! We spend too much of our time worrying about it, or attempting to correct it.

“If only my nose wasn’t quite so wonky, I’d be a happy man!”

“Gosh, I look so ugly in that group photo.”

Needless to say, this mindset isn’t healthy for the Christian – or anyone for that matter. It can never make us happy. If it doesn’t matter to God, it shouldn’t matter to us.

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

And this is the great part. God doesn’t care about what we look like, whether we’re black, white, brown or blue. He doesn’t mind if we’re grey-haired, balding, too thin, too fat, ugly and covered in warts. He doesn’t mind even if we look like a turnip come out backwards in the wash with a face like a mouldy gingerbread biscuit. Why doesn’t he?

  1. Because he created you just the way you are, you are a work of God, a marvel.
  2. Because he doesn’t care what you look like, but he does care about what your heart looks like.

Society judges us on our looks. We can’t help that. God judges us on our heart. That doesn’t mean we’re better than society. It just means that we shouldn’t worry about what society thinks of us, we should worry what God thinks of us. Society can do what it wants, we will stand for Christ!

There is also a deeper, underlying problem. Selfies are just the tip of the iceberg. This underlying problem is – Self. Narcissism is by no means a new concept. It’s a battle that people have faced for a thousand years.

At its heart, narcissism is self-centred – what’s in it for me? How can this make me look good?

We don’t care for others. We only seek admiration from others, believing ourselves to be superior. We always want to constantly project a positive image of ourselves and desperately want to attract more followers.

But this is generally false; it is an elaborate outer façade built up to hide an inner loneliness and discontentedness. Your social media profile isn’t you. It never can be. It’s the me I want to be; hence, why we always present the positive image. I want to be happy, have fun, be seen to have lots of friends, go to lots of parties. I don’t want to be seen as an ugly loner with no friends, no people liking my posts.

It is fabulously superficial.

It is so sad. Yet I believe any social media user can be guilty of thinking in such a manner. But we can only find true contentment in the Lord (Philippians 4:11-13).

Young people, finding their way in the world are especially vulnerable. Peer pressure is intense. I believe we are by miles the most narcissistic generation in history. The problem is it’s so normal and so deeply-rooted in our everyday lives. Everyone uses social media. At the current average rate (1.72 hours per day), if we live to be seventy, we will have spent around five years on social networks. Yes, five years…

What else could we do in that time?

 

So what can we do about it?

Now with this in mind we might want to take dramatic action, selfies are wrong! Social media is evil! No more!

But it’s essential to note there’s nothing inherently wrong with social media or selfies. Social media is invaluable for keeping in touch; social networks can be great tools for communication, encouragement, evangelism even. Photographs are great to document important events in our lives. These things are useful. It’s our use of these tools which can be wrong. We must be immensely careful how we use them. What’s the first thing you reach for in the morning, your Bible or your phone? Watch yourself!

For some of us, perhaps it is right to come off social media completely and that’s something we should prayerfully consider.
Having a break from social media is a great idea, even if it’s just for a day or two. You could have a weekly day off social media; Sunday would be a good day to have social-media-free! Miss it too much? It’s likely you’re relying on it too much.

Our primary purpose in life is to glorify God. Take a step back, are we doing that?

‘Everyone does it’ is not a valid excuse. The desire to conform is intense. Don’t be afraid of being different.

Don’t check your social media feed merely for the sake of it, browsing without purpose. It’s a bit like me Christmas shopping, having no idea of what to buy and ending up spending hours wandering around aimlessly, uninspired, without buying anything at all; a total waste of time.

Don’t spend countless hours wasting your life away (I suspect many of us spend a considerable deal more than 1.72 hours on social media per day).

The Apostle Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Romans:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

With all this, I’m sure we won’t stop worrying about what others think. We face a massive battle. It’s not easy, there’s no quick fix; but such is the Christian life. We will fail, we will stumble; but thank the Lord we have a loving Heavenly Father and an atoning sacrifice for our sins!

Let us live true to our calling in life, to glorify the Lord before God and men.

McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks

Hi everyone. I’m Jake and I’m a 20-year-old ‘Jesus freak’ that likes an eclectic mix of music and any sports that involve a ball (except cricket…someone explain it to me?). I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute to this stream of blog posts which from what I have read so far have been pretty good and very encouraging.

So where am I from? Well I was born just north of Birmingham, England but have lived in Scotland for the past 8 and a bit years. I’m currently working as a church development worker for Thurso and North Coast Free Church in the Highlands of Scotland and on the side I am employed at Tesco…two jobs where I get paid to speak to people so I love it.

Amongst the other jobs I have worked in the past I have been a member of the Golden Arches Restaurant (McDonald’s) crew for a wee while and I try to keep fit and work my muscles and I don’t like Mathematics very much. A little random but it’s these three things I want to use as a springboard for my topic today; McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks.

 

So what do McDonald’s, muscles and a math geek have in common?

Sounds a wee bit like the start of a joke but this question, or rather the answer to this question, poses an interesting topic for people. Growing is an important part of life and takes place all around us, inside us and is constantly happening. It’s taught in every classroom round the world to children of all ages.

Businesses like McDonald’s view growth as very important in order to make decent profits. Muscles need to be trained and to grow so that they don’t waste away and become gelatinous masses. Math geeks require a lot of studying crazy mathematical formulae and other numerical nonsenses so that they can grow in their knowledge. It doesn’t matter who you are, growth is important; right down from a baby taking their first steps or getting first teeth right up to the athlete training for a marathon or a student studying for a biology test.

