Bonus Tracks: Worship Styles

Last week at Merge, I led a discussion about which style of worship is “right.” It’s the ongoing struggle of what some have called the “Worship Wars” – the battle between those who believe “Traditional” worship is the right way and those who say “Contemporary” worship is right. (wow, there were a lot of “quotes” there – bear with me, I’ll explain)

First off, it’s important to know that Worship Wars are nothing new. Take a look at this quote:

“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”

This letter was written in 1863, and the song they were talking about was “Just as I Am”. Here’s another one…

“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn.  Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving.  The tune was un-singable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”

This letter was written in 1890 and about the hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. It’s clear that people have been grumbling over musical styles for a long time.

In a nut shell, at Merge we discussed what makes worship official. While it is true that all of our life is an act of worship, when it comes to what we do as a church, what’s important (and Biblical) is that we 1. Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity and 2. properly administer the Sacraments. Paul also tells us to do these things “in good order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Beyond that, there aren’t many instructions on the specifics, like style of music, order of the service, and all those other thing that we like to argue about.

Here’s a few things to remember, some of them I shared at Merge, some I didn’t get a chance to share:

  1. When it comes to style Realize God doesn’t care. While there were no guitars, keyboards or drum sets in the bible, there were also no pipe organs either. The instruments we use and types of songs are our preference, not God’s.
  2. Acknowledge that your preferred style of worship is not more valid that someone else’s. As long as it meets the criteria above, it’s valid.
  3. Following closely behind number 2, realize that different styles of worship reach different people. Some people resonate with classical or traditional styles of worship. Others resonate with more modern styles of worship. Why should we let a man-made issue like style of music get in the way of someone connecting with and developing a meaningful relationship with their Savior? In fact, on more than one occasion at Journey, when we’ve found out that a guest wasn’t resonating with our particular style, we offered to help them find a church that better fit their needs. It’s more important that they be connected with Christ than to come to embrace our style as the only way.
  4. Lastly, it’s important to remember that today’s contemporary is tomorrow’s traditional. There was a day when the pipe organ was the wild new instrument in town and people weren’t too sure that it was the right way to go. Before that, the only music was the choir. Styles change, and today’s contemporary may well be replaced by something totally new (and I’m sure there will be some current “contemporary” people who will cry foul and say that it’s “just wrong!” I won’t be one of them, but still…)

About Matthew Starner

Matthew Starner is pastor of Journey of Faith Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they help people take their next step on their journey with Jesus.

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  1. Pingback: How We Pick Music

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