The Get Off My Lawn Worship Committee
IntroductionRecently, quite a few blog posts and articles have been overly critical of contemporary Christian worship songs.
Due to the amount of conflict and Discord these writings have caused, I felt compelled to address this issue. The issue at hand isn't whether we have choirs or not, or whether we use modern worship songs or not. These articles have claimed contemporary worship is starving the church, it makes people stop singing, and that church choirs are a necessity. Functionally, all these articles have glaring problems that give me pause. A parody of these articles was published but then (apparently) withdrawn. Lucky for us, Google cache works.
I will try to briefly address all of these and their illogical points made by the Get Off My Lawn (GOML) worship cadre. It might take a while.
All quotes below come from the first three links provided.
I think the most glaring problem is that all of
the complaints found in these articles is that they drive discord
and kill unity. And over what? Style of music.
Worship leaders are quitting churches because they don't agree
with a style of music (without any biblical justification for
quitting) just because their preference starts to sound like the
Holy Spirit to them.
I mean no disrespect when I say this, but worship style is not worth abandoning the ministry, nor your church. Nor is it grounds for a church split. It pains me to see churches split over style of music. Make no mistake: to cause a church split over something that isn't directly found in Scripture is to be Satan's tool. As such, churches should take the threat of church split seriously and move quickly to remove such members from their churches, hopefully before a split takes place. This article isn't about how to prevent a split, so I would recommend reading from experts on this topic.
The Bible commands unity, that's for sure. Church splits only make it harder to do God's work. And they are shameful to the community. So long as nothing heretical or sinful is taking place, a split is a sin against a Holy God.
If you take nothing else away from this article, it's that the Bible commands unity, not discord.
Article 1: Contemporary Worship "Starving" the Church
1. "Contemporary Worship Is Contemporary"The author makes the claim that doing recent songs makes us live in a vacuum. But the article they wrote asserts that we bring back hymns so that we can continue to live in the vacuum of "the old days." This point is illogical on face value.
The author then claims that contemporary worship limits us to "current, cool, and commercial." As for current, the Bible says "sing to the Lord a new song" (Psalm 96:1), so "current" is actually commanded. As far as cool, there's no Scripture saying we can't sing songs that we think are cool any more than we can consider a chapter in Scripture that we read this morning "cool." Third, the commercial success of any song isn't a problem, for there is no Scripture that says we should avoid success. And to be fair, this simply means Christians (and possibly non-Christians) are listening to it: isn't that supposed to be good, assuming the song itself is good?
2. "Contemporary Worship is Entertainment...."
The author here claims that because it's
contemporary, it must be entertainment, a "jesusy marketing
ploy." The problem first is that the author, not being God,
cannot read the minds and hearts of those who wrote those songs,
and as such cannot say that they are or are not entertainment or
marketing ploys. So the author is attempting to sit in God's
seat without the ability to read hearts and minds. I think
"do not judge" applies here.
The ironic thing is the author then says this is 19th century revivalism. I think he fails to realize that all the songs of Ira D. Sankey could be described as 18th century revivalism. The difference being Sankey's songs are now in the hymnal and being sung by people that, I would wager, don't know their history. Ira D. Sankey was criticized in his day for being too "contemporary." And so the story continues to today where Sankey is now cherished and modern songs are criticized. Rinse, wash, and repeat.
Finally, the author claims these contemporary songs are just "enticing people to come to church." The author, without having at least a basic scientific research study on this matter, is only lying by claiming that's what they were all written to do. Again, is he God, as if he was present watching every contemporary song go to market, to know what the intent of these songs are? Has the author ever himself written a song? I don't think the author can prove this point, hence it is illogical on face value. Is it wrong for songs to entice people to come to church?
3. " Contemporary worship uses commercial music"The author then claims that contemporary worship is commercial music in that it only engages our senses. Again, this is not possible to prove, and I am pretty sure I can find more than enough people who would claim otherwise.
The author then claims that "If it requires too much, it wonít make money." Requires too much what? The author didn't specify. Given that I have heard plenty of worship songs on contemporary christian radio that talk about surrender to God and repentance, this is also wrong on face value. Are all contemporary Christian songs good? No. But are they all bad? Of course not.
What should we do, then? Abandon all contemporary instruments that aren't listed in Psalms? I've heard people actually try to argue that this is our solution. The problem, however, is that piano and organ are not in the Psalms, while the ancestor of the guitar, the lyre, is in the Psalms. A Psalms-like worship experience would include all manner of stringed instruments and percussion, but no keyboard instruments. But of course, I'm pointing out that this is one of the end results of this type of illogical thought processes.
