Tag: Christian Music

WHAT SHOULD MUSIC IN THE CHURCH SOUND LIKE?

There’s been a lot of debate in recent decades over what music, or the worship in church should sound like, but it seems that what’s known as the “contemporary” style of worship has pretty much triumphed over hymns in most evangelical churches. I here offer my viewpoint, for what it’s worth, and a suggested fix for the problems. 

(This post is a greatly edited version of one I wrote a few years ago. It’s a little kinder than it was, but if you don’t like strong opinions, don’t read on!)

MODERNIZING

The evangelical church has been quietly burying or trashing hundreds of years of inspired hymn-writing (along with a lot of terrible hymn writing) in exchange for what it believes is modern music. This has been done in an effort to entertain and draw new generations. And perhaps that’s as it should be: times change and tastes change. Just a couple of decades ago electric guitars and drums were considered to be instruments of the devil. For a long time it was thought that once you get the drums tapping in the church you’re all on the slippery slope to hell.

Although I was raised to love the hymns, and still prefer the truly inspired hymns far over new “worship” songs, I don’t see it that way. Biblical worship is both passionate and noisy, and there’s no hint that drums or electric guitars should be excluded. Rhythm is not evil: God, not Satan, invented the heartbeat. Musicians speak of an instrument’s “voice”, because all instruments, including the electric guitar, have one, and David said “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150).  But there’s more to the consideration of contemporary music than that.
It seems odd to me that many in the Church are saying that we should be moving with the times and changing our style, because what is presented as “contemporary” Christian music is really a Christian sanitized version of pop, or light rock or country music which has been around for decades. If you really think you should “modernize”, you shouldn’t pussy-foot around with what the secular world has already been doing for some time. The Church never invents or explores or pushes the boundaries in worship or the arts, because that’s always considered to be “of the devil”, and consequently the world always does it first. Granted, we have to present some degree of familiarity in worship. But doesn’t modernization require doing something fresh and new, rather than just following the herd?

PLAYING THE WORLD’S GAME

By trying to be like the world, and trying to please a majority of younger people and those wishing to appear young, we select the lowest common denominator in music, and everyone in church is expected to smile, get enthusiastic, and go along. And this brings to light a rather big problem: there’s a genie out of the bottle now. You’ve trashed the hymns (or stuck a rhythm onto them and cashed in), and now you’re claiming to be modern. Now you have to put up with what comes along in the future, and your music will soon be trashed.  And if you really want to bring your music up to date, which kind of contemporary music are you going to regard as Christian? For all those who stand in church jigging and wiggling to the beat, I can assure you that there are also many who don’t like that kind of contemporary music-they much prefer a different kind. What’s considered “new” by many is really not new at all. Yes, in this world of fast-changing, diverse tastes and styles, it’s difficult if not impossible to please everyone. Fashion, unlike worship methods of the past, changes rapidly.

The latest genres are not represented in church-what are you going to do about that? While you think that “most people like contemporary music so we’ll keep it this way”, you’re actually thinking exactly what the hymn-singing world was thinking thirty or forty years ago: you’re getting stuck in the mire of conformity. It’s a complicated business, being modern.

THE FORGOTTEN SOULS

What about the many people who still love the hymns, and those who were raised with 60s and 70s style choruses and songs-don’t they matter? Perhaps we should reflect the style of music and worship by suffixing the names of our churches:
“The First Presbyterian Church of mid 1970’s Progressive Rock”.

PET PEEVES

Having been a pro musician for a time, and a music lover all my life, I for one resent being instructed or expected to clap and to writhe like a pop star, when the music I’m supposed to get excited about is as predictable and clichéd as it can be. I’ve had one or two worship leaders all but point me out to the audience (I’m sorry-I meant “congregation”) because they were irritated that I was not dancing on the spot. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like that, or the only one who is made to feel like I’m not spiritual or that I’m an un-cool relic of bygone days.

Another complaint I have is that sometimes the band on the stage is actually performing, and the congregation may see the church service as a show. Instead it’s meant to be a service in which God is exalted, in which we are instructed in the Word, and in which everyone sings with passion, with their focus on Jesus Christ and not the band.

It’s also my experience that someone can be in rapture over the latest song by a contemporary Christian star, and still be living as worldly a life as anyone not professing Christ. Pop music has lent us a false feeling of spirituality: if we feel good while we sing those words, we must be good Christians, right? If the vocalist closes her eyes and shakes her expensive hair while she sings, she must be a good Christian, right?

THE FIX

If you’ve managed to read this far, you may be wondering what my suggestion is for the future of Christian music. So here it is.
Either we should simplify, and just have keyboard accompaniment to the songs, which would bring everyone down to the same level, turn the show back into worship, and allow us all to concentrate on the spiritual side of life (and not the sensual), or let’s have some real variety. Instead of letting the “stars” and their recording labels get a monopoly on Christian music, let’s give worship back to the worshipers.

