‘Worship Bands’ and Worship. How modern music is ruining true worship.
This is not a debate about traditional versus modern, or older generation versus younger generation. This is not even a debate about particular tastes in music! None of these issues are really at the heart of the problem – though they are easy ‘red herrings’ to sideline what is at issue here. Moreover, none of what follows is an attempt to justify or bring back unhelpful styles of music in worship. Let this debate be about fundamental principles.
“But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
“He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spoke he of the Spirit, whom they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” John 7:38-39
John the Baptist testified of two fundamental things concerning the reason why Jesus came. He declared, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29); and secondly, “He shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16). Christ died to take away our sin so that he could baptise us with the Holy Spirit! These are huge fundamental truths, and Jesus Christ sacrificed his life to fulfil the purpose of God. God is Spirit, and Christ shed His blood to redeem a people for Himself and to impart to them the Spirit of God (John 16:7; Gal.3:14) so that they could worship Him in Spirit and in truth – in a new way, unknown since the day that Adam was created! This is fundamental. Jesus died to have such a people to worship God. So, true worship consists of a redeemed people who, in the Spirit, express their utter devotion and heart-felt gratitude to God.
“For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil.3:3).
Of course the above verses refer to more than just worship in singing, but undoubtedly they include it (2 Chron.2:21; Psalm 29:2; 138:2). Worship, to be true worship, must flow by the Spirit of God from the hearts of God’s people. This is the essence and nature of worship. The presence of the Spirit of God in the hearts of a grateful and devoted people is the defining and decisive quality of worship. If we look more deeply at the meaning of ‘worship’ in the Bible, we quickly see that at its root it is the utter, single-eyed devotion of one’s heart and the unconditional offering and sacrifice of one’s life to God, in recognition of all that He is, and all that he has done! The focus, centre and direction of worship is exclusively on God Himself, in recognition of His glory and His absolute worthiness, and in recognition that our lives are His alone. This is powerfully illustrated in the lives of Abraham and Job (Gen.22:5; Job 1:20). This being the nature of worship, it inevitably affects every area of our lives.
It is clear from this that true worship cannot be ‘manufactured’. It is more than just a natural phenomenon. Singing beautifully does not itself constitute worship. Singing heartily doesn’t constitute worship. It should not be, or turn into emotional self-indulgence – in other words, people can get carried away with enjoying the melody or song itself, rather than focussing on the One they are singing to! No musical accompaniment, however accomplished, can be a substitute for worship. From what is said above, it is clear that musical instruments are not essential to worship – Christ didn’t die for a musical instrument!. Singing hymns does not constitute worship if the people singing are just singing words out of tradition, or because it is what ‘Christians do on a Sunday’. (As we have just seen above, worship depends on the content and state of a person’s heart!) Surely, the latter has brought Christianity into disrepute – namely, a lifeless singing of words, lacking both the Spirit (who does not give witness to lives that have become cold and religious) and true heartfelt praise and thanksgiving. The source and essence of worship ‘in the Spirit’ is the Spirit of God flowing from the hearts of God’s people as they honour and glorify Him in their singing! By definition, it will only be true worship insofar as those singing have a vital, real and on-going relationship with Christ. True worship emanates out of our union and fellowship with the Father and the Son! Where we have become ‘cold’, religious, legalistic or lukewarm’, it will lack the presence and the ‘dynamic’ of the Spirit. No matter how good the hymns, no matter how lively or loud the music, nothing can compensate or substitute true worship. The latter, though – i.e. loud music – might make it more difficult to discern that that worship is lifeless, as people nowadays can easily confuse energy, emotion and noise with worship in the Spirit.
In other words, it is from God’s people themselves that worship emanates, anything else outside of them can only be an accompaniment. They, God’s people themselves, are the source of worship when they gather together – for it is they who worship God in the Spirit. Their heart-felt gratitude and thankfulness – for all that God has done and for all that He means to them – is expressed in the songs they sing. It is this deep gratefulness in the hearts of the Lord’s people that constitutes the reality and quality of true worship. The Spirit in us glorifies Christ!
