Modern Worship

August 14, 2008, 10:00 am; posted by
Filed under Articles, Erin, Featured  | 3 Comments

If you know three basic chords on the guitar — G, C, and D — you can play a great deal of modern worship music. Not all of it is that simplistic, but much is.

Sometimes I dread picking out music for a worship service at my church. I have done it many times for at least three or four congregations, all with their good points and bad points, and sometimes, I just hate doing it. When did worship become an automatic, song-based, experiential thing? Can\’t I worship as I weed my garden?

Looking through the hymnal, it struck me that at one time or another, all of the songs in there were the equivalent of ”˜modern worship.\’ Some are older than others — our book includes Celtic melodies, Charles Wesley’s ”˜canon,\’ and other greats like Fanny Crosby.

Suddenly I realized that, despite my condemnation of much ”˜modern worship,\’ there are also many hymns I cannot stand. They seem, to me, to reek of triumphalist, reductionist, cheesy-rhymed stanzas set to unimpressive, repetitive melodies. So many sound so frustratingly similar, just like FM 91.1, Cadillac, Michigan — ”˜Northern Christian Radio.\’

So what do we do with songs we hate, yet somewhere, somehow, seem to lift up the name of the God that we claim to believe, worship, and follow? My tendency is to use those I don\’t agree with theologically sparingly, or not at all. If I wouldn\’t catch myself saying their lyrics, why would I sing them?

And as for ”˜modern\’ songs: we must make sure that when we sing them, it is not in an attempt to ”˜liven people up\’ or ”˜bring them down,\’ but to make them think, with all the steadfast passion of inwardness (thank you, Søren), about humbling themselves completely before YHWH.

And then, let us do this in every other place besides a church meeting.


3 Comments to “Modern Worship”

  1. Mike J on August 14th, 2008 11:28 am

    Dangerous questions, Erin. I’m in charge of preparing worship at our church too. Two thoughts:

    –I stopped breaking things down into traditional and contemporary a while ago, mostly because it’s not fair to pretend that Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, and Bernard of Clairvaux are at all similar and form a coherent tradition in any way. So a little further exploration may lead you to find time periods of hymns you find “trustworthy” and some you don’t like. In my case, I tend to shy away from most 1870-1930 and 1950-1975 stuff. There are exceptions, but it helps to flesh out the “traditional” category and realize that there are many layers to that.

    –You touch on an important question people are asking about music in worship. What’s it for? What does it mean? Is it like a volleyball bump and set for the pastor’s spike? If so, in an educational sense (softening the mind to receive the pastor’s teaching) or in an emotional sense (warming up the heart to be touched by the pastor’s message)?

    And if it’s not supposed to do that, if it is somehow independent from the pastor’s message, what is it supposed to do? Is it supposed to be pedagogical? Many hymn-supporters argue that “there’s good theology in those words,” and in so doing betray that they think it’s pedagogical. Is it supposed to be pietistic? Is it supposed to convert people to Jesus?

    No easy answers here. My sense is that worship is all about an encounter with God; historically, God’s people have sensed God’s presence through music and through preaching and through ritual. When the focus is on bringing people face-to-face with God (not converting them, not intentionally manipulating emotions, not teaching them), then all those things happen as side effects. But when we lose focus on what worship should do, worship can’t do any of those things as well…

    good wrestling, great post!

  2. David on August 15th, 2008 1:34 pm

    I like that when Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room they sing a few hymns before going out to the garden. I also like that when Pliny describes the early church to Trajan in an epistle he describes a simple service that ends with the believers “singing hymns to Christ as God” or words to that effect. I like it be cause it gives me hope that if Jesus and the disciples did it, and the early church did it, there must be a way for it to be meaningful and not just religious tradition. Saints just worshipping the Lord.

  3. Mike J on August 15th, 2008 6:05 pm

    david–i heart your comment.

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