Thursday, January 28, 2010

Musical Mysteries: How Should We Think About Church Music?


Leslie E. said...

As a person who grew up with all-contemporary worship and now attends a church that sings only hymns (though the music is often updated), I've asked about the distinction too. At my small group, we are studying hymns, which we define as songs (old or new) that are taken fairly directly from scripture. In many hymnals, there is a reference for the scripture on which the song is based. Songs that have a looser connection to scripture we would label spiritual songs. We're also discussing how to introduce more psalms into worship services. How do you think that fits in?

Christopher Krycho said...

Coming from the perspective of someone who's spent over four years playing in contemporary worship services, and twice as long carefully observing them, I can simultaneously say that they offer a lot and that they often leave a lot to be desired. On the one hand, they tend to be very well presented musically. On the other, it's rare to find much theological thought given to the time. At most one tends to find theological thought given to individual songs, and rarely—in the best places I've been—thought is given even to the flow of songs throughout worship.

What is often lacking, however, is the sense of coherence with the sermon, not to mention a distinct sense of motion toward Christ in the progression of the songs.

I've also seen a sad tendency for the musicians to be engaged or disengaged simply based on whether the songs chosen really focus on their particular instrument or not... a bad sign in a context where we're supposed to be setting our eyes on God. I've fallen prey to that myself at times, and I certainly think that putting the band front-and-center, with concert-like lights and so on, contributes to the problem. Musical style aside, I think doing as Dever suggests both metaphorically and quite literally getting the band out of the spotlight would go a long way to curb these sorts of issues.

Stylistically, I think each church will need to strike a different balance. Some will tend toward piano-and-violin, some will tend toward more "rock" instrumentation, and everyone may find it profitable to simply leave the instruments behind at times!

I would argue that theological accuracy is of first importance, and stylistic choices a far third, with musical excellence no matter the choice coming between the two. If the Word of God is rightly handled in singing as well as in preaching, the church will be able to truly worship. If, instead, the focus is on stirring people's feelings independent of Biblical truth, the time may be more accurately called an "experience" than a "service," and I think that's a terrible mistake to make. People's emotions are not the central focus of worship: honoring God is. The sooner we get back to that, the sooner many of these secondary issues will clearly appear to be just that: secondary.

Christopher Krycho said...

Leslie, your comment came up while mine was being written! I'd love to hear PJ's thoughts on the subject, but I know that for my part, one of the biggest complaints I have about most "Contemporary Christian" music, even among the "praise and worship" category, is how little it is rooted in Scripture. If a song is directed to God, it is best, whether directly quoting or simply holding closely in theological terms, to stick closely to what Scripture has said about Him. I am all for using the Psalms, hymns as you have defined them, and even trying to set some of the hymns of the early church to music.

Have you all come to any conclusions about how introducing the Psalms more actively might work? Obviously it would be a tad different at a more traditional church than the contemporary service I'm a part of, but I'd still love to hear the thoughts you all have been gathering!

Leslie E. said...

Well, we've just had one meeting on the topic, but our leader encouraged us to write music to Psalms, to old hymns, and even to reword hymns to improve theology or understanding (of course, quite a few of the people in this group are a lot more musical than I am). We also talked about making hymns a part of normal life and fellowship. We talked about the same verses PJ cites, and neither mentions a church service. Of course, that seems pretty unnatural to me, but maybe it shouldn't.

PJ King said...

I'm okay with using your definitions of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs for the purpose of this discussion.

How do you include more psalms in the congregational worship service? Assuming that the local church does not have those talented in the writing of music, I would propose two solutions.

1) Find the psalms that have already been set to music. I am sure there are many, and it would be a matter of research more than anything else.

2) Read the psalms together as a congregation. While not set to music, this will fulfill much of the purpose of singing the psalms together.

One point of encouragement for those trying to include the psalms: be sure to include the lamentation songs, not just the happy ones...

Christopher Krycho said...

I must note that I think the practice of corporate reading of Scripture is hugely important, and should be recovered as soon as possible. So your second suggestion is a really good one in my mind.

Jaimie Krycho said...

I think that corporate reading of psalms would be an amazing thing to see. My home church before I came to Norman did that from time to time (music may be playing in the background), and the Spirit spoke more clearly there than in any of the songs we sang that day.

The music in my church was interesting. It had a rather large choir that sang most of the songs (usually mellowed and almost country-fied versions of contemporary songs, such as "My Savior Loves"). Each service also had one or two special numbers, performed by a soloist or ensemble.

By the way, that picture is pretty hip.

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