Worship Wars

 Every church faces worship wars at one time or another.  The comments come in many varieties, but the basic issue is always the same.  “I don’t like style X.”  “Why does every song have to be so old?” “Why all this loud new music?  Weren’t the hymn writers inspired as well?”  When worship wars erupt in a local congregation, they can be a major source of stress for the worship leader as well as the senior pastor.  Hopefully by understanding that these complaints are really nothing new, some of the stress will be eliminated and our focus will remain on the One who we worship.

Historically, the most famous worship war occurred during the Counter Reformation.  The Council of Trent, a meeting of bishops considering reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, complained that the current form of music was too loud because of those new-fangled organs and was too worldly in its structure.  Composers were beginning to include secular melodies in their sacred works;  in other words, Saturday night’s dance sounds were finding their way into the Sunday morning mass.  The kicker, however, was the complex harmonic structure of the music.  The music was getting in the way of understanding the text in the opinion of the Church elders. The Council of Trent made a single recommendation – let’s end the conflict and just return to the official music of the Church…..Gregorian chant.  Let’s just keep doing things the way we have always done them in order to stay comfortable.  (Sound familiar?)  Thankfully for musical development, the Council saw the error of its ways and polyphonic music continued to be a part of the sacred worship service.  (In my Music Appreciation class, this is the point that I would recommend they listen to Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass to hear an example of the beautiful music that came out of this conflict.  If you aren’t familiar with the piece, do a youtube search now and take a listen.  You will be glad you did!)

Because our current situation is based in worship and not history (a common rebuttal to the above argument by many traditionalists), let’s also examine music in the Scripture.  Music has been a part of the worship service since its earliest inception.  Recall the role of the Levites in preparing music for the various feasts and festivals of the Jewish people as recorded in the Law of Moses.  It is assumed that these priests received formal training in music theory and performance as part of their rigorous preparation.  As we move forward in Jewish history, we encounter Israel’s greatest songster:  David.

David’s early life was that of a shepherd boy.  While Scripture does not confirm this, I find it hard to believe that there would have been time (or finances) for private instruction in harp-playing and song writing for this country boy.  David was probably a self-taught musician;  many of his songs as recorded in the book of Psalms are so highly esteemed because of their simple quality.  These simple down-to-earth songs had little in common with the high praise songs heard in the Temple on a regular basis.  Despite their simplicity and repetition (consider Psalm 136 and others), David’s contemporary songs brought joy to the ears of the Heavenly Father.  After all, David was a man after God’s own heart.  (Acts 13:22)

Imagine the struggles within the New Testament church immediately after the resurrection of Christ.  The traditional Jewish songs were still true of the majesty, excellence and glory of God, but the Church now needed new songs to express their revelation that Jesus was the Christ!  The old songs simply could not adequately express the new work that was being done in their heart.  The issue is expounded even further when the Holy Spirit comes in Acts 2;  then and now — new experiences require new expressions of the Spirit and soul.

I can only imagine the struggle the early Church faced as they attempted to blend their traditional Jewish music with the songs written for the new day in which they were living.  Based upon the frequent statements regarding the Church’s unity of mind, I am convinced that they kept their focus on the One they were worshipping rather than the mode in which their praise was expressed!  What a lesson our modern congregations could learn from this…..and how our Father would be honored if we would simply worship Him in unity of voice, mind, and purpose.

Are contemporary songs anointed?  Some are, some are not.  Weren’t the songs of previous generations anointed?  Some were, some were not.  The discerning worship leader will prayerfully follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the congregation they serve and blend music — old and new — to lift high the praises of the One we serve. 

Certainly we won’t all like the same style of music used in our worship service.  However, when we all love the One we are worshipping and keep our focus on Him, the style won’t matter so much…..only the heart of worship will.


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  • kennithfreeman  On January 16, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    Comments from a FB reader:

    My opinion: 1) Fight for principles, not for preferences. 2) Worship is giving to Him, not entertainment soley for you. 3) Buy worship misic you like the best and listen to it on your own time. Sunday morning is “our time for Him”. 4) Live a life of worship and don’t rely on others’ choices of music prefence to dictate your life of worship the other 6.75 days out of the week. 5) Chill like Jesus and you’ll be in a better mood to sing. 🙂

  • Scott Sholar  On January 21, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Thanks for sharing and God bless you. Here’s my latest post: http://scottsholar.com/2012/01/19/the-revelation-song/

  • H. King  On September 17, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    There is a right and a wrong period. God never deals in anything but black and white. He wants are worship and He wants it His way..Didn’t the story of Able and Cain teach us anything..This is not a war of who likes what; it is a war of carnal verses spiritual. Carnal Christians go to church looking for entertainment..
    and today a lot of churches are giving it to them in the form of contemporary Christian music being produced by carnal Christians for mostly gain..They go to church to get that feel good feeling..That feel good feeling never saved anyone only the Blood of Jesus Christ can do that..They talk about the love of God and never submit to His power and authority. Thinking that if they somehow praise Him enough, sing pretty enough or talk about His love enough their filthy sinful carnal lives will be over looked. Yes, there are two forms of worship, one Carnal and one spiritual, and as the Word has declared they war with each other..
    The Carnal has become very popular today amongst Carnal Christians and religious people in Churches filled with unsaved people.

    • kennithfreeman  On September 17, 2012 at 8:11 PM

      Thanks for the input. We certainly agree on some basic points. We are saved by the blood of Christ, period. For that I am thankful. The story of Cain and Abel’s sacrifices is a great parallel to draw as well.

      There is one point that I want to make sure that I am clearly understanding in your comment. Are you saying that contemporary worship music is exclusively carnal? I don’t know if I would go that far. There are men and women of God who continue writing today and are a blessing the church. (I’m not saying that everything that is written today is appropriate either…..just as every old song isn’t always the best choice for a worship setting. I think we would both agree with this and could come up with some fun examples if we were talking face to face.)

      I truly appreciate your commitment to our Heavenly Father and look forward to continuing to dialogue with you on this and other topics as we all strive to lead others in authentic, pure worship of our Savior.

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