Fellowship with Musical Diversity
Is diversity in musical style akin to a lack of unity in faith?
The simple answer is “no”. Here’s why:
I profess a unity of faith; even in the most blended of services at my church; through the creeds, the prayers, the liturgy, through a set of common beliefs based on, and anchored in, God’s inerrant holy word and in the sacraments; most importantly Holy Communion, which by its very name implies, invites, and in fact requires; I believe, a unity of faith. Yes, our unity is also expressed in the very words contained in our music (but not in the style or the accompanying instrumentation). Musical Style is not even in the same zip code as these above mentioned weightier items.
I dearly love, cherish and enjoy this unity and fellowship.
Music is a peculiar thing. I was once told that we all become fans of the music that we listened to while in High School or during our College years; because this was probably some of the greatest times of our lives and let’s praise God for these fond memories. For me this was the seventies; and yes, I enjoy some good old classic rock every now and then and hence my leanings towards more contemporary styles and sounds. My parents still enjoy music from the 40’s and 50’s and a few current artists that mimic that sound. So it takes no big stretch of the imagination to look around your church some Sunday and come to the conclusion that we all like different styles of music as a result of our age, our upbringings, our surroundings and our culture; and thank God for that diversity as well.
The fact is that we can still be in blissful fellowship with these differing musical style preferences. God gives us the strength to do this. We should all take incredible pleasure in singing songs containing God’s life saving gospel message in any style and with any instrument because God is being exalted and glorified as his people sing to Him. As believers, we should not let something as insignificant as style stand in our way from worshipping God. In fact, you worship God in a storm if you have to. Paul did, from a prison cell without any accompaniment.
Isn’t it odd that God did not define musical style to us? In fact, He did the exact opposite. He gave us the words and left the style up to us. In God’s infinite wisdom, He knows that instruments change, phrases change, and even our stylistic preferences change through the centuries. Did you know that the major seven chord didn’t even exist until a few centuries ago? Its sound was considered to be pure cacophony before this time. Now, it’s the bedrock of most jazz and also is found in some classical pieces.
In mission work, wouldn’t it be helpful to use styles and instrumentation that are indigenous to the culture that we are trying to reach? Letting a few people define the musical style for a world full of diverse believers is potentially exclusive and might limit the spread of the live saving, precious, Gospel message.
Worship is so precious for so many reasons, but one thing that impresses me is that we are all so different and we come into worship with differing mindsets and expectations, yet we all leave feeling equally loved and equally saved by the Almighty One. I cannot think of any other mass gathering where this is the case. If you go to a ball game, some will leave happy (their team being the winning team) and others will leave angry (fans of the loosing team). Not true in worship. Everyone leaves a winner.
We have the most wonderful and mysterious example of unity in diversity to light our path. It’s called the Holy Trinity.
So bring on the hymns from the 1200’s played to the organ,
bring on chanting of the Psalms,
bring on the ancient ODES sung to harps and lyres,
bring on contemporary music backed up with guitars and drums,
bring on the steel drums and the timpani,
bring on the orchestras,
bring on the brass,
bring on the bell choirs.
bring on the string ensembles…
…and get ready because we are going to worship the almighty, the uncreated, the timeless, the ageless, the awe-inspiring, life giving Lord that beautifully crafted you and me; that loves us dearly, that continues to love us despite our continual sinning, that has saved us, that has given His life for us, and He deserves to be worshiped in every language, in every nation, in every tongue, in every style, by every generation, and with every instrument ever created. And yes, this can still be done in a heart pounding unity of faith. In fact, that might just be what’s happening in heaven as we speak.
I close with a quote:
“Must we have fights over church music? We should have the best, the most God-centered, the most truthful, the most edifying. But must it all be in one style? Is there nothing to be gained from wide exposure to the company of saints in many parts of the world who have expressed their adoration of the Savior with richness of hymnody we can never exhaust, but which we ignore to our detriment?”
– “The Cross and Christian Ministry” by D.A. Carson.