Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Does the music serve the Word?

I suspect that my frequent links to posts like this one are annoying to at least some who visit this site. There are a great many people in evangelical churches — boomers and their children — who have seldom experienced worship that doesn't follow the pattern that Kevin DeYoung calls the "New Evangelical Liturgy" and a central part of that experience is a particular approach to worship music. Rather than simply following the pattern that has become the received way of doing things, pastors and worship leaders should seriously consider why they do what they do, and whether it best serves the purpose. In "On Whales and Worship Lyrics" Jen Wilken's concern is with the music. Her discussion group has been reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together.
.... The discussion centered around this quote concerning worship through corporate singing:
“All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn…the music is completely the servant of the Word {Scripture}. It elucidates the Word in its mystery.”
We asked each other, is this true of church music today? Can we say of modern worship songs that the music serves the words of Scripture? Or do the words of our worship songs serve the music? Can we say that we, the worshipers love the words more than the melodies? How can we tell? ....

Bonhoeffer’s point is simple: When the words serve the music, we gratify self. When the music serves the words, we glorify God. In a culture that consumes music on an unprecedented scale, the church faces an uphill battle to maintain the high ground that the music must serve the words. Ten years ago, contemporary worship songs were plagued with the “I-Me-My-Mines”, every line filled with the knowledge of man. We have come some distance since then, praise God, with a shift back toward lyrics that extol the character of God. But we have further still to go.

If I supplied you with a copy of the lyrics to the 6500 hymns of Charles Wesley, two things would happen to you as you read it. First, you would be deeply moved by the truths the lyrics contained, whether you knew the melodies associated with them or not. Second, you would know your Bible better. Could the same be said if you read through the lyrics of our modern worship offerings?

Wesley composed his hymns during a time in church history when the music served the words, or more precisely, the Word. We live in a time when music, church or otherwise, serves our personal taste, and where lyrics are often an afterthought. Combine this with rampant Bible illiteracy, and we find congregational...shows so glutted on the wealth in their melodies that they ignore the poverty in their lyrics. A worship song is “anointed” if it moves us deeply, whether the words communicate anything coherent or not. Don’t make me give you a sloppy wet example.

What Bonhoeffer and Wesley would say to us is that church music must do more than move the emotions: it must feed the understanding. In doing so, it accomplishes its purpose of preparing our hearts and minds for the pinnacle of the worship service, the proclamation of the Word. We wrongly believe that the worship set should fill our hearts and the sermon should fill our heads. Corporate worship should enliven both heart and head, preparing us for a sermon which does both as well.

So, to my fellow worshipers, let’s consider together whether our adoration is given to music or through music. And to those worship leaders composing church music today, God bless you — you endure enormous pressure to create “worship experiences”. Consider Bonhoeffer’s message: whether your gifting runs toward hymnody or poetry, write lyrics that teach so much truth they can stand on their own. And then set them to music that magnifies their beauty. .... [more]