Christian Music: An updated opinion piece.

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;     sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name;     proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations,     his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;     he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols,     but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him;     strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,     ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;     bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness;     tremble before him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”     The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;     he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;     let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;     let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. 13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,     he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness     and the peoples in his faithfulness

 

Michael talking about church music, how uncommon! Well, I have been busy studying the theology of contemporary worship recently and I wanted to share some thoughts with you. I pray that you will find this a blessing and I hope we start to see a radical change amongst young people.

Don’t you just love Psalm 96, it is a Psalm full of praise to the Lord. The Psalmist has such a heart for the people of God to worship the Lord. Yet at the same time, it is a theologically rich Psalm, full of the gospel, of the Word and evangelical. It is complex like every Psalm in its own way and it’s beautiful.

Worship music is not here to fix our feelings. No, it is to feed us scripture, to help us praise the Lord Almighty, to help us memorise truth, help us see the gospel and also is a way in which we can evangelise. Imagine singing

God all keeping, omnipresent, in the passing days of man First to last, not one forgotten by his strong and steering hand He the Sovereign Lord now praise we, he the fount of Providence On his word we rest unwavering, yes his perfect word shall stand”

When you sing this for example, you are singing Biblical truth! How awesome is that. Rather than singing ‘God is good…whoop, whoop’. You are singing deep amazing truths, which edify you, others around you and stand as a witness to the non-believer! How amazing is that!

It’s not about new or old, but about God-Honouring worship

I have often talked about traditional worship versus contemporary worship, but neither is good. Psalm 96 tells us to sing new songs, as do other passages in the Bible; it is probably true that Paul quoted new hymns in the Bible as he spoke to the churches. New songs are great, but so are the old. They are timeless, they are what our spiritual forefathers sang. They helped them in their journey as they too can help us in our journey. They taught people doctrine, and they were focused on Him and Him alone. So both are great, debate settled? Well no, for me I’ve realised thanks to the Lord that this was never the issue or should have never been the issue. What is important is not new and old, but what is God Honouring. Psalm 96 tells us to sing all the aspects of the Lord, to explore Him, to praise Him and to honour Him.

Our songs must be God-Honouring. That means they must be Christ-centred, biblical, true to the Word, and that which help us grow in Him. Sadly, much of my generation do not seem to honour Him in music, and can be lost in the music of the age, influenced by churches which are not soundly biblical and it hurts me to see.

The Problem in the Modern Church

So what is the current problem? Well it is the self-centred nature of modern worship. Young people are not discerning regarding music and will listen to anything labelled as ‘Christian’ yet it is mainly focused on the self. If you count the number of times ‘I’ appears in a song, it often appears more than ‘God’. The word ‘I’ is not wrong in of itself, but it must be in relation to the Lord.

What is wrong with self-centred worship? Well its idolatry, it’s all about what God does for me. It’s all about how important I am, rather than how awesome HE is. Rather than explore the complex nature of the Lord, we want to sing about our feelings and how great everything is.

Another problem is that the theology is either heretical or just weak. God is Good, God is Love, God is Great. True themes no doubt, but there is no explanation. There is no focus on growth. In fact I argue this is a way that false teaching has gotten into the church. What better way to mislead the saints than in something that has grown into an industry and plays off our self-centred behaviour? A reading into Galatians 1:10 or 2 Peter 2 and you just get a glimpse of the Wolves in Sheep’s clothing. The bible constantly warns us of false teachers, and we must also look to our songs.

So let’s just nail down the problems:

  • Worship music is now an industry
  • Worship comes from Heretical churches such as Hillsong and Bethel (Prophecy doctrine which can also be seen in the New Apostolic Reformation as well as Prosperity Doctrine)
  • We have celebrity artists
  • We have self-centred lyrics
  • Theology and Doctrine are Missing from our songs
  • Music is not God-Honouring

These are hard truths perhaps but it is true. To be frank, I am embarrassed by my generation and I fear for the future of the church.

