I recently came across the following picture that depicts today’s worship music as being repetitive and theologically pathetic. The second song is an exaggeration of Michael W. Smith’s song I See You, while the first is one of the greatest hymns ever written (I verified this with science, so you can trust me on this one; the song is really good). The hymn, Be Thou My Vision, though full of outdated words, is still remarkably powerful. So yes, if you compare these two songs, and only these two songs, then one could say that worship music has changed for the worse; but why are we comparing only these two songs? How did these two songs become the representatives for the plethora of worship songs? The creator of this picture clearly believes that hymns are superior to modern worship. I have three objections to this view.
1. When comparing hymns and modern worship’s theological soundness and depth, it is blatantly obvious that both groups have masterpieces and failures.
Whoever created this picture is right about one thing; not all music is created equally. When we choose songs to worship God we ought to only pick ones that are worthy and suitable for worship. Christian musicians write for different purposes and some Christian music is not appropriate for corporate worship. A Christian song about loving our spouse, while good, is not appropriate for worshipping God in the assembly, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s not made for corporate worship. The songs we chose to sing must be focused on bringing glory and praise to God. The book of Psalms was often sung and provides a lot of helpful examples of worship to God. Take a look at some of the verses.
Psalms 8:1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
Psalms 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
Psalms 95:6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
Psalms 99:5 Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
Psalmss 150:1-6 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Take notice what these Psalms of worship have in common; they all focus on the nature of God and what God has done. They praise God and should lead us to reflect on God’s glory, splendor, holiness, and mercy while not bring glory to ourselves.
Now, let’s do a comparison with another hymn and worship song. Take a look at the following lyrics.
I'm satisfied with just a cottage belowA little silver and a little goldBut in that city where the ransomed will shineI want a gold one that's silver linedChorusI’ve got a mansion just over the hilltopIn that bright land where we'll never grow oldAnd some day yonder we will never more wanderBut walk on streets that are purest goldVerse 2Don't think me poor or deserted or lonelyI'm not discouraged I’m heaven boundI'm but a pilgrim in search of the cityI want a mansion, a harp and a crown
By faith we see the hand of GodIn the light of creation's grand designIn the lives of those who prove His faithfulnessWho walk by faith and not by sightBy faith our fathers roamed the earthWith the power of His promise in their heartsOf a holy city built by God's own handA place where peace and justice reign(Chorus)We will stand as children of the promiseWe will fix our eyes on Him our soul's rewardTill the race is finished and the work is doneWe'll walk by faith and not by sightBy faith the prophets saw a dayWhen the longed-for Messiah would appearWith the power to break the chains of sin and deathAnd rise triumphant from the graveBy faith the church was called to goIn the power of the Spirit to the lostTo deliver captives and to preach good newsIn every corner of the earthWe will stand... (Chorus)By faith this mountain shall be movedAnd the power of the gospel shall prevailFor we know in Christ all things are possibleFor all who call upon His name
The first song is an old hymn many conservative churches sing, while the newer is a contemporarily song by Keith & Kristyn Getty. The second song completely blows away the first one in terms of theological depth and worship. The first song focuses on what we get and things we want (who wants a harp anyways?); while the second song focuses on God’s glory and greatness (what He has done). The point is that weak worship is nothing new, it’s been around forever and the hymn books are full of weak worship. Churches ought to examine what we are singing and why we sing it lest we find ourselves merely worshiping the feeling of worship. It is easy to make our worship all about how it makes us feel instead of worshiping and glorifying God, and neither hymns nor contemporary worship are exempt from this problem.
2. Everyone has an opinion on the type of music that God enjoys, but none of us are qualified to determine what music that is.
While it would be nice to know exactly what music to use, the Bible is completely silent on what culture’s music is the best. We need to be very careful when telling others what God thinks when we don’t actually know what He thinks. Somebody might be persuaded by practical and rational arguments that modern music is inappropriate for worship, but they must realize they are standing on very lose ground since God hasn’t revealed this. Also, it can be easy to confuse music we like with music we are convicted about. Personally, I do not care for country music; however, I can’t say that country music itself is sinful. I cannot say that churches are wrong for having a country style worship, because I have no solid biblical foundation to back that up with, even though I really wish that I did.
3. Christians ought to behave humbly, graciously, and lovingly towards those we don’t agree with.
This point applies to more than just the music debate as there is frequently a lack of grace, humility, and love for those redeemed and loved children of God that we do not agree with. Both sides frequently embrace self righteous Pharisaism and start to believe that they are better Christians because of their view. For many churches, the music debate is going to be around for a while, but no matter what my opinion on music is I ought to realize it is just that, my opinion, and not clearly defined revelation from God. Either way Christians ought to be gracious and loving towards those they don’t agree with.
Worship should be focused on what God has done and His greatness. This means that the songs we choose to sing for corporate worship need to facilitate worship but be theologically powerful and God centered. While no one knows what music God enjoys, we ought to be gracious, loving, and humble when we engage the conversation on corporate worship. “ To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:6).
Came across this satirical video which is a pretty good guide on how not to write a worship song. The powerpoint mess up is the best part. Enjoy!