Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.
God wants to hear congregational singing that spans the generations and the genres. But, as could be expected, it is the contemporary generation and genre that tends to dominate our song-choices. Let’s think about a current, popular pitch:
Elevation Worship (Acoustic Cover) — Alisa Turner
“I certainly hope you love the video. But what I pray is, you end up forgetting to even watch and just lose yourself in the midst of worship. That again, you feel the Spirit move within and all around you. He is with you, he really, really is always waiting for you, always ready to welcome you in. …”
The emphasis on the Holy Spirit is not only valid, but necessary. Listen to the not-so-contemporary Paul: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (which leads to) Speaking to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Ephesians 5:18-20
I have jokingly said that this Ephesians 5:18-20 is “the Charismatic version” (because it emphasises the Spirit), and that Colossians 3:16 is “the Reformed version” (because it emphasises the Word). — “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.
Whole Church, whole repertoire
Yes, it is easy to polarise Charismatic and Reformed Churches because of their distinctly different worship-singing styles. Charismatics love exuberant contemporary worship songs, and seldom sing psalms and hymns; Reformed churches love the more thoughtful psalms and hymns, and seldom sing contemporary worship songs. God isn’t happy with this division. He wants His whole Church to sing His whole repertoire: “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”
Yes, it is essential that everyone, Charismatic and Reformed, be “filled with the Spirit”. However, Alisa assumes that when you “feel the Spirit move around and within you”, you will “just lose yourself in the midst of worship”. This is un-Biblical. When you are worshiping filled with the Spirit you will definitely not be in a quasi-drunken stupor. No, you will “speak to one another”, you will “make music” and you will “give thanks”. These are the actions of Christians who have “found themselves” as they worship the Lord with every gift and faculty they have! They certainly have not “lost themselves”.
But then Alisa contradicts and corrects herself: “… I’ve said this before and I’ll keep reminding you – that Satan loves to get you isolated … Stay close to the Father and to the ones He’s placed in your life. All my love to you –Alisa-”. You haven’t “lost yourself” when you are conscious of “the Father and the ones He has placed in your life”. God and His family, the congregation of believers worshipping with you. This is her plea for conscious congregational worship and singing.
In a recent radio news-bulletin, people are warned “not to walk alone in isolated places” because of the danger of being mugged and murdered. God has placed you in the congregation of believers for your spiritual security. “Satan loves to get you isolated” for he knows there is safety in numbers — in the congregation-family of believers.
And that’s where worship singing happens. When Jack Hayford, pioneer in the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s, failed three times to get a choir going in his mega-“Church of the Way” (Van Nuys, California), he told the congregation “You are the Choir!” – and the singing took off like a rocket. (Worship His Majesty, page 152ff). He called it “enchoiring” the church. Have you enchoired your church yet?
But since then many churches have backslidden. The congregation is no longer the choir — it has become “the audience”. Sad. Let’s recover enthusiastic congregational singing! And let’s sing the rich variety of all three genres of music: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs! Let’s have Spirit-filled people offering Spirit-filled worship!