“Why Not Use Both?”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Worship
Several weeks ago, I encountered an article called “The Devolution of Christian Congregational Worship”. Judging from the title, I predicted that it would be another grumpy get-off-my-lawn rant about contemporary praise songs and the damage that they are doing to Christianity. I was not wrong.
As always, I am struck by the inability of many in the worship wars to find a middle ground. I love the great hymns of centuries past, but I also am aware that there were just as many stinkers written hundreds of years ago as there are now. Many praise songs written in the past 20 years resonate with me, and I can accept and appreciate even ones that don’t for the sake of my brethren who love them.
I suppose that if you are tethered to instrumental worship of some kind or other, you have to pick a side. Organ music is organ music, and praise-band music is praise-band music, and never shall the twain meet. However, within the churches of Christ, we don’t have that problem. It’s easy for us to sing “A Mighty Fortress” (circa 1529) and “Behold Our God” (circa 2013) in the same service without the result sounding discordant.
I think it’s a mistake to junk every hymn that wasn’t written in the past 20 years. However, I think it’s also a mistake to try to turn our worship repertoire into a museum. The only things that don’t change are dead, and new songs inject new life into our assemblies.
The key, I think, is for worship leaders to recognize and accommodate the different tastes that exist in a congregation of any size. The correct response to that old dude with the hearing aids in the back who grumps about “not knowing any of the songs” is not to reply, “OK, Boomer.” Instead, it’s to make sure that every service contains a few hymns that he does know.
Anybody who thinks that hymns from 100 years ago can’t be relevant to today’s Christians hasn’t thoughtfully considered the lyrics of those hymns. Maybe they’re not as accessible as the latest Hillsong smash hit, but all of us can benefit from examining our faith from a cultural perspective that is not our own. I suspect too that if Boomer feels like he’s not being ignored, he’ll be more willing to learn a song or two that he doesn’t know.
On the other end of the scale, you have younger brethren who are impatient with the status quo, who want to sing songs written in a culturally relevant style, who predict doom for the church if church music doesn’t sound like the world’s music. They shouldn’t be dismissed either.
After all, new things are always uncomfortable, and that goes double for what we sing in worship. 75 years ago, the radio hymns like “Victory in Jesus” and “This World Is Not My Home” met with fierce resistance from brethren who thought they sounded like hillbilly music. 150 years ago, the revival hymns of Fanny J. Crosby and Robert Lowry were critiqued for their vulgarity. 300 years ago, Isaac Watts had to sell congregants on the idea of singing anything in worship besides metrical psalms.
So too it is with the praise songs of today. Most of them will be mercifully forgotten. The best of them will be incorporated in the repertoire alongside “When I Survey” and “I Am Thine, O Lord” to be defended by tomorrow’s traditionalists from whatever the next worship movement will be. There is nothing new under the sun, not even when it comes to new songs.
For now, the best thing for us to do is to anticipate the results of the process. When we continue to sing from our musical heritage, while adding to it the best and most useful of what is being written today, the results should be acceptable to everyone. They should ensure that God is glorified by our unity as well as our song.