​Contemporary Worship And Music: Some Questions To Ponder

Recently I posted an article titled The Sin of Compromise In The Rock and Roll Church. Here are some followup thoughts from contributing writer Jeremy Aiello ​regarding the subject of contemporary worship in the Christian church today:​

 

by Jeremy Aiello

I was involved in contemporary worship movements as far back as 1990, and participated in them for the better part of 20 years before finally renouncing them. So for those of you who champion contemporary worship, let’s make this clear: I am not speaking from ignorance or uneducated bias. I was a part of this movement.

I have a few questions for those who advocate contemporary worship:

1.) What is the focus of your worship service? Now, I’m sure that the first answer to roll off your lips is “God,” but is that true? Suppose for a moment that your music director were to propose that your band (and it IS a band, let that be clear) be moved to the back of the church or to the upper balcony of a church, as it is done in so many liturgical churches. Would you welcome that? Would it be offensive to you if your people were not front and center stage like they are in secular concerts? After all, the way that most sound setups are put together, it’s not absolutely necessary for the band to be in front of the audience.

2.) If people applaud you, do you encourage it? Let’s be frank: applause is meant for the performer, and that is the common, public perception of the practice in society. I know people will say “well, we’re giving God the praise,” but to be honest I seriously doubt that. If an unbeliever were to walk into your service and hear the applause, do you honestly think his first thought is “That applause is for God”? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. Applause in modern formats, and particularly in music venues, is understood to be a praise for the people who use it. And I would politely remind you that it was the Pharisees who did things for the admiration of men.

3.) Who is the music for? If it is meant to be praise for God, then why is it designed for the attention of man? Is God somehow put off by hymns? Did God give a divine order to ditch pianos and acapella pieces by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley because He wants people to jam in church? I would think that, if the church remembered that the songs were sung to God and for God, that the first order of business would be the glory of God rather than the entertainment of the audience (Notice btw I’m saying “audience,” not “congregation”)

4.) Is there a particular reason why CoWo (contemporary worship) advocates seem to be pushing for more and more time for music and less and less time for the preaching of the Word?

In nearly every experience with CoWo I’ve had, the musical portion of the service seems to be lengthened with more and more songs, or with songs repetitively sung to a mind-numbing point. Why is this? Is this a worship service or a concert? Historically, singing has been put on a secondary level in church worship; while it certainly has its place, it is not to become a replacement for the proclamation of the Scriptures. Is there something more “spiritual” about more and longer song sections, or is this simply some scheme to get people “in the Spirit” (which in truth is emotionally pumping people up: see question 5 below)? Because last I checked, the Holy Spirit does not require rhythms and melodies to work in a person’s heart, but He DOES work through the proclaimed Word.

4.) Where is the theological depth to your music? Is your music about actual theology (The Trinity, God’s glory, our sinfulness, God’s grace, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, etc) or is it “7-11″ theology (seven words sung eleven times, with shallow repetition that makes God sound more like a Cosmic Boyfriend than the Sovereign Savior)? Sometimes we in the church seem to forget that our music is to instruct the congregants as much as it is to glorify God. How do you justify shoddy and shallow doctrine in the name of “relevance”?

5.) I’ve found that the contemporary worship experience often confuses emotional reactions with the Holy Spirit. People think that the Holy Spirit is moving them when they hear a particular beat, chord progression, or lyrical hook, when in truth the same thing can be found happening in a secular concert. Such a confusion of emotion with the Spirit is unscriptural and deceitful. What steps are you taking in your worship services to prevent this confusion from happening. Also related to this: are you truly playing the music to honor God, or are you doing it to get a reaction from the audience? One of the things I remember hearing while in the CoWo (contemporary worship) movement was a music pastor who said that he “wanted to blow the congregation (read: audience) away” with a particular piece. His intent was to put on a show and provoke a reaction from those hearing it. Tell me: who in that situation is the music glorifying and centering on? If you’re truly honest, it’s not God.

6.) At what point do you draw the line with what is considered “contemporary”? If you play music that sounds like Smile FMs Top 20 list, what’s preventing you from switching to R&B, or rap, or heavy metal? After all, if such a switch would bring in more people, what’s to stop you from moving simply to one sort of contemporary style?

7.) Related to the last question, has it ever occurred to you that something may be not sinful and yet still be inappropriate? One of the quickest reactions to any concern about contemporary music goes like this: “Well, guitars and drums aren’t forbidden in the Bible!” And you know what? You’re right; they’re not. Neither is wearing pajamas, or swimsuits, or facial mudpacks. Yet, I hope everybody reading this has the common sense to realize that pajamas, swimsuits, and mudpacks, while not inherently sinful, also would be considered inappropriate for wearing in worship. Do you see the problem? A preference may not be sinful, but that does not necessarily mean it is appropriate for the sanctuary. Recall the words of Paul: All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. Maybe a little more of this thought should be put into the planning of worship music before the schedule for Sunday is drawn up.

8.) One of the criticisms by CoWo advocates against traditional worship advocates is that they seem to reject it out of hand without good reason. And yet I’ve seen this very same “out of hand” attitude taken more than once by CoWo advocates against traditional music. I’ve worked with musicians who have stated that hymns “should be thrown out” of churches, and it’s not an isolated opinion stated by one person; it’s more common than you may think. If such an attitude describes you, isn’t that a little bit hypocritical to believe? What would your reaction be if your church suddenly decided that the music service would be nothing but acapella hymns for the morning services? Would you respond with enthusiasm (as you would demand of those on the other side of your argument), or would you roll your eyes or mutter a sigh about it? It’s a double standard to demand respect for your point, yet disrespect the point of others.

9.) If you want contemporary songs, what is wrong with writing contemporary hymns? I would invite those looking for new music to consider the works of people such as Keith and Kristen Getty, who have put out contemporary hymns that are both musically stirring and theologically deep. There is more to putting out new music than simply three chords with dumbed down lyrics (and yes, a good number of CoWo songs are full of dumbed down lyrics).

Think long and hard about these questions before answering.

​Jeremy Aiello​

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One response to “​Contemporary Worship And Music: Some Questions To Ponder

  1. I am amazed and appreciative of the scholarly writing, using the question and answer format. I agree with all the observations and insights into the issues involved with Contemporary Music in Worship.
    We have had some issues with the lack of melody, many repetitions of phrases, and the clapping after the solo, either by the worship leader, or the minister of music. I have witnessed the effect of loud contemporary music at our district assembly, especially on women. My personal preferences are traditional hymns,
    in worship.

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