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

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.

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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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

 

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!

Why I Love Christian Rock!

Christian Rock has always been quite controversial in Christian circles. I have always struggled to understand why. I guess some would say that it is too worldly, that the focus in wrong, but I would whole -heartily disagree. I think Christian rock is amazing, inspirational and powerful, something that I will explain further in this post.
I will discuss music from a few bands that I listen too, covering a variety of genres, from rock, to power metal. These include, Skillet, TFK, FireFlight, Theocracy, HB and Decyfer Down. I will use some of their songs to show their message and purpose, and hopefully show that they actually have an important role to play, especially for younger Christians such as myself.

Before I go into individual songs, let me explain why I think Christian rock is beneficial.  I love rock music, I love the beat, the guitars, the drums, they all make an awesome sound.  There is nothing evil in it, and with Christian rock, its all about acknowledging God in our lives, about how great he is and how we can rely on him.  God has given us all individual gifts, and thus musicians are also given a gift to play music.  The bible tells us to praise God with a variety of instruments, cymbals, strings, etc, and this can be found many times in the OT, most notably psalm 150.  God also wants us to be creative, wants us to use our gifts to glorify him, and Christian rock is one way we can do this.

Christian rock can have its problems, some bands you may have to be careful about, are they really Christian?  Rock shouldn’t really be used as an evangelism tool either, but from what I see it hardly ever is.  Its more of a ‘hey guys we’re different’ type of message, whilst giving Christians an encouraging message.  So with that being said, let me go into a few songs and what they talk about! Enjoy!

TFK-Honest

When we examine this song, the meaning is clear. It describes about the love of God, the saving power of grace and that God gives us meaning and hope. It talks about us being failures, about being far from God. It talks about the brokenness of the world, but that love is the answer. How wonderful is this song! It has so much meaning, so much power, and is a great encouragement for Christians. TFK (Thousand Foot Krutch) lyrical genius in this song and like all their other songs is evident. For young people especially, songs like this are powerful, at many times, more powerful than hymns because they are relatable. These songs are praise, but at the same time they help us understand more of God.
Skillet-Back from the dead

This time we move onto Skillet, probably my favourite band at the moment. The song back from the dead, is a positive feeling rock song. Feelings are important in the Christian faith, and this song to me talks about the Christian coming back to Christ. That the journey is not easy, in fact it’s tough…but nothing can keep us down if we have God. It’s a song that lifts us, and helps us understand that this world cannot keep us down, and that we fight, and struggle for the kingdom. The thing with Skillet is, that their message resonates with both Christians and non-Christians. Their songs aim to help people in difficult situations, being that positive light in the world. They are never ashamed of their faith and speak openly at all their concerts. The witness is strong, they are not going to change to sell for CD’s and the fact they are so popular shows how God is using them!

Skillet-Feel Invincible

Another song from Skillet, and this one again is a positive rock song. God is always with us, and makes us strong. We cannot be stopped, the word cannot be stopped, and with the strength given from God, we can feel invincible. God is our reason to fight, and we may win or lose, but it is what we are called to, fight for his word, and proclaim the gospel. The song itself is just so catchy, and is great to listen to just for some upbeat Christian music. Regarding the video, you may have noticed, but they have tattoos, they are wearing black, they cannot be Christians. Well if that is your opinion on what makes a Christian, I would be very concerned as to what you are reading. I personally wouldn’t want a tattoo, but he decided to get a few and so be it. Judging someone by their appearance is one of the worst things a Christian can do in my opinion!

Skillet- Stars

The final Skillet song could be considered a worship song. Its light rock, its not heavy, and uses mainly electronic sounds. The words are amazing and really hit home for me. What do we have to fear, God has called us through Love, and we are with him. He can calm storms, so he can give us peace. He is never far away and never is late to anything. He holds the stars in place, and he holds our hearts all the same. It is a beautifully poetic song. This song has to be one of my favourites at the moment!
Hopefully, you would have seen that Christian Rock can cover a wide range of messages, that show the power, the love of God, but also give encouragement to Christians going through tough times. Sharp, simple messages that reveal the light.

FireFlight-We are Alive

Here we have more obvious Christian rock. The song states we are alive in Christ. That we shine in the dark, and that we shouldn’t contain this light. We should go out into the world and spread the news. Fireflight have moved away from traditional rock, into more electronic sounding rock in recent years and it suits them. They have a lot of powerful songs, that range from trials and problems in the Christian life, to songs like this, upbeat and happy, which again give encouragement to Christians.
Decyfer Down- Best I can

This song is wonderful, I love listening to it, and taking the words in very time. God sees our mistakes, he sees our hearts. We are messed up, even when we try the best we can to do things right. The song talks about this and about that God loves us even though we fail and mess up, that we are his. The song is a dialogue between the singer and God, about how we realises how bad he is, and that he does his best, but knows he ultimately falls short of what God requires of us, yet God responds with love. This song again shows how encouraging rock songs can be for the Christian.

Theocracy-I AM

Theocracy is an interesting name for a band, you should look up the word! The band however focuses on the genre of power metal and wow do they deliver. Their songs focus on many aspects of God. This song, for example goes through many attributes of God. It is amazing, and well written. Theocracy also cover many aspects of Jesus’s message of how we should be a light in the world, or certain parts of the bible, where Paul finds the altar to the unknown god. In some ways, these are songs you couldn’t write in any other form. The structure of power metal makes it a perfect genre to write about these themes and topics. Again we can see encouragement for Christians, as well a proclamation of what Jesus is all about. Now I don’t advocate entertainment evangelism by any means, but the message in these songs are so powerful, that I think it would be hard to not listen and think about the gospel.
HB-Jesus Metal Explosion

Weird title for a song don’t you think? The band is Finish and again are amazing in how they deliver their songs. The singer has a beautiful voice, and this song is actually good. It talks about the truth that Jesus is the only way. No one can get to God without Jesus, and this song covers that point. It declares that we cannot be ashamed of his name and that we belong to him. It’s a call to proclaim his word, and songs like these are what Christians need to hear today. To get out there and make a impact. It reminds of us the simple message of the gospel. Yes they don’t go into the deepness of the doctrines, but I think our focus should go back to the simple points, lest we forget Jesus.

So Christian rock, it is quite clear that I am a fan of it. I love rock and metal music. Some of us, *cough* Josh *cough* don’t like the sound of rock music, and that is fair enough, it is not for everyone. However we should not be judging this genre of music. It can be extremely beneficial and useful for Christians and non-Christians alike. As my mother told me recently, Christian Rock artists are musicians who write about their passion, their desires. How great it is to see Christians openly singing about Christ and his love and the cross, how great to see them being so passionate about it. How great it is to see a light in the darkness. Do not judge my dear brothers and sisters, be open minded about this and do not discourage musicians. Now let me go and put some Skillet on, after all they are my favourite band.