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Monday, July 28, 2008

Church music, some additional thoughts

In a previous post, I presented Biblical evidence that worship may legitimately be quite loud, and that it also may be quite soft. I would respectfully suggest that "fans" of both volumes of music should be more tolerant of each other.

Some additional thoughts on that subject:

1) The primary purpose of having music in church is not so that I can enjoy it, but so that the congregation can worship God. If I enjoy it, great! But just because I don't, whatever it's like, doesn't mean that it is out of place.
There may, of course, be secondary purposes, such as teaching doctrine, bonding between worshipers, consolation, or memorizing songs that can come up out of our memory when facing a crisis, and others.

2) Worship music is not an either/or situation, wherein "traditional worship music," whatever that is, can be differentiated cleanly from "contemporary music." Some churches attempt to include some new and/or loud, music, as well as some older material.

There are ethnic and cultural differences in worship music in the United States, with, for example, mostly African-American, Hispanic-American, or Korean-American congregations. These may use different languages, different styles of music, different types of accompaniment, or all of these.

3) Music written recently is not necessarily louder than music written years ago. Much of it is played that way, though, and, no doubt, much of it is meant to be.

4) One complaint about contemporary music is that it is repetitive. Complainers might consider Psalm 136, apparently meant to be used in public worship, which uses the same refrain 26 times. However, it's the only one out of 150 Psalms that uses that much repetition, and some of them don't repeat much at all, so probably repetition is OK, as long as it's, er, not repeated all the time.

5) It's too new, or, "I'm not familiar with it," is a frequent complaint against church music. What about that?
Well, we all generally like to experience things we are familiar with, things that are like we grew up with. But see 1) above.
Remember that nobody was born knowing The Methodist Hymnal, The Baptist Hymnal, or any other source of lyrics, whether a hymnbook, sung from memory, or projected. We all had to learn church music from scratch. We all started church attendance at some point, whether soon after birth, or last week. It was all new to us once. We may have forgotten how new it was.
That being said, there is virtue in using some familiar songs. Expecting a congregation to sing several songs they don't know, in a single service, makes it difficult for them to worship.
But, on the other hand, there's such a thing as too much familiarity. If we use the same songs over and over, we, even the worship leader(s), are likely to just go through the motions, with our brains engaged in something else. That's a danger to congregations that follow a prescribed ritual each Sunday. It's also a danger to congregations that choose from a repertory of only a few songs.

6) Church music should be as understandable as possible to new attendees. There will, of course, be behavior that has to be learned and accepted by a new person, no matter what the service is like, whether it follows a prescribed printed ritual, projected songs, a hymnal, or the spontaneous guidance of a leader. The very convention of reading from a hymnal, where we jump from line to line, then go back up for the next verse, must be confusing to a new churchgoer.
Some older music is not very meaningful to the person off the street, as it were. Some of the language in older songs is archaic, and some older songs do not have obvious meanings. What, for example, would a new attendee make of "Break Thou the Bread of Life"? Or "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood"? "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" happens to be the first song in the hymnal our church uses, when we use one. As much as I love it, I'm not sure it could possibly mean much to a person new to worship. Some newer music is not very meaningful, either.
This doesn't mean that songs with "Thee" in them should never be used, but they should be used carefully, as should the latest rage in worship choruses.

7) I thought, until researching this post, that Charles Wesley sung his hymns to music used in bars. Now, I'm not so sure. A musicologist, in an apparently official web page of the Methodist Church, which ought to know something about the Wesleys, says that this is not true.
It seems to me that God can use most any kind of music. It also seems that it is possible to use music that reminds some people too much of non-worshipful music heard outside of church, thus interfering with their worship, and that this music could be of many types.

8) Affordability. Small congregations usually don't have a lot of musical talent. They are usually unable to afford the hardware, infrastructure, instruments, or paid accompanists and music leaders that larger congregations may have. Does Christ need a large praise team, an orchestra, a pipe organ, or a 20-foot screen, to be exalted? I hope not. Peter's sermon at Pentecost did not come after some sort of opening act, other than the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, which is the best kind of opening act.

9) Copyright. There are copyright laws. Some congregations are in gross violation of them. Generally, projecting or copying music that hasn't been paid for somehow is stealing. I guess God can bless that, but I suppose that He is much more likely to bless music that has been properly acquired.

10) Some people are convinced that only music recently written will appeal to new attendees, or to teenagers. There may be some truth to that, but it's not strictly true. My wife has a close relative who attends the largest church in our county. He told us, a couple of years ago that, "if it's not in the hymnal, we don't sing it." When I attended that church, I saw a good proportion of young people. I don't know how effective that church is in attracting people who have never been to church, but it's probably pretty good at it.
On the other hand, the largest congregation within easy driving distance, which I have never attended, seems to use mainly, or entirely, projected music. You can worship God and win people either way, and many other ways, too.
God can be worshiped through music written decades, even centuries, ago. God can also be worshiped through music just written. In both cases, it should be prayerfully selected and led, and it should have been prayerfully written. It's foolish, even dangerous, to rule any type out, just because it was written before 2002, or after 1940.

Thanks for reading my musings. I am planning two more posts, one on what music may do to our bodies, and one on worldliness and church music.

Thanks for reading.


Julana said...

I've recently been reading a couple books by Frederica Mathewees-Green, whose family joined the Orthodox church about 15 years ago. They sing songs that go back hundreds and hundreds of years, almost to the early church, almost chants. There is something rooted about having that connection with believers through the ages.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, julana.

I, too, think it's foolish to cut ourselves off from our heritage. (Or to be closed to any good new material)

Keetha said...

Oh that you COULD solve the church music wars.

I think we all need to remember that worship is about what I give to God, and I can give from my heart to God in any setting - - - I just have to CHOOSE to do so.

Martin LaBar said...

I'm not going to solve them, of course.

You are right.