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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 congregation is not ready for such an inclusion, surely 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 tunes, 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.
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 hear certain 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 our dear 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’re 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.
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 Istand 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 to supplement 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.