I have been doing a lot of thinking about church music and was contemplating the relationship between music and lyrics.  Over the past 40 years, there has been a significant change in the style of music song in churches.  I have read all sorts of arguments on both sides of the aisle.  One of my basic convictions is that worship ought to engage the whole person; the mind, the emotions, the volition. 

In the midst of the rise of contemporary Christian praise songs, it appears that the mind is routinely excluded.  I see this most clearly in the lyrics of popular songs, or as some people would say 7-11 songs. (7 words sung 11 times.)  The contemporary lyrics seem to be written in such a way that they reinforce the emotion of the music.  I think of Hillsong’s Healer.  The music is powerful, but the words are shallow and nearly empty.   The riches of the Great Physician seem to take second place to what “I believe.” 

If you compare many of the contemporary favorites with some of the classic hymns, I believe you will see that the music of the hymns was written to reinforce the lyrics, just opposite of what is happening today.  Martin Luther’s classic hymn, A Mighty Fortress is lyrically incredible.  The truths presented in those words are astounding and humbling.  I have heard that the music that Martin Luther chose for that hymn came from a drinking song at the local pub.  Regardless of whether that is true or not, (if it is, it certainly reinforces the idea that music should support the lyrics and not vice-versa) the attitude and atmosphere of the music drives home that Jesus is our place of refuge.

So I believe this is why groups like Indelible Grace and the Getty’s are doing so well.  Their emphasis is on the lyrics and the music supports the message.  In church music, the whole person should be engaged.  I think this is where much of the contemporary church music fails.

But, while I think this is often a fair criticism that much of the new church music is shallow, hollow and trite, the temptation to exclude the mind from worship isn’t found just in contemporary churches.

I received an email out of the blue wondering about our style of worship.  As I pressed the writer, I found that it wasn’t really the style of worship that he was concerned about, but rather the style of music.  He was interested in whether or not we use a projector in worship.  Evidently, to him this was a sign that worship was only about the emotional experience (which I do believe is the case in many churches and is in error).

As I thought about his comments I realized that he might very well have been giving into the very temptation he was accusing projector churches of.  Was he merely attracted to the old hymns because they were the music style he learned when He came to Christ?  Most people have an emotional attachment to the music they learned when they came to Christ. If this was the case, then it was not the depth of the lyrics, but the music, that he found delightful.  And therefore, it was an emotional preference.   

I don’t know his heart and our conversations have since ceased, so I can’t answer why he prefers the classic hymns.  I am simply using him as an example that regardless of which style of music you prefer, there is a temptation to exclude our minds (or for some people- emotion) from worship.  There is a temptation to worship with less than our whole being and to worship in ways that focuses the service on us instead of God.

Is there a place for emotion in church?  Absolutely, but not to the exclusion of our mind.  Is there a place for the mind and intellect in church?  Absolutely, but not to the exclusion of our emotions.

I believe there is freedom in our style of music.  But we should not use that freedom to look down on those who might have a different preference.  Instead let us use our freedom in Christ lift up one another and to encourage each other to worship with our entire being, not just those parts that make us feel good about ourselves.  After all, worship is the expression of the love of a creature toward his Creator. 

Jesus said in Luke 10, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

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