Pastor's Blog

For years our church has used one of the most popular hymnals in evangelicalism called, somewhat uncreatively, The Hymnal, published in 1986.  So it contains nothing written in the past 34 years.  I went through The Hymnal and categorized the hymns based on dates of origin.  Out of 602 hymns, there were:

276 hymns & choruses from the 20th century  (46%)
229 hymns from the 1800’s (19th century) -- the Civil War era  (38%)
62 hymns from the 1700’s (18th century) -- America’s founding  (10%)
12 hymns from the 1600’s (17th century) -- the Puritans  (2%)
8 hymns from the 1500’s (16th century) -- the Reformation  (1%)

The remaining three percent (15 hymns) were of unknown date, though I do know that one of them had roots back in the second century.

I have been at Mountain View since 1982, and if you exclude the Christmas carols, patriotic songs, and three traditional Easter hymns, I count about 177 hymns that we have sung in all that time.  Most of those we may have sung only once or twice – either because they weren’t familiar or the congregation didn’t seem to like them so our musicians didn’t do them again.  So in all of that time we used about 29% of The Hymnal.

Of those 177 that we have sung, I count about 140 with which we are comfortably familiar, which means that our repertoire of hymns and choruses is about 23% of The Hymnal.

Of those 140 familiar hymns that we know and love, the bulk of them were written between 1900 and 1945.  We hardly use anything written between 1945 – 1970.  There are several popular choruses and praise songs written in the 1970’s and 1980’s that we use.

Of the hymns older than 1900 . . .
We know and love a few hymns composed by Fanny Crosby (late 1800’s - early 1900’s).
From the 1700’s we enjoy and use a little cluster of hymns by Isaac Watts and by John and Charles Wesley.  Of course everyone knows and loves Amazing Grace from the late-1700’s.
And there is always “A Mighty Fortress” by Martin Luther from the 1500’s. 

Why am I cataloguing this information?  Because one of the complaints of my fellow traditionalists is that we are losing the rich heritage of the traditional hymns by using contemporary Christian music.  But the simple fact is that that is the way church music works.  Our hymnals don’t preserve an ancient tradition.  Most of the hymns aren't even old.  NONE of the music from before 1500 was familiar enough or popular enough to survive (apart from a traditional Gloria Patri – and who uses that in evangelical churches?).  Only 13% of the hymnal – 82 hymns from between 1500 and 1800 were loved enough to be preserved in The Hymnal of 1986.  And we don’t sing or know most of them, and many times, after we sing them, we know why we don’t know or sing them!

Every time publishing houses come out with a new edition of a hymnal, they eliminate older hymns that have fallen out of use.  They have fallen out of use because people no longer have use for them!  They are replaced with newer songs that people enjoy and use. 

I say all of this to provide some perspective to us traditionalists.  We often overstate our case and wring our hands about how great the old music is, and how awful it is that we don't use it any longer.  But the fact is that the best of the old music survives and continues to be with us.  The cream rises to the top and gets passed down to the next generation.  

It’s just the way people are when it comes to music – church music or otherwise.  The rich tradition of the church’s hymnody remains with us;  there just isn’t as much worthwhile enough to pass down as we may think there is.

 

 

By this all people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”
                                                                                                                          -- Jesus Christ (John 13.35)

Loving one another starts with getting along and working through conflicts and differences, and I’m blogging about winning the evangelical “worship war” by loving one another.

To be completely honest, I have found that the worship wars are pretty much one-sided.  Nearly all the venom comes from the old school – those who love the traditional hymns.  Being a traditionalist is my own default and I have had to work to understand the perspective of those who love contemporary Christian music.  I understand the traditional criticisms, but I think I’ve learned a few things that help me understand the contemporary side of things as well.

I’m a traditionalist but I’m also much more of a thinker than a feeler.  Lyrics are important to me.  I think about what I’m singing, and it is what I am thinking about, what I am contemplating as I sing, that moves me.  The accompanying instruments are just that – accompaniment.  If they help me keep the tune as I sing, they’re doing their job.  I don’t really need anything more from them.

I always saw the musicians performing a function for me.  But consider a few God-breathed words from the book of Psalms.

Let them praise his name with dancing, 

making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!  (Psalm 149.3)

 

Praise him with trumpet sound;  praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;  praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;  praise him with loud clashing cymbals!  (Psalm 150.3-5)

 

I always read these verses to mean “praise him WITH WORDS and instrumentation ALONGSIDE OF the words”.  That is possible.

