“Point your kids in the
right direction—when they're old they won't be lost.” Proverbs 22:6, MSG
Today many churches that should be places of rest
and retreat are instead battlefields. No issue is more contentious on that
battlefield than the issue of music, often euphemized as “worship style.”
On one side are those who prefer to limit
worship music to that which has been preserved in the church hymnal. Usually
the songs in a church hymnal have been selected by committee to avoid causing
offense to anyone while offering an uplifting message and melody. Whether as a more refined form of worship or
simply a paean to arthritic bones, singing from the hymnal usually means that
the most physical activity involved is to stand once in a while when singing.
Complaints from this faction tend to be that
music with more beat and enthusiasm is too much like the world’s music. They
cite endless repetition of phrases, too much emotion and moving around. They go
into tortured explanations of how this beat or that rhythm is from the Devil.
The Bible says nothing about these issues, but that does not stop these saints
from mustering their arguments. Convinced of the righteousness of their cause,
they will rise up and walk out during a church service that is not in accord
with their wishes, and then gossip with others of like mind about how “ungodly”
the service was.
On the other side are those, often young, who look
at the Bible’s account of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant as well
as the many references to singing, dancing, and musical instruments and ask
themselves, “Why not?” They do not
understand how those who are moved by the Spirit can simply sit and sing from a
hymnal. They feel that the joy and power of the Holy Spirit moving upon the
heart will naturally bring a person to their feet in exuberant and joyful
praise for their Creator. They feel that those who are against such charismatic
worship are trying to block the work of the Holy Spirit. When prohibited from
sharing their joy, they often “vote with their feet” and leave the congregation
to start congregations of their own where they are free to pour out their
hearts to God in an open and expressive way.
Some congregations try to appease both groups.
They try to include elements of both styles of worship in their services. This
simply means both groups are unhappy and may express it by refusing physical
participation in the portion of the service they disagree with. Unable to find
harmony with this approach, some churches have gone to holding separate
services: one that is contemporary and charismatic and one that is from the
hymnal and sedate. If neither of these approaches allows the groups to live in
peace with one another, then the result is that one faction or the other leaves
the congregation to start their own church based on the image of worship they
This war over music crosses denominational
lines and can be found to some degree in almost all churches. I first witnessed it in the 1970’s when a
Catholic Church in
So why is this warfare taking place? Doesn’t the Bible say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35, NIV Some act as though their love for God supersedes their love for their fellow man in this matter, but the Bible says differently. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:20-21, NIV
As the verbal and musical salvoes are fired
back and forth perhaps we can take a time out to see that the problem causing
the disunity is of our own making. Did the forces of “the world” co-opt our
young people? Hardly. Did the older congregants lose their experience of praise
and thanksgiving toward God? Probably not. How then did we get to such an
impasse over music? Just like most things, it did not happen over night. The
seeds of our present harvest have been sown over many years and are in some
ways cultural in
We live in a culture where many no longer
involve themselves in the continuing care of our young. We rely on schools,
churches and television for much of our children’s upbringing. Gone are the
days when fathers took their boys fishing and camping, and mothers took their
daughters under their wing in the kitchen to teach them cooking. Now, children
rise up in the morning with one or even both parents already gone to work. They
watch the Disney Channel on TV while eating a cold breakfast and then rush off
to school. For several hours, school takes care of the childcare and hopefully
accomplishes some education as well. Morality is not as high on the agenda as
math, science and geography. It is best left to the churches on the weekends.
Of course that begs the question of where children get it who don’t attend church.
After school the children often return home
to an empty house until their parents get off work. Some children may have
school work to do and may be disciplined enough to complete it during the
afternoon, but for many it means more time with television. When the parents
arrive home, they are often exhausted and pizza, fast food or micro-waved meals
become the foods of choice with each family member retreating to their rooms
and computers or video game consoles. If the children are lucky, the parents
will spend some time with them before bed nurturing them and communicating
about their days. The next day the cycle repeats.
On the weekend, if the family attends
church, the children are involved in weekly classes where they hear Bible
stories and sing songs. Here is where a disconnect starts to happen. While
attending school during the week they are expected to remain in their seats and
be attentive and quiet. However, in the classes at church they are expected to
be active and sing. This will be the message they receive for almost two
decades in the church.
Beginning with active songs with
accompanying body and hand movements like “This Little Light of Mine,” and “I’m
Too Young to March in the Infantry” they progress through other songs like
“Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” until they are old enough to use the youth
song books. An example would be “He is Our Song” published by Review and Herald
Publishing in 1988. There they find songs like “The Coloring Song” made famous
by the Christian Rock Band “Petra” on their “Never Say Die” album, “Hey, Mon”
written by Christian drummer and guitarist, Danny Taylor, or “Friends” written
by Michael W Smith, a Billboard magazine top ten Christian pop and rock artist.
Whether you feel that this musical
repertoire is good or bad is not the point I am making here. Don’t assume that
because I list these songs that I am either for or against them. The point is
that these are the experiences of the children and youth for about two decades
as they grow up in the church. The same “laissez faire” attitude about child
rearing that takes place during the week probably means that most adults don’t
even know what their children are experiencing in church. They shuffle them off
to their various classes with little thought about what takes place there. They
reason “After all, it’s the church. I can trust them to do whatever is right.”
Why, then, are they surprised after such a
long exposure to activity during worship and contemporary Christian music when
their children, now young adults, want to continue the experience they have
been taught? As the verse at the top of the page suggests, when you train a
child a certain way, why would you expect a different result? If you want the
children to grow up to be sedate pew sitters then why wait until after training
them for twenty years to be something else? Recriminations about the youth
bringing the world into the church are hypocritical. They are only doing as
they have been taught.
The youth of today can rightly ask “If
contemporary Christian music is so bad, why did you encourage us to enjoy it
while we were growing up in the church?” The answer we give to that question
will shape the future of the church. We can either love our children and accept
that what they have learned has been handed them by us, or we can deny our
involvement and alienate the coming generation.
It is time the church members accept what
they have been teaching their children and embrace it. The time to make them
into something different was back when they first entered the
This Article is Provided
by Still Waters Ministry
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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