I have often told people that they need to evaluate their lives by the video, and not by the snapshot. That is, they should not just look at one moment in time, but rather consider trajectories, tendencies, and narrative arc as well. I would like to suggest that we need to do the same thing when it comes to issues like worship music.
I take it for granted, measuring by the snapshot, that it is possible for a congregation to worship God in spirit and in truth with a drum kit and electric bass up front. I also take it for granted that the same thing can happen when the music selections are decidedly not contemporary. Upon receiving this information, our inclination is to brush our hands together, say “Well, then,” and to proceed to sing whatever the heck we want. But there is more to the story, and that is the fact that it is a story.
Both choices are happening in a context, and there will be consequences and temptations whichever way you go. The decision to wade in whatever ocean is next to the beach you are on has to take into account that each ocean has dangerous rip tides, and that we wade at our peril. On the one hand, there will be the temptation for the congregation to start acting like they were old money or something, and then to send off their promising young people to the really serious music schools, where they will discover they are homosexuals. On the other hand, the rip tide that accompanies the contemporary music world is a massive movement that Christians have developed that can best described as schlock n’ roll, in which full participation brings its own penalty with it. In the immortal words of somebody, “Can’t you see that you are not making Christianity better, but are just making rock n’ roll worse?”
And of course, the point is not to suggest that there is a course of action that will be temptation free. There isn’t, and there can’t be. We are the church militant, and there really shouldn’t be. Rather, the point is that to deny the temptation that accompanies your particular course of action is to demonstrate that you are are already half in the grip of it.
For contemporary church musicians to deny the massive amounts of schlock out there makes it more than a little likely that they are themselves practitioners of it. Amd for traditional musicians to be dismissive of the “NPR-at-prayer” temptation shows that they aren’t really paying attention either. You don’t want a math teacher who doesn’t believe in math mistakes. You don’t want to hire a guide through the Everglades who doesn’t believe in gators.
One last comment. In our day, in the life of the church, it is my view that the contempo-tide is by far and away the greater and more dangerous one. At present anyway. This means that those who want to return to the historic music of the church (among whom I number myself) can perhaps fend off some their unique problems for a time by adopting the mien of underground resistance fighters, singing in code.