Pastor's Blog

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”.

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

This verse provides an ideal – a leadership goal – from Jesus for pastors. 
I want to lead Christians to love one another. 
                Which means, at the very least, they’ve got to be able to get along with each other.
                Which means they must resolve conflicts that occur between them.
                Which, when I entered ministry, I assumed would be few, because I assumed
                                (a) that Christians wouldn’t have all that many differences to start with and
                                (b) that if they did have conflicts they would be insignificant and easy to resolve, and                                      
                                (c) that Christians would want to resolve conflicts and find ways to get along.

I discovered that my assumptions were wrong, and a good many of those lessons were taught to me in the arena of church music.  People on both sides of the “worship wars” feel very strongly about their respectively favorite styles of music.

I don’t feel strongly about most styles of music.  I couldn’t care less one way or the other.  I see music as a tool, a means to an end, not an end in itself.  If the tool doesn’t do the job, it’s useless.

The job of music in the church is to express our worship.  But I have found that even there, evangelicals find enormous differences among them. Trying to bring them together is no easy feat.

The old conservatives see worship as being reminded of the transcendence of God – how high above us He is, how far beyond our grasp He is.  God’s being so much wiser than we are and so much more powerful than we are, beyond our ability or comprehension, is what makes Him great.  Many of us grew up in the days of the churches that surrounded us with things that reinforced those concepts:  churches with high ceilings and spires, with incredibly detailed classical-style art and stained-glass windows, churches that inspired quiet and meditation before a mighty God. 

And the art of the music in those churches conveyed the same thing – an almost other-worldly content.  I say other-worldly because (at least recently) it has refused to be “contemporary”.  It intentionally stayed behind the times.  It intentionally used (for the most part) instrumentation and style that was used mostly in church and not in public venues (I know I’m simplifying this; more about it in later blogs).  Church music was unlike what we used in our everyday life.  It was church music – and that otherness was supposed to be felt;  it was supposed to remind us that we are different because God is different (“holy” is the religious term).

The contemporary approach to worship finds itself, I believe, on the opposite end of the spectrum – more concerned (though not exclusively) with the immanence of God – how close He is to us, how He comes down to us and works in our lives, how we personally experience His touch here and now.  Our church architecture now tends to be oriented that way – practical functional “earthly” buildings and very simple popular style and art (if we use art at all).  And we tend to use the instrumentation and style of popular music – three or four chords in a song, nothing too difficult or too complicated.  Predictable popular music with lyrics that aren’t complicated either (and neither is the grammar – so not the case with many of the hymns).

The old view of worship gloried in God being far away;  the contemporary view glories in God being very much present.

Aren’t both theological truths true?  And if so, isn’t it possible to worship by discovering the glory of both truths – the sovereign God seated on the throne of heaven and “Immanuel” (God with us) – as well as the art that accurately represents both perspectives?

Shouldn’t that be common ground for Christians?  A starting place for bringing people together?

Perhaps you’re saying “Wait a minute.  That’s too simple.  What about . . . ? “ 
I’ve not said all I want to say.  I only get one page per week.  See you next week!

 

 

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