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.