Fundamentally, since it is spiritual worship, ‘worship in the Spirit’ is not dependent on other outward aids to make it spiritual or effective. No particular type of instrumentality is needed to ‘trigger’ or ‘enliven’ worship. Nor did the Son of God give His life for a piano, keyboard or guitar so that they should predominate or dominate in the praise and worship. Where the instrumentality – of whatever kind – drowns out the voice of the singing of the redeemed, then we have ‘lost the plot’. We are more interested in satisfying our musical preference and enjoying the experience than giving ourselves to our Lord and Saviour. We have given precedence to that which accords with our preference rather than to that which pleases God. At a gig or rock concert, as soon as a band starts to play and sing, excitement and energy can be triggered in the listeners. I was speaking at a youth conference and the music group were just starting to practice a song. As soon as they started, a young person began to twist and dance as though it were a disco. How is it that we make no distinction between what is spiritual and what is natural, what is of the world and what pleases God? How is it that it is so easy for so many to bring the world into the church for the sake of their own natural and personal enjoyment? Yes, I use the word ‘world’ because in many places they are importing and simply replicating what the unconverted are doing at their rock concerts or gigs – little or no allowance is made that changes need to be made to make such instrumentality conducive to ‘worshipping God in the beauty of holiness.’ (Psalm 29:2). So it is not so much the instruments themselves that are the problem, but the culture behind how they are played!
That instrumentality is not essential to worship is particularly evident in times of revival or when God is moving powerfully by His Spirit to bring men and women to repentance and salvation. The deep conversion of the soul leads to ‘a joy unspeakable and full of glory’ as the converted express their praise and worship to God for having turned their night into day and for having cleansed them from all sin! The effect of the singing is powerful and unique even, or particularly, when there is no musical accompaniment. Now, we cannot live in perpetual revival, but we are expected to live in true daily union and fellowship with God in the obedience of faith and love! This is what maintains our worship as spiritual. However, we can see this even in meetings today when the ‘worship’ group (often spontaneously) chooses to stop playing the instruments during a song as people’s voices swell in adoration, praise and worship! It simply sounds wonderful!
Generally speaking, musical accompaniment to worship has largely ever only been, or should only be that, namely, accompaniment! I am talking about worship among those who believe ‘evangelically’. It is not my interest or design to analyse the different forms of ‘worship’ of different religious traditions down the centuries.
Now, from all that has been said above, it should be clear that God’s people singing together as one constitutes worship, as it is they that have received the Spirit of God and not any external feature! In other words, a ‘worship’ group is somewhat of a misnomer, and the term ‘worship leader’ could certainly lead to misconceptions about the nature of true worship, because worship emanates from the hearts of God’s people collectively. Put simply, it would be wrong to think that a ‘worship group’ or ‘worship leader’ is necessary for, or essential to worship in the Spirit. They are not. Nor is a choir. Nor is a piano or guitar. However, of course musical accompaniment can provide the right pitch, the lead-in, maintain tempo and provide a further enriching quality to the singing. However, instrumentality should never ‘smother’ the singing with its loudness. It should not dominate in a way that suggests Christ died to create worship bands, and where the redeemed for whom Christ did die, take a secondary position with their voices of praise being drowned out by amplifiers! Worship should emanate from the heart of God’s people and should be heard to do so! (Though it must be said that God, being God, according to His grace and mercy will presence Himself among His people as He chooses, to encourage His people and draw them closer to Him – at times not because of the music played but despite it.)
Let me quote from a friend of mine who used to ‘lead the worship’ in his church in the United States, “’your voice is the only live instrument in this building. Instruments cannot worship God, only you can by making sound from your lungs, which is your choice. BUT your voice is unique. Your voice incorporates all that God has done for you in your expression of worship back to him”.
