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We’ve been tiptoeing through the mine-field of Sunday morning worship and music. Have I stepped on any mines yet? I’m sure I have. But this is a discussion the church needs to have. “Cultural creep” is incessant and subtle; and when it comes to the most holy of all earthly exercises—the worship of the One Who is the “blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone is immortal and Who lives in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)—we have to be vigilant.
Regarding music, a case has been made for Psalm singing and for hymns (Part 13 and 14). Generally speaking, however, Psalms and hymns have gone the way of albums, eight-tracks, and cassettes; a phase-out to something newer. And the “newer” is the phenomena known as the “praise song.”
The “Jesus-people” of the 60’s and 70’s are probably most responsible. With new-found sobriety, old-friend guitar, and a saving faith in Jesus; they went to work writing songs of love and devotion to the One Who saved them. They were kind of anti-establishment, anyway, so doing something musically different in worship was no stretch at all. Before long, a genre was born (praise songs/choruses) and so was an industry (Contemporary Christian Music).
Psalms were penned by Holy Spirit inspired men. Hymns (generally speaking) were penned by older theologians and pastors. Choruses (generally speaking) were being penned by younger musicians. “BOOM!” some are saying right now, “He just stepped on another mine.” Maybe, but I stand by it. Psalms aside, I’m speaking generally and there are plenty of exceptions, I know, concerning the age and vocation of hymn and chorus composers.
But grant the generalization for it is illustrative of our situation. The Psalms are always safe to sing—for God wrote them. Hymns and choruses, on the other hand, need to be evaluated and screened biblically for content and appropriateness. Watts and Newton and Toplady and the Wesley boys’ hymns have got that “psalm paraphrase model” going for them (see Part 14) and bleed Bible and awe; Fanny Crosby, not always so, poetic sentimentalism sometimes gets the best of her. So we must evaluate all the hymns we sing. Is there biblical content? Is it theologically correct? And so on.
And if we must do so with the hymns, all the more reason to do so with the choruses. How many of us actually have sung “Kumbaya” in church or swayed to “Alleluia” over and over again?—too many. To the credit of the chorus industry, there seems to be a movement away from the simply-stated verse with the word “repeat” at the end. Substantive music is starting to be more of the norm.
There is no reason the “new song” (Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149:1) we are instructed to sing and modeled in Revelation 4 and 5 cannot be composed and sung today. But let’s rigorously evaluate them for what they say and their appropriateness for worship.
After quoting Hebrews 12:28-29 (“…worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”), Doug Wilson writes: “Let those words, reverence and awe, roll around in the mind and heart while singing “Spring Up O Well,” with all the splish-splashy hand motions. The difficulty is not the music, but the incongruity of the music and what the Bible says the occasion of formal worship should be like. The music itself, that song itself, would be perfectly fine at a birthday party for someone’s kindergarten class. In the worship of the God of Abraham, it is a wretched insult.”
And that is the impetus of this series; that in an age of “Some Choruses, a Pep-talk, and an Offering,” there seems to be little evaluation going on at all.Pastor Rich Hamlin February 10, 2011