Episode 59:
Divide and Concert
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Editorial Notes

This episode started out to be a commentary on worship styles, but I realized some time after I completed it that it was really a commentary on worship soundtracks. What do I mean by "worship soundtrack?"

What I mean is that by and large there really is only one "worship style" and the vast majority of churches consider it a certain kind of meeting that goes like this:

  1. Opening prayer.
  2. Sing music or listen to performed music.
  3. Listen to a speech.
  4. Closing prayer.

Now, the "ritual bites" vary from church to church, but the bulk of a "worship service" is music singing/playing and speech making. Those seem to be immutable constants. Do this right, and some sort of mystical connection with God happens, or at least you can feel like it does.

This was illustrated to me during a recent adventure in church hopping. I visited one of the new "emergent churches" in my city because I was interested in these "emergent churches" and I wanted to see what they were doing. This church met in a rather old church building, but they met on Saturday night! Surely this must be something different.

Well, what I sat through was church as usual, only with a different genre of music. It was basically a High-Church liturgical type service with "coffeehouse rock" for the music segment instead of traditional organ music. It was the same old movie with a different soundtrack. (And, it was especially creepy because there were about twice as many people running the show as there were people in the pews!)

In fact, I was wondering just how relevant this cartoon would be when my wife told me that just a few blocks away a certain church was having a "hip hop" service on Saturday night. Here is a church naming one of their assemblies after a style of music.

At first I thought "how progressive of them." Theyíre trying to reach out to people of the younger generation who probably arenít going to their church. Itís a step in the right direction, right?

But the more I thought about it, the sicker it made me feel, intellectually anyway. Where does this end? I just recently did away with the digital cable TV in our home, but I remember enjoying the digital music channels. There must have been about 50 different genres of music available to listen to. Isnít it enough that Christians have already fragmented themselves into hundreds if not thousands of church groups based on doctrine? Do we have to add to the mix fragmentation based on music style?

How did music get to be so important anyway? I really donít see much about it in the New Testament. I see the apostles singing after the Last Supper before going to the Mount of Olives. Paul mentioned singing with the spirit in 1st Corinthians 14:15. Paul encouraged singing in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. James encouraged singing Psalms (or praise depending on translation) for those who are merry in James 5:13. In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas sang praises to God in prison.

So, singing is good, and it seems to be something that anyone can do anywhere as their heart motivates them. What I donít see, however, is an obsession with performed music and this forming about half the content of Christian assemblies. Is this necessary, and in the long run is it healthy?

It is very rare in my experience for more than one genre of music to be represented in a single worship service. Typically there are "traditional" worship services with "traditional" hymns, which means you hear or sing "traditional" songs. In other words, you sing or hear old songs.

Then there is the "praise and worship" type of music that seems ubiquitous in the mega-churches, and the "praise and worship" music industry that makes a lot of money on this stuff while promoting the idea that worship and music are one and the same thing.

Lately Iíve seen "rock Ďn roll" churches and, as Iíve mentioned, the beginning of "hip hop" churches. Now, I canít deny that through these music genre centric worship assemblies some people are hearing the word of God who wouldnít have otherwise. The sad thing is that whenever you build a church community around a particular genre of music, you have some that love it because they love that kind of music, and others who are turned away because they hate that style of music.

Must it be this way? Donít we all have ample opportunity to listen to any kind of music we want to any time we want to? I listen to a lot of different music and am rarely more than a few feet from a CD player. I really donít need a music performance at church. What I need is to be around genuinely committed Christians for that one-another stuff we read about in the New Testament. Is it possible for Christians to meet and interact without using music as a marketing tool and a crutch? Is it possible to have meetings that are powerful in a way that transcends the need to stage a concert?

There was a time when the Cross brought together slave and master, Greek and Jew. People had to associate with those they would have otherwise avoided. Perhaps some day Iíll see a church where the coffeehouse rockers, traditionalists, praise and worshippers, and hip hoppers can be a unified community. If music divides us, perhaps we need to turn it off for a while.