Why does your church choose the music it chooses? Why does it play and sing it in the style it does? In the last post we saw that the scriptural purpose of church music is edification. But the sad truth is the majority of American churches – what I am going to broadly label as the contemporary movement – do not understand this, and that lack of understanding informs a corresponding errant application in music choice and style. The contemporary movement approaches music differently, and in so doing it directly impacts how they do church music. In today's post I want to discuss two of those errant philosophies.
First, it can reasonably be asserted that the contemporary movement uses music to draw and hold people. In so saying I am not broad-brushing anything nor am I inferring what they themselves have not already implied if not outright stated.
For example, it is routine for one of the trendy denominations in my city (churches/denominations such as New Life Community Church, Park Community Church, Willow Creek Church, New Life Covenant Church, etc.) to effect what is basically a friendly takeover of an existing independent church. They target churches that are struggling, and offer to come in and restart the church under their brand name. The few remaining folks are folded into the new congregation, the previous pastor is given a generous severance package, and voila, a new "campus" is inaugurated. In the process the trendy denomination convinces the handful of existing people at the new campus that they must change everything in order to attract a crowd. The name must change, the activities must change, the schedule must change, the pastor must change, and most importantly the music must change. After all, it is obvious that the reason your church is in such a sad state is that it is clinging to old-fashioned music that no one likes anymore. If we are going to get this restart off the ground successfully you have to do it our way. And it works. Just look how big we are, and how fast we are growing.
In other words, they introduce music in order to attract, interest, draw, and hold people to a church. The mega-churches do the same thing within their existing church by starting new "venues", services that cater to those who like lite rock or gospel or traditional hymns, et al. This determines which songs are chosen, and the style in which they are performed.
I do not doubt their sincerity. Others might but I do not. I believe they genuinely think that the best way to reach the lost and hold them in church is to offer in a church environment the kind of music unchurched people already enjoy. But their sincerity in no way protects them from the cancerous effect of their musical philosophy. The pragmatism endemic in such an approach produces all manner of worldliness both within the music program itself and throughout the church entire.
The simple truth is there is not a single scriptural example or teaching instructing us to use music as a means of evangelism, or a tool to draw people to a church service. Yes, I understand I Corinthians 9.22 says I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, but the context of that statement has zero to do with music. Paul was contrasting observing aspects of Judaism's ceremonial law vs the freer exercise of the Gentiles. Yes, I realize the Philippian jailer got saved after Paul and Silas sang at midnight, but it was not the music that attracted him to Christ. It was the fear of God put into his heart by the earthquake and his respect for Paul's integrity when he chose not to escape.
God's explicitly chosen means of evangelism is preaching. Preaching is pointed. It is confrontational. It is explanatory. It breeds conviction. Music, on the other hand, especially music tailored to the desires of a lost man, is much more enjoyable than it is convicting. In point of fact, contemporary churches are not aiming at conviction anyway. It is the last thing they want. They are aiming at making the unchurched feel comfortable when they ought to be aiming at the Holy Spirit making him uncomfortable so that he may be converted.
The contemporary movement, however, does not limit its unscriptural philosophy of church music to attraction. It also clearly cultivates an intentional approach of praise and worship toward the Lord. I can hear you already. "Wait. What? Are you saying that worshiping the Lord through the music at church is unscriptural?" No. I am saying that aiming your music at that, developing your music with the purpose of producing worship is unscriptural. It is not sinful. It is just short-sighted.
I do not want to beat a dead horse here but there is a reason I spent six blog posts explaining true biblical worship before I began this series on music. Worship is our response when we see God. But in the New Testament we do not come to church to meet with God. We come to church in order to be edified, to be built up so that we be better prepared to serve God. (Ephesians 4.11-16, I Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 2.8-10)
Contemporary churches overwhelmingly use music "to usher people into the presence of God." But that is not the purpose of a church service. In fact, such an approach in actuality severely limits worship, and in the minds of the congregation turns worship into something I feel (remember, music is an emotional language) when the music plays. And along with limiting worship such an approach short circuits the true emotion that is only available to the surrendered Christian and hands it freely, with no commitment needed, to the most carnal of God's people. Worship has become something people feel while the lasers bounce, the fog machine whirrs, the people sway, the drummer pounds away, and the "worship leader" hops up and down while practically swallowing the mic – no matter how far from God the people in the audience were when they walked through the doors that morning. They feel close to God because they feel something. Tada! Music has had its desired effect. Meanwhile, this entire paragraph is a tragic injustice to actual worship, and to the Lord who demands and deserves it.
I ask you again, why does your church choose the music it does? If your answer is not the scriptural one of edification then sooner or later – no matter how sincere you are – your church will experience a variety of spiritually negative consequences. But that's ok. After all, look how big the crowd is today…