On Easter Sunday, the congregation we were worshiping with sang some music which I wanted to highlight as an excellent example of a modern hymn. Please listen to the following hymn a time or two: possibly once just to enjoy it and a second time to pay special attention to the lyrics and structure.
Here are the lyrics if you would rather read them (there is also more background on the hymn available here):
I love music, especially Christian music. I’m a fan of the contemporary as well as the past. I grew up in a home filled with music, as my mother loved to play piano and organ. My sister and I both took an interest at a young age.
I spent a considerable amount of time during grade-school and high-school practicing and playing in band (baritone horn). Following high-school, I played in a number of contemporary Christian music and worship groups. I note this, because I’m about to make a rather harsh critique of much of this ‘scene.’
I find modern Christian worship music, as a whole, rather lacking. This, unfortunately, includes a lot of what I’ve played over the years in these music groups. Much of it is catchy and entertaining, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of it seriously lacks depth and especially theological accuracy and consistency. (1)Our motivations weren’t focused on that aspect, to be fair. We were often more concerned with misguided evangelistic efforts than the worship itself. A good bit of it is also more performance oriented, making it hard for the congregation to participate in. (The latter is something I wanted to mention, but won’t be the focus of this article.)
There are many reasons for this deficiency in modern worship music. Some of them are beyond the control of most of us, or at least quite difficult to influence. But, I want to look at a couple of them, over which we have very direct control.
First, there is a problem of discernment. All Christian music doesn’t have to have the kind of depth I am talking about. I grew up on the pop music of the 70’s and 80’s. I love much of that stuff, despite the lack of depth. I love to listen to contemporary Christian music while driving around in the car or working on the website, for example. But, every Christian song should not be used for worship! It is not the fault of the artist in writing it, when the music director and/or pastor should know better than to use it for that purpose. (2)Granted, the artists or at least their representatives, do often push a lot of questionable material into worship resources.
In light of this, we come to the second reason, lack of oversight (by said pastor or elders). The worship service should be overseen by someone with the training to implement such discernment. The lack of this oversight, again unfortunately, stemmed largely from the ‘worship wars’ in my experience. Contemporary worship services often became independent and somewhat renegade in nature, with little involvement and oversight by trained leadership. Depth and theological accuracy were seldom high on the list of selection criteria. (3)See note 1.
Of course, this does not mean you’re safe so long as you stick with old songs or even hymnals – though the latter has at least some manner of vetting. In most hymnals I’ve seen, there are a number of entries which should be seldom, if ever utilized. In the same Easter service I mentioned above, the congregation also happily sang “He Lives!” Maybe being an apologist spoils this one for me, but I hope that isn’t how folks answer that question!
In contrast to a lot of contemporary Christian worship music, “In Christ Alone” already stands as one of Christianity’s great Easter (or anytime, for that matter) hymns. I just wish more worship leaders and pastors were aware of it (and other such quality works). It certainly begins with more careful discernment and oversight in the worship planning process. Start with a web search for Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend. “In Christ Alone” isn’t their sole great work. Here is Keith talking a bit about the writing process for another of their songs:
Another thing I like about “In Christ Alone” is the build to the Resurrection of Jesus. This is as it should be, as the Resurrection is the pinnacle of Christianity (Easter or not), both theologically and in apologetics. We are currently writing a ‘foundation’ article to cover an apologetic defense of this wonderful and critical event for Christianity. Keep an eye out for this in the near future.
Martin Luther, the famous reformer, considered music second only to theology:
I think we all experientially know this to be the case in terms of the disposition of our soul. But, we also quickly recognize how it affects us in terms of our memorization. Consider all the songs you can sing along with and nearly, if not perfectly, recite every single word. You probably didn’t expend much effort in doing so either. How many of the concepts and ideas expressed within these songs and lyrics have seeped into how we view the world? Are we even aware of this? As Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries (aomin.org) often says, “Theology matters!” If our worship music isn’t helping fill our minds with theologically sound concepts and Scripture, what IS it filling them with? It isn’t a matter of IF.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||⇡||Our motivations weren’t focused on that aspect, to be fair. We were often more concerned with misguided evangelistic efforts than the worship itself.|
|2.||⇡||Granted, the artists or at least their representatives, do often push a lot of questionable material into worship resources.|
|3.||⇡||See note 1.|
|4.||⇡||Essays on Martin Luther’s Theology of Music by Mark Sooy|