Is Modern Worship too Simplistic?

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Front Page Leadership Tough Questions

Earlier this week, a discussion among the worship band members at my church pointed to this article where Bill Blankschaen describes his frustration with worship songs sung in churches on Sunday mornings and tells us “Why I’ve stopped singing in your church.”

As of this writing right now, he has 241 comments, and he only wrote it three days ago (July 15). Clearly, he has struck a nerve—a nerve deep enough to get my worship band talking about it, and a nerve deep enough to make me blog about it.

Here’s an excerpt from his post:

I love music. Truly I do. I love to sing. But you wouldn’t know it on Sunday morning when I’m visiting your church.

I’m not talking to all of you, of course. I’m sure many churches, maybe even yours, get it right. I just haven’t been there that often, I guess. My experiences with modern worship music in evangelical Christianity often leave me not just silent, but wondering if I should be joining George Bailey in making a quick exit from the agony.

In the article, he makes the following points about what he calls “the worship music in many Evangelical Christian churches today”:

  • They’re really, really simplistic
  • They’re all pulled from the latest Top 40 Worship channel.
  • They repeat (and repeat. and repeat. and repeat)

Instead, he says “So here’s what I’d like songs in church to be”:

  • Truthful (truth that grows my understanding of God)
  • Written for adults (We’re not giddy camp attendees & we’re not seekers anymore)
  • Timeless (reaching back into the archives of proven songs)

At the end, he asks the question: Am I the only one to have this problem or have some of you been faking it too?

What’s good about what he says?

Modern worship is often simplistic and repetitive

He’s right. There’s a song I nixed from our church repertoire that had a lyric encouraging people to experience God’s presence by saying: “If you want it, come and get it, for crying out loud. Let go of your heart, let go of your head, and feel it now.” I felt that line was not only simplistic, but a bit crass, and a shameless ripoff of David Gray’s Babylon. (I have a huge pet peeve of people taking secular songs, leaving the lyrics the same, but pretending they are somehow spiritual because they are being sung by spiritual people, but that’s another blog post.)

That song was too simplistic, and I removed it from our church repertoire.

However, there’s another song we still have in our repertoire that is even more simplistic. The lyrics to that song say this: “In the morning, when I rise, in the morning, when I rise, in the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.” That song is not only simplistic, but it’s also repetitive—incredibly repetitive, in fact.

Another song we sing, has the words “His love endures forever” after every single line of every verse. In an average worship service where that song is used, that line will be sung perhaps 10 times!

The question, of course, is whether being simplistic or being repetitive is a good or bad thing. I’ll come back to that later.

Modern worship forgets the past

The article is also right that most worship songs are pulled from a “Top 40” repertoire that is governed primarily by the Christian music labels and the Christian radio stations. I have my own issues with how the Christian music industry is run, but that’s neither here nor there. Bill is right that most white evangelical churches doing modern worship are pulling from a rather small pool populated by the likes of Hillsong, Tomlin, Redman, Crowder, Bethel, Riddle, Jesus Culture, Phillips, Craig, and Dean, Michael W. Smith… etc. (There’s actually a rather large list of artists when I start to think about it.)

However, the criticism isn’t that songs are coming from a small pool but that most songs are coming from a RECENT pool. Bill asks about the songs from two decades ago or the songs from the past 2000 years of church history.

Again, he’s right. Most songs sung in modern worship churches come from our very recent past, meaning the past 10 years or so. The danger of this is that Christians forget they are part of history. We forget the doctrinal battles of the past and wage the same wars all over again. The other danger is that the language of times long past reminds us that there is a uniquely Christian language and to some extent a Christian culture that is different from the culture of the world. Though every song of every age reflects the culture of the age, there is a thread connecting them all that is uniquely Christian.

This brings me to my first point of criticism as I begin to address what I think the article fails to address.

What’s missing in what he says

Bill ignores the “cultural” issues

Let me illustrate by going back to the simplicity critique. Simply put, simple songs are easier to write and easier to sing. Therefore, there will always be more songs that are simple and easy than there will be songs that are complex and profound. This has always been the case. There are many more songs out there in the wild like Row, Row, Row Your Boat than like Handel’s famous Hallelujah. There will always be more Maroon 5’s and Beatles than Bachs and Mozarts.

This, however, is not an observation about “modern worship” as much as it is an observation of the difference between what has been called folk culture and what we call high culture. Folk culture is always a culture that is born from the everyday experience of the people who live in it expressing hopes and dreams in light of harsh realities. Folk culture gives rise to the Blues, to Jazz, to Rock and Roll, to bar songs and jump-rope chants.

