In my last post, I gave the reasons why singing music exists in the church service. I hope I gave good reasons why we do this and must continue doing so. Today I want to discuss a topic that was a bit more controversial years ago but still remains a contentious topic in many churches. What style of music should we sing in our church services? How do we determine the right course of action in song selection? There are a few different facets to this question, and today we're just going to tackle musical style: hymns versus contemporary music.
This question is one that I have to deal with on a regular basis, being a music pastor. Fortunately, I get to serve a congregation that has expressed no real musical preference to me, and enjoys the blend of traditional and contemporary music. As I mentioned before, this topic became very heated among many churches a few years ago, and since then has mostly faded into the distance. (I'll get into why that is a bit more in the next post.) It still is a question music ministers like myself have to grapple with constantly, whether or not it's controversial.
On the one hand, we have thousands of years' worth of songs at our disposal to use in church services. We have instances of hymnody in the epistles, such as I Timothy 3:16. The psalms also give us a look into the hymns and prayers of God's people all the way back to the time of Moses. Not only that, but the church has been writing songs ever since the time of the apostles. Today's hymnals cover a vast range of time when hymns were written, from the ancient Irish "Be Thou My Vision" to hymns written only a couple years ago. There's certainly something to be said about these hymns of the faith. They have all stood the test of time and continue to impact the lives of God's people all over the world. Most hymns dig deep into Christian doctrine and teach it in a way that people will remember (rhyming and melody).
At the same time, there are many people today who are writing excellent music that the church ought to embrace. One of my close friends wishes that we would sing "Grace Alone" by Dustin Kensrue every single Sunday. (I love the song too, but keep telling him it won't happen.) Modern culture has made it so that anyone with access to quality recording equipment can promote their music anywhere on the Web. Every day there is more and more music available to the general public, and much of it can (and probably should) be used by churches. Even the psalmist declared to "Sing to (the LORD) a new song" (Psalm 33:3).
Every church will have their own philosophy on what is best for the congregation. Some may choose only to interact with the old hymns. Some may choose to ignore the past and sing only contemporary Christian songs. My opinion is that these two categories should be brought together and utilized equally in the church. It is good for us to interact with the ancient church, to see where we've come from, and it is also good for us to interact with what's happening now in the realm of Christian music. The two should not be mutually exclusive; nor should one be seen as immensely better than the other.
Now, even in bringing these two categories together, there needs to be discernment. What actual songs should we sing? Which songs go well together in a service? What songs should we not sing at all in church? We'll dive into that can of worms next time.
A simple servant of the Master.