All the above brings me to the first point I want to make about what is universally becoming popular now, namely, the inclusion of a ‘worship’ group or band. What is the problem with that? The problem is that in many places the band becomes a, if not the central and dominating feature. It is this aspect of domination that represents a fundamental departure from what has largely been the case before, namely, where music functions as an accompaniment to the worship – it is meant to serve. It was never meant to dominate and be the master. It can aid the singing; it can give the right pitch to the song; it can give ‘body’ and ‘richness’ to the singing etc. For this reason, it seems to me, instruments are mentioned both in the Psalms and in Revelation. However, that musical instruments should take ‘centre stage’ in every sense of the words, is a step too far.
A plea at this stage: All the points I am making in this article only apply to any given church insofar it is true of that church. Not all the points may apply and not all to the same extent. I am talking about basic principles. Some churches have made appropriate accommodations or may moderate things and make compromises in these matters. The other vital point is that I am not calling into question whether any particular person is really a Christian or not. Firstly, I do not personally know everyone who plays in such bands, but more importantly, people can be Christians and be wrong in what they are doing or teaching, as is evident from the Corinthian letters and the word of God that came to the seven churches of Asia! So I am not saying that where there is a worship group all of these things hold true. It is not necessarily so at all. What I am warning against it the ‘domination’ of such music in worship.
So, physically and visually, the ‘worship’ band is often at the front and if there is a stage it takes centre stage. There is nothing necessarily unusual or wrong with this, except that such a dominant upfront position is a reflection of its dominance in other ways! We shall return to this later, but the first aspect of this domination that I want to look at is the loudness of the music. The music is deafening at times. It so loud that you can’t hear your own voice! Amplifiers blast out the music far beyond what is necessary in terms of accompaniment. How can music that in terms of decibels overwhelms the actual singing of the people be conducive to worship, or even be called worship? Now, no doubt an argument can be made that in each generation the culture we live in can influence the style of music played in church. However, what we are experiencing today is not an ‘influence’ but the whole style importation of what the world does and in the way the world does it. This development represents a seismic shift from anything previously known in terms of ‘borrowing’ from the world. They are replicating, sometimes in a virtually unaltered way, a music style and manner of playing that comes straight out of the rock or pop scene. This affects not just the loudness of the music, but also the very manner of playing, where the musicians sometimes seem to be more interested in their own ‘performance’ than to joining in with the congregation in worship. What is happening here is that the instruments have taken on a life of their own and a role that takes precedent over the singing of the redeemed! This type of musical ‘accompaniment’ is becoming and has become a decisive aspect for many, especially the young. Firstly, such a band cannot, because of the very nature of worship, enhance worship, and secondly, worship is that which proceeds out of the hearts of the redeemed! How can a band take precedence over that? Many today would not entertain going to a church that didn’t have this kind of band at the front. This is the low state of affairs that many churches have acquiesced to for the sake of popularity and the self-indulgent enjoyment of those that seek it.
The last point is not an exaggeration. In Tanzania (where I have been going to for the last 25 years), if there is a church with modern instruments and amplifiers blasting the music out, other churches in the area will stand little or no chance as the young flock to a church where the ‘beat’ of the music appeals – never mind what the preaching is like!
There were noises of complaint in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century about songs and music resembling the style of the times too much and thus not considered suitable for worship and praise. What is happening today, however, is a quantum leap in this respect and bears no resemblance to anything that has happened before. The Salvation Army band does not provide a true equivalent to what is taking place today, neither in its nature nor in the extent of its influence. This phenomenon is becoming virtually universal.
My friend whom I mentioned earlier eventually gave up being ‘worship leader’. Why? Well, he discovered that the base guitarist was living in sin. My friend went to the pastor. The pastor said it wasn’t anything to do with him and that my friend should see the person in charge of the youth. This happened to be the pastor’s wife! So he went to see her. It turned out she already knew about this but didn’t want to take any action because ‘they didn’t have any other base guitarist in the church!” How can we say that the ‘worship group’ has not assumed a role way above its importance in many churches?