On the other hand, high culture is always a culture that is born from the luxury of wealth and education to express the highest ideals of society. When the stresses of life are all met and people are free to think important thoughts about the nature of God, the role of the church in society, and how those should be communicated, we get men like John Calvin and his commentaries or men like Jonathan Edwards and his disciplined theology. When artists are paid to push their art to the limit within strict confines, we get musicians like Bach and Handel.

Now, here’s the point that the article failed to address. Most music of all kinds comes from folk culture. Folk culture is more predominant, more accessible, and more meaningful to more people. High culture demands a level of education and sometimes wealth (Bach’s music requires an expensive organ in a cathedral to be done properly) which makes it less accessible and thereby less meaningful to most people. Of course, modern worship music is no exception.

Now this is where I observe one of the greatest ironies in every conversation about worship music. All ancient hymns with very few exceptions were a part of folk culture when they were first written. Over the years, with the changing of musical tastes, educational systems, and the structure of the English language itself, those ancient hymns now “feel” like high culture because they demand a certain level of knowledge to be appreciated, but in fact, they were born out of folk culture. For example, Martin Luther was widely criticized for using bar tunes to express his theological truths. Granted, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God has far more lyrical content than does Chris Tomlin’s Forever, but the point remains that Luther was attempting to use the folk culture of the day to communicate what he thought needed to be communicated.

Therefore, Bill would have done well to address the purpose of the simplistic repetitive songs he criticized. If the songs are intended to be part of folk culture communicating in a folk culture, then they are following the cultural pattern of every century. If instead, a worship service is to be high culture, then they fail miserably.

The question we should all ask ourselves when it comes to our churches is whether a gathering for worship should “meet people where they are” or “take people to higher ground” or somehow both?

I believe that question can only be answered from within the context of each individual gathering.

If Bill were honest, he would admit that he isn’t critical of the songs as much as he is critical of the leadersp of those churches for letting those songs predominate, but then he would have to admit that he doesn’t know why the leaders of those churches have made the decisions they have made.

So, he missed the cultural issue, but he also missed the biblical issue.

Bill never addresses the biblical issues

Worship is not about me. Every Christian who has been in any church would readily admit that. “Worship isn’t about us!” we all say. But most of us are lying when we say that.

One person says, “Worship isn’t about us! We shouldn’t do songs just because they make us feel good or jumpy. We should do songs that make us think about God! Songs that elevate his attributes!”

Another person says, “Worship isn’t about us! We shouldn’t sing songs that confuse people just because we think that’s the right thing to do. Worship is about God; it’s about people telling God we love him; it’s about people offering themselves to him for his purposes in this world.”

The irony is that each person is expressing their belief about what worship “should” be by expressing what they want worship to be for themselves. In other words, in saying “Worship isn’t about us” they affirm their belief that worship is completely about them.

Let me go on a limb and say that worship is simply this: affirming God’s worth.

Let me go on another limb and say that for worship to really be all about God, it must be informed completely by God’s Word. All conversation about worship that doesn’t center on and build from the text of the Bible is mere gum-flapping!

Here are a few examples of how the Bible would inform Bill’s article:

  • Sometimes simplicity is good: 1 Corinthians 2:2, Psalm 13:1-6
  • Repetition is often profoundly good: Psalms 136:1-26, Revelation 4:8
  • Personal expression is good: Matthew 26:6-13
  • Difficult lyrics are bad: Matthew 13:19
  • Mental discipline is good: 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 5:11-14
  • Musical variety is commanded: Colossians 3:15-17

Now, this last verse to which I just referred is an amazing one for our conversation here today. Let me quote it in context:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. — Colossians 3:12-17

The person who reads this passage with an open heart to the things of God would understand that in every conversation, in every worship service, in every blog post, and in every thought, he is to possess compassion and humility. He is to bear with others and forgive quickly. He is to express a love that builds unity and demonstrate a heart at peace. He is to appreciate the giving and receiving of all kinds of songs whether informal psalms, carefully crafted hymns or spontaneous words brought on by the Holy Spirit, and he is commanded to sing them with gratitude.

A true worshipper worships God regardless of song or instrumentation so long as the song itself doesn’t violate one of these other biblical principles.

In light of this verse, I realize that Bill doesn’t merely miss some important points, rather, he actually does some things that do violence to the church as a whole.

What’s wrong with what he says?