Let’s give everyone a chance to blow their own trumpet; to sing to the Lord; to use their gift; to present a short application of their musical gift or talent. Let’s have Rap, hymns, guitars, brass – the lot. So what if it’s not polished? Producing music only in a tightly controlled manner greatly inhibits variety, creativity, imagination and participation. It kills spontaneity.

If everyone had the opportunity to take part, I think there would be a lot more enthusiasm in the church. Everyone would be entertained and represented. The music and worship would not get stuck in a quagmire of clichés and propriety but would be fresher and more spontaneous and alive. Perhaps the Christian world might actually allow some originality to the fore, and something to make the world out there take notice. Perhaps our God would be blessed by what he sees coming from the heart and not from some “contemporary” prescription for what worship should sound like.

MY TEN GREATEST EXPERIENCES 9: LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC Part 1

 MY TEN GREATEST EXPERIENCES, 9: LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC Part 1

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“Larks’ Tongues In Aspic”! A delicacy, no doubt, and to this day I’m not sure if it ever was a real dish actually eaten by anyone… but the significance is in the concept of its rarity.

At the tender age of fifteen I traveled fifty miles from home with some friends of mine, to London, and a venue called “The Rainbow Theatre”. We were going to see a band, and I really don’t think that before the event I knew anything about who they were or what they sounded like-all I knew was that the name on my ticket was “King Crimson”.

The band members walked onto a dimly-lit stage without fanfare or introduction, and took their places. A soft, unfamiliar tinkling sound began. It kept tinkling…and kept tinkling…until it seemed like the tinkling wasn’t going to end.

“Is this it?” I thought… “Is this what we came all this way to hear?” I wondered where the “song” was, and where the strumming guitar and the rhythm had got to. I started to think I might want my money back.

A violin began to play a few notes, at first seemingly without design, and some cymbals started to make a continuous, growing percussive sound.

“What do they think they’re doing?” I thought, “Don’t they realize how boring this is?”

At this point in the disappointing, mystifying show the tinkling did stop, and the violinist began to play a sharp up-tempo rhythm, quietly at first. Then long, dark, intensely sustained guitar notes pushed themselves into the forefront of my attention. Suddenly I was interested.

Quickly now, a sequence of tones unfolded and descended, growing in expression and volume; the full and rich guitar growling in time, joined in unison by the bass and a swelling drum roll, as though some unspeakable giant were approaching outside, preparing to pound on the walls of the theatre. The band was masterfully leading us …leading us all into a million-ton crescendo of noise, percussion and melody, until all culminated in one almighty explosion of chords, drums and lights, the instruments in full voice, marching in incredible 7-4 time, with that deliciously mesmerizing and seductively sustained guitar whipping the entire atmosphere to a frenzy!

Suddenly the sound halted, the lights fell. I was hooked.

No, the onslaught hadn’t stopped after all: it was returning, it was building again, building inexorably towards another climax of sense-shattering noise and light…

King Crimson, manned by excellent, pioneering musicians…Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Jamie Muir and David Cross… all armed fully with the determination and the skill to break the cliché barrier.

The piece was called “Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part 1”.

So began my journey away from the world of mundane, predictable bubble-gum pop and rock, and into a life-long love of experimental music-an art form which too many Christians are quick to blanket-condemn as being “of the devil”.

Thus the Christian world condemns itself all too often to mediocrity, and to remaining thirty years behind the musical times. Our God is the creator of imagination-just look up into the night sky. We should be the ones leading the world of music. We should be leading the world towards our God, yes, but we should also lead with the full power of imagination and passion that God has given to humanity, and so glorify the Lord of heaven and earth with all our musical might.

THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: MIND BURP 13

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1: ONE BODY, TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE

No, I’m not schizophrenic…and neither am I.

It sometimes seems to me, as I watch my two sons grow and change so quickly, that they are different people than they once were. The babies who lived in my house are no longer to be found, and the small boys they once were don’t exist anymore. In their places are two tall, intelligent and talented young men. Of course, I love them as young men just as much as I ever did when they were little.

It’s sobering to think that at one time people like Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot were cute little babies.

Sometimes an adult can act in such contradictory ways that we can almost see them as different people in the same body. James wrote about the “double-minded man” who is unstable in all his ways. How many of us have wondered at some time whether we might be that man (or woman)? I have.

But a certain kind of double-mindedness is unavoidable in any believer. Paul described the struggle we all have at times between our fallen human nature and the divine nature God has placed within everyone who has accepted Jesus into his or her life:

“For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:14-25).

