Corporately worshiping our God through his gift of music is definitely an important task for the church. However, the style of church music does not warrant as much division as it often brings. The immediate problems I see with the typical tone of this conversation is that church members are usually not taught several important concepts: to accept musical styles which are different from their own preferences, to respect those of different generations, and to remember that the music is about God and not about themselves. Because this topic is consistently debated in local churches, I believe it is an important one to address.
The New Testament does not seem to offer many explicit instructions regarding church music. Hymns of the early church and lyrics from the psalms are quoted in the New Testament writings, but we find little advice on musical practice when we meet together as a church.
Paul wrote in both Ephesians and Colossians regarding church music:
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Other than the obvious relation of psalms to the Book of Psalms, I am not sure of the correct way to distinguish between the psalms, hymns1 and spiritual songs which Paul listed. I know there is a correct interpretation, I just do not know it at this time.
Considering this, it should be no surprise that the church has mixed opinions and practices regarding music. There is especially great disagreement when it comes to the style of music. It is my intention to discuss the primary conclusions churches and church thinkers have come to and perhaps open debate for their validity.
This group is sternly set in which songs can be played and how they can be played. If the church has the resources, they will have an organ for accompaniment (even if organists are terribly difficult to find these days) and will not stray from the hymnal in the pew for their song selection. Some of the problems with this camp are ridiculous (drums are of the devil and will definitely cause you to sin) but, others are simply short-sighted (each and every song in the hymnal was, at one point, new!).
Their motivation seems to be a desire to be in the world but not of it, combined with a high regard for how God has shaped the church historically—something that often goes under-appreciated in other settings.
Current Culture Focused
This group tries to consistently be on top of what’s hip2 and new in the musical scene. Today, that means techno-lights on the stage, darkness in the audience, a 5-piece band and an up-beat tempo. These churches are not against using older songs for lyrics, but the musical style is always updated for the modern ear. Problems you run into include the (sometimes drastic) changing of church practices based on the temporal whims of the culture-at-large, competition between churches about what kind of a “musical experience” they can offer, and a tendency to understand "worship" in the context of a concert.
Their primary motivation is definitely good: to present church music in a manner that is relevant to the current culture. I think that is something we can all appreciate.
This group attempts to take the best of the Hymnody group and the Current Culture group to offer a blended service of mixed musical styles. Unfortunately, what generally ends up happening is that nobody is happy: the Hymnodites are upset that drums are being played and the Culturists are afraid that using any more of that organ is going to turn away young seekers. Additionally, without extremely talented musicians, musical coherence goes by the wayside. While this approach may sound like a good idea initially, I have never seen it work well, neither musically nor socially.
However, I do understand the motivation here: it's an attempt to reach a compromise so that the church is not split over such a (relatively) unimportant issue as musical style.
This classification is one with which I am only recently familiar. In his book, The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever introduces the concept in the chapter entitled "Music." His focus is not on a particular style of music, but on congregational singing. He advocates using high-quality players and singers, but does not allow for them to be the center of attention. He recommends having them play to the side of the audience and amplifying them only enough for them to be heard as leaders of the congregation. Dever comments that the emphasis should not be on a particular style or a particular person, but on the congregation singing musical worship to God.
The primary challenge I see with this approach is that it will be unfamiliar to almost all church-goers. To be able to implement this system would definitely require teaching the congregation. While teaching is good, implementing this approach requires a different type of effort than the others listed.
Of course, the motivation of this practice is excellent: to make more of God and less of our personal musical tastes.
Because singing is part of the church service, it is inherently important. However, musical styles and taste are not nearly as important as our disagreements make them seem. I have listed four approaches to church music we now use, and next week I will look at what we at Pillar on the Rock recommend for church music. Now it is up to you to discuss these options (and possibly others) in the comments. What approaches have you seen used in your church? What have you seen done poorly, and what have you seen done well? Which of these would you like to see in your local church?
1 Keep in mind that we currently define "hymns" as songs from a particular era of church music… which did not yet exist when Paul was writing
2 Hip: A word which no longer is... hip.
Can you think of other types of church music styles? Which do you prefer? Which do you think is best? Leave a comment with your thoughts!