One of the more common complaints Christians have about their church revolves around the type of music you’ll hear on a given Sunday there. The phrase “worship wars”–which by all rights should be an oxymoron–sadly is all too familiar to a host of Christians. I recently came across some complaints to pastors from fans of “traditional” music regarding that newfangled, altogether too loud, and plain offensive noise they’re calling “music” these days. They’re all from different decades but the same theme runs through them. Here they are:
“Pastor, I am not music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new song, if you call it that, sounded like a sentimental love ballad one might expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you persist in exposing us to rubbish like this in God’s house, don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.” -From ’65
“Was it the organist’s idea or yours that our peaceful worship service was shattered by that new song last Sunday? The music was sacrilegious; something one would expect to hear in a den of iniquity, not a church! Don’t expect me even to attempt to sing it next time!” -From ’74
“What’s wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new song. Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. While the text was good, the tune was unsingable and the new harmonies were quite discordant.” -From the 90’s
Ouch! Them there’s some strong words aimed at contemporary music. But just which songs are the guilty parties? Well they might not seem too “contemporary” to us, seeing as how they’re all hymns that are over a hundred years old. (In each letter the phrase “new song” was originally “new hymn”)
The first complaint is from a letter written in 1865 regarding the hymn “Just As I Am.” The second is from a letter written in 1874 complaining about the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story.” And the final one is from an 1890 letter to a minister complaining about the new hymn, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” (As a disclaimer, they were all found online, so take them with a grain or two of salt haha).
Sadly, it seems this is nothing new in the history of the Church. In fact, Isaac Watts, considered the Father of English Hymnody, created a storm of controversy in the early years of the 18th Century when he started writing “human centered” songs like…oh, I dunno…“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”!
While we Protestants are quick to whip out phrases like “Sola scriptura!” and decry any and and all forms of (ohhh so evil!) tradition, it seems that (all too often) we still have our own traditions that are clothed/disguised as preferences…until they are threatened by the new. May we all (myself especially included) be quick to be gracious, slow to condemn, and remember that these at best tertiary issues.How does your church deal with addressing the varying preferences for traditional versus contemporary worship? Different services with different musical styles? One service with a mishmash of styles? Only one or the other of the styles? And more importantly-How does that choice affect the makeup and unity of the congregation?