Probably one of the most awkward subjects in contemporary evangelicalism. Sad that. We are made to praise and glorify God and enjoy Him forever, singing, and music making are integral to that, so I guess it’s no surprise that there are difficulties surrounding an issue so near to the core of Christian worship if we believe that there is spiritual resistance to the same.
To rehearse the nature of the friction I suppose we’d say, on the one hand we have the theological integrity, gravity, sound experience, melodic value, and other-worldliness of the Hymn. On the other, the immediacy, accessibility, liveliness, devotional passion, and contemporaneous nature of the modern worship songs.
Those who try to update the old hymns get accused of putting double glazing in Tudor manor houses. Congregations often end up having one or the other, as having both seems a bit of a ‘fruit salad’.
One problem I see here is a failure to see the final aim of worship, and it’s not, as Matt Redman says ‘all about me’. It is God Himself who is the final assessor of what is, or is not acceptable to Him, so we do need to be very careful in that regard. It is all too easy to conclude that it’s about what we like, but that is something we can reserve for our own private lives, and not necessarily for our congregational ones. Otherwise we get congregations that gravitate around worship ‘styles’, not the Gospel, and not in the end God – music club’s, even Christian music clubs will be less than what congregations are called to be.
The key issue is bringing God our heartfelt praise, said, real and sung. What is true though is that different people find it more or less easy to release their affections to God depending on how comfortable they feel in the environment they find themselves in. ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ asked the Psalmist.
A person who grew up hymn singing, may struggle to sing modern songs simply out of unfamiliarity, and visa verso. That said, we are told in five separate references in the psalms, and once in Isaiah to sing to the Lord a new song. So we are called to move on too.
So, if we are to find a way for us all to worship together, which is what congregational worship is about, we are going to have to either force an unhealthy conformity, or recognise a healthy diversity, and if the latter is so, we will have to compromise with others, in order to ultimately bring our joint praise to God. This is why here we have no house style – nor will we say from week to week – this week is contemporary week, and tonight is our traditional service – we just invite people to come who love the Lord, and ask that they enter into worship as much as they can, and recognise that there may be times when others are more or less comfortable than themselves.
What we do aim to do, is to make each service as much as possible a harmonious whole, and are sure that as we all share the burden of love with each other, God will respect our mutual desire to make Him and not ourselves the object of our worship.