 

But so is this:  Praise Him by means of the tambourine, the lyre, the lute, the cymbals, etc.  The musician who is playing can praise God by his playing.  Even a percussionist can do so with a tambourine and cymbals, so I would assume that he can also do so with a kick drum, a snare, and toms.  Or a cajon.  Or congas or a bongo.  No words needed.

 

By failing to see the instrumentalist as actively praising God in his art, with his instrument, I was closing my eyes to an entire side of the praise and worship of God that God Himself seems to love.

 

When I picked up my bass again a few years ago to play with our worship team, I got to taste this very thing.  I’m not much of a musician.  I play by ear; don’t really read music in any meaningful sense of the word.  I’m not talented enough to play and sing; it takes all my attention to just play the instrument.  But I’ve learned a good bit working with our musicians, and when I’m playing now, I am consciously playing to the Lord in my own simple way.  I try to teach myself little things that will just create the beauty of a joyful sound – and the sound itself is my praise to God.  After all, He is the one that created sound and the ears to hear it.  And He delights in it.

 

What’s funny is that traditionalists accept this idea but seem to apply it only to a non-electric keyboard instrument.  In the strictest of churches, I’ve heard accomplished pianists play complex non-religious classical pieces for offertory, and when they are finished tickling the keys, the chorus of Amens that resounds is almost deafening.  The pianist can close her eyes and purse her lips and show incredible amounts of expression, rocking and swaying as she bangs on the keys, and people will almost weep and shout Hallelujah when the piece is complete.  But if a guitarist or a bass player or a drummer does the same thing – plays to the Lord, allowing his/her body and face to respond naturally as the heart pours itself into the playing – he is condemned as “putting on a performance”.  More than once I’ve heard people say, “This is a worship service – not a concert.”

 

For the instrumentalist, it is both a worship service and a concert, and the concert has an audience of One.  If you see it this way, you can learn to love rather than nitpick.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”
                                                                                                                          -- Jesus Christ (John 13.35)

Loving one another starts with getting along and working through conflicts.  So how do you get along when you have different tastes in the music used for worship?  Odd as it seems, that is a big issue when you are trying to lead a congregation toward working together in love.

I understand the worship wars more from the conservative side, favoring the old hymns, and trying to love those who love contemporary music.

Did you see how I said that?  Learning to love those that love contemporary music – not “learning to love contemporary music.”

I’m not a big fan of most contemporary music.  There’s a lot about it that I really don’t like.  But I love people that love it – and I want to love them.  I’m commanded to love them.

Can I love them if they love music that I don’t like?  How?

One of the tendencies of human nature, I think, is to exalt our own ways and our own perceptions of things to the status of divine.  We thoroughly understand ourselves and what we like.  We’re comfortable liking what we like, and being comfortable seems like a good thing.  It means the world is working correctly. 

That means anything that disturbs that comfort must be wrong – and we conclude it must not be from God.  And human nature tends to demonize things that disturb its peace and comfort.  If it disturbs me, if it makes me uncomfortable, it must be evil.

I think the worship wars go this way.  Each side is comfortable with its own music.  Each side knows why it plays the music it plays and why it likes the music it likes.  We feel a need to build arguments supporting our music (“God’s music”) and tearing the other side down (“the Devil’s music”). 

We start looking for what we don’t like, and we demonize it.  The goal is to prove that my view of things is God’s view of things.  And those who differ with me must be of the Devil.

This is a way to make war.  It is not a good way to learn to love one another.

Jesus said if you’re going to love others, you must do to them as you would have them do to you. 
We usually know what we want done to us in situations like this. 
I want you to agree with me.  I want you to hear me out.  I want you to see the validity of my reasoning, of the points of my argument.  I want you to see how I think and feel the way I feel.  I want them to listen patiently and understand me.

So, if that’s what I want – if that’s being loved by your neighbor – isn’t that the way to love them?  If we’re following Jesus, don’t we owe it to others to try to understand their perspective on their music – to truly listening to them?  Listening.  Not waiting for our turn to talk.  Not formulating arguments against their points as they explain themselves to us.  Listening.  Hearing.  Trying to understand. 

This is where to start when you want to practice love with fellow believers who see things a little differently than you do.  I believe it is what God uses to draw us closer to Him and to make us more like Him. 

I filled this week’s page.  I’ll try to use next week’s page to elaborate on how that has worked in my heart as I’ve processed “the worship wars”.

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