Musical Style Should Not Split a Church

Musical Style Should Not Split a Church

From a theological perspective, there are both good and bad hymns and there are good and bad contemporary songs.  There are also good and bad ways to use both styles of music.  My goal in this posting is not to bad mouth either style of music, for that would be bashing a vehicle that is used to praise and glorify God and Satan’s already done a pretty good job of creating wars and setting us against each other.  Nor is it my purpose to take sides.  I would like to make a case for blending both styles.  The following points assume that both styles of music have sound biblical lyrics, express the Gospel message effectively, and that the music is used to serve the word as opposed to being a “means of grace” in and of itself.  What we are left with are only the stylistic differences and this alone is not a strong enough issue to divide a church for the following reasons:

  1. Fundamentally, it’s a matter of personal taste, like the color of the carpet.  Jesus’ death on the cross trumps this.
  2. We are Christ’s people; we bear His name; He has made each of us different.  Out of Christian love for one another, consider it your act of fellowship towards your brothers and sisters in Christ to worship your creator using each other’s favorite musical styles.
  3. God loves us unconditionally.  We in turn should praise and worship and glorify Him unconditionally.  Don’t let things like style taint your worship of Him.
  4. It’s God’s church.  Not yours.  Whether you state it or not, Jesus is at, or should be at, the top of your Org chart.  And He is for unity.  Do what pleases Him.
  5. Splitting over style is making a statement that style is more important than whatever else is holding you together; things like the Gospel, like Jesus’ death, the promise of eternal life in heaven and His love for each one of us.
  6. Causing a split is Satan’s game.  Don’t let that scoundrel win.
  7. We do not know the style of music in heaven.  Be prepared.  It could be all hymns or all contemporary music or something entirely new to us.  Don’t get hung up on any one style.  The great news is that whatever type of music is used; rest assured that you will be enjoying it immensely.
  8. Music does not unite a church, much more important and weighty things do; like the Gospel, the inerrancy of scripture and the proper administering of the Sacraments.  So how can it divide a church?  Put things in their proper perspective.
  9. Use this issue to unite, to strengthen, and to teach mutual respect and acceptance of each other’s differences.
  10.   “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  – Col 3:16   This scripture reeks of using musical variety.
  11. To Lutherans, music is not a “means of grace”.  It’s just not vital enough to warrant dividing us.
  12. We need to realize that music is subjective and different people have different tastes.
  13. God feeds us through his word, not through music styles.
  14. We need to be careful not to let any style of music become an idol.  Be watchful of traditionalism, which can be bad.  Traditions, on the other hand can be good.
  15. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough to work with any style of music and any instrument that is used as accompaniment.

A few quotes:

Services are repetitious – What is taught is not objectionable, rather it is the redundancy or stylistic monotony with which the young people take issue. – (WELS Study) Why Young People Leave the WELS

Lack of a more contemporary approach – They are not asking for a total reversal, however, more modern music and tying the religious teachings to current events and issues facing society represent a direction this group is very much looking for.  They want to be able to come to church and hear a more modern style of music included with the traditional hymns. – (WELS Study) Why Young People Leave the WELS

Recognize that what makes certain styles appropriate can be tradition, familiarity, and a sense that a certain style communicates proper respect, or a missional conviction that a style will appeal to a target generation or people group.  None of this can be proven by a Bible verse or a mathematical formula, so reactions to musical choices are often more visceral than reasonable.  – excerpted from Bryan Chapell, CHRIST-CENTERED WORSHIP: LETTING THE GOSPEL SHAPE OUR PRACTICE. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2009, pp. 296-97.

“God is not Western; God is not Eastern; God is not exclusively the God of classical culture or primitive culture; God is the Lord of the plethora, the God of the diverse, the redeemer of the plural.  Likewise, God calls for responses in different languages, dialects, and idioms, accepting them through the Son.  Pentecost tells us that one artistic tongue is only a start and a thousand will never suffice.  There is no single chosen language or artistic or musical style that, better than others, can capture and repeat back the fullness of the glory of God.  This truism cannot be avoided.  No single culture can hold the wholeness of praise and worship or the fullness of the counsel of God.” – Harold Best, in MUSIC THROUGH THE EYES OF FAITH, Chapter 3, “Musical Pluralism and Diversity,” Harper Collins, 1993, p. 66.

“Differing musical styles allows people of differing backgrounds, ages and experiences to worship God wholeheartedly together.” – Bob Kauflin

“The Scriptures include or allude to just about every approach to worship there is: organized, spontaneous, public, private, simple, complex, ornate or plain. Yet there is no comment anywhere about any one way being preferred over another.  This fact alone countermands the tendency to assume that if we could just find the correct or fashionably relevant system, all will be well and God will come down.  This doesn’t imply that we have no responsibility to make intelligent and sensitive choices or to be creative.  But whatever these choices eventually are, they are incapable all by themselves of establishing the superiority of one system over another.” –Harold Best, in MUSIC THROUGH THE EYES OF FAITH, chapter 7, “The Nature of Worship, Faith, Grace, and Music Making,” Harper Collins, 1993, p. 146.

Recognize that God’s Word, and His Word alone, strengthen faith.  Not music.  Without God’s Word, no musical style is beneficial to the faith; with God’s Word a variety of musical styles can benefit faith.  – from “Should rock music be used in church?”  WELS Q&A: The Church and Its Ministry – Music/Worship (01)

Whatever music choices the church makes, however, must always meet these criteria: Does the music edify? Does the music appropriately carry the message of God’s word so that the Christian faith is able to be built up and strengthened? Or is faith distracted from the Word because of the music? Does the music carry the gospel message or is the music being used as a substitute for the gospel?  – from “Should rock music be used in the church?” WELS Q&A: The Church and Its Ministry – Music/Worship (01)

Blending the gospel-proclaiming forms of the church’s past with musical styles that are part of the church’s present may enable us to offer the people of today the timeless message that Jesus saves. – from “Blended worship that works” by Professor James Tiefel

The Bible and the Lutheran Confessions make it clear that the form, style, and structure of our worship are matters of Christian freedom. – from “A Synod that Values Worship” by Pastor Mark Schroeder

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