In the defense of “modern worship” Part 1

Posted by in blog, music, worship

If you are at all interested in the music of the church and you have glanced at Facebook or Twitter over the past 6-9 months, you have probably noticed a slew of posts slamming the “modern worship” movement. Now, I put “modern worship” into quotes because, in reality, there’s nothing “modern” about worship. Worship itself has been around since before the foundation of the world when perfect worship occurred solely between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God, in His brilliant creativity and grace, created man and then allows us the privilege of worshiping Him. When people use the phrase “modern worship” they are almost certainly referring to a style of music alone, and are many times (at least as far as these bloggers are concerned) basing that primarily on what is heard on the Top 20 Christian Radio selection.

So, here is my thesis: no one has ever gotten worship right, and we never will until the return of Christ.

This will be in two parts – part 1, a brief history of musical worship in the church, part 2, my defense of what’s happening today.

The first act of worship we see occurs in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel. You know the story, they both went to worship God, Cain messed up, killed his brother, he was banished by God – and we haven’t improved music since. As we journey through the Old Testament, idols constantly get in the way on true worship. In Exodus 32 the people were impatient and threw their gold in the fire and “out came this calf” (v.24). The church in Corinth was so caught up in the “how” of worship that they forgot to love, and Paul’s reprimand of them turned into a cute verse to read at weddings. So much anger is being fired at the contemporary church, and while it’s far from perfect, there is “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) namely, love.

Of course, this pattern continues throughout history as the worship of the church began to evolve over the course of 2,000 years. Study music history at all and you will see that music has always been an important part of the worship of the church, but you will also see that the music of the church has never stayed the same, and each time it changed, someone got really upset. Monophonic chant, turned into organum, then we added the “confusing and hard to sing” polyphony, finally homophonic music breaks in and eventually J.S. Bach shows us something simply marvelous. As music moved further west and into America, more folk styles were introduced, but the homophony of Bach still ruled the day, just in simpler fashion. The folk styles moved through the 1850s and early 1900s, which is when Christians in the U.S. began to pull away from culture. Gospel tunes morphed into Southern Gospel, the melting pot of America formed more styles and in all musical genres, and then the Jesus People in the 1970s decided that the “devil shouldn’t have all the good music.” All of this eventually leads us to where we are today. It’s not wrong. It’s just where we are. It might not be your music cup of tea, and it wasn’t mine for a while (in fact, I still prefer 20-21st century classical music), but it’s not going away tomorrow.

Now, the last paragraph didn’t even make mention of the transformation and argument in text over the last 2,000 years. Remember, for a very long time, the church music was only in Latin, and no one going participated at all, and even when they did, most did not understand what they were saying. Ok, so we can put the liturgy in the vernacular, GREAT, now everyone knows what’s going on. Should we use the same text we’ve been using all this time, or write something new? Perhaps we should write songs to teach people since they cannot read. No, don’t do that, we should only sing Psalms, since that is the songbook given to us by God. Never mind, let’s go back to the teaching songs. Alright, now those songs are getting too wordy and hard to sing, so let’s make them easier. You know what? This world’s really getting bad, let’s write a lot of songs about heaven. More teaching songs? We can do that. No, now we need songs that connect people’s hearts to God, not just teach them a Sunday school lesson, after all, they can read. What if we repeat the same words over and over again so people really grasp the text and take it with them throughout the day? Handel did that, Taize worship in France seems to be pretty repetitive, even the Psalms are full of repetition. No, that’s no good either. Love songs to God? Sounds good, after all, we are the bride of Christ. No, I don’t want Jesus to be my boyfriend. Remember all those hymns written a while back, we should sing some of those again! How about we just write some new ones too? You know what? I think we need more theology in our songs again…

Ok, that really crazy paragraph pretty much sums it up and I didn’t even get into the arguments over instrumentation. Instruments or no instruments? Lute? Pipes? Organ? No, that’s the instrument of the devil (just ask Zwingli). Piano? Yeah, that’s fine. Orchestra? Choir? Guitars? Drums? No, you’re sending us all to Satan himself! Jingling Johnny perhaps?

Forgive the large amount of generalizations contained above, it was necessary to stop this from being a textbook.

Everything is constantly changing, and will continue to do so.

Come back next time for my conclusion based on this galactic view of history and my thoughts for today.