Church Music and the evolution of worship

First let me say I am a senior citizen. I was just thrust into Medicare and signed up for Social Security. I have not always been in the church. It started for me back when someone from the Nazarene Church came calling on a newlywed couple. Not long after we became a part of the church. It had a formula of service: Prayer, announcements, a song from the Hymnal, an offering, two more songs from the Hymnal, a special song from one of the parishioners, preaching and an invitation. Oh they mixed up once and a while by having the announcements after the offering but nothing really changed. The same ingredients just mixed a little differently. We had an organ on one side of the platform and a piano on the other. Opal played the piano. We had to be careful not to pick songs that she could not play. She was dedicated and was a blessing to all for her stewardship of time and talent. The organ was reserved for the preacher’s wife. Lofty tones of ethereal music that could thrill the soul.

The biggest change in music was in inclusion of songs from singer songwriters such as the Gaithers. We occasionally sang songs such as “The Longer I Serve Him”, “Because He Lives”, “Something Beautiful”, “He Touched Me” and “There’s Something About That Name”. They were predominantly songs of testimony. They were songs that would tell what God has done in people’s lives. They trilled the soul, sent penitent sinners to the altar, it was exciting.

Song books started to show up next to the hymnal in the pew. There seemed to be a craving for an experiential, testimonial, heart pulling type of music. In retrospect these songs were not that different from songs in the hymnal such as “Victory in Jesus”, “It Is Well With My Soul”, “Amazing Grace”, “Christ Arose”, and “He Loves Me”. But these new spiritual songs were written in modern styles and seemed to bolster the music ministry of the church.

Let us fast forward through Bible College, three different churches as a pastor, and now retirement and we now come to the new church experience. The evolution of church music has changed the church. And I am not so certain that it is a change that is good. I am afraid instead of the church changing the world the world has changed the church.

We live in an ever-present culture of consumerism and materialism. We often quote the latest commercial on television more often than scripture. This culture seems to have seduced the church to be driven by marketing rather than mission. And the music I hear is driven more by entertainment than the God centeredness of true worship.

It was A. W. Tozer who said, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” It is so sad to think that contemporary music and worship has become worship dumbed down and has become a cross between “American Idol” and “Sesame Street”. Worship in song is to lift the veil of the Holy of Holies and peek into the throne room of God. It is not the vain repetition that Jesus warned us about by singing the same words over and over and over again.

I am distressed that the church today is trying so hard to be modern and contemporary in an effort to attract new members, they succumb to things that are nothing more than marketing ploy. Instead of worship in song we substitute a variety show for entertainment.

So here is my take on what music in my church should be:

1. Truthful: Rather than trying to get dumber than a fifth grader, offer truth that grows my understanding of God. As we glorify Him in our music, as we worship Him in our spiritual songs, don’t be afraid to convey some deep spiritual truth that may change my life. After all, He is truth, it shouldn’t be that hard. The reason most of the hymns of the old timers were so good was they were filled with theology and truth.

2. Written for adults: The Church is a blood washed throng. We are intelligent, cognizant, seekers of truth. The children in the church sing little songs once and while in the church and we think that cute. But we are no longer children; I need meat in my worship. Go ahead, give us songs with deep doctrine that excite our souls. Give us something we can hold onto on a daily basis. Give us something to hum under our breath in the times you would rather scream.

3. Timeless: Let’s sing songs that reach back into the archives of songs proven to have been used of God to edify His people. Why change something that has touched people’s lives for decades if not centuries. The newest and most popular is not always the best.

4. Quality: We need to play music well. There are those who have gifts and talents to play music and to sing. And if the best you have is giving the best they can give, I am fine with that. Remember enthusiasm is no substitute for practice.

5. Worshipful: When we sing, point us to God, not toward your talents. This is not Holy Karaoke. It is not being relevant to society; it is simply conforming to the world. We need serious worship. Worship that is pointed toward God and not to the platform or the overhead screen.

6. Piety: I hear the mantra of “come as you are, God doesn’t care what you wear, it is what is in your heart that matters.” If you showed up to your child’s wedding in jeans and a pair of sandals would you say, “My child doesn’t care what I wear?” The concept of Sunday best is being lost. I know full well that we live in a more relaxed culture, but dress as if worship is nothing more than one more day is not giving God his best. Whether conscious or unconscious what we wear is a characteristic our perceived worth of the occasion. Worship calls for the best, not what is comfortable.

My Father is rich in houses and lands,
He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands!
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full, He has riches untold.

My Father’s own Son, the Savior of men,
Once wandered on earth as the poorest of them;
But now He is pleading our pardon on high,
That we may be His when He comes by and by.

I once was an outcast stranger on earth,
A sinner by choice, an alien by birth,
But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down,
An heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.
A tent or a cottage, why should I care?
They’re building a palace for me over there;
Though exiled from home, yet still may I sing:
All glory to God, I’m a child of the King.

I’m a child of the King, A child of the King:
With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King

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