Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just Curious ...

What would happen in a “contemporary church” if “traditional music” was used? Would we find that the non-traditional has become traditional? Would we find that certain people do indeed choose their church based on traditions?

7 comments:

Brian Jones said...

"What would happen?" Nothing. I've been to a lot of "contemporary" churches, and most of them use hymns at least occasionally. All of them use instruments (acoustic piano, strings, woodwinds, and yes occasionally an organ) that are "traditionally" associated with "tradtional" worship. Furthermore, modern hymns are becoming popular at "contemporary" churches, hymns such as How Deep the Father's Love For Us which has a "traditional" structure: several verses, no chorus. I don't know if you are familiar with this song or not but you will be. I'm sure it will be adopted by "traditional" churches soon because it is a great song--great message, great melody. This song does not rock in any musical sense, yet it is becoming popular in the contemporary worship world.

So, with the exception of Willow Creek and churches that unwaveringly follow it's philosophy (which are, believe it or not, pretty rare) few contemporary churches are averse to songs, instruments, or musical stylings that are considered "traditional." We view them as worshipfully expressive, but not the exclusively or even primarily the best ways to worship in this culture. That's the main thing that separates so called "contemporary" churches from so called "traditional" ones, it seems to me.

We are opposed to traditionalISM, whereby something becomes equivalent to (or, worse, more precious than) an article of faith just because it is familiar and comfortable and "what we grew up with." TraditionalISM defines Christianity not by doctrine and practice but by worship forms--instruments, hymnals, "song leaders," vestments, favorite Bible translations, pews, denominational names, or what have you. Many, too many, genuine Christians equate these with genuine Christianity. But every discerning Christian should be opposed to that, right?

Now, your question does bring up an interesting problem: people do seem to defend traditions unthinkingly and today's cutting edge quickly becomes a cherished tradition, which is also known as a sacred cow. Even "traditional" churches have lived through this cycle. A man recently told me that he likes traditional music in the church because he just loves those great old hymns of the faith. When I asked him for an example he said the Old Rugged Cross which is neither great, nor old (relatively--1913), nor a hymn in the strictest sense (it has a chorus). It is a gospel song that used to be cutting edge but now is somehow associated with ancient orthodoxy, right there with the Apostle's Creed. Spurgeon refused to allow an organ to be installed at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He just wanted a guy with a tuning fork leading the songs. Now the organ that was too worldly for C.H. has become passe. Jonathan Edwards fought against those who didn't want 4 part harmony in church singing (Marsden, 144ff). And so it goes; the worship wars are not "contemporary," they just change shape from time to time.

Eventually every church will be contemporary in the sense that we use the term now. It will take a long time, but at some point in the future (unless the Lord returns first) there won't be any extant churches singing primarily hymns and gospel songs from a book taken from a rack in the pew. Today's contemporary church will become the tradition. It is inevitable. And, sadly, in the future some old timer (who was born in the 1970s) will bemoan the fact that no one sings the great old songs of the faith anymore like Shine Jesus Shine. TraditionalISM is a big problem in every age because people deeply detest change but cultures--pagan and Christian alike--are constantly changing. Many Christians seem to be unable or unwilling or both to separate what is culturally neutral from what is eternally truthful. It is a battle that every generation must fight, lest God's eternal truth become inextricablly bound to a cultural wrapper. We are called to communicate the gospel into whatever culture we find ourselves in, not defend and perpetuate whichever culture we find most palatable.

Or, did I misunderstand your question? What is your curiosity really about?

Joel Tetreau said...

Brian Buddy,

Not to worry - we are still singing "Shine Jesus Shine!" I think it was the second or third song after the call to worship.

Great analysis on traditional songs in the contemporary setting.

Larry, Great question. Prayerful you men are encouraged. We had a great Lord's Day....The Lord indeed shined on us....What a thrill!

Straight Ahead Sirs!

Joel T.

Coach C said...

This is a great question that I have wondered about for some time. A further question is - What would happen if our churches had to go "underground" and could only sing acapella? Would the passion and fervor of the contemporary church remain?

Larry said...

Thanks for commenting, guys ...

Brian, I appreciate your extended thoughts. I am familiar with How Deep the Father's Love. We sing it here fairly often (with instruments other than the piano). I know that many churches are turning back more hymns and gospel songs, though usually done in a more contemporary style. And I not thinking of "mixing some in," but of going completely to it.

I guess my question was addressing what the real role of worship style is in selecting a church. If you mixed the preaching of Rick Warren with the music of First Baptist of Troy, what would be the effect on the church? Or turn it around ... what if you mixed the preaching of First of Troy with the music of Saddleback. I know those scenarios create a frightening dissonance for us ...

So that was really my question. What role does music play ...

(See next blog post).

brian Jones said...

Larry wrote, "If you mixed the preaching of Rick Warren with the music of First Baptist of Troy, what would be the effect on the church? Or turn it around ... what if you mixed the preaching of First of Troy with the music of Saddleback. I know those scenarios create a frightening dissonance for us ...

So that was really my question. What role does music play ..."

OK, that clears it up for me. I wouldn't nearly so much--possibly nothing--if I had understood your question. And I figured I must have misunderstood it in some way because we've talked about this stuff before. So..., sorry.

Hey, did you see that Joey Harrington had a passer rating of 0.0 yesterday for Miami? By far his worst game as a pro. The guy reverted to form and, although I wish we'd gotten something better from the Fish for him, I'm glad we're not wasting any more time on his "development." Now, if the coaches could only come to the same conclusion about Kitna....

Brian Jones said...

Larry, I've been thinking about it some more. These are not perfect comparisons by any means, but for your "if you mixed the preaching of Rick Warren with the music of First Baptist of Troy," scenario, the Crystal Cathedral might be a good example. Very high church worship style--more so than FBCT with the pipe organ and vestments. And preaching with less biblical content than Warren, yet it is quite large. It's been a long, long time since I've seen the Hour of Power, but there seemed to be a lot of grey heads in the audience, so maybe they only attract an older demographic. It is an interesting question and hard to find evidence to prove one way or the other.

DAD said...

I have had a number of years of observation in this area because of my sound system work. If a contempory church went to traditional music (mostly got away from rock music and other worldly forms of music), they would lose a lot of people. I know personally of two churches that did away with the "big beat" music, got rid of the "praise group" and lost about half of the congration. But God blessed and when people found out and the pews were soon filled again with replacements. It has been my observation that when churches start using popular type music and try to put Chistian words with it, they drift in doctrine and other ways. In other words, one cannot use the Devil's music to promote Christian values. It won't work in the end.