Reading the article, I found myself agreeing with him in theory while still feeling offended at his rather angry, sarcastic tone. I brushed it off because that’s what you get on blogs, and I myself have been guilty of that same tone at times on this blog. However, when I started reading the comments, I began to see how this article and others like it are divisive and damaging to the church. A few points will suffice:

He raises good issues from the perspective of personal preference

Churches should pay attention to the songs they sing and the reasons behind those songs, but churches shouldn’t care about the personal preference of one specific disgruntled blog writer who doesn’t want to sing when he visits a church with no intention of submitting himself to the community of that church.

My point is that he offers his personal critique only from his own perspective. A song that is simplistic to him, a man who was raised in the church and has never been a seeker, might not be simplistic to a man who Saturday was drunk and decided on Sunday morning that his life needed to change.

Any argument of personal preference in the context of the church must be surrounded completely with biblical support and social awareness. Stating what he wants isn’t good enough.

He falsely attacks good people

I agree that churches should strive to express truth in their worship music, that they should avoid overly simplifying things and that they should be careful that repetition isn’t used purely for the “trance” impact it can have on people, but that’s no reason for him to attack the God-fearing men and women who wrote those songs he can’t stand.

This paragraph specifically bothered me:

They’re really, really simplistic. There, I tried to keep the words small. You certainly put a lot of work into doing that for me each Sunday. It’s not just that most of the lyrics are simple — as in easy to understand. It’s that so many of the songs remind me of the ditties we sang at camp — when I was ten. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the theology in some of those camp songs was more advanced than the ones I’ve heard in some of your services. But, hey, everybody else seems to be really, really enjoying it so maybe it’s just me. Unless, of course, they’ve also learned how to fake it.

Or maybe someone for the first time in her life is beginning to understand that God really will “never let go.”

His article promotes Christian divisiveness and empty quarrels.

Finally, a quick skim through the comments yields a number of people who say, “I’m with you” or similar statements. People talk about how they are also sick of church music, how they also don’t go to church anymore because of the music, etc. Other people talk about how there are other churches he should try like a traditional Baptist church or something. The comments display what I think the Bible would call “foolish controversies” (Titus 3:9), and Paul’s recommendation to Titus regarding such things is this:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. — Titus 3:10

Bill’s closing words on his article asked if anyone else was “faking it” in worship, and he invited people to respond as if them “faking” worship was somehow the fault of the church or the songs.

Don’t fall for it.

If you are “faking” worship, the fault is yours.

Conclusion

It is my sincere desire that the conversation regarding worship in churches takes a different tone than the one presented in Bill’s article. My personal hope is that we stop talking about music and lyrics as if there is some “right way” of doing worship or some “right way” of writing a worship song. My personal hope is that we could start asking the question, what is the best way to express how great God is, and what is the best way to help people connect with that? In other words, I want us to ask, what is the best way to connect the truth of God with my spirit and the spirit of my neighbor? And what is the best way to express from my spirit the truth of God? If we can do that, we will be worshiping in spirit and in truth, and I’ve been told that’s what God really wants anyway (John 4:23).

23 comments

  1. Irene

    Thank you for your comments on Bill’s blog. I read his blog then yours and I was wondering about Bill’s comment. At first when I read the title of his blog, I was thinking he was being unsubmissive. Then I thought I would withhold my thoughts till I read what he has to say. Like you, I was agreeing with his points as I’ve heard a similar comment by someone else about the lyrics being too simple or that it doesn’t have much theology. Sometimes, we are influenced by what people say, rightly or wrongly. I’m glad you brought up your point of view as I do feel that being divisive is not a good thing. Although perhaps I’m reminded to use all types of songs in our worship as the spirit leads and not worry about what people might think. I believe if someone truly wants to worship God, they will sing whatever song that is presented with their hearts as that is the main purpose; even though they might not like the particular song. God bless!

  2. Elaine Goerne

    I love how you have turned this negative into a positive. You are never going to please everyone no matter what you sing or how you sing it. The bottom line is Who are you worshiping? Is it the songs or are you worshiping God? He receives all we bring to him, no matter how it sounds.

  3. Neville

    I believe both you and Bill have good points to make. I will go back and read/study both articles and the comments in more depth. I would say, based on my own experience, that our modern “worship service” seems guaranteed to create a generation or two or three of people who are less, not more, musically literate. When you find yourself humming a song but can’t remember the lyrics because it has become background elevator music to you, then I think you have been dumbed-down.

