catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Not just a conservative grump


Nov 21 2002
01:02 pm

I have tried to squelch my desire to debate the appropriateness of certain music and worship in church – you know, that stale “contemporary versus traditional” piece of cheese. I have tried to maintain a clear mind about my church’s desire to sample from the liturgical buffet – mixing traditional with the more … creative. I’ve tried very hard not to be one of those conservative grumps who turns to stone at the sight of a trap set and is offended by singing “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” in double-time, with bongos and amplified violin. I have tried reminding myself that it is what’s in people’s hearts that matters.

Then I realized that THAT is the problem.

“Music is a beautiful and lovely gift of God, a queen over every stirring of the human heart,” wrote Martin Luther. “Nothing on earth is more powerful than noble music in making the sad joyful, the arrogrant discreet, the despondent valiant; in charming the haughty to humility, and in mitigating envy and hatred … I give musica the next place after theologia, and the highest honor.”

Music is such a sensitive subject because, more often than not, music gives voice to the musician’s interpretation of God. In other words, music is on the heels of theology, as Luther said. Which is why we should pay more attention to what Christian musicians say and play. We should pay more attention to the personal theology our liturgists and musicians present to the captive audience of the congregation.

Although we would denounce from the pulpit the application of postmodern subjectivity to theology, subjectivity seems to be the primary argument used to defend open acceptance to all kinds of religious and sacred music in order to attract people to the church. It’s this subjective approach to “music theology” that disturbs me.

Anyone else out there fighting with the church music debate and kind of wishing they could find some sort of inner resolution? How shallow is this debate? I think it’s a topic that can quickly intellectually disintegrate, but it shouldn’t. It’s important and I’m trying to put my finger on what it is about this issue and contemporary music that bothers me, beyond personal taste and stupid lyrics.


Dec 21 2002
02:59 pm

Is it possible that you are restless with more than just the musical styles of worship in the church?

Do you feel something deep down in you that you were created for more? Worship in some churches is so stale and oppressed that the idea of doing the same thing for eternity in heaven seems like torture.

You’re not “a conservative grump” if you have a longing to give God glory through united, meaningful corporate worship.


Dec 22 2002
08:48 am

Anything but a conservative grump…or if you are, then I am too. You’re on to something when you quoted Luther…let me add a few thoughts of my own.
Worship of a liturgical nature, or worship rich in theology— Christ proclaiming—draws our hearts, minds, spirits towards Christ, takes our eyes off of ourselves and releases us from having to accomplish something emotionally or succeed in feeling as if we have reached God. It’s not about us reaching Him, it’s all about Him reaching down to us. I come away richer from a liturgical worship service knowing that I have heard/sung/praised/listened through the Spirit and Word in music, that I have proclaimed as others through the centuries Biblical truth in song…what an awesome connection to Simeon, David, and others whose words from Scripture fill my church’s liturgy! “Worship remembers, enacts, proclaims, and celebrates the Gospel story” (Twila Paris/Robert Webber: “In This Sanctuary”)
Do I speak against ‘contemporary’ worship? No. Do I like it? Not much. Can it too be rich in theology? Possibly. Does a band etc. in the front of the church take our focus off of Christ and put it onto His people? Possibly…for me it does.
Can liturgical worship be as much of an outreach as contemporary? I think so. I truly believe that for many, a liturgical worship draws them away from the world and its noise into a holy place…an experience, if you will, that is wholly unlike anything they might find in the secular realm…as it should be! Does traditional worship need renewing? Yes…does this equate with changing it to contemporary? No. Can there be a marriage of the two? Maybe. Have I seen it done well anywhere? Nope.
Subjectivity in the music/worship realm is a valid thought and seems somewhat obvious to me but this remains an emotionally charged issue in the church…one that splits congregations and causes woe of all sorts amongst her ministers/people.
Two books I’ve read and enjoyed regarding worship are: “In This Sancturary” by Twila Paris with Robert Webber and “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” by Robert Webber. He has other books also on this subject.
Thanks for your courage in opening up this discussion.


Dec 23 2002
12:37 am

I’ve struggled with this profusely as well (as have probably all Christians who tend more towards deeper thinking), and I have some more thoughts. Here’s my take on it:

Nothing we can offer God is perfect. Such is the nature of worship. Any given instance of God’s people worshipping is bound to be fraught with pride, selfishness, arrogance, and thoughtlessness. I think that “contemporary” worship lends itself to certain ills—such as shallowness, spectacle, and empty emotional highs. But traditional worship lends itself to deadness, lack of accountability, and lack of creativity . . . Sweeping generalizations, but the point isn’t whether or not I’m right in them, it’s whether God is being praised or not. Obviously, God can be praised by either—and any—form, regardless of its imperfections.

