My last post got a great conversation going about a hot topic in the church today: traditional vs. non-traditional/contemporary (thanks Dawn and Edge). I wanted to delve a little deeper into that topic, and I hope I don’t come across as demeaning or condescending to either side. My opinions on this subject have changed as I’ve aged (don’t our opinions on everything?).
First of all, I hate the fact that the church now has to market herself under these headings. When someone asks what type of church I attend (Calvary Chapel), the next thing they ask is “Is it contemporary?” According to my dictionary, contemporary means “living or occurring at the same time, dating from the same time, belonging to or occurring in the present, following modern ideas or fashion in style or design.” I think most people automatically jump to the last characteristic in that definition, and they either think it’s a good thing to be “contemporary” or a bad thing.
Here’s the thing: according to the broadest definition, EVERY type of church is contemporary at one point or another. Martin Luther was vilified for taking songs sung in German pubs and putting God-honoring words to them. It was seen as somehow making less of God and the gospel by doing so. But today, if a church sings Luther’s “How Firm a Foundation” then they are “traditional”, or worse: old fashioned. This is not based on belief, so much, as on style of music.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love what most people consider contemporary music. I play acoustic guitar at my church, and I’m joined by electric guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. We do not have an organ, and we do not have a choir (except on certain occasions). We play what most would call modern or contemporary worship.
But here’s my issue: the problem most people have with our worship is not with the content of what we’re singing. No, it’s with the style of music we sing to. And that is messed up. What we say about God and Jesus when we sing is far more important than what instrument it’s played on. And folks, that should go for both sides of the argument here. An old hymn is valuable only insofar as it glorifies God and lifts up the cross of Christ. But the year in which a song was written doesn’t make it good or bad. A good lyric and melody is timeless. Bad theology is bad whether it’s accompanied by an organ or a drumset.
I personally love old hymns. The lyrical depth of a song like “Before the Throne of God Above” is pretty much unmatched by anything written recently. But I don’t classify hymns on their age. “In Christ Alone” is a modern hymn that carries on the great tradition of theologically rich lyrics with a set meter and rhyme that allows for easy congregational singing.
Sovereign Grace Music just put out an unbelievable album entitled “Come Weary Saints” that is both theologically deep and musically brilliant (You can download a free song at that site as well). And there are “contemporary worship” artists that are putting out absolute fluff that is more about man than about God. Yet, because these songs are “contemporary” many are being played in church, and they glorify man or man’s feelings more than God.
I guess one of my biggest issues is that we’re dividing the body of Christ over style, when substance, to me, is far more vital. There are “contemporary” churches that are crammed full of people every Sunday, but they are more like self-help seminars than gospel-centered churches. They are like rivers that are a mile wide and an inch deep. And there are “traditional” churches that are half empty, but the Word of God is proclaimed and the Lord is lifted up in song. There are also churches that play “modern” music and preach the Word of God without apology, and there are “traditional” churches that are full of heresy and bad theology.
Let’s lay aside our aesthetic differences and choose substance over style.