    There is a separate issue that was not even addressed in these articles, and that is the physiological effects of modern amplified pop/rock music inside the church building. When a dB meter indicates that the sound level is high enough to cause permanent hearing damage to every person in the church, then how can that possibly be good? I have done this test – the result was astounding.

  4. Jeff Post author

    Great comments here so far. I always take myself back to this question when evaluating a worship service or any event for that matter: “What was/is the purpose of this event/gathering?”

    If the purpose is to teach music, we are failing. However, if the purpose is to inspire believers, or reach unbelievers, or teach the Word, or exalt God, then the appearance of the event will be different. I’d like to create a service that does all of that all at once, but pragmatically, I don’t believe the “perfect” worship service exists this side of heaven.

  5. Tami

    Thank you for your respectful reply to Bill’s rantful blog. I found his comments spiritually saddening for an educated pastor of the church; not much grace or breadth of understanding of the purpose and needs of the church body, of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and meeting to worship God in the very many ways our creator has designed us to do.

    God knows our hearts, waiting for us to respond in praise and worship; I believe God enjoys all forms we can offer. Criticism of music genres is likened to complaining about the preacher’s message each week; did you listen with ears to hear and an open heart, or were you too focused on the delivery, the grammar, the clothing the pastor wore?

    Having said that, as with any worship service, God must be the focus of our worship; not the band, not the preacher, not the building, not our ‘clique’ of friends that do and say what we like to do and say. It is difficult to separate our human wants and needs from our worship time, but it is a worthy goal as a disciple of Jesus the Christ!

  6. Neville

    There are are other reasons that people have problems with a lot of modern church music, especially the more rock-and-roll based stuff. I’ve heard people talk about how they came out of certain subcultures, into Christianity, and that music still holds a strong association in their mind with those times and activities and bad friends, etc. I can certainly see how that could be a problem, and not at all akin to taking issue with the pastor’s clothes or grammar.

    I believe that we have also erred by elevating (figuratively and literally) the “worship teams” above the congregation. On top of that, we have churches (there’s one near us) that jump right over into the concert theme with fog machines, etc. I haven’t heard of the worship team throwing their sweaty handkerchiefs out as prayer cloths, but it wouldn’t surprise me all that much!

  7. Irene

    1 JOHN 4:1 CEV
    “Dear friends, don’t believe everyone who claims to have the Spirit of God. Test them all to find out if they really do come from God. Many false prophets have already gone out into the world,”

    This was the Bible verse in my Bible App today. I’m reminded how we need to be careful and test the people to see if they have the Spirit of God in them. This is a reminder for all of us. God bless us, protect us and guide us. Peace in Christ.

  8. Jeff Post author

    Thanks again for these comments.

    However, in light of Neville’s comment above, let me remind you all to maintain an encouraging tone. Specifically, I don’t want us to be judging the motives of other churches and their musical tastes. If a church does a rock concert every week, that might be just as valid as doing a silent service of meditation.

    As far as I’m concerned, fog machines, lights, tamborines, harps, lyres, cymbals, guitars, organs, pianos, drums, bottles of perfume, strips of linen and more are all instruments of worship in the hands of a worshiper.

    So, let me encourage us to not judge people or churches by their instruments. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Sure, we are called to “test spirits” by asking if Christ is being affirmed as Lord, and Jesus tells us to judge people by their fruit, so we can ask if souls are saved and believers are edified, but when it comes to worship, our only evaluative markers in the New Testament are “Spirit” and “Truth.”

    There’s something about worship that seems to expect lavish and outlandish, extravagant and even at times offensive expressions. Of course, I’m thinking of 2 Samuel 6:16-23 and Matthew 26:6-13.

    Oh, and here’s my most profound thought about David’s dancing naked in 2 Samuel… if people saw David’s nakedness as he danced, it was because they weren’t looking at the Ark.

  9. Neville

    Jeff, this is your blog and I did not not intend to derail it or offend. I assume that your were addressing the second half of my comment. I would like to read some response to the first half, as this is a real situation that I know some people have to deal with.

