1. Deeper Problems
I’ve heard more than a few stories about churches breaking apart over issues related to music used during services. I’ve heard many arguments condemning much of the music I enjoy because of it’s musical content (not lingual). More often than not, traditional music is accepted in the sanctuary no matter its intent while new music is probed and prodded simply because of the fact that it is new. But on what basis do all of these things occur? Is it the Word of God, or is it a dismissible preference issue that has been blown way out of proportion?
I hope that we can all agree that there is no solid Biblical basis for deeming one sound as blasphemous and another as holy. On what doctrine or passage of scripture is the organ more relevant to our relationship with God than a guitar? By whose authority is a four part homophonic texture sacred and a rock beat profane? Do the dark forces have such specificity in their dominion over the physical world that they have actually taken control of certain sound waves and mathematical patterns when executed through time? Of course not, that would be silly. It seems to me that the only satanic thing that has taken place as a result of the new sounds that have been made over the past century is the fact that they have divided the church and caused wild accusations in various conservative Christian circles. To deem a rock beat or a strummed guitar as unfit for use in worship is comparable to saying that certain shades of purple or the use of a powerpoint presentation is unfit to use for worship. Satan does not have power over such things, he only has the power to tempt us to use them against God’s laws (pride, for example).
Different sounds are the musician’s tools for creating aesthetic (the actual message). In language, you cannot condemn a speech based on the use of a certain word. Even if a pastor uses a curse word in a sermon (I’ve witnessed this twice and was not offended at all) you cannot judge his message based on the use of a certain linguistic tool unless you deeply analyze its context. Sounds are elements of a larger context, just like words. To condemn a musical work for the use of a specific element is comparable to the condemnation of a craftsman for using a crescent wrench instead of a regular one. Instruments and basic stylistic expressions and ostinatos are tools and have no spiritual implications outside of the ones maliciously ascribed to them by humans. Does it matter if the pastor uses powerpoint, overhead, or no visual aid when he speaks? Should congregations be worked up about the eccentric polka-dot skirt someone wore to Wednesday night prayer meeting? Wrenches are wrenches, visual aides are visual aides, clothes are clothes (assuming the skirt is in line with 1 Timothy 2:9-10), and sounds are sounds. If anyone has any contention about this, I urge you to dig into the Bible (the whole Bible) without allowing your interpretation to be influenced by your immediate social context or the way you were raised.
Please note that I have no quarrel with preferences. If you just don’t like the drums, I’m fine with that. But don’t you dare say that they have no place in corporate worship. If you don’t like a strummed guitar but it’s being used in your church, feel free to make a quiet suggestion knowing full-well that the sound itself is of no consequence. I hope that clears up any misconceptions so that we can move on to deeper and more urgent matters:
Please bear with me as I contradict myself. Sounds (when put together in profound ways) have enormous theological, philosophical, programmatic, political, and emotional implications. However, the complexity and formal structure required in order to achieve sounds that are capable of this are far greater than with what most Christians are familiar. The fact that many of us are unfamiliar with sounds capable of deep meaning is a matter that concerns me greatly. This is not because Christians should be expected to be interested in the complex sounds of today’s academic institutions. On the contrary, I don’t think the church as a whole has any use for the academic classical music that is being produced today. I’m concerned because nearly every church in the world uses this form of expression, yet their leaders don’t understand music well enough to use it in any constructive or deeply worthwhile way.
Week after week our congregations are presented with sounds that function as no more than an entertaining addition to the text (which had more meaning before it was set to music). In extreme cases, the music even makes a mockery of the text it sets. Outside of the text, much of the church’s music is very shallow if not completely irrelevant to our faith. It seems to me that if something is going to be included in our corporate worship that it be valuable at least to the end of coloring a relevant text in a way that enhances its meaning.
Worship music is not simply a melodic line used to sing a text that agrees with the Christian worldview. For example, “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” is not worship music, but a worship text. That tune played by itself portrays Christianity and a form of deism simultaneously, making the melody an unsettling oxymoron. While the song can be justified being used in church by pointing out aesthetic implications between the text and the music and the comparing text to the text in Beethoven’s 9th, the tune is not worship music by any stretch of the imagination and the hymn should be handled very carefully if it is used in worship. The key words in worship music are “worship” and “music”. I’ve been asked before what I thought worship music was, and I never gave a straight answer. I am realizing that the reason for dodging this question is due to the scarcity of worship music. It’s very difficult to pinpoint a definition without clear examples to test your conclusion. But in any case, this essay demands to conclude with an attempt:
Christian worship music is harmony, melody, color, and rhythm that is organized for the expressed purpose of paying homage to Christ and portraying or teaching the Christian worldview with it’s cumulative effect on a sentient being.
Sounds without theological meaning have no place in corporate worship. That said, I hope we all realize that people on both sides of this issue have a lot of work to do.