4. "Contemporary worship has given us Christian superstars"Like Steven Curtis Chapman who goes on missions trips? Like Hillsong, who sends worship teams on mission trips?
The author claims that even if contemporary artists didn't seek fame, that's what they've become. But given that I already know plenty of ways in which their lives aren't the same as actual rock stars, I don't agree. Really, this comes across like jealousy. Does the author have their tax returns and/or spending histories? And if becoming popular is itself the problem, what do we then conclude about John MacArthur and John Piper? Were they good preachers who suddenly succumbed to fame and then became evil? Of course not. Fame itself isn't right or wrong. Jesus was pretty famous in His day.
The author claims that contemporary artists dress the part. Again, an illogical stereotype, as I've seen David Crowder and others dress like average people you'd bump into on city streets. This smacks of jealousy to me.
The author then compares those who listen to contemporary worship to groupies. I'm curious if this came from a mind that is more judgmental than thankful, more critical than biblical, more jealous than thankful. How would the author feel if someone, in a major publication, called their spouse a groupie?
Finally, the author claims that we're not being nourished by the Word, but instead by these contemporary songs. The author, again, is stereotyping, as he has no statistical evidence whether it's everyone, or what percentage. Has the author studied how often all Christians study their Bible, and then studied what type of music they listen to? Given that Word Of God Speak has put out albums that are direct scripture quotations, and that many others put out good songs that are almost entirely Scripture, I can't agree. And note that it is every Christian's responsibility to feast on the Word of God: those who aren't getting nourished have only themselves to blame, regardless of worship music they like or dislike. That's a discussion I handle towards the bottom of this article.
5. "Contemporary worship has ruined preaching"This is a bold faced lie, as the author has not examined every church that uses contemporary worship to see if their pastors aren't preaching the Word.
The author claims the liturgy protects us from distracted pastors. No, the Word of God protects us, the Holy Spirit protects us. Your liturgy might contain Scripture, but it is ultimately Scripture that guides, not the liturgy. With all due respect, the liturgy itself doesn't save anyone. It's the Scripture in the liturgy, not the liturgy itself, that God uses to sanctify believers.
The author brings up corporate prayer for some unknown reason. Is the author implying that contemporary worship forces churches to abandon corporate prayer? That would be very tough to prove, if it was even possible. Contemporary artists lead their listeners in prayer, even on their recordings.
My own church incorporates Scripture and liturgy while having contemporary worship and solid biblical preaching. Even if the author could prove every other church on the planet doesn't, ours does, so the author's stereotype is broken.
The author then claims contemporary worship leads to "how-to self-help" sermons. This would require a larger article, but let me just say that this is not correct. All sermons should contain application. If the amount of application bothers you and comes across as "self-help", then I think the problem is apparently the author's lack of forethought. Where is the author's statistical evidence?
6. "Contemporary worship is pornographic, instead of symbolic"At this point, I know the author is engaging in nothing more than heated diatribe, if he's using the word pornographic.
The author claims that the symbols of liturgy are our road markers. Actually, the Bible is your road markers, and your road. Your liturgy just happens to include Scripture, usually.
I am trained to help people with pornography addiction, and while the author's explanation of what porn addiction is sounds close, it's not perfect, nor adequate.
The author then claims that the problem is that worship isn't intended to be self-fulfillment. Sure, on the surface it's not. But we were made to be fulfilled only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. That's why God's original design, Adam and Eve, was a married couple working together and then spending time with God in the evening, if one reads Genesis 1-2. And worship is a part of that relationship. It might seem like self-fulfillment, but really it's fulfillment through Christ, so I think the author is just off target.
The author then claims we might get addicted to self-fulfillment. I'll be honest, worship can be "addictive." Being in God's presence can be "addictive." But unlike addiction, it doesn't destroy our lives. The author might want to go read up on the DSM-5 or ICD-10 definitions of addiction (substance use disorders). The author seems to be substituting "not too much" for "approach the throne of grace with boldness" (Hebrews 4:16). I would like to do a psychological profile of this author.
7. " Contemporary worship has no need for the Table"The author insists that contemporary means no communion. I'm starting to wonder if the author has even been to a contemporary church that does communion. Mine does. The author is just bearing false witness.
Summary: "Church, itís time to do better."The author is right: the church can do better. And the first way it can do better is by rejecting the "Seven Ways Contemporary Worship is Starving the Church" article I have reviewed here. What we can do better is avoid discord over personal preferences. Less infighting should result in more evangelism. Unless it's a Scriptural issue, articles like this are divisive for no good reason, and thus violate the Scriptural concepts of unity and personal freedom.
