Thursday, March 10, 2011

Worship Wars, Part 1

DAY 2 OF 46

And so, once again, we return to the subject of corporate worship.

This time, Christianity Today's current series on the topic is the culprit. With their print magazine headlined "The Trajectory of Worship" and a collection of similarly-themed articles on their website, CT has managed decided that corporate worship remains a viable discussion point.
Which means the venerable periodical either thinks it needs to stay relevant by keeping issues like corporate worship in the evangelical narrative, or that its editors remain unsatisfied with the current status quo when it comes to how God's people praise Him in church.

Let's face it: the only people who think the worship wars of the past couple of decades are over are the boomer rockers and their offspring; everyone else still seems to be unsettled, dissatisfied, and even disillusioned.

Part of the problem, as I've said several times before, is that too many people dwell on preferences over purpose. I was struck by that reality yesterday when I attended the funeral of Rev. Clint Dobson, the Arlington minister who was murdered in his church last week.

Obviously, most people design funerals to be, at least in part, a representation of what the deceased was like - and liked - during their lifetime. So as a sociological experiment, a funeral is a good place to determine a person's preferences. And when it came to the music in Dobson's funeral, we got blasted with his musical tastes with both barrels. Literally.

I realize I risk looking like a churlish boor by criticizing the music that was selected for yesterday's funeral, but since I'm not ordinarily exposed to contemporary Christian music (CCM), yesterday was a bit of an eye-opener for me. If you watch the video of the service, you'll be able to hear what I heard.

For a lot of churchgoers who have gotten used to this type of music, these songs probably seem tame, or even anemic. However, for me, they are puzzling and a bit disappointing. They also help point to the reason why the worship wars have yet to be resolved.

"How He Loves"
by John Mark McMillan

He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree, Bending beneath, The weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these, Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize how beautiful you are, And how great your afflictions for me

Oh how he loves us so, Oh how he loves us, How he loves us so
Yea He loves us, Oh how

We are his portion, And he is our prize, Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean we're all sinking, So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart burns violently inside of my chest, I don't have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way, He loves us

Oh how he loves us so, Oh how he loves us, How he loves us so, Yea He loves us, Oh how

I thought about you, The day Stephen died, And you met me between my breaking
I know that I still love you God, Despite the agony, See people they want to tell me you're cruel
But if Stephen could sing, He'd say its not true, Cause you're good

"Your Name"
by Paul Baloche

As morning dawns and evening fades, You inspire songs of praise
That rise from earth to touch Your heart and glorify Your Name

Your Name is a strong and mighty tower, Your Name is a shelter like no other
Your Name, let the nations sing it louder, 'Cause nothing has the power to save
But Your Name

Jesus, in Your Name we pray, Come and fill our hearts today
Lord, give us strength to live for You and glorify Your Name

by Hillsong United

I see the king of glory, Coming on the clouds with fire, The whole earth shakes,
The whole earth shakes


I see his love and mercy, Washing over all our sin, The people sing, The people sing

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest

I see a generation, Rising up to take their place, With selfless faith, With selfless faith

I see a near revival, Stirring as we pray and seek, We're on our knees, We're on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean, Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me

Break my heart from what breaks yours, Everything I am for your kingdom's cause
As I go from nothing to Eternity

People Really Like These?
Fortunately, the theology in these lyrics isn't heretical. It's a bit non-existent, which may in and of itself be troubling, but not heretical. That's about as close to affirmation for these songs as I can get.

I don't mean any offense to people who like them, but you have to really not understand music to like these songs. For example, in "How He Loves," the atonal music, heavy bashing of drums, screeching guitars, and the inane repetition conjures images which are hardly uplifting. It's such a dissonant tirade of a song, it's hard to imagine what aspect of God that it honors.

In addition, disjointed lyrics such as, "We are His portion/And He is our prize/Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes" are grammatical nonsense, since the phrase has God drawn to redemption by His own grace. And "Heaven met Earth like a sloppy wet kiss" seems like a fairly disrespectful way to describe Christ's Nativity, if that's what the writer is trying to describe. I won't even start on the part about Stephen dying, and meeting between the breaking. I've never claimed to be a poet, but something tells me that still doesn't disqualify me from saying this song is an inferior piece of music.

For "Your Name," the goofy, childish rhymes and uninspired melody (at least, I think there was a melody in there) were wholly unprofessional. It sounded like anybody's teenaged daughter could have written that.

And Hillsong United's "Hosanna," works like an amalgamation of catch phrases from other songs copied-and-pasted into a new document. If all it took were nebulous phrases slapped together like Modern art to make a good piece of music, you and I could be millionaires cutting and splicing songs like this.

Now, I'm not implying anything about the spirituality of the people who wrote this music, who perform it, or even who like it. I'm simply trying to point out that good music is better than this. Good music possesses inherent qualities of tune and text which should be discernible by more than just the people for whom it is written. And yes, this music is written for suburban, middle-class whites. Which are probably just about the only people who get anything out of it.

Funny, isn't it, how the characteristics of many middle-class white suburbanites mirrors the characteristics of these songs: shallow in perspective, self-centered, noisy yet without substance, and cluttered with vain contrivances. How do I know? I'm a white, middle-class suburbanite.

"My Jesus, I Love Thee"

This vapid music might be OK for background noise while driving in the car, but I don't think I'm boasting when I say my God deserves better than this when we come to Him in corporate worship. Music does exist which sets the bar quite a bit higher, and which isn't hard to appreciate by my fellow whitey bourgeoisie. For proof, consider the lyrics of the funeral's very last song, "My Jesus I Love Thee," written by William R. Featherstone:

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, My Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus 'tis now.

I'll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say, when the death-dew lies cold on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus 'tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I'll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I'll sing with a glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus 'tis now.

Even though Featherstone wrote this in 1864, can you see the musical integrity of this song? Not just because it's what we consider traditional, or because it uses Old English, or because the verses are complete sentences. Consistent theological themes, the weaving of poetry and doctrine, and a subordination of we mortals to Godly deity all combine to reverently, poignantly, comfortingly, and joyously convey honor to Christ.

And, by the way, that's the purpose of singing to our Heavenly Father. That's not only His preference, it's His command to us. We are to worship Him "acceptably with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28b). We are to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name (1 Chronicles 16:29a). We are to "worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness" (Psalm 96:9).

Aren't we going to need to re-write the English dictionary in order to get a lot of CCM to fit within the parameters God expects of our worship?

I'm not championing classical music in worship just because I prefer it. Maybe my position on this topic would be stronger if I loathed Bach and Beethoven, yet still believed classic worship to be more faithful to the Biblical guidelines. I simply can't see the merit of most contemporary music and how CCM befits the worship of God.

But wait!

Tomorrow, we're talkin' about how CCM relates to people other than white middle-class suburbanites.

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