Tag: Contemporary 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.

WHAT SHOULD CHURCH MUSIC LOOK LIKE?

I once wrote a post titled “What should Church Music Sound Like?” The natural sequel to such a discussion, to my mind, has to be concerned with what worship should look like…

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This may seem like an odd question to some, but it’s pretty straightforward really. When we all sit or stand in our churches those of us blessed with eye-sight are unavoidably looking at something or someone. And the trend in latter times towards what is termed “contemporary worship” has been towards watching a performance up there on the stage: how cute the girls and guys are, what they’re wearing and how they have their hair; how impressive the guitar licks and drum rhythms are; how cool the light show is; how expensive the sound system is.

There are times when the worshipers are not heard-not necessarily because the band is too loud but because the congregation isn’t singing-they’re too busy watching the performance. In a really bad scenario you will get a dirty look from those around you if you do sing loudly.

Well excuse me, but I can’t help being one of the few voices to raise an alarm here. Who are we supposed to be worshiping: Jesus Christ, or the band? I’m not against the principle of guitars and drums etcetera. What I’m against is the idea that we-the congregation-have to be entertained and impressed. I know for a fact that some people go to church because the music has a “great beat”, or because the vocalist is “cute”. Eventually that “cute” guy leaves his wife and goes off with one of his admirers.

I’m sorry, but that just makes me gag. And on a more spiritual note, it makes me sad and frustrated because the entire point of church is being missed. It’s not about entertainment, it’s about loosing our life to become Christ-like, and so to gain it. It’s about giving all our worship to our Creator: the almighty, omnipotent God and His Son, who alone deserves it all and requires it all.

Alright, I can’t expect churches to do it my way, but let me give a little example of what I personally think church music should look like. For me the most moving and uplifting moments of corporate worship have been when the musicians-at floor level-were obscured by the believers all around me (and I say this as a musician myself-I don’t want to be noticed if I’m playing in church). There was no visual focus, and no sensual stimulation: it was just me, God, and my brothers and sisters in Christ, lifting up our voices far above the music, singing a song written by someone who had been moved to write from his or her own experience with, and view of God. The music was good, yes, and part of the worship, but it was the accompaniment to our worship-not the reason for our presence.

“GREAT MUSIC” AND THE CHURCH

What is “great music”? The term is often used as though there were fixed universal rules about what it should sound like…

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I thank the Lord that no such rules exist, apart from the fact that music, as with all we do, should come from a heart of faith, and should glorify God in some way.

(EYEPHONE, “Greenhouse”)

If you asked a thousand people on the street what great music is you would probably get at least a hundred different answers.  I recently heard an interview in which the host-probably a senior-gave praise to the crooners of fifty and sixty years ago (Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, etc.). These, he said, were the greats, unmatched by anyone since. Elvis Presley was “not a singer”, he was “just there as a celebrity package to make someone some money”. If such commentators had their way we would all still be listening to Perry Como today.

Currently on Christian radio and in many evangelical churches the term “great music” is applied unconditionally to “contemporary” Christian music-the kind with guitars and drums and handsome guys and beautiful gals with “great voices”. I resent being told that it’s “great music” for the reason that I resent having my tastes dictated to me, and because I don’t agree that it’s great at all. I’ve heard and played a lot of music in my time, and I know what I like and what I don’t like.

Your idea of great music may be very different to mine, as hard as that is to imagine, and what I consider great music would probably be nothing more than a pointless noise to you. I understand that, and I know that my tastes are “out there” to almost everyone. But what about the people who like classical, jazz, drum and bass, metal, rap, opera, electronica, or dare I say it-hymns? Do they all have to jump into the melting pot, the great lowest-common-denominator of the music world, and like what they are told to like?

In churches where the hymns have been trashed (or versions with a back-beat substituted), a one-style one-genre form of worship has taken over, as though everyone has the same musical tastes, and as though we all agree that this is what makes “great music” and great worship. The new regime-the new status quo-intentionally excludes any form of variety, variation, deviation, experimentation or competition.

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It’s wrong of worship leaders and ministers to take the praise of a few admirers after the service and conclude that everyone loves it that way so that‘s the way it’s going to be. Plenty of Christians sit in church keeping their different ideas quiet for fear of being considered “un-cool” or of causing friction, and plenty of others stay home instead of attending church, partly because they don’t agree with the church’s idea of “great music” and “powerful worship”. Guitars, drums, expensive hair-styles and a back-beat do not necessarily make “powerful worship” any more than a triangle and a kazoo do:  it’s down to other factors such as the spiritual condition of the worship leaders and musicians- are they seeking God in humility, holiness and repentance?

For the life of me I can’t understand why Christians have it in their heads that experimentation in music is sinful and worldly! Surley God is the Creator of imagination, not Satan. And would it not be honoring to God to use that imagination? I don’t mean make the two-chord four measures longer, make the snare louder, and use a lot more heavy breathing in the vocals: I mean how about something really different as an expression of God’s creativity for those of us who have more imagination.

Some people think that in order for music to be acceptable in Christian minds and circles it has to contain wall-to-wall easy-to-understand lyrics based on the gospel or personal testimonies in praise of God. While it’s always good to praise God, if that’s the case our clothes, our cars, our walls and our gardens should be similarly marked with Bible verses. If it’s true, then the Lord made a mistake by making clouds which have no words on them at all, let alone Bible verses, and by making space completely black, and by making waterfalls which fail to speak in plain English and are woefully out of tune. Patterns-on floor tiles for example-should be shunned by the Christian, since they don’t give a clear Biblical message, and flowery shirts and pin-stripe suits should be avoided at all costs because the markings are devoid of Christian phrases.

Whatever you call “great music” is great-for you, and thank the Lord for it, but don’t expect me to smile hypocritically at just any music imposed upon me, or to get emotional about something which I find boring, clichéd and unsatisfying.

Please, if we must be “contemporary”, can’t we get off the rails and begin to be creative, in honor of our amazing Creator?

DARWIN’S BLACK BOX-THE MUSICAL!

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This is one of my earliest recordings, written in salutation to a book which helped me understand some of the weaknesses and fallacies of the theory of evolution – “Darwin’s Black Box”, by Michael Behe*. Darwin thought that the cell was a little black blob of jello,, but even now its stunning intricacies are still being fathomed.

Of course, atheists give the book a one star rating because they don’t want you to read it, and  evolutionists have been desperate to trash Behe’s work. You can find answers to their counter-claims online quite easily. Don’t expect “Discovery” or “National Geographic” to be impartial on such works-we’re in a war of worldviews, and the establishment has the upper hand.

Again, the bass is an important part of this music-so crank it up!

“BLACK BOX”, copyright Nick Fisher, 2002.

* http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Black-Box-Biochemical-Challenge/dp/0743290313/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390184583&sr=1-1&keywords=darwin%27s+black+box

You can download this and other tracks of mine at this web site:

https://cilium.bandcamp.com/track/black-box

 

BECAUSE HE DIED-OUR SONG

Greetings fellow aliens!  Here’s a track I recorded with my wife Mathilde ten years ago. I wrote the lyrics and the music, and she sang. We recorded under the name “Positive Charge”, and the song was part of an album called “More Power”.

Beauty and the Beast 2010
Beauty and the Beast

Personally, I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard, but then, I’m biased. Any enterprising muso out there-please note that the song and the music are copyrighted. I’m particularly proud of the bass line-so crank it up…

“BECAUSE HE DIED” (Refracted Recordings)

You can download this track and other tracks of mine at this site:

http://cilium.bandcamp.com/track/because-he-died