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More Meaty Music, Please

Many churches are now adding or completely changing over to “contemporary” worship services. These shows, which resemble multimedia rock concerts, have become part of the “music wars” going on both in the Lord’s church and the religious world at large.

Critics among the denominations are sounding alarms on several different fronts. First, they see a disturbing trend away from the corporate, reciprocal singing that characterized the New Testament church (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Second, in an effort to imitate pop, rap, rock, and country, it has become increasingly difficult to tell where the profane ends and the sacred begins.

A third and closely related problem centers on the actual content of these songs. In an effort to write more hooks than wisdom, more emotion than devotion, lyrics tend to be repetitive and shallow. They might sound good, but they do a terrible job of teaching and admonishing one another. Many songs were intended for a broad commercial market, and so they lack a distinctly Biblical message or are simply unsuitable for corporate worship.

Commenting on plans for a new “alternative service” at his own Methodist congregation, Bobby Winters expects that the lyrics will be “simple, repetitive, and easily sung” (Touchstone, December 2007). He worries that the young, otherwise-unchurched seekers in the audience will come to think that worship must always be “in the now,” and so will lose touch with the decidedly pre-modern world of the Bible. In the end, he warns, “it does not matter how many people are in the building if they are not being offered Christ.”

Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of Sacred Music magazine, is a convert to Catholicism and a huge fan of the Gregorian chant (of which we have a few examples in our own song books). He thinks the human voice is, and has always been, the primary instrument of worship. Tucker has no sympathy for the kind of “Christian contemporary music” he hears on the FM dial (Mises Daily, July 19, 2006). “The words,” he complains, “are completely vacuous. The sentiment is cheap.” He is amazed that this “pap,” as he calls it, “is taking over our churches today.”

It is refreshing to hear teachers at our own Christian colleges weigh in on this issue. Gary Wilson, associate professor of music at Lipscomb, also notes that contemporary lyrics are often way too simplistic (Christian Chronicle, December 2007). “They might be described as spiritual and musical milk,” he says, “but unless served with some solid food, will lead nowhere.” Wilson concludes with some well-placed admonitions:

Congregational singing doesn’t have to be a concert, but it should be the best we can make it…. We must learn the difference between individual pleasure or having fun, and the corporate effort of worshiping God. New music should be included with older, more traditional hymns, but only music that is worthwhile and well-written.

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