    I will not take any offense at all if you would like to just delete my comments. I do understand the logic of what you said in your response, even if it doesn’t ring true in my spirit. I just jumped in the middle of this thing, and it’s fine if you prefer me to jump out (really!). In case you don’t wish that, then I’ll include the following:

    I would be interested in seeing you address where you would draw the line at what is appropriate. In the very extreme, a worshiper could worship by exhibiting the talents with which God has blessed him/her, such as astounding strength (bench-pressing demonstrations) or dexterity/coordination (plate-spinning) or hand-eye coordination (knife-throwing). I suspect that most Christians would not find those to be proper expressions of worship, but as long as the activities are not prohibited by scripture, there seems to be little or nothing to distinguish them from the examples you gave. One could go even more extreme and (bear with me here for a minute, and please don’t read this to children) say that sex is a tangible expression of love, which comes from God, so that would be an appropriate form of worship (if husband/wife, without visible nudity, and if all the other congregants are focused on their own worship and not responding lustfully, etc. etc. then you’d be hard-pressed to find a scriptural edict written against it). All hyperbole aside, then, is there not a line somewhere that we should use to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate?

  10. Jeff Post author

    I appreciate your comments, Neville, and I especially appreciate the tone of this extra question. You are right that I was specifically referring to the handkerchief comment above which I personally thought was funny, but still potentially too much.

    Anyway, I do think we need to “draw lines” regarding what’s appropriate, but “appropriate” is always culturally dependent. For example, I personally think that it can be a very valid form of worship for someone to express incredible feats of strength and for others to respond to that with amazement, awe, and wonder at the God who created the human body to do such things. I can imagine a context (bodybuilders for example) where such things could be part of a worship service.

    Of course, the Bible seems to put a great deal of emphasis on music rather than feats of strength, but I think that’s because songs have the greatest potential to link “truth” and “spirit.”

    Your other example regarding sexual expression is interesting. Paul tells us that everything God created is good and is to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). He also says that whatever we do, we should do in the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17 which is ironically in the context of Paul’s teaching on using music in worship) with thanksgiving. In other words, I firmly believe that everything in life can be an expression of worship. Therefore, eating an apple can be an expression of worship if the apple is received with gratitude and thanksgiving. Likewise, sex can be an expression of worship. However, God gives us clear guidelines for how sex is to be expressed—only husband to wife. God teaches against lustful eyes, immodesty, and causing others to stumble, so therefore, sex in a public setting is clearly outside God’s will.

    In other words, what I’m saying is that to live in God’s world according to God’s will because of God’s worth is inherently worshipful. To use anything God has given against his will is inherently sinful.

    So what should we say about expressions of worship in a public setting?

    I come back to two principles:

    • Does this expression of worship in this context express the truth of God in a way that moves the spirit?
    • Does this expression of worship fully recognize the boundaries God has established regarding how it should be expressed?

    The line between appropriate and inappropriate is therefore this: Whatever communicates God’s truth in a way that honors God’s will and connects with the human spirit in a specific context is appropriate for that context. Whatever doesn’t is inappropriate in that context.

    To keep the conversation going, can you think of any specific examples of something that contradicts or violates the “line” I’ve just described?

  11. Garry

    Hey Jeff,
    Just a thought here, but have you looked at the responses to Bills article on ‘his’ sight? I’ve read both those who responded to you and those who responded to Bills. Guess what I discovered? It is kind of like ‘He says, She says’ going on here. I’ve been a pastor of youth as well as being a senior pastor for over 33 yrs. I’ve seen and heard all the changes in music during this time. You and I both know that there has been some great music. But, I have also noticed that people don’t worship the Lord like they used to. They can’t! They have to watch the screen for the words! So many new songs are hard to sing and commit to memory that you have to watch. When you’re watching, you aren’t worshiping. The second thing about the difference is that some songs that are sung in the church today ARE NOT WORSHIP SONGS! They were mean’t to entertain by listening to them on CD’s or DVD’s. Currently I am ministering to a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of alcoholics and addicts. They really like the songs that allow them to clap, shout, jive and bounce, but they don’t worship! When a song is sang that is slower and is directed to glorifying the Lord, they clam up! I’m sorry, but I have to agree, in essence, that Bill hit upon a real problem in a lot of churches. Not all, mind you, but a lot of them. I used to see tears of joy in worship, now it’s clapping and shouting at a deafening level. I believe that we need to bring balance back into worship. Thanks!
    Garry

  12. Neville

    Jeff, I’m going to stick with my example of sexual expression, even though discussing this really makes me uncomfortable (and I’m probably not the only one).

    You missed or disregarded my qualification: “(if husband/wife, without visible nudity, and if all the other congregants are focused on their own worship and not responding lustfully, etc. etc. then you’d be hard-pressed to find a scriptural edict written against it).” In an earlier comment, you said that “if people saw David’s nakedness as he danced, it was because they weren’t looking at the Ark.” Together, your statement and my example seem to provide ample room for sexual “worship”. And within the boundaries we’ve set for the example, it fits your 2-part test. But we both know, at a minimum, that is at least a very bad idea, even if it is in fact an expression of worship.

