There have been ‘worship wars’ since the late 60s and early 70s. Initially, it was between the old: traditional music (i.e., organs, choirs, hymns, etc.) versus the new: contemporary music (i.e., guitars, drums, etc.). Some larger churches have tried to resolve this issue by having multiple services. The church that my daughter Joy and two of her children attend (Dorothy and I tune in online) has contemporary Christian music in the main auditorium, and then in the chapel, which is as large as many churches, they have traditional music. The chapel is connected via video when the pastor is speaking in the main auditorium. These services may die out when older members of the congregation also die out.
However, in more recent times, contemporary Christian music and worship have come under attack for reasons other than simply the old versus the new. Let us look at some of the accusations that are being made, noting as we do that those who criticized what is happening today are usually sincere leaders who see dangers, especially in evangelical churches today.
A CORNER ON THE MARKET
In an article entitled ‘There’s a Reason Every Hit Worship Song Sounds the Same,’ Bob Smietana points out that there is a corner on the market for Christian Worship Songs. He writes, “A new study found that Bethel and a handful of other megachurches have cornered the market on worship music in recent years, churning out hit after hit and dominating the worship charts.”
“Of the songs in the study, 36 had ties to a group of four churches: Bethel (in Redding, California); Hillsong, a megachurch headquartered in Australia; Passion City Church in Atlanta, which runs a popular youth conference that fills stadiums; and Elevation, a North Carolina congregation with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention”(ministrywatch.com).
Smietana goes on to quote the study’s author: “If you have ever felt like most worship music sounds the same,” the study’s authors wrote, “it may be because the worship music you are most likely to hear in many churches is written by just a handful of songwriters from a handful of churches” (ministrywatch.com).
Words and music are also intellectual property. In recent times Christian music has ventured further into the mainstream music industry, where there is always the drive to make a profit.
Kelsey Kramer McGinnis, in an article entitled ‘Our Worship is Turning Praise into Secular Profit,’ states, “Making money from the genre is nothing new. Christian music has turned a profit for American investors for centuries, ever since bookseller Hezekiah Usher distributed the Bay Psalm Book in 1640, the first book printed in the colonies. What’s new is the complicated web of demand, creation, and moneymaking in today’s version of the industry. The more corporate entities stand to profit from worship hits, the more they are positioned to introduce incentives and exert pressure along the way” (christianitytoday.com).
A question asked in the article is: “As worship music is further integrated into the economic landscape of the mainstream music industry, can it retain its distinct spiritual purpose?”(christianitytoday.com)
“Songwriter Krissy Nordhoff, who wrote the 2010 hit song “Your Great Name,” told CT last year that it’s harder than ever for a song to get in front of anyone in the business unless you’re a recognizable figure or have some powerful connections”(christianitytoday.com).
BAD THEOLOGY: ENTERTAINMENT NOT WORSHIP
In the article ‘What’s Wrong with Today’s Christian Music?’ Evelyn Fonseca writes, “This is what I have the most problem with; Christian songs that have bad theology, who paint an easy and wide path to Christ. Evelyn continues, “One huge problem I have is the fact that most CCM songs today don’t even mention God by name. ‘He’ and ‘you’ can be anyone. They could be singing to Satan for all we know”(thescribesportion.com).
In response to this accusation, people often point to hymns as having a greater theological depth than contemporary Christian songs. Consequently, some people see the present worship style to be more orientated to entertainment than to worship, more like being at the Christian equivalent of a rock concert.
In one of the weekly radio programs hosted by David Wheaton, one-time professional tennis player, guest David de Bruyn stated, “Attend a prominent Evangelical church today and you will likely encounter the trademark methodology of a Charismatic worship service—driving music and environment that is crafted to bring worshippers to an ecstatic experience. This stands in contrast to the historic Evangelical worship service being a rational, volitional, and then emotional response to what God has revealed.
“Additionally, Pentecostal expectations that the miraculous sign gifts of the first century are in operation by men and women today have also seeped into Evangelicalism as well”(thechristianworldview.org).
HOW DO WE EVALUATE ALL THIS?
Let us start by realizing that there is often a great divide between people, including different generations, regarding the different styles of worship. Perhaps it will help to look at what worship is all about.
Worship is an Anglo-Saxon word derived from ‘worth-ship.’ In other words, we worship that which is of value and worth to us. For a Christian, worship finds its worth and value in the person of the Lord in all His glory; the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being the ultimate worthy one to worship.
To put it another way, worship is the human response to the divine revelation of God in all His awesomeness, His holiness, His love, and all the aspects of His nature and character expressed by what He has done and is doing.
A Biblical example of this can be found in Isaiah 6, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. . . . Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” What was happening? Very simply, Isaiah had a vision of the Lord. He saw the reality of who God was. Consequently, he responded with the following words, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” What was the result of this? Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.” Notice that there was no music being played, and no voices were singing; instead, it was simply Isaiah having a revelation. He saw the Lord, and as a result, he responded to the reality of who God was and is. This does not mean there is no place for music in our church services. It is simply to say that worship and Christian music are not the same. Christian songs of worship are simply one of the ways we respond to the reality of what God is and what He has done.
HUMAN RESPONSE TO WORSHIP
Let us take this one step further and see what a human response involves. In Luke 10, Jesus was tested by a lawyer about what to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus pointed him back to the scriptures asking, “What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”
Love and worship should be an expression of our innermost being, our heart, an expression of our soul, our very being, and it involves not only our mind (our intellect) but our strength (our emotions and physical body). Some people will be drawn to different aspects of worship. Those drawn to intellectual expression will often value hymns and the like. Those drawn to physical expression will often value the raising of hands, clapping, dancing, etc., a more emotional response.
II Samuel 6:14 gives an example of a more emotional response in worship with the story of David. “And David danced before the Lord with all his might . . . . So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.” This expression of what is sometimes called ‘the Tabernacle of David’ was an expression of worship that involved all his strength and emotion.
There is not a lot about worship or styles of worship in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:18-21 states, “. . . . be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
Let us do what Ephesians 5 states; as we submit to one another, let us realize that different people will have different ways to worship, different musical styles in which to express worship; ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ will vary from culture to culture, as well as amongst individual people. Remember, love and worship are connected, so let love prevail in the ongoing discussion of worship.