Christians, you know, the crazy people that go to church and pray and stuff, well they, just like every other human being, grow. For Christians the aspect of spiritual growth is as equally important as any other type of growth. In the Bible, and particularly in Paul’s letters, growth takes the driving seat as being one of the most important factors within Christian life; in short, we, as Christians, MUST grow.

Here are a few verses from the Bible that show us that we need to grow as Christians just in case you don’t believe me:

“Like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…” 1 Peter 2:2

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

childrens-shoe-1728295_1280

So to grow as a Christian is kind of a big deal then, huh? Well the Apostle Paul seems to think so and I’d bet my bottom dollar that taking what he has to say is true is a good idea. That challenge to grow can seem pretty weighty but I think we need to understand what is required of us. It’s not good to beat ourselves up when we don’t feel like we’re growing as fast as we should be, first off. When a baby takes their first steps and they fall over the parents don’t start yelling and telling the baby off for being so stupid in falling over. Rather, the parents and any onlookers applaud and smile hysterically at this baby’s few steps. Growth looks different for everyone and people will grow at different rates; we’ve just got to make sure it’s happening.

If we are to be growing, we need to ask ourselves a few questions in order to get an idea of where we’re at and where we need to be. Here is a wee evaluation that I find helpful to see if we are growing spiritually:

  • Self-Evaluation
  • 1) Complacency – Are we content to stay as we are?
  • 2) Comfort – Are we more concerned with our Christian habits rather than moving into a place that is uncomfortable in order to grow?
  • 3) Christ – Do we desire more of Jesus?

It’s helpful for us to ask ourselves these questions. Again, if you’re answers to these questions are along the lines of 1) yeah I’m pretty content to stay where I am, 2) I quite like being comfortable in my spirituality and 3) Jesus is just okay, then you definitely need to grow. You could be on the flip side though and be like 1) I’m so restless with myself and I just want to grow more 2) I’m happy to be moved outside my comfort zone and I make it a priority to undertake things which challenge me and 3) I desire more of Christ every day; good, but you have still got to work at it.

So how do we go after spiritual growth? Like where does the rubber hit the road and really start moving somewhere? How do we practically, realistically and spiritually grow?

I want to show you what I believe the Bible says in regards to how we can grow spiritually.

I like numbers so here is a breakdown of 5 points that we can use to grow:

1) It’s not going to happen overnight.

If we get discouraged from not growing as fast as we want to or we feel like we’re not growing at all, we need to look back to our source; God is the one who helps us grow. Spiritual growth is a long, drawn out process that lasts a life time. Christians are Christians for their whole lives and they grow over their whole life. Here is a quote by one of my favourite devotional writers, J C Ryle:

“Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible.” – J C Ryle

In short, our starting point is God and he uses our lives to grow us.

2) We need to be open about our state spiritually.

Farmers don’t pretend that everything is going great if it’s not. Farmers are usually the first people to say if a season of weather has been bad or if the crops haven’t done well. We need to be honest about the seasons of life that we’re going through too.
Share with a Christian brother or sister about your struggles; we haven’t been saved to be isolated, God saves us into a family. We also need to expect to have times when we feel flat. We’re not always going to be happy clappy everything is dandy.

True Christian joy is knowing that Jesus is there with you through it all.

3) We need to prioritise.

Spiritual growth is important and I think we’ve settled on that.

As it says in 1 Peter 2:2 “Grow up in your salvation” we need to be growing up, we need to make growing as a Christian a priority. We need to make growing up important and the means by which we do that need to take fundamental positions in our lives. So whether that’s meeting for prayer with Christians friends, going to church, reading the Bible, listening to sermons online, whatever it is, prioritise it!

4) We need to lower our own importance.

“The right manner of growth is to grow less in one’s own eyes.” Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is one of my favourite writers from the Puritan era. What he is saying here is that in order for us to grow spiritually we need to grow less in our own importance.

As Christians that are wanting to grow we need to look at ourselves in the right way. It’s not about devaluing ourselves or slating ourselves or thinking of ourselves as muck but rather it’s looking at ourselves in the way God sees us. That, yes we are horrid and dirty and we make mistakes BUT with Jesus, God sees perfection.

The right way to see ourselves is to view ourselves as second.
In every situation, I am second. Whatever comes our way, whether it be a sibling wanting the choice on the TV or music in the car, whether it’s helping parents with shopping or laundry, whether it’s letting someone else have the last cake or choosing to forgive someone even if they didn’t say sorry, think ‘I am second’.

Only when we put Christ first and what He has shown us to do, can we grow spiritually.

5) We need JESUS.

Needless to say this is the most important part. Without Jesus we don’t grow, without Him we have no reason to grow. Here is a quote from a great theologian, Mr Tozer:

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly enemy of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.” A W Tozer

We need to desire Jesus. If we are going to grow we have to be seeking after Jesus with everything we’ve got. Just like a homing missile is attracted towards a metal aircraft, we need to be ardently, zealously pursuing Christ. We need Him to take away our complacency, our stiffness, our lack of growth.

starry-sky-1246272_1280

With Jesus we will go through difficult times. The gospel isn’t a “get out of jail free card”. The good news of Jesus is knowing that He paid it all, that we owe it all to Him. If we pursue growth, if we fight every day for that deeper relationship, one day we will be with God. Let’s be more like McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks and grow. I want to leave you with this verse that I find a real inspiration:

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:21