Another thing we can do better is rightly reject those who write articles that bear false witness, like Jonathan Aigner. The article I have reviewed seems to have the truth, until you look more closely and see that it's full of stereotypes and appeals to tradition, not appeals to the truth.
Article 2: "Why Iíve Stopped Singing in Your Church"Bill Blankschaen, the author of this article, basically says that contemporary worship caused him to stop singing in church. As with the other ones, this one is a whole bunch of taking personal preference and trying to make Scripture support it. It's broken on face value.
1. "Theyíre really, really simplistic."The author tries to make a veiled insult about how CCM uses small words. Not very Christ-like.
The author then tries to say that the amount of theology in CCM is equivalent to youth camp songs. I think the author would need to prove that. So yeah, bearing false witness.
2. "Theyíre all pulled from the latest Top 40 Worship channel."The author acts like this is a bad idea. Really, the Bible says "sing to the Lord a new song" (Psalm 96:1), so maybe they're just following Scripture? This is an appeal to tradition, an illogical statement.
There's nothing wrong with church history, but the author appealing to the last 2,000 years of it is not a logical position to take, and certainly not biblical. The same Bible that says "sing to the Lord a new song" says "sing us one of the songs of Zion" (Psalm 137:3b).
The author makes some statement about hymn remixes that require hacking up the hymn to make it work with "fancier chord progressions." First, didn't he just get done saying CCM is "simplistic"? Second, what fancier chord progressions is he talking about? I've had music theory and music analysis in college, and that's hard to prove on either side. Some hymns have diminished chords formed with SATB: modern CCM usually disdains diminished chords. However on the other side of the argument are contemporary gospel songs with their 6ths and other complex beautiful harmonies that would put both CCM (non-gospel) and hymns to shame. I think the author may not have a musical education, or might need one.
3. "They repeat."First, repetition isn't bad. Read Psalm 136. Any argument that repetition is bad is immediately recognizable as a lie.
Second, how often did Jesus have to repeat Himself to His disciples? A lot. And sometimes they still didn't get it. Repetition is both scientifically sound (see the psychology of learning and memory) as well as theologically sound. Really, if repetition was bad, we'd only need the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments get repeated in some form in nearly every book of the Bible. Why do I need repetition? Because I have a stubborn heart and a closed mind and God needs to get my attention. Anyone who claims God has to only tell them something once is either naive or a liar. Clearly, God patiently repeats Himself throughout Scripture.
Third, the flip side is that when a song comes out that doesn't repeat, such as Hillsong's "Another In The Fire", people complain that it doesn't repeat, which makes it "hard" to learn. Forgive my reluctance to believe anyone who might say repetition is wrong one Sunday and then might complain next Sunday when there isn't repetition.
What That Author Claims He WantsThe author then claims he wants worship music to be truthful. Yet he apparently doesn't like worship songs written by authors who (many claim in interviews) were just trying to be authentic and truthful.
The author claims he wants worship songs written for adults and seems to be saying he doesn't want to clap his hands. But Psalms say that clapping hands is a part of worship. Maybe the worship leaders he's been under seem to "guilt trip" him too much, and I don't support this type of behavior or cheer-leading, but the author could also read Psalms and see that clapping is part of worship. By the way, Psalms also says that playing an instrument is praise, and that we should do it skillfully and loud, in regards to his previous disdain for "flamboyant" guitar solos. But I digress. (I am a guitar player and I like to keep the solos to a minimum.)
Finally, the author wants his "classical" songs back. I think, however, given the rest of the article, it sounds more like an appeal to tradition than a request for variety.
Article 3: Give Us Back Choirs
Basically, this article is about how church choirs do things no other program can do. While I love church choirs, I'm trained in conducting, and I've led choirs before, I think this article goes a bit beyond rational thought.
The author cites some statistics that seem
to demonstrate that church choirs have been replaced.
However, the author fails to sufficiently point to why they are
on the decline. For example, I think the author fails to
realize that a good size choir takes approximately 20 people at
least. This coupled with statistics
that show congregation size on the decline. To expect a
decent choir, it also assumes that your choir should be about
10% of your congregation or less. Thus I wager that only
churches 200 in size or higher will be able to support a
choir. I admit that I cannot prove these statistics yet,
but these are my estimates based on years of experience with
music in church. So it's hypothetically possible that if
choirs have declined 20% and churches have shrank 20%, there
might be an unexplored correlation.
Based on this, and the statistic link, note
that churches with a size 50 or less are the fastest growing
category. Thus the number of churches that can even
support a choir are decreasing. This is a very valid
potential reason why churches have had to disband choirs.
