Church Music and the Other Kind

Sharing Options

I take it as a given that God can be worshiped and genuinely glorified, in a Lord’s Day service, with different styles of music, and with different kinds of instrumentation. I do not say any style of music, but I do say different styles of music. Some music is of course excluded because it is lawless, and other kinds of music should be excluded because it is an appropriate kind of music for a different sort of occasion entirely. The music is fine, but not now, not here. I have argued elsewhere for what we are seeking to do musically at Christ Church on that basis.

But there is an additional consideration as well, what I call the “riptide” issue. I do not mean to limit the possible discussion to the two forms of music I will discuss, but am just using them for purposes of illustration.

These are the two kinds of music we can use in our thought experiment — traditional and ecclesiastical on the one hand, and contemporary on the other. I have seen and heard God genuinely glorified with both kinds of music, but (having been around) I have also seen both kinds gone bad. And therein lies the riptide problem.

Let us define traditional and ecclesiastical as including hymns, organs, stateliness, accomplished choir pieces, and so on. Let us define contemporary as including guitars, drum sets, worship bands, and so on. I trust we all have the general picture. Both of these can be done right, and both can be done wrong. When traditional music goes wrong, it can manifest itself in things like a prissy fastidiousness, effeminacy, perfectionism, elitism in the choir, and a organist with an acoustical rock pile to bury the congregation with. When contemporary music goes wrong, it can manifest itself in acute hipsterism, worship leaders whose facial expressions are more suggestive of masturbation than devotion, elitism in the worship band, and a lead guitarist with an acoustical rock pile to bury the congregation with.

Ironically, both wrong forms tend to squeeze out the full participation of the congregation in order to turn the event into a rock concert and/or organ recital. Traditionalism gone wrong lands you with an organist who brings his silk pink slippers in order to play with the footsie pedals. Contemporism gone wrong lands you with a worship leader who pats his chest in orgasmic ecstasy as the Em/C chord change approaches.

Now, here is the difficulty. When a church opts for one approach or the other, they obviously have to deal with the potential errors that accompany their choice, the one they have made. And along the beach of church music today, you do have to go swimming somewhere. In my judgment, at the stretch of beach called contemporary there is a massive riptide that has drowned a thousand aspiring musicians for every one we have lost at St. Olaf’s Reef. The temptations of previous generations are not the ones we have to grapple with.



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