    Also, could you address my earlier real-world example of people who have trouble disassociating modern church rock-concert type environments from their own past, where those memories are linked with past sins that they would rather forget and put behind them.

  13. Betty Fischer

    I have to wonder about all the “excuses” one uses about why they can’t worship God. Simplicity(I dare you to memorize all the verses of a new hymn and sing it in the key it is written in the amount of time you can memorize a newer praise song), too wordy, key to high/low (although this would be more valid than any other), having to “watch” a screen (vs looking at a page in a hymnal?) and on and on it goes.
    Basically this boils down to “I’ll worship God in singing when I hear something I like and can comfortably sing”. We all go about our day doing things we don’t like to do or have difficulty doing. However, we accomplish them anyway. Not participating in corporate worship because it’s not convenient or not comfortable is just an excuse.
    As long as there is nothing doctrinally incorrect with a song, then there is no reason why it can’t be used. Your and my participation is dependent upon whether we want to honor God in this way. If you can’t or don’t want to sing, speak the words from your heart in worship to God. His love endures forever? Repetitive? Then why did God allow Psalm 118 into the Bible? And “I rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philipians 4:4
    And Neville…seriously…does this subject NEED to be discussed in a worship song blog? “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Phillipians 4:8

  14. jim razor

    Jeff,

    Just wanted to thank you for the clarity of your thoughts and words within the murky waters that have been stirred up.

    This has always been a difficult series of issues… The choice of songs & loudness wars are painful at times.
    Having been on all sides of this issue (former worship leader, currently FOH, & frustrated member of the congregation) I find myself agreeing somewhat with all sides. But, am very sad at the divide that gets created with such strong emotional issues.

    Thanks again

  15. Neville

    Betty, yes, sadly it does need to be discussed here. Hyperbolic though it may be, it is straight out of the Bible, and I put it in as an extreme example of a thread of logic that others here were advocating. I also put in a known-true real-world example that nobody has taken up to discuss.

    There are, of course, examples of “worship songs” that do have theological or doctrinal problems (I call them JIMG songs – Jesus Is My Girlfriend), but I don’t think there is a lot of disagreement on those (there is some disagreement, to be sure, or such songs would never hit the screen at church).

  16. Jeff Post author

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

    Neville, let me respond to you.

    If I understand you correctly, you are asking this question: Is it appropriate for a husband and wife to express themselves sexually during a worship service of the church if no one else sees them or knows about it?

    I think you believe this scenario is a counter example to what I’ve said above. I made the claim that expressions of worship are culturally dependent so long as they fall in line with the truth of the Bible. You assert that there is no prohibition against using sex as an expression of worship, and therefore, it is a counter-example to my claim.

    I don’t want to carry this discussion much longer because I don’t see how it is fruitful. Your scenario is wrong-headed for two clear reasons:

    First, you don’t define what you mean by worship. If you use the word worship to refer to the events hosted by a church, then your definition of worship is too narrow. If, however, by worship you include the heartfelt activities of a married couple all by themselves in the privacy of their own home, then you should admit that their sexual expression is potentially just as God-honoring and therefore worshipful as anything else in creation when it does what it was made to do. If the heavens declare the glory of God simply by revolving the way they do, then any human behavior that falls in line with God’s will can be called worship.

    Secondly, you have neglected the clear biblical commands on what principles should apply to corporate worship. Certainly, there are commands against lust and commands for modest attire, but beyond that, there are commands to consider others better than yourself, to submit yourself to one another, to account for the whole body of Christ and to not put a stumbling block in anyone’s way. Paul’s commands about worship specifically in 1 Corinthians 11-14 point to modesty and propriety as virtues in worship.

    Therefore, either you have failed to understand the biblical concept of worship as something that encompasses all of life, or you have failed to understand the clear biblical limitations on the corporate worship of the gathered church.

    You also said:

    Also, could you address my earlier real-world example of people who have trouble disassociating modern church rock-concert type environments from their own past, where those memories are linked with past sins that they would rather forget and put behind them.