For me it has been a matter of the holes I see in the worship service becoming such an issue in my mind that I am unable to “praise” in the conventional sense of the word. But then I have to examine what praise really is. The other day I was at a concert (not Christian) and I saw people enraptured by the music and looking identical to what people look like at a typical P & W service at my old college. While I’ve never been one for the more charismatic displays in worship, I realized that whatever fix I seem to be getting from what I considered to be proper worship was merely a gift that God may or may not choose to give while I am worshipping. Whether or not I enjoy the music is completely irrelevant. Whether or not I feel like worshipping is immaterial. Whether I even think that I’m worshipping doesn’t matter. I think that some of the highest praise comes out of a broken, even bitter heart. I believe in joyless worship. Worship is not the music. It is the person making the music. I don’t think God is worshipped less by a person who hates the music and doesn’t feel fulfilled by it, unless that person has deliberately closed their heart to him. I think the act of struggling through a worship service where you hate the music but are earnest in your struggle is worship of its own merit. In short, I think people like me have gotten it all wrong, and we’re only stopping ourselves from worshipping by all of the things we’ve made it out to be. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to worship without regard for how well it’s being led, communing with my brother the hypocrite and my sister the spiritually stagnant.

That’s not an excuse to make crappy music and stupid words and be satisfied. We still need to hold each other accountable. I think that the difference between well-led worship and poorly led worship is about unity. A great format can be used by the HS to unify a congregation as few other things can do. It helps those of weaker faith not to stumble into hollow and meaningless words, and it helps all of us to realize who it is that we’re praising. But once again, I don’t think God is impressed by our great choruses or theologically sound words. If a shallow, poorly executed piece is what comes from the heart, then it is praise of the highest form for that person. Whether or not it is beneficial for others may be the question.

It is for each other’s benefit, not God’s, that we should strive to refine our corporate worship practices and constantly be examining our material.

. . . these are thoughts, not tried and true pillars.


Jan 10 2003
06:09 am

i’m reopening this topic, because it seems to address something i’m struggling with.

on wed. night, i went to a “celebration” service at a church i’d never been to before. the pastor was, in a sense, teaching the people about worship by explaining when and why we lift our hands. the style was quite charismatic (i can’t count the number of times we “gave God a hand”), which is the direction in which my home church leans, but even in my home church, i don’t feel compelled to/comfortable with raising and clapping my hands. and the service and the pastor made me feel like raising hands and clapping and crying is the only “right” way to worship.

i know this isn’t true, but i still felt completely inadequate. is it okay to say that this style of worship doesn’t fit my personality and that i feel more worshipful when i’m reading a good book or writing or having a great conversation? i’ve heard the concept that worship “isn’t about me, it’s about God,” which rings true in some ways, but false in others. i feel like i’m violating this principle when i don’t “feel” like raising my hands. but didn’t God create us all with different personalities for a reason, for his pleasure?

can i say that i’m just not that type of person or is my heart hardened to true worship when i’m uncomfortable?

standing (and standing and standing) at that worship service on wed. night, i thought about the monastery a few miles away and was comforted by the idea that the monks probably aren’t singing with a band and dancing around in worship, but their style of worship is no less valid.

ultimately, my question is this: how we can find a worship style that suits our personalities? and is that even a valid question?


Jan 10 2003
06:21 am

Of course it’s a valid question. At the same time, I think we should try to stretch ourselves to find new ways of worship whenever we can. College was great in that I could hang out and talk with friends and honestly feel I was worshipping (well, some of the time). I’d love to discuss God and his goodness and my and our place in his world everyday, and to a certain extent I do in this setting, but I realize that church can be good and personal devotions can be good.
I don’t clap in church because I don’t want to. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to praise God. I have no problem with charismatic churches. They’re a lot of fun from time to time, but that’s not where I find I can be close with God as often as other places. Worship is about praising and thanking and listening. I can do that by climbing a tree and sitting there for 20 minutes. I don’t need to dance, or sing, or clap, yet I know it’s good for me to visit and to try. A fresh perspective can often be just the push I need to understand my relationship with Jesus just a little bit better.


Jan 10 2003
09:31 am

I guess that’s true. A fresh perspective like a charismatic church service can be good. And I’m sure that under the right conditions I might even feel comfortable or motivated to dance and sing and clap, but most often I just end up standing in services I don’t want to be at, watching others squinting their eyes and raising their hands, and feeling guilty. It just happened a few times this past Christmas. I left a Christmas Eve service feeling angry and cheated out of a real worship experience, and guilty that I didn’t worship like others apparently were. I haven’t been able to put my finger on the source of that guilt. I know it’s not of God, because I know he knows how I can worship at things like an amazing choral concert.

Is it that I wish I could worship in any and every situation, like Adam wrote? Or that I sincerely find something lacking in worship styles I don’t care for? Am I afraid of being dubbed a ‘conservative grump’, or even worse, someone incapable of worship, by others? I know there’s a way around this guilt, but I can’t figure it out right now.


