Saturday, January 23, 2010

Music and the Church--Fitting the Occasion

On a typical Sunday morning at our church's worship service, you'll find the last row of pews on the right side filled with high school students. I'm thrilled they come, but I often wonder what they think about our service's music because its not what they hear on the radio or their I-Pods.

Our church uses the Celebration Hymnal. I like it because it combines the great traditional hymns with the more recent genre of praise music. The Celebration hymns are timeless, but its choruses gradually appear out of date in light of the latest round of good modern worship music. I'm glad our students get exposed to this type of music in our service--it adds to the diversity of music they hear--but sometimes I wonder if they think if Pastor Ted only like old hymns and 25 year old praise choruses.

As a former music store manager, I certainly like all kinds of music. In fact, I'm rediscovering a whole host of great jazz music, courtesy of the Hutchinson Library. But why does our worship service include only certain types of music and exclude others? I've received this question especially when at weddings and funerals. In a good article by Douglas Wilson, the answer comes down to appropriateness. Music needs to fit the occasion and not all music fits all occasions:
Ragtime is not suitable for a wedding march. Complicated operatic music is not suitable for congregational singing. Conversely, swing is suitable for a particular kind of dancing. It might therefore be suitable at a wedding reception, but not during the wedding itself. The preacher tells us there is a time to mourn and a time to dance (Eccl. 3:4). We have music for dancing, we have music for funerals, we have music for military parades, we have music for lovemaking, we have music for a peaceful evening at home, we have music to pump up the crowd at a basketball game, and we have music to write chapters like this by...

The music of Bach and Mozart are the musical equivalents of a great cathedral. And we can all recognize the vast architectural superiority of such a cathedral over the typical suburban house. But it would be a drag to have to make your breakfast or watch Monday Night Football in the cathedral. The fact that it is a superior building does not mean it is superior for every function.

In the same way, congregational worship has a particular function; our corporate goal should be to hallow God’s name. This is what we are doing in worship. And having come to this answer from the Bible, we should ask what music is fitting.”
I like all kinds of music. So on Sunday mornings, I'll be singing "Amazing Grace," and during the week, I'll be listening to James Brown, U2, 77s, Chris Tomlin, and Thelonious Monk.

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