I think the author rushes to a conclusion that the data might
not support. One can see this in his conclusion, "Thatís
still a lot of folks who believe in the critical importance of
church choir...." Can the author read the minds and hearts
of all church administrations? Can't there be plenty of
people that don't value church choirs that simply keep them
because their congregants want them?
1. "Choirs Are Biblical"
The author claims that notes on style, melody, and occasion in the Psalms prove that choirs are biblical. True, some Psalms do have notes like "to the choirmaster." But that doesn't mean those Psalms are commanding us to have choirs. Indeed, both the OT and NT never command us directly to have choirs, so the author here might be trying to guilt trip people into having them. I love choirs, don't get me wrong, but I don't think Scripture having "choirmaster" notes specifically means that we are commanded to have choirs.
2. "Choirs Encourage Excellence In Worship"
The author claims that because preparation is necessary for choirs to function, that they automatically encourage excellence in worship. First, excellence is a relative term. Second, as a side note, focusing on excellence over authentic worship can lead to a Pharisaical worship experience. Third, the author would need the ability to read hearts and minds and know how often choirs encourage excellence. How many choir directors are pursuing "just good enough"? (And by the way, knowing when to encourage your choir to do better and when to accept their current quality level is important: if you push a choir too hard towards excellence you can cause them to feel discouraged. If you don't challenge them enough, you can lead them to complacency.) My own opinion is that choirs can encourage excellence in worship, if properly organized, trained, and led. But their mere existence doesn't prove definitively that a church is pursuing excellence.
Here, the author basically equates his experience and love of choirs as an attempt to prove that they are good to have. I do not dispute the value of choirs so much as the author's personal experience being the basis for why choirs are needed. A synthesizer pad on a Roland Juno-106 can also lead to a great experience. Does that mean God is telling me synthesizers are also absolutely necessary in worship? Of course not.
This might seem like splitting hairs, but we gather in church to celebrate Jesus, not the human voice. I believe we should lift our voices in praise to God, as the Psalms encourage us to do, and I love how choirs sound. Their sound can't be replicated easily. But what God wants is our hearts first, our voices second.
4. "Choirs Can Inspire and Lead Worship."
The author is correct: choirs can inspire and lead worship. But so can worship leaders and praise band teams. So while this does prove choirs are useful, it doesn't prove that they are "critical" in importance.
5. "Choirs Can Be Redemptive Communities."
The author is telling the truth: choirs can be redemptive communities. Choirs can also be full of judgmental people, as some of my own family have discovered, unfortunately. And the author starting off arguing that this is the "age" of superstar worship leaders and pastors only further indicates that he may have a "get off my lawn" mentality.
The author might need to do some research and find out what choirs and choir directors are safe and good, and which ones are unhelpful. I've been assaulted by a choir leader before. You definitely can't say they're all good (or bad).
6. "Choirs Make Us Work Together."
True, choirs can help us work together. But not all of them do. Some churches exist where only certain choir members get to sing solos during choir special songs because these people are on the worship leader's "good boy list." So while choirs can definitely be helpful, not all of them are, so I disagree with the author's rush to conclude that choirs are critical.
7. "Choirs Can Encourage Musical Diversity."
The author is right, choirs can encourage musical diversity. And at the time of writing this, my current church's choir and choir director were doing a great job of this. (At the time of writing this, I was seven months away from relocating.)
But at the same time, to be fair, almost no
choir I've been a part of while growing up was truly diverse in
musical style. They were filled with white evangelicals
and stayed within styles appreciated by churches filled with
white evangelicals. Is this musical diversity?
Nope. I was totally unprepared to serve as a piano player
for the gospel choir I once volunteered with. I adapted,
but it wasn't because I had experience when growing up in white
evangelical churches. And on the other side of the musical
spectrum, these white evangelical choirs also didn't perform any
parts of the requiem or the mass or Handel's Messiah, so note
that churches often and quickly become polarized into their own
traditions. Only in my current church have I seen true
musical diversity in the choir loft.
My advice then, if this point is to be true, is that choir directors must (like my current church) find good songs within other traditions. Like Israel Houghton or the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Like Rutter's Requiem and Handel's Messiah (both of which I got to participate in during music college). There's a lot of good music out there in other churches and traditions.
So yeah, even if choirs can encourage musical diversity, I didn't see diversity for 27 years in white evangelical churches. Forgive my skepticism, but I don't believe this is the norm. I believe it's the exception to the rule.
Summary of Article 3: Not So Fast
So the author then claims he is closing his article on "the witness of Scripture." I've already pointed out that the existence of choirs in the Bible is valid, but they are never mandated. Indeed, let's be real: the job of worship leader or music minister are not even in the Bible. 1 Timothy 3, for instance, only mentions elders and deacons. The job of music minister is a man-made position. So is choir director. There were maybe one or two such individuals in Scripture, and there are no commands to have such positions, much less no details as to their jobs.
I say that as someone who wants to be a music minister, and feels called to be one: choirs are important but not "critical," and these appeals to Scripture are not strong enough to be considered valid commands.
Finally, the author says "celebrate your
choir every time they sing." In light of reality, and the
lack of strong Biblical support (to say the least), I'm going to
reply to this: "No, celebrate Jesus, however you do it."
Choirs are only one way to celebrate Jesus. There are many
others. I am not against choirs. If I end up at a
church without a choir, I'm going to want to establish one if
it's possible. But I can't make the lack of a choir a deal
breaker, because the Bible doesn't have evidence that this is a
"must have" feature to all churches everywhere.
My Opinion: We Need To Have A Different Discussion
First, the problem with articles like this is
they are bearing false witness because they either state or imply
many stereotypes that don't hold water. Yes, bearing false
witness. If you can't prove that it's true but you accuse
someone of doing it, it's bearing false witness. So that's
the first conversation we need to have. Romans 14 says we're
not to engage in these type of arguments, nor judge others by our
own unbiblical preferences.
Second, we need to slaughter some sacred cows. Note the many ablation sacrifices of the OT: God definitely likes BBQ. So come sit around my table while I roast some sacred cows.
- The instrument you praise God with doesn't matter. The
Psalms list many instruments of the day (and noticeably heavy
on the percussion side). Psalms doesn't list pianos or
organs, so trying to say that modern worship "must" have these
instruments is a lie. It's not true and there's no
Scripture behind it.
- The age of the songs don't matter. What matters are the lyrics. When you recall a worship song, I bet you recall words. When you hum it, I bet you're humming while the words are in your head. When I watched 10 year old boys from the inner-city rapping, I heard words. The words stick with you. The music has a place, but not more than the words do.
- The Bible calls us to unity before any style of
worship. Indeed, it doesn't tell us what style of
worship to use. But it repeatedly calls us to unity
(Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:14; 1 Cor. 1:10; John 17:23; 1 Peter 3:8;
Rom. 12:16; Gal. 3:27-28). And the types of articles I
have reviewed, in my experience, are just ammunition for
- If the music is too loud, ask your church to get a sound pressure level meter. They're not expensive. Then use it.
- There are plenty of hymns that aren't very good in terms of
theology, so it's not just CCM that might have a lack of
theology. But the bigger issue is this: do you always
break into Shakespearean prose when you talk to your
wife? Do you break into perfect English? Sometimes
you do, but often you just say "I love you," etc. Why
can't we also do that with God? He describes Himself as
our Father: why don't we talk to Him like His children?
I believe it is not biblical to insist that every song you use
seems to be someone's Systematic Theology textbook set to
music. (Where are the worship songs on Melchizedek for
example?) It is every Christian's own responsibility to
feast upon the meat of the Word of God. The Bible never
says that it's the worship leader's job, nor the worship song
writer's job, to feed people with the meat of the Word, though
it is a very good idea. It's our individual
responsibility. And I believe that's a big reason why
our churches seem to be lacking in theological instruction: we
expect our pastors and songs to do it when one of God's
greatest gifts to mankind, the Bible, gathers dust in our
homes (if we even own one).
- What songs are we going to sing in Heaven? Based on
what I read in Revelation, new songs. The songs on earth
won't last forever. Don't hold on to them too
tightly. I expect to be able to worship like never
before when I get to heaven: to sing perfectly with an
unlimited range. And, if God allows, to play 10
synthesizers simultaneously in an orchestra of praise to
God. And I expect to write new songs about God's
wonderful grace. You might as well let go of your
preferences now because it's inevitable.
- Go visit your missionaries overseas. I guarantee you,
their songs aren't anything like yours. But their songs
reach their people. Everyone worships different.
So long as it's not wrong on a biblical basis, it's not a
sin. Our attitude should be to only get into arguments
and fights over Scriptural issues, not preferences. We
need to have an attitude of "whoever is not against us is for
us" (Luke 9:50), not "get off my lawn."
The worship wars are hurting churches. They are causing splits. They are causing the pastor(s) to be overworked with petty complaints. They are discouraging your worship leader. If you love the church and God as much as you say you do, stop harming them.
And if you want people to join your church,
stop thinking your music and programs will draw all the people
you need. If you want your church to grow, go and witness
to the lost. And while you're doing that, try to seek out
people that don't look like you, or those in your church.
If you want diversity, go evangelize diverse people.