Just do not get me started on playing music whilst prayer is happening. It all links to what modern worship is all about, and that is emotion building; building up to a high point to get yourself into a spiritual frenzy/moment. The words actually do nothing, it’s the tune, it’s the drum beat, and it’s the changing temp. Now tunes and melodies are vital to a song, of course they are, but the Word must be central to the song and sadly it is not.

 

Songs which are God Honouring

So what is God-Honouring? Well it’s a congregational-focused worship. Paul says in Ephesians that we must sing to one another! We also need to sing as one people to Him, and not as individuals. Psalm 96 is a congregational based psalm that urges the people to Worship the Living God. That is not saying that there is not a place for the I, but it needs to be in relation to the Word and to the Lord always!

The congregation needs to be gripped with the truth of the Word. It needs to be taught through the songs we sing. Songs which honour God explore His Justice, His Omnipresence, His Love, His Glory, they turn our eyes towards the cross and towards eternity.

Songs which honour God don’t make everything out to be rosy and great. They are real. They are personal. They show sadness, questions, pain, as well as happiness, joyfulness and beauty.

Songs that honour God come from the Word. Not randomly picked verses thrown together as 90% of the music today is, but from what the Word teaches.

 

Time for action

I really do believe that we are on a clock. I think the church is in a dire situation. Some stay with the old traditional but that does not honour God as we are told to sing New songs. Many sing news songs, but are not discerning. They sing anything and have been led astray as a result. We must sing new songs but we must be discerning with our choices.

We must take a stand. We must fight for what is right. I know what damage the worship wars have done in the past, but this is for God-honouring songs and hymns. It’s about the integrity of our churches, of our theology. It is about future generations. More importantly it’s about getting rid of the wolves, it’s about coming back to what Worship really is about and that is Christ.

I want to see the church grow in faith and theology. I want to see the church love their Lord with a burning passion. I want to see Christians strong in the faith. My heart burns for Christ-centred theologically rich worship. I know that the Lord has made be focus on this for a reason. He wants his Church to honour him once more, and I intend to serve Him in doing do.

This is not about instruments, or about style. It’s about what we sing, it’s about Him and it’s about the Glory of God.

A Reformation In How We Sing!

As you may be aware, congregational worship is something that has really impacted me over the last few years. I have written many articles on the subject, and it’s a topic that really needs attention. I recently read the Getty’s ‘Sing’ book (now also a conference which I highly recommend looking at) which described how we need a reformation in how we sing. That hit me hard…a ‘reformation in how we sing’…have we been doing it that wrong for so long? And as I looked around me, and over a few conversations, I realised we had. Some of us have gone to the contemporary, pop version of church singing  promoting songs which have no meaning in the words, but instead catchy tunes and bands/singers. Some of us have gone reclusive, only singing the hymns of our forefathers and not really engaging with anything that is new – even regarding instruments such as drums and guitars as ‘evil’ and have this weird fixation with the organ and that’s it.

The Church needs a reformation in how we sing. It’s plain and simple, we need to wake up and change. In this article I am going to go through some points on how we change our attitude towards music.

