Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Music - Traditional or Contemporary?

Churches (and church people) need to admit that no particular style of "music" is truly “sacred.” What makes a song sacred is the lyrics or its message.

Music is nothing more than an arrangement of notes, or chords, and rhythms. If I were to strike a "G" chord on the guitar, without any words, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a "spiritual" G chord or a "worldly" G chord. Why? Because there is no such thing as Christian “music” per se – musical notes are neutral - it is the words that make the song spiritual.

The sacred message of a song may be communicated in a wide variety of musical styles. For the last 2000 years, the Holy Spirit has used all different kinds of music to bring glory to God. It takes all kinds of music styles to reach different kinds of people. To insist that one particular style of music is sacred above all others is idolatry.

I’m turned off by the arrogance of some Christians who resist modern music and say, “We need to get back to our musical roots.” Well, how far back do they really want to go? Back to the Gregorian chant? Back to Jewish melodies of the Jerusalem church? They usually mean they want to go back to the music of their childhood, to what momma taught them, or to the hymns written hundreds of years ago. To insist that all “good” music was written in Europe two hundred years ago is cultural elitism. There simply isn’t any biblical basis for that view.

In the book of Psalms you can read that a variety of musical instruments were used in Biblical worship; such as drums, clashing cymbals, loud trumpets, tambourines, and stringed instruments, (see Psalms 149 & 150 for an example). For sake of argument, this sounds like a contemporary band to me!

Sing a NEW Song

At least nine times in scripture we are told to sing a “new” song. What does new mean? It’s the opposite of old! New songs say, “God is doing something… and He is doing it now, not yesterday!

Throughout history, theologians have put God’s truth to the musical style of their day. For instance, Martin Luther wrote a hymn entitled, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But what most people don’t know is that he borrowed the tune from a popular song of his day, (today, Luther would probably be borrowing tunes from the local karaoke bar). Charles Wesley used several popular tunes from taverns and opera houses in England to write hymns. John Calvin hired two secular songwriters of his day to put "his" theology to music.

What’s the point? Songs that we now consider sacred classics were once criticized just like today’s contemporary music.

When Silent Night was first published, George Weber, music director of the Mainz Cathedral, called it, “vulgar mischief and void of all religious and Christian feelings.”

One of the weaknesses of those who criticize contemporary music is they don’t know church history (as much as they think they do), and neither do they know Biblical Theology on the matter of music. Because of this, they confuse current traditions with orthodoxy. Many of the methods and tools we use in churches today, (such as singing, pianos, pipe organs, altar calls, and Sunday School), were once considered worldly and even heretical. But today, now that these tools are widely accepted, we have a NEW BLACKLIST, such as drums, synthesizers, guitars, video, and contemporary music.

So wake up and smell the coffee. We live in the 21st century, not the 1950s.

Hymns or contemporary. Both are good. But at the end of the day, it boils down to preference. That's all.