The Periodic Musings of Matt Davis

November 11, 2009

Save the Hymnals

Filed under: American Church — Tags: , , — kcillini77 @ 2:10 am

I made a comment recently on Facebook based on our experience visiting churches and the way I said it in the limited text field there seemed to be misinterpreted.  So let me use a little more space to give some insight into my thoughts.

It seems that in the non-liturgical churches that we have been visiting,  the default mode of singing seems to be what is commonly classified as “Praise and Worship” songs.  This is nothing new – it’s been the trend for decades.  But the fact is that most of these songs are written by Pentacostals or some other breed of charismatics.  Nothing at all wrong with that.  The words they have penned fit well into a charismatic service or into an individual time of worship.  But I cannot bring myself to mouth words like “We lift up our hands” or “As I kneel before you” or “I dance before you now” when I am not doing it.  I pay attention to the words I am singing, and if I’m doing what we call “worship” and lying in the process, I personally feel disingenuous at the least.

Much of what is called “praise and worship” these days is filled with allusions to the singer’s present mental state, feelings, and actions.  I have no doubt the writer felt or was doing these things as the song was penned, but I just don’t feel it makes sense to use it in corporate worship unless the congregation is such that they are inclined to such feelings and actions, as you see in charismatic churches.

And when I survey the congregation, I see on other faces much of what I feel.  There is not much participation regardless the style of music.  So why are we spending 30-40 minutes standing up, a few people mouthing some words, while the band tries to get everyone into a certain frame of mind?  My theory is this – most people have at one time or another had experiences where they “feel” close to God or in what has been described a worshipful state.  Many people have them often, and that’s great.  When they are in that mindset, playing a praise song can further the experience, and there’s a desire to replicate that experience in church.  And there is a small minority that is brought to a sense of elation or a feeling of closeness to God on a regular basis during what has become the evangelical worship service.  They continue to tell the church and the worship leaders to bring it on and then some.  And the less vocal segment of the church population doesn’t complain – either out of a thought that they SHOULD be more engaged during the worship service or just a desire to not raise a fuss over nonessential issues.

But church, like Jesus Himself,  should be a place for people to come as they are.  Good mood, rotten mood, in love with God, angry with God, in a worshipful state or nursing a hangover and wondering who it was they woke up next to.   So the goal of any music that is used in the church, whether it’s acoustic guitar, or acapella, or old school organ, or rockabilly, or death metal should be to proclaim the greatness of God and the Gospel.  There should not be a pressure to be in a certain state of mind or to reach a certain state during the singing – just to adore Him.

If you look through the old hymnals that are mostly gathering dust, MOST (not all) of the songs fit this bill.  There’s a lot less said about what we’re doing or how we feel and a lot more said about who God is and what He’s done for us.  And you don’t have to use an organ to sing them – it doesn’t have to be dry and boring.

I don’t have anything against using a song written last week.  I’m not saying we should only be using ancient songs.  But I think those who choose the music for their church should spend a lot more time looking at the words to the songs they are having the congregation sing.  My litmus test would be to ask the question, “Are there statements in this song that refer to my actions or feelings and could not be stated in honesty by me on any given day?”  If the answer is yes, it’s not necessarily a bad song, but throw it out of your corporate worship.  And the sooner the better.


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