So there are actually two people within me. There is the fallen old me fighting to regain control over my life, and there is “Christ in me…” At any time on any given day I can surrender to one or the other. If I choose to surrender myself to Christ, I can become more like him:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

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2: CONDO TOLERATE!

We’ve been watching some old Dr. Who series with Tom Baker, and one which entertained me greatly is named “The Brain of Morbius”, a story reminiscent of a 1950s horror story which is more likely to make you laugh than scared.

Evil Dr. Solon is working to find a head for the headless brain of the even more evil and far more powerful Morbius. Solons’s hunch-back assistant “Condo” is treated with contempt by Solon, who only tolerates Condo in order to use him to attain his ends and ultimately the power Solon will gain alongside Morbius once a suitable head is found for the brain. Eventually Condo is killed by his master.

The story seemed to me a suitable allegory for the present-day situation in which the West, represented by Condo, is blindly serving and trusting a mortal enemy, a certain religion which doesn’t need to be named.

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3: SING ZA NEW SONG…OR ELSE!

I heard a popular radio preacher talking about the “new song” sung by multitudes in heaven as described in Revelation 5:9-14. He used this as his text to tell us that we must all learn the new songs being produced by contemporary Christian artists.  If we don’t, we’re denying the fact that God is at work today, he said, and people who refuse to sing them are going to have an unpleasant time in heaven.

Well, all I can say is that I hope God can write better songs than what I’m hearing, and I hope he doesn’t pout, puff and pose like that, or he’s a lot smaller than I thought.

Herewith is a raspberry in written form, addressed to the command to like without taste or discernment:

Pthpthpthpthpth!

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4: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Yes I was something of a Led Zeppelin fan many years ago, but thank the Lord I’ve moved on from there.

Whatever the original meaning of the song by that name was, it’s true that many people are trying to build themselves a stairway to heaven. They think that “if” there’s a heaven, they have to do some good deeds, like petting the neighbor’s dog, marching around town trying to draw someone into their church, giving the pastor or the Guru huge sums of money, or murdering a few innocents, and there it will be… the pathway to paradise.

The Christian gospel-the Christian blueprint for the stairway to heaven-can be expressed in easy-to understand steps:

1: We must admit that it’s impossible for us to satisfy a perfect God, because we have transgressed His laws: we have sinned. He waits for us to admit it, and to turn from our ways to His ways;

2: We must accept His son as our Lord and master;

3: We must believe that God raised his son from the dead.

“…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-11).

THANK THE LORD FOR SECULAR MUSIC!

THANK THE LORD FOR SECULAR MUSIC!

If it were not for secular music, discerning music lovers would be condemned to a lifetime (but not an eternity- HALLELUJAH) of being told by a small ruling elite what “good music” has to sound like.

If you can just stray a little from the usual sources, you’ll find that the secular world produces an amazing variety of musical styles and genres, and is perpetually experimenting and pushing the boundaries.  Meanwhile the Christian world, I’m sorry to have to say, is trapped in a couple of little boxes, one of which is called “contemporary Christian music”. LORD DELIVER US!

Twenty to thirty years after a genre is created, the Christian world catches on, and then declares to itself that it is thoroughly modern. The secular world, if it notices at all, yawns and continues to go on ahead.

It hasn’t always been that way, of course. Men like Bach and some of the hymn writers of the past were pioneers, and glorified God greatly by stretching the imagination that the Lord had given them just as far as they could. God wants us to be creative! Us humans only use a small percentage of our brain capacity; its there for a reason. God didn’t make all cats or all dogs or even all cats and dogs: He made jellyfish, elephants, snails, octopi, eagles, spiders, peacocks, dinosaurs…and what an amazing variety of colors, habitats and characteristics!

It’s not just the genres which are lacking in Christian music: it’s the passion. Being a bass player myself, I recently watched John Patitucci, one of the world’s greatest bass players, with Chick Corea. His hands, fingers and arms twanged, slapped, thumped, glided and twiddled on the fingerboard, the result of which was an astounding display of passion and sound emanating from a mighty brain and talent – God given (whether he sees it that way or not). In contrast, as I sat and watched a Christian band one Sunday morning, I saw the bass player barely touching the strings, for fear of making a noise which might be noticed, or the wrong kind of noise, It was the ultimate compression, and after all, the “experts” in the sound booth and church leadership know that the bass should be seen and not heard, or else it should just be a woolly soft noise in the background.

What does the Bible have to say about passion in music?

 “Praise the Lord form the earth, you great sea creatures and all the ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding…” (Psalm 148).

 “Praise God in his sanctuary;

Praise him in his mighty heavens,

Praise him for his acts of power;

Praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,

Praise him with the harp and lyre,

Praise him with the tambourine and dancing,

praise him with the strings and flute,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,

Praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

(Psalm 150).