  1. There is a problem and we must acknowledge it. I have a feeling that we are blindly just continuing to do what we do, missing out on the true point of music worship and do not realise that we are missing out on blessing and growth.   We go to church, listen to our favourite songs that we hear on the radio or that we sing every week time and time again, and forget to fall in love with the words all over again. There is a problem: is our worship reverent? Is our worship helpful? Is our worship theological? Does our worship cover different emotions? Etc…These are just some questions we must ask ourselves and our church. Music is so important and I think many of us have got it wrong.
  2. The church has been severely affected by the worship wars that have happened inside her walls. The church has separated into ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ churches; in fact, the biggest divide today is most likely to be found in our style! The thing is, congregational worship isn’t about new or old songs/hymns. It’s about those which are God-honouring, thought-provoking, and those which spur us on to praise even in the storms. What does the Bible say on this? Sing to each other, to encourage one another, to help one another, to learn about God. To ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ to one another. I’m not sure the church fully understands what this is about. Does the music you sing, engage your mind and heart? Does it help the person next to you, or does it just help you emotionally, singing simple things to cheer you up? As I said it’s not about new vs old, it’s not about drums or piano only, it’s about the words we sing.
  3. The church has to figure out the difference between congregational music and ‘home’ music. There’s nothing wrong in liking ‘Good Good Father’, but is it a song to be sung by a congregation? It’s one where we can praise on our own and listen to for sure, but do we learn much from it, or do we help others by singing it? Whilst ‘Bless the Lord oh my Soul’ is one which certainly helps us in a congregation.
  4. We must know the difference in just good music and bad music, and be discerning in our choice.  To be honest, many songs are also just dire – old and new – you listen to them and either the tune is just awful, or the words are just so fluffy that anyone could have written them.
  5. Church is not solely for the young! I never get the point of making music ‘contemporary’ for the sake of its audience. We shouldn’t ever market a church for a particular age group or culture; instead it’s for all, for the old and young. Let us remember to respect and follow our elders, insofar as they follow Christ. I’m not saying young people and young peoples’ ideas are stupid! I wrote an article on the fact that they should have a voice, but they should be very careful how they seek to influence the church.
  6. The church’s music worship should only be as high as the pulpit. We must note the link between music and what is taught. If the church is not taught the word, with a desire for rich theology and doctrine, then its singing will not have depth. Therefore, ministers and those leading worship (bands, worship leaders) have a great responsibility in feeding their congregations the word. Weak/superficial theology will produce weak/superficial worship.
  7. We need more hymn writers in the present! Charles Wesley’s hymns, set to popular tunes of the time, revolutionised Christian singing and hymnody. Look at why he wrote them – to teach, to praise – and when you see his adoration, its breathtaking! We need that today, more hymn writers, using contemporary tunes to convey praise, doctrine and love all in one piece of music.
  8. We need to re-engage with the Pslams.  These were the songs that Christ sang!  The Bible has its own hymn book!  Whether its reading it more in our services or singing hymns based off them, it is something we need to re-engage with, as the Pslams offer so much to the Christian!
  9. We need creativity. We need to have creativity in praise, in worship, in our styles of music. Whether it is hip-hop, rock, metal, folk, orchestral, let us use it all to praise God and worship. People may say, well that happens already, and yes it does to a point, but it has to be gospel-focused and it needs to be theologically-driven to be powerful.
  10. We need to sing in our families. I remember reading the Getty’s book ‘Sing’, where they stated that the Puritans would withdraw communion from the man, if he failed to lead his family in singing at home. Strong, and probably a tad over the top (as the Puritans often were!) but it shows us how important singing was. We should sing at home, with our children, so as they get older, they have strong hymns of faith that will stay with them their entire life.
  11. Finally, we need it to come from the local church. We need to encourage men and women in our churches to write music, to write worship that impacts the local church and people. Worship today is so commercialised, let us just scale it back slightly to the local church. In saying that, there is nothing wrong is popular Christian music! I love the Getty’s and Stuart Townend, they are amazing, but what I mean to say is that we should also encourage the local church to write!

 

I am sure many of you reading this know the hymns of old. If you don’t then look them up, start with the Psalms, check out Isaac Watts, who wrote mainly from them. Check out Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon. There are so many greats that we should learn from.

I am sure many of you reading this know the new hymns. If you don’t then do check out Kristyn and Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, Matt Boswell and Matt Redman. There are many others, but they are fantastic and should be sung in our churches in the present.

So, here are just a few points. I doubt I do it justice, but there are issues and we need to address them.   If we do, then we as a church will be blessed. The whole point is to bring a stronger theological focus in our worship that covers different themes and emotions and styles. It’s not a debate about instruments or style, but about our focus. A good starting point is the hymns of old, and many churches need to go back to them, whilst for them, discovering the new hymns of the age is also a MUST. Let us see a reformation, let us see this change, for the blessing, for the glory of our Lord and for the praise of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Music As A Form Of Worship

The phrase ‘Let us start worship’ or ‘Let us begin worship’ is one that never sits easy with me. The term ‘Worship Leader’ for me doesn’t seem to be a biblical principal. In this post, I am to pick apart these terms and phrases and suggest what I believe we should be actually doing instead.

Is Worship something we turn on?

