Tradition vs. Modernity in Worship

Ray sent out this article on Hymns and what makes a good hymn.

What I liked best about the article is that they made the point that good hymns are congregational in nature. There is a distinct difference between ‘excellent art’ in worship tunes and and ‘excellent hymn’. The two are not mutually exclusive – but I’ve heard wonderful Christian songs that I couldn’t ever sing because of their technicality – and I’ve heard lousy hymns that are really easy to sing (many of them live in the Baptist hymnal – no offense intended).

What the articles represent in much of what they say is that there are two diametric viewpoints about modern worship. Here are the sides:

Traditionalists – Traditional mainstream denominations (i.e. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Church of Christ) who believe that either Hymnody and Psalter are the only methods for worship. They can also lean toward the “Only sing Psalter without instruments” side on the far conservative end. There is precedence both in traditional and the Bible for this – I don’t denounce it.

The Modernists – I do not mean this in the philisophical sense – but as part of what I will call the ‘modern worship movement’. These are often your mega-churches and anyone else who uses ‘contemporary worship’ – guitars, piano, and musical styles that replicate or emulate some manner of modern ‘rock’. This is what you hear on your Christian radio and the churches that adapt it.

The areas of contention are:

Biblical Truth vs. Emotion

Archaic vs. Relevant

Tradition vs. Modern

What I find interesting, across the board in all the traditionalist’s statements, is their over-generalization of modern music – “too simple and forgetful” with a “lack of scriptural base”. Strict Hymnody fans really have nothing to bring to the table for anything ‘new’. They draw explicitly on tradition to establish the fact that hymnody is superior.

On the other hand we have the modernists are trying to remove the ‘dreariness’ of the tradition of their fathers – something should be new and relevant – for the sake of relevence and newness. They fall too far in distancing themselves from hymnody. They forget that the Bible itself is part of the church’s ‘tradition’ and you aren’t going to find any ‘new revelation’.

The two viewpoints are universally opposed. As much as I read – I find very few people of similar mind that are trying to ‘bridge the gap’. We know, what, 3 groups that are modernizing hymns? Indelible Grace, the Gettys, the guys at ‘Reformed Praise’?

A recent goal that I have had is to establish a ‘meter’ chart for our modern songs. Instead of falling back on ‘How Deep the Father’s love for us” – which is a great tune – I want to move other less known hymns into our modern choruses. Take wonderful words that nobody knows and stick a well known chorus with it that people will know. I want somebody going through hard times to have the verses of “Jesus Loves Me” going through their heads – not “I could Sing of Your love forever”.

When in a hospital in pain – modern contemporary worship gives little course for respite from pain for the weary. There are always exceptions…

Honestly, I’m probably not going to write anything half as good as what a few hundred years of hymnody has already done – and unless lead by the Spirit to do so – I probably won’t. I’m trying to take what’s been done with beautiful biblical truth and make it into something that people will remember. THAT is the power of music. When I was leading bible study at work I told everyone at the table that music makes you remeber things. So I sang “Row, Row, Row Your boat – gently down the stream” – and 2 of them sang back “Merilly merily merily, life is but a dream”. Then I said “Now imagine if that was scripture… “. Oh to know scriptural truth as well as I remember nursery rhymes!