We have a generation that has been brought up on pop and rock concerts and going to gigs. It was, and is the way of the world and what the world enjoys. Some were converted being in this scene and then, as pastors or church leaders, they brought this culture into their churches. Para-church youth organisations incorporated this style of ‘worship’ in their conferences (no doubt, in part at least, to attract the young to these conferences), thus reinforcing this style and confirming it as the norm. This style, once in, commonly yields little or no concessions, entertains no complaints or criticism, refuses to listen to heart-felt pleas for moderation. After one service, I mentioned to the person who was controlling the noise level that the music was so loud that it was really uncomfortable on my ears and so ruining the worship. My ‘real-life’ experience was totally ignored and I was only given a statistic that the human ear is able to tolerate 91 decibels. What did his answer have to do with the point I had just made? Pursuing the matter met with exactly the same kind of brick-wall response. This is not untypical.
Some people leave the room because it is so loud. It has no or little effect on those that should be caring. Others are told, “Why don’t you move to another place further from the amplifiers.” This lack of care and love for church members is characteristic of the way music dominates without care or compassion for the elderly, or for anyone else for that matter. In view of the emphasis by these same churches on caring for the community, this disregard for people’s concerns and problems with the loudness of the music is a contradiction, to say the least. We want to care for the world out there but we can’t show even the most basic consideration to those amongst us. Would it ‘destroy’ the ‘worship’ to lower the noise to a level that could still be heard clearly but not cause pain or discomfort to people’s ears? Of course not! You might say, “You are just wanting to impose your preference on others!” And of course, this is exactly what is happening, but it is you who are doing this! The level of loudness is exactly that – it is the unyielding insistence of your preference to perpetuate what you have heard in the world, at rock concerts or gigs, or what you have now come to like, and you have decided this is how it must be in the church, and you will brook no challenge or dissent to the way you want it done. Or you want it done this way because of the appeal it has to the young. This may not be the case in every church, but where the music dominates in this way one of the factors is to draw and keep the young people. I know of one church in my town where someone dared asked in a particular discussion – with the pastor there – if the music could be turned down a bit. This met with an immediate response from another member, ‘We’ll lose the young people if we start interfering with that!’ The response was so strong that the ‘discussion’ ended there and then, and of course nothing changed.
It is incredible. By lowering the noise to what would be tolerable, they would include all in the worship; but no, the insistence on having it as loud as they want it and enjoy it must prevail, even if some people walk out. This is the domination of a preference. How can loud music be considered essential to worship? It isn’t, but the fact that it is made so by many shows that it has become an untouchable ‘sacred cow’. You daren’t challenge it! Here in the town where I live there was a heated controversy between the pastor and what is called the ‘worship leader’. This led to the pastor leaving. It is incredible how far we have strayed from what is Biblical. I was due to speak in a particular church and during the singing beforehand the pastor next to me walked over to the young man who controlled the volume of the music coming out of the amplifiers. He asked him to turn it down and came back. Nothing changed. The pastor went over again and asked again. Nothing changed. The third time the pastor went over and turned down the music himself!