Jan 10 2003
10:48 am

I guess I see the important thing as not worrying about being “dubbed” anything. I know this is an age-old problem and we all feel a bit insecure at times, but I’ve found that this very insecurity is one of the things keeping me from true worship. I guess that’s the reason we choose churches where we feel comfortable, not in a complacent sense, but in how we can best receive and respond to the word. But like I said before, feeling uncomfortable can sometimes prove to be a growing experience. I just don’t to grow in that way every single week.


Jan 10 2003
11:30 am

Partly, Norb, I agree with you. I want some prats of my church experience to be uncomfortable in the sense of challenging.

I want to be challenged to feel uncomfortable about certain things in my life. I want to be challenged to feel uncomfortable about the plight of this world and what I can do to get off my butt and show my appreciation to God by trying to help fix it. I want to be challenged by the meaning of the song.

When the music style is uncomfortable to me, though, what is challenging about that? Challenging me to like a broader range of music? Okay. Challenging me to like lyrics that are shallow (whether traditional or contemporary) — Challenging me to tolerate music that is grammatically in error, or is just poorly written, lacking image and sound? What is the advantage in learning to tolerate mediocrity?


Jan 10 2003
11:56 am

The church suffered some of these same issue with the inclusion of bar tunes used with spiritual lyrics. Many people kicked against the idea, but now they are standard hymn elements.

Worship (including both categories of praise and worship) is a disposition of the heart, not the result of an outward practice or church tradition (either chorus or hymn tied).

I did not grow up in a reformed church in the US. I grew up in a Wesleyan church in South America where hymns and choruses were used interchangeably. There were alot of hands in the air (and in the last few years alot of clapping in between songs), however I never felt very worshipful participating in any sort of appendage flailing. That’s just me. It worked for alot of people. In the churches I grew up in, it was inconceivable that a church would have a piano let alone an organ. Mostly, worship was led with an acoustic guitar (no P.A. most of the time). There was something uninhibited, authentic and inspiring about worship.

Then I came back to the States. I found churches debating over the validity of choruses within the worship service. Some churches went completely “contemporary” and drove away the tradional folk. Some stayed “traditional” and drove away the contemporary crowd. There were even a few that pretty much drove everybody away by trying both in one service. Yikes!

What I think I have come to is this: There are those who dig deep into the scriptures and find that the old hymns are rich with theology and doctrine. These people are typically a bit less “emotional” in their worship practice yet have an emotional response to a more liturgical musical style. They seek depth and deeper understanding of intricacies of who God is. These folk have a strength in the"worship" of praise and worship. Then there are those who are more practical with their scriptural application and find that the contemporary modes of worship allow them to apply what they are learning in their spiritual lives. They tend to be more “emotional” in their worship practice and have a strong emotional response to a more modernistic musical style. These folk tend to have strengths in the “praise” aspect of praise and worship. Then there are those who enjoy both, and see value in both. None of them are wrong, nor are they more right than any other.

A pastor once told me that Praise is a way of celebrating what God does while Worship is a way of celebrating who God is. Musical choices aside (and all arms at our sides) that is to be our determined goal of Worship.


Jan 10 2003
02:25 pm

Interesting comments from everyone. I grew up in the CRC and the emphasis was always on “corporate worship”. In other words, singing the hymns was a time of glorifying God corporately and very little emphasis was put on the individual experience.

In many contemporary or “charismatic” churches, there is a greater emphasis on the individual’s experience. Even spontaneous, “spirit-led” times of shouting praises individually or speaking in tongues.

If there is no emphasis on the individual experience, it becomes detached and wooden. If all of the emphasis is on the individual it becomes chaotic and fleshly (seeking an emotional experience).

I think many people desire to worship God with their voice, mind, spirit and body (like King David did when the ark was brought back to the city in 2 Samuel 6) but don’t know how to without it being weird or forced.

I go to what many people would call a charismatic church. I don’t like the term “charasmatic” because it implies that because of my own “charisma” I’m able to worship and experience God in a certain way. That’s ridiculous. We all have the same Holy Spirit. Just because I raise my hands now and I didn’t two years ago doesn’t mean I’m a more deep Christian. It does mean that I followed to Holy Spirit’s conviction to do it in order to break some deep rooted religious pride and fear of man issues in my life. It was also a way of humbling myself before the Lord. But I did not do it simply because “everyone else was doing it”.

My advice to those feeling uncomfortable or guilty in different environments is to use your discernment. It’s either the voice of the Enemy trying to make you feel shame and condemnation over not being good enough to worship (a lie from the pit) or the Holy Spirit convicting you of something.

You really can’t go wrong if you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength no matter what the music style or the outward expression.