    I believe that every environment has the potential to be a stumbling block to someone. We can’t remove all stumbling blocks, but we can create multiple environments. A hymn might remind someone of the abuse they suffered at the hands of a priest who did vile things to them while the choir was practicing. A drum beat might remind someone of their drugged out rock-and-roll youth. That’s why I’m so glad that God has given us multiple expressions of worship. No one environment will suit all people, but, and this is very important to my whole belief system, there is a unique environment of true worship that exists for every person.

    As a pastor, my goal is to create a unique environment that reaches the people who aren’t already being reached.

  17. Neville

    Jeff, I think you are getting distracted from the underlying message by the medium of the example. My example of sexual worship didn’t neglect any biblical commands or warnings; it addressed them from the very outset. And as far as defining worship to be a church event, that has been the entire context of the discussion. For the record, I haven’t put anything of my own views on the table here, as I was simply pointing out the holes in the logic of a position by offering an extreme example that met your own criteria. Going back to your example of King David, I think it was imprudent for him to dance around so hard that his clothes either fell off or flashed the onlookers, but I would not condemn him for an accident. However, painting everyone with same brush as Michal is stretching things. She was very understandably upset, as I suspect you would be if your spouse did the same thing, but she crossed the line to hatred and despised him. You implied that anyone/everyone watching that was embarassed or scandalized by David’s “show” was themselves at fault rather than David, because they weren’t focusing their eyes solely on the ark. By your argument, the scenario I painted, given the caveats I cited, would be a perfectly fine expression of worship, and if someone was offended then it would be their own fault for looking. The point of the example is simply that the “well, they asked for it” argument doesn’t work. The irony is that while neither of us personally advocate this type of worship, if it really happened according to the ground rules I laid out then it would be more indicative of a truly worshipful body of believers (i.e. focused only and absolutely on God) than any we have (or anyone else here has) likely seen before.

    Re. the less highly charged example of triggering painful/sinful memories from the past and thus giving the Enemy a toe in the door, I agree completely that anything might be a trigger for somebody. It could even be something as otherwise innocuous as the color of the pastor’s shirt. But given the fact that we have a couple of generations now that have grown up in a culture that revels in behavior that is often directly or indirectly linked with sinful behavior, I think it is more likely that a rock-concert atmosphere at church will cause that problem, when compared to the abuse-during-hymn-practice example (which, I do not deny, could happen). And, yes, people likely to be so affected could choose to go to a different church or a different kind of service, but doesn’t that quickly get out of hand itself?

    The lack of concern for the parishioners, in favor of the preferences of the staff or worship team/leader, shows up in other ways as well. I don’t think think any of us here would advocate or support going around in the congregation and shining a laser in the eyes of each of the people there. Yet we see no problem with playing music (maybe even hymns) at such a high volume that it is physically damaging to the hearing of the congregants. This is commonplace, and easily measured with a decibel meter. In fact, I know an NCFCA competitor who, as research for a speech, measured and logged that data at a bunch of different types of church services, and found that almost all of them (even the dead, boring, fuddy-duddy, traditional services) were well over safe levels.

    I think we need to lean toward being more self-critical in how we do things, instead of taking an “it’s all fine until you prove it wrong” approach. All things may be acceptable, but not all things are profitable.

  18. Jeff Post author

    Hi Neville,

    I agree we should move away from your specific example. I’m not even sure why we have allowed it to linger since neither of us think it’s a good one.

    As I understand your position, you are saying the following things:

    1. Worship in a public context needs to have more limits placed upon it than “does the Bible prohibit this behavior in worship.”
    2. Specifically, the most potentially damaging worship behavior is the “rock concert” style of church service because it may rekindle the drinking/smoking/drug-using flame from a person’s past.
    3. Additionally, loud music is physically dangerous and proves that church leaders are more concerned with their own preferences than for the needs/safety of the congregation.
    4. Therefore, the church needs to be more self-critical regarding all we do.

    If I have misunderstood you, please give me specific points of clarification. If I have understood your position correctly, I will respond simply:

    1. Yes there are extremes, but I still stand by my earlier statement that worship is a language and language always has a context. What’s not valid in one context might be valid in another context. If you don’t agree, then we disagree and there’s no need to move forward on this point.
    2. I think your point unfairly links “rock concert” music with sins like drugs, drinking, and sexual promiscuity. I believe that is a naive point of view. Every society has its ills and every society has cultural expressions. To link the sins of a society with the cultural expressions of that society is as I said naive.
    3. Yes, loud music is dangerous. Perhaps we should start a movement of giving free decibel meters to churches.
    4. Yes, we should be self-critical. I hope to be critical of myself so that my own presuppositions do not hinder the worship ministry of the church I lead. I hope you are critical of yourself in the same way.