I spoke to another person who sometimes ‘leads’ worship in a church, also in the town where I live, and he said he likes the loudness of the music; he likes to hear the base guitar coming through just like at the gigs he goes to in the world. He feels that the loudness of the music lends energy and life to the worship. I was also told, moreover, that we need to be ‘relevant’ to young people. All that he said only confirms to me what I have been saying so far. People simply want to replicate in the church what they enjoy in the world. If you have seen people at a pop or rock concert you can see that they are enjoying themselves immensely; they jump and clap energetically; they are moved by the music, swaying their arms to and fro; it’s all very lively and energetic! Is it worship? No, it isn’t. Why not? It’s energetic and lively – and moving at times. So this is one of the problems with replicating this worldly style in church. Loud, energetic music becomes identified with lively worship, or with worship in the Spirit. It can often be the case that when this loud music stops, all that you sense is an absence of the presence of the Lord; it’s just a natural, empty quiet. Of course this can happen in any church after the singing, but the problem here is that the loud energetic music has become a substitute for living worship – it hardly matters if the Spirit is present in worship or not! I am not saying that there is no true worship in such churches, but I am saying that the domination of this preference is contrary to the love of God, insofar as it is the domination of a preference of some over others. Moreover, deafening loudness is not essential to, nor conducive to worship but it can mislead people into thinking it represents worship. Secondly, the young man also confirmed the other point I have been making, namely, that it is a deliberate strategy nowadays to replicate in the church what is in the world in order to make the church ‘more relevant’. However, a strategy that is founded on a preference for the music of the world, is not a strategy that will develop disciples of Jesus Christ.
This slavish devotion to the level of noise is nothing short of idolatrous in churches today. It is a dangerous element in praise and worship since it ‘bombards’ the natural senses, creating an ‘energy’ and ‘liveliness’ which can easily be mistaken for true praise and worship. It can, because of its beat and rhythm, also cause people to jig around in a way that is not consistent with worshipping a holy God. In many such meetings, as soon as the band starts the people immediately start swivelling their hips even before the singing starts. In some countries they now also have dancing groups which imitate exactly what dancers do on stage when they accompany well-known pop or rock stars. Just like in the world, so in these churches, there is no embarrassment that this kind dancing can and does have a sexual element to it – visually the movements are such that it wouldn’t help the onlooker develop a sense of holiness! The result of all this (together with the kind of preaching that goes with this kind of church culture) is that it would be difficult to find a generation in the last few hundred years where the life-style of believers is at times so close to the life-style of the world that it makes it difficult to tell the difference!
Let me interject here and say that my background is charismatic (although much of what is ‘charismatic’ today I cannot identify with at all) and I can well understand that the ‘joy unspeakable’ experienced in praise and worship may at times also express itself in clapping and the raising of hands, so I am not advocating that we must remain totally passive!
The perpetuation of such loud music is not due so much to any enhancement it lends to worship, but to its known appeal to a generation that have been brought up on it and become addicted to it. What could be better than to have the culture of ‘up front’, ‘centre stage’ rock / pop concert brought into the church? Such ‘appeal’ attracts many young people, and of course this is the decisive factor for all those devoted to ‘church growth’. I travel around Tanzania and it is amazing to see that even relatively poor churches will acquire electric guitars, drums and a keyboard as soon as they can. These prove such an attraction to young people that many will go there and considerations concerning the preaching will very much take a back seat if feature at all! Something is seriously wrong, particularly considering the absolutely wonderful way that Africans can sing! Also in Tanzania, in most of the cases that I have experienced, the singing becomes drowned out by those that perform.
We are living in days where church leaders will survey the local neighbourhood – survey the unbelievers – to ask what kind of music people like, and would like to hear in church! This is done without shame or embarrassment. As I said, what we are experiencing today is a seismic shift compared to the last few centuries in both evangelical and charismatic churches! Can you imagine the apostle Paul advising pastors to survey the unconverted in their area about their musical or any other tastes? For the last 50 years or so, some church leaders have been bending over backwards to devise ways to make the sinner feel ‘comfortable’ in ‘church’. In Acts 5:13 it says of the early church that, ‘… none of the rest dared join them, but the people were magnifying them.’ Why was that? Because the early church had a ‘holier than thou’ attitude? Not at all. The people were in praise of them! Is it not because they were so ‘single-eyed’ in their utter devotion to the Lord their God that unless you were transformed by this same salvation you would know that you were ‘outside’ of that which was absorbing those around you? You would only venture there if you had a serious interest in the message of Christ and in being transformed yourself by this salvation that had so changