August 05, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 3

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, and Part 2.

Which has the better theology?
Argument #3--Hymns contain richer and better theology than modern praise songs.

What I think is being said:
"When I was younger, we always sang hymns. I love the old ones like Amazing Grace (who doesn't like that one), Standing on the Promises, Onward Christian Soldiers, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Victory and Jesus...oh, I could go on and on. The truth is that I knew which hymn we were going to sing as soon as the Minister of Music would call out the hymn number. As long as we only sang the first, second and fourth verses I rarely had to even look down at the words or notes. I knew the Baptist Hymnal better than I knew where to find many familiar Scripture passages...oops, I shouldn't have said that out loud. There were so many ancient sounding words, and words that I didn't fully understand...but those songs were so familiar. The songs we sing now are not familiar at all, I don't like the music, and the words just seem so...common. There are no "thee's," "thou's," or "thy's" anywhere to be found. I mean, I never really understood what "here I raise my Ebeneezer" meant, or what a "fetter" was...but at least I knew the songs. And don't get me started on singing songs with out having the sheet music..."

Appropriate Response: I think we all like familiarity...especially when it comes to music. We love songs we can sing along with whether we understand them or not. How many of us in the 1980's sang along with Men Without Hats song, Safety Dance? Did you know that it was a song about nuclear weapons? Of course you didn't. Me neither--but that's true. But, hey...if your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance then they're--no friends of mine.

I digress. This is an argument people use to try and marginalize the use of modern worship choruses when they would prefer to stick with hymns. Usually when worship bands take old hymns and reintroduce them in new ways, this still does not satisfy those who love them. That is why I don't think this argument really is about the theology of each type of songs. If the same words are used with a different tune, this argument goes away...or becomes a different one entirely. It's also helpful to remember that the same people making this argument were some of the same people who got upset when a new edition of the Baptist Hymnal came out and the church decided to get the new one instead of sticking with the old one. When "Holy, Holy, Holy" was moved to Hymn #1 to Hymn #2 and replaced by a Responsive Reading, I guarantee you that Music Ministers fainted and churches split.

But is this statement true? Do the older hymns which contain more rich theological language lay claim to being better theology?

Yes and no. There are hymns with great theology. Amazing Grace, Grace That Is Greater Than All Our Sins, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Be Thou My Vision, To God Be the Glory ("who yielded his life an atonement for sin"...amazing line) and others come to mind.

There are hymns with questionable theology. Blessed Assurance (the second verse and the chorus...perfect submission? Really?), Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart (popular wording among evangelicals, but is this really the Biblical picture of salvation being described here?), Softly and Tenderly (when did Jesus ever call people like this?), and The Savior Is Waiting aren't exactly lock-solid Biblical.

There are modern choruses with great theology. In Christ Alone, Sing to the King, Welcome to the Cross, How Great Is Our God, All Creatures of Our God and King, and others teach good theology.

There are modern choruses with, bad theology. Above All ("he thought of me above all" he didn't, he thought of obeying God), I Stand in Awe of You ("Jesus, I am so in love with you"...I love Jesus, but I'm not in love with him), Trading My Sorrows (I didn't think sorrow and joy were mutually exclusive), among others don't exactly hit the nail on the head.

We should examine every song we sing to make sure that the theology lines up with Scripture. If it doesn't, we should discard it, no matter how much we like the tune and words. Singing bad theology teaches bad theology. Singing good theology teaches good theology.

I remember when the song "I've Found Jesus" first came out, and I was leading our college praise band in learning it. After we rocked it out a couple of times in practice, I remember one of the pastors on the church staff saying to me, "That's a catchy song. We don't believe it, but it's catchy." Point taken. I guess Jesus wasn't hiding in the first place.

By the way, take your Baptist Hymnal and see if #475 isn't Victory in Jesus and #187 isn't Pass It On.

1 comment:

Joey said...

In the church I grew up in there wasn't even a reason to open the hymnal. We sang the same songs so many times that we had them memorized. It was so predictable that we could have added a few crucifixes, some holy water, and some kneeling and it could have been confused with a Catholic church. At the time (my youth years), the church's under 30 crowd was going the way of the dinosaurs.