Growing up in the Mormon Faith, I’ve come to appreciate the reverence of hymns. The mindfulness and thoughtfulness of people coming together and singing. I also remember my father turning the television on Sunday mornings and listening to the Music and Spoken Word. To-this day, children within the LDS community are taught to be reverent. Even a primary song reminds them of this:
Rev’rently, quietly, lovingly we think of thee;
Rev’rently, quietly, softly sing our melody.
Rev’rently, quietly, humbly now we pray,
Let thy Holy Spirit dwell in our hearts today.
Of course, we’ve had musical instruments (i.e. Violins, Cello’s, flutes, saxophones, and even classical guitar) as part of Sunday morning sacrament meetings. Ward Choirs, Children’s primary, duets, quartets. Solemn, respectful, and allowed for a more spiritual and enlightening experience.
When I started attending a variety of nondenominational churches, it was quite a culture shock. Yet, there was still a spirit of reverence and peace during those services. Going from a quiet and humble form of worship to where people standing, raising hands, clapping, singing, and drums, guitars, and other instruments did not seem to take away the nature of worship, nor diminished the spirit in any way.
That was about twenty some years ago. Today, where has all of God’s true worshipers have gone?
A recent conversation on a Facebook group focused on the nature of modern, and contemporary, Christian music today. The person made the observation that much of what we find within the Christian community is not worship any more. You still have the guitars, the drums, the various instruments. Yet, there seems to be something drastically different in how people worship in American Churches today. Even some of the more traditional liturgy forms of worship in the Lutheran, Methodist, and some Presbyterian faiths have designated services for traditional worship and contemporary worship.
I read the original post and understood where the person is coming from. There definitely is something different about the style and form of worshiping today. In fact, very few nondenominational churches have choirs that sing, have abandoned traditional hymnals, or changed the tenor of the hymns in a more “hipster modern culturally relevant” worship style.
In order to understand where this is coming from, I have invested in reading some of A.W. Tozer’s works.
|The Essential Tozer Collection: The Pursuit of God, The Purpose of Man, and The Crucified Life
By A.W. Tozer / Bethany House
A collection of enduring spiritual classics! The Pursuit of God will challenge you to renew your relationship with the Lord. In The Purpose of Man, Tozer reminds us that we are called to worship. And in The Crucified Life, he leads us to the cross so that we can be raised anew. 560 pages, paperback.
One of his many quotes is this: Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.
Another of Tozer’s quotes is as enlightening, and quite disappointing, of an observation:
I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church, the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the public service which now passes for worship among us.
It is one thing to experience the cultural shock of going from a Sunday morning sacrament meeting to attending a Christian Church service. It is another to witness the downgrade and watering down of modern contemporary Christian worship.
This observation is nothing new. At Premier Christianity they tackle the nature of this hot topic of modern-contemporary Christian music:
From the mid-1960s onwards, a distinct genre was slowly developing which can best be described as ‘Christian soft rock’. It has now become the sound which defines the corporate worship in many evangelical churches. It may have begun in house churches, with choruses using an acoustic guitar in someone’s front room, but the typical soft rock worship band now comprises a combination of electric, acoustic and bass guitars, keyboards and drums. They are usually (though not always) led by a white, male worship leader. And even though agnostic journalist John Harris described it in The Guardian as ‘music that suggests a grim hybrid of Snow Patrol and LeAnn Rimes’, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the soft rock style.
While I agree that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this style of music. The problem is – has the modern Christian form of worship given away the reverence and spiritual nature in which we come to praise and worship God?
For me, I don’t mind people standing up and raising their hands and praising God. I do not mind someone kneeling, face-in-cupped hands weeping and crying out to God. I do not mind the comfort and solemness of attending a Mormon service where hymns are being sung, a choir is singing, or primary kids are singing.
The inherent issue is that modern Christian music is more like a Christian entertainment and rock concert where the focus is no longer on God, doctrine, teaching, or any other form of reverence.
Here is what scripture says in Amos 5:21-24
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
These are some strong words in the scriptures. And, they do not state that our assembly is despised, nor the form of our worship is despised. According to the commentary in the Jewish Study Bible it reads:
The text does not state that sacrifices-or any other cultic rituals – are wrong, per se, but rather that those brought by people who behave in a manner offensive to God are unacceptable to God.
The question is what is acceptable compared to what is unacceptable to God? That, I believe, is at the very core of this discussion. It is the very reason this is a heated debate among modern Evangelical Christians today.
However, when looking at this objectively, the reason modern Christian worship has become a major offense toward God, and others, is because it is appearing to mimic – or mirror – the modern culture in order to attract more and more of the younger generation.
Michael Shaw, at Ethics Daily, writes this in his post The Fundamental Problem of With Christian Worship:
The problem with modern worship is not the songs, but the fact that they have moved from worship into entertainment.
Shaw continues his observation:
The “worship” leader is one of the big sells for Christian conferences and festivals where they sell CDs and DVDs of “worship” songs. People consume the music in the same way that we consume anything else.
Worship has become a privatized experience that does not lead into care and concern for others, but our own personal edification. That is not Christian worship.
Yes, we do need gathered worship, and the easiest way we do this in a corporate way is via music. At a funeral recently I was struck again by how powerful music is, but worship is not only music.
I, personally, agree that worship is not only a form of connection with us toward God. Worship also connects us to those who are impoverish and destitute. Those who are oppressed.
To this day, I sing my favorite hymns as a reminder of how faithful and just God is – especially during times and seasons where my faith is frail and weak. I am not able to do that with modern Christian worship music. For me, hymns are what connect me and foster my spiritual growth and faith.
For me, that is what true worship is. And, when Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John, he used the word worship. In the Greek, worship meant to prostrate oneself. Worship brings humility within our souls. It lifts us up when we are feeling frail and weak. It calls to remembrance God’s divine providence and sovereign grace.
As for the conversation over at that Facebook group on the nature of modern Christian worship? I threw in my thoughts and shared my own insights in how most evangelical Christian churches today have forsaken the assembly of an adult choir and a children’s choir. Instead, you walk in, buy a cup of coffee, find your seat, lights go dim, and you are at a mini-Christian Rock Concert singing popular Christian soft rock music as a form of worship.