I do hope that no church flicks a switch and suddenly they are in ‘worship’ mode, I would be extremely concerned if it did! In my interpretation, worship is something that we are, we are made to worship. It is also not just solely music and singing, as we can sometimes think; in fact music is just a small part of what worship is all about.

So can we just turn it on with a flick of a switch? No! We don’t start worship, and we don’t just begin in worship, we should be worshipping God in all our thoughts and deeds, in our actions and in our words.

There is no start, and there is no end. To be frank, no one can lead you in worship. No man can lead you in worship to God, only the Spirit can give you the words to say, give you desire to praise such an awesome God we serve. You don’t just go to church where someone there helps your heart focus on God, that’s all through the Spirit, through your own heart and through you as an individual before the Lord. We worship collectively as individuals.

Music isn’t all worship

Let’s be straight here as well. Music is only a tiny fraction of what worship actually is. The Bible says:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Worship is everything we do, it is a way we can communicate with God, it is a way we can give Him praises, and it is a way in which we can actually remember truths and passages from the Bible. If you look at hymns for example, their purpose is often to help people remember key truths about the Bible and about God. Are we losing that today?

Nonetheless, music isn’t worship. Music is a tool God has given us, to help us and to give it back to Him. Martin Luther said, ‘Next to the word of God the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ However, I think, we, the church, can get too focused on just one facet of what worship is. We will rehearse, practice and make a fantastic performance on stage, but what is our prayer life like? Do we spend time with God? Do we read our Bibles? Do we show a Christian life by our actions always? Sometimes we focus on one facet that we forget all the others which are just as, if not even more, important. We may get excited over a song, but we have to ask the question — do we get excited because we love the tune, love the music, but not what worship is all about?

I’m not against ‘Worship Leaders’ but..

I understand the need for someone to help keep everyone in tune, in focus and in musical cohesion, but let’s be straight here, no person actually leads worship. If anything the Spirit helps us in our singing praise, but again no person should be in a position like this, it is though as if it was just a title given to someone to sound spiritual.

Again, I am not against someone at the front helping the congregation sing and what not, but it’s the term that I have problems with, can it not be just an ego situation?

So is Music bad?

Certainly not! Music is a great gift! (Psalm 71:23; 105:2; 150: 1-5, Colossians 3:16; Revelation 14: 3-4) and one we should cherish and love to do, it allows us to be creative and it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us. Nonetheless, we must remember that it is all about Him, the mighty God, the One we are told to hold in reverent fear as well as love and adore. When we sing to our Father we do need to be serious and mean what we say. If we sing ‘I surrender all’, for example, then we should surrender all to Jesus, rather than merely singing for the sake of it (or because it’s catchy and modern) then going home and forgetting all about it. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were hypocrites and, to be frank, we can be very hypocritical in our music.

Music shouldn’t also be about using the latest snazziest catchphrases. For example, in recent times ‘oceans’, ‘waves’ and ‘storms’ having been doing the rounds. Before that it was ‘dry bones’ and I can keep going on. When we write music as worship, it should all be from the heart, about what God is telling us, and what we have been through, not what is trendy. Let’s be frank, modern songs/hymns have produced some amazing and great songs that really come from the heart, but there are also a number which just sound like they have been regurgitated time and time again, the same phrases, the same things being said. When we describe God, surely there are more ways of saying ‘You are awesome’ or ‘You are great.’ Don’t get me wrong, these are amazing truths, but sometimes it feels to me that less time has been put into the lyrics and more time into the production quality. Lyrics are important! Sometimes I can’t resist rewriting certain songs for my own personal use, and I’ll probably go on a massive rewriting spree now with many others because sometimes the tune is great but the words are so weak.

When we worship, via music, via songs, we must ensure it comes from the heart and that we mean it. We must also be prepared to learn, to be prepared to be challenged. We must acknowledge all aspects of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Now I love music, I love music in churches, but I just wanted to write this. I think sometimes we get the wrong concept of what worship is. We don’t start or begin worship, when we sing we actually join in with the choruses in heaven, but our whole life is worship, of one form or another. Live a life that worships God, love Him with all your strength and yes praise Him in music, but always remember Who you are worshipping.