Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.
Thanks for the various responses I receive to my musical musings about worship in the congregation of God’s people. Some as comments through this column, other in direct correspondence. I learn much, and am stimulated to explore new facets of this precious gift.
Here’s another email received recently: “… Maybe our younger generation does not like to use hymns and choruses in worship, but to us from the older generation, we long to have these incorporated, as they have such depth and rich Scriptural content.”
I replied: “… Very true. I do not object to the contemporary worship musical style of the younger generation … but I do object to the vacuous, meaningless lyrics which they so often sing. I plead with contemporary song-writers to fill their music with worthy lyrics. I point them to God’s criteria for the songs He wants to hear such in our congregations. Each word in Colossians 3:16 is rich in meaning. Let our songs meet those listed criteria — and I don’t mind what cultural musical style they use.”
Let’s get this clear, so that everyone of every generation and of every ethnic culture gets the message: Musical styles are always changing. Some people will always prefer some styles over others. This is human nature, and musical preferences are not sinful.
I’ve got books on my shelves that demonise rock-music and condemn those who use it in a Christian context. One book is titled Why I left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement. Dan Lucarini left because of the associations which music styles held for him. He’d come out of a secular rock music band culture, with some sinful lyrics and practices of the world, and he did not want to go back. I can understand how he views these temptations, and his clear break with them. But there are many others who don’t have these associations and are not similarly affected.
That is why we must distinguish between Gospel essentials, and the non-essentials of our faith. (See my book Why Christians Disagree (Struik/TEASA 2001) for more on this.). Music styles are not “Gospel issues”, for which we must be prepared to die. They are cultural issues about which Christians may differ in love.
Culture is always changing, especially in music. I read somewhere that the musical culture of a teenager changes every four years. And think of the gap between that musical culture and the musical preference of a 70-year old who hankers after old-fashioned hymns sung to pipe-organ music! It’s a fact that the music you enjoy in your youth is the music you’ll enjoy throughout your life. Long after upcoming generations have replaced it with their kind of music. And future generations will not like the music of today’s teen-culture.
Add to the generational musical mix the ethnic musical mix of the cultures of our nation, and you have a challenge second to none. You can’t please everyone all the time. Don’t even try!
Each of us, young and old, black and white, African and Oriental must handle his/her musical preferences in a Christian way. That is why I respect all musical tastes, because Christians are different. Our calling is to promote Christian unity in our human diversity. Human diversity includes differing musical tastes. Because humans are different, and cultures are different, I must not insist that all music suit my tastes. Rather I must insist that the musical interests of others in our congregation be included. This is the Christian way to handle our inconsequential differences. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). That’s a God-inspired motto for the one who makes up the Sunday song-list!
Paul applied this principle to the congregational singing of his day. He insisted we must use three genres of music when we sing to one another in church (Ephesians 5:18, Colossians 3:16). These are listed as “Psalms” (really old-fashioned), “Hymns” (favoured by the middle-aged) and “spiritual songs” (which the youth enjoy most). Include all three genres in the singing mix, so that there will be some of each generation who are glad we are playing “my kind of music”. (To be continued next month …)