picture taken from hafbc.com
Recently an article was shared, by our team, on the topic of worship. After reading the article, I started to respond to the post on our facebook page, when quite a few paragraphs in, I realized that this would probably be better delivered as an actual blog post. So here it is.
The main thesis of the original article could probably be summed up in this quote:
"While contemporary worship seemed to take the listener on an exciting and emotional rollercoaster, the old hymns engaged the mind with deep and glorious truths that when sincerely pondered caused a regenerated heart to humbly bow before its King."
Though I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment or heart of what the author is trying to convey, and there may even be some good points to be made, I do have some concerns (with the overall tone of the article) and cautions for people who read something like this and wish to jump on the band wagon because the article begins to resonate with where they are at. So here are four things to keep in mind when thinking about how worship should be done:
1. Life Is Never As Simply As This
I think to pit one idea against the other, in a black and white paradigm, is never that simple and honestly is probably not very helpful or healthy. The issue here is that we are dealing with the subjectiveness of art and the human reaction to that art. What is challenging with this article is that it reads as though a certain style of music or art can, in all cases, have a particular effect.
For example, I have both seen people become emotional interacting with hymns and engage intellectually with modern worship. I know I have. So much more is at play in how a particular congregation or group of people will react to style and form than simply if it is a hymn or not. What culture do they belong to? What is the temperament or style of the church? What is the demograph of the people involved? What is the skill set of those leading people into worship? What is the occasion of the gathering? For example: Amazing Grace is a very powerful Hymn, that when played at a funeral has a much different effect on someone than when played in a concert hall or a Sunday morning service.
Not All Art Is Created Equal
Can certain modern worship songs be shallow and have bad theology? Absolutely! But so can certain hymns. I have seen deep theological richness in many modern worship songs and making the claim that choosing a hymn over a modern worship song would always be the better choice is quite narrow. The style of music, form and structure of the song that houses the lyrics have little weight to the actual theology trying to be conveyed. It may deliver that song in very drastically different ways, and should be considered, but it isn't a guarantee that a hymn will always be a better choice.
There has definitely been seasons in our church history that have seen a flooding of shallow worship music and some of that was seen in the contemporary worship movement. That doesn't mean it has always been or always will be the case. You can find both good or bad theology and both deep or shallow lyrics in both genres. To blanket any genre as only having one or the other is probably not as helpful as the author would wish it to be. I think the danger here is that it paints a picture that sees only one side of the story and, I wonder, possibly only wishes to see that one side.
Are Emotions All That Bad?
I find the tone of the article towards the idea of emotions a bit jaded. As the human race, we are both logical and emotional (and so much more). I don't believe we should be unbalanced in either sphere and to assume emotions, in themselves, as negative or that God would not use emotions, for his glory. This negates a entire facet of a person. Can emotions be manipulated? Of course. That is why we should use wisdom and discernment in how we lead people into worship. But, it can also be said, that logic can be manipulated and deep logic without emotions could lead to dead doctrine with no passion. I say could, because that would be a huge generalization as well.
The reality is that people experience God and His divine interventions through a variety of different ways. The number of spiritual pathways to God are as diverse as those who hold them. I love to read, write and dialogue with people. I find my greatest growth and digging deeper in my faith by interacting through His word, other people and intellectually stimulating things (while I am definitely not limited to this), so I get the logical side of things. That being said, I would never negate the fact that others find their greatest connection to God through other avenues (not that it negates the former either). For example, my wife finds her greatest connection to God through nature and solitude.
Some people are much more tactile, while others are logical, or visual, or aural, and so on. Even further, some people are much more social, while others thrive in solitude. We are creative beings who are attempting to connect and interact with an infinitely creative God, and so we need to be careful to not demonize another's experience or form solely because it doesn't resemble ours.
We Are All On A Journey
I don't doubt the author's experience is genuine, brought a great deal of richness to their walk with God or has been tremendously helpful for them. But as the title of his article suggests, this is his journey. I hope others can be encouraged by his story and would lead them to a greater and deeper understanding and relationship with their creator. But, like most things, this cannot and should not be blanketed onto the whole Christian movement.
Like most expressions of faith and life, there is not one voice that speaks on all things or to all people. I am always on guard when I see language that would imply this. Though, it is possible the author does not mean this, let us be careful of the idea of one size fits all. That idea can negate entire movements and expressions of the same faith, simply because it doesn't resonate with our story/experience or look like the form we have chosen as sacred.
I choose to listen to a variety of voices that speak into and on the great story of faith. I have come to realize the richness found in those who worship, think or live out their faith different than myself. This includes hymn signing churches. Though, I do not regularly attend services like this, I deeply appreciate and find great beauty in the liturgy as I do with many different expressions.
My main point is this: Let us continue to be people who attempt to see and understand the beauty and reasons of why people choose the spiritual expressions they have and not narrow the great faith we have experienced to one voice. Let us embrace the mosaic of creativity of the church that is attempting to connect and interact with the divine through the variety of the forms that deliver the truth and story that we all share.
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