    My main point has been and still is simply this: Worship is the expression of a human heart through words, music, attitudes, and actions. As such, it is like language, inherently context dependent.

    As I said before in light of Colossians 3:12-17,

    The person who reads this passage with an open heart to the things of God would understand that in every conversation, in every worship service, in every blog post, and in every thought, he is to possess compassion and humility. He is to bear with others and forgive quickly. He is to express a love that builds unity and demonstrate a heart at peace. He is to appreciate the giving and receiving of all kinds of songs whether informal psalms, carefully crafted hymns or spontaneous words brought on by the Holy Spirit, and he is commanded to sing them with gratitude.

    A true worshipper worships God regardless of song or instrumentation so long as the song itself doesn’t violate one of these other biblical principles.

    I still think that rock music, folk music, country music, loud music, soft music, classical music, repetitive music, simplistic music, and even no music can all accomplish the goal of aiding our worship so long as the music or other expressions serve to express the TRUTH of God in line with the SPIRIT’s movement in that context.

  19. Diane J.

    I would like to praise LCC and their approach to their music that I’m allowed to sing worship to. As mentioned above, we all have different views of music. As for me, not only do I enjoy the music, but it is this same music that has opened my heart, spirit, and understanding thus allowing me to sing praise to Jesus for I really DO HEAR the MESSAGE. Oh yes Pastor Jeff, it is your message that is also teaching me!
    I realize many may think this is very small minded or incorrect but as a person who was lost and seeking when I was called to LCC, it was this exact music that touched my heart enough to continue to come back and call LCC home. Not all people are were brought up in the Church and unfortunately, if one has endured constant death and tragedies in their life and hearing the more “classical” music is perceived as funeral music more then the message it was intended to, then why should it be so wrong to FINALLY be able to hear and understand the true meaning by another approach?? Is it really any different then understanding ones different language? Either way, I feel blessed to have found a Church I can call home to further inspire and teach the word of God to others and myself!

  20. David A. Fetters

    I don’t have any way of knowing what God wants his worship music to sound like. I have listened to a fair amount of contemporary music and some of it strikes me as beautiful. Much of it does not, but I can see in this blog that different types of music appeal to different people – most of them sincere.

    The dilemma, I think, is that contemporary music seems to draw people to worship who have never been able to find an emotional connection to either the ceremony or the solemnity of the “traditional” service with its traditional (boring?) music. On the other hand, the people who attend church to express exactly that solemnity and reverent deference to a higher power often react viscerally to syncopated drums beats, simplistic messages, and mind-numbing repetition of the same short phrases.

    Music evolves – let it! Let worship leaders who, in good faith, are seeking to introduce a new community of worshippers to God, try to accomplish that goal without others accusing them of drifting from the “true” worship of God. However, don’t – in the process – ruin the worship experience for people who find the solace of God in ancient harmonies and soft soothing music. The way to accomplish that difficult goal would probably be the most useful direction for our discussions. I’ll bet God judges the sincerity of the communion between Him and his people to be more important than the style in which it’s expressed.

  21. anonymous

    Didn’t Jesus say, “When you pray, don’t use vain repetition like the heathen”? Maybe that’s a little out of context, but isn’t worship a prayer? Is God blessed when we repeat a phrase 30-40 times during a song?

    If you’re trying to reach dementia patients, fine. Repeat, repeat, repeat. But, even in that case, is a weak statement going to get them through a tough time or the solid Word and promises of God?

    I think a lot of songs we adopt in our churches were never intended for a church setting. Honestly, I don’t think I can even invite an unbeliever to church, because the team is so “out there”. Having their own personal experience with the Lord on stage, oblivious to the fact that their behavior and song choice may be a massive distraction.

    Does the worship team love the Lord? YES. NO DOUBT. But, I think they’ve been influenced by worship teams that are not influenced by the Holy Spirit. Worship is not supposed to be a concert for entertainment, we’re in the presence of God.

    Who knows? Maybe God is moving me on? If I can’t bring an unbeliever to church without the concern of scaring them off, maybe I am attending the wrong church?

    1. Jeff Mikels Post author

      Just for clarity, Jesus did accuse some people in his day of babbling in prayer, but his point was to shine a light on the insincerity of the person praying.

      Repetitive music MIGHT demonstrate insincerity, but in the modern context, it usually communicates GREATER sincerity.

      When I sing, “How Great Thou Art,” the repetition of that phrase is the power of that song!

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