Saturday, July 17, 2010

All or Nothing?

Clean needles for drug addicts? Or does that condone the ill behavior?

Condoms for sexually active teens? Or does that condone their sin?

We childproof our homes so that the climbing toddler doesn't play with knives or drink ammonia or break the computer.

Sometimes contingency plans are good. Sometimes we don't expect compliance with the rules. Other times we demand that the standards remain and that people suffer the consequences of non-compliance.

What if the Church develops music and videos and other resources for congregations who engage in "contemporary worship"? Is that enabling congregations who are "going to do it anyway"? Or is it doing the best you can to help under less-than-ideal circumstances?


  1. Regarding music in the Church, I have a few thoughts (more than a few, actually - I apologize for the length of these posts).

    First, if a pastor is 100% OK with contemporary worship and all that jazz, then I highly doubt it would matter whether you make "good songs/hymns/liturgies" with contemporary worship music. There is something deeper in his theology that will drive him (and his congregation) to the fluffy, airy stuff. Just look at the different hymns that different churches focus on - some congregations that use the hymnal rarely venture outside the "Trust" or "Praise" sections. I'm not saying they should give up the hymnal - just that there's something there, in their theology, that has an aversion to certain language and words and songs. I doubt trussing up A Mighty Fortress in contemporary garb is going to change much.

    Second, changing the music WILL change the meaning of the words. I'm not an organ fanatic - I could do with no instruments in church, or an acoustic guitar, or a piano, or drums, or whatever. Used appropriately and fittingly, I believe that there is a place for most instruments in church - if they are there to uplift the meaning of the text itself. But it's not (only) the instruments that are an issue - it's the way they're used. Using contemporary instruments in an appropriate way won't satisfy a "contemporary worship" congregation.

    I think you can see that in the way that certain people sing without any music at all. The beat, rhythm, pacing, etc. is completely different. Some will sing to put emphasis on the words - some will sing to put emphasis on the way the words make them feel.

    Finally, if the pastor is NOT okay with contemporary worship, but finds himself in a congregation that uses it, I think that developing "contemporary worship" material using good hymns could be potentially more harmful. After all, if he preaches Christ, then eventually the congregation ought to start seeing a discrepancy between his preaching and their practice - and if he's a patient, loving pastor, maybe the congregation will start to love him and desire more of what he has to give to them in terms of hymns and liturgy.

    I know that doesn't always happen, but if it does happen, then I think he has a real opportunity to present them with something "different" - but he can show them that the different thing (the hymnal, for instance) really does preach the same message that they're growing to love in his preaching and teaching.

  2. However, if he decides to use "good" contemporary worship hymns (or good hymns that are appealing to contemporary worship audiences through their music arrangements), then you hit a matter that's much more difficult - the one I mentioned above. That music matters. Why change one's music and worship practice if you get "all the same words" but in a setting you enjoy more?

    For myself, the change from contemporary worship/CCM to liturgy/hymns was pretty abrupt. I've discovered that's generally the case for others, too. Maybe it didn't happen quite literally overnight, but there was a point when it dawned on me that what music I listened to and the words that went with it just weren't "up to snuff" with the hymns in the hymnal and the liturgy.

    But it really started with the words for me. The message. For a long time, I thought there was nothing wrong with the music - it was just the message. And if only someone could create good songs with the same music, then I could have my cake and eat it, too. Or maybe if someone could set the good hymns to contemporary music.

    I've generally found that to be true of others, as well. It takes a long time before the music aspect really sinks in. But once you even just begin to have that "all theology is Christology" understanding, the message in CCM will bug you. It just will. It eats at you - and you change pretty darn fast.

    Where do you go? Well, you don't have much in the way of choices - so you go to the hymnal, usually, and you start to notice just how great those hymns that pastor's always talking about actually are. And eventually, perhaps without even realizing it, you find yourself also understanding that you can't separate the music from the words. Perhaps you didn't like the music at first - but you "suffered" through it, because the words are "what matter most" - and far better that you have a good message with bad music than the other way around.

    And then one day, you love the music, too. I don't know when that actually happened for myself. No clue at all. It just did. But I'm not sure it ever would have happened if I could just moved to "A Mighty Fortress" or "Savior of the Nations Come" in a contemporary setting. I likely would have preferred that setting for the rest of my life.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. Maybe I'm wrong. Probably I am. But that's been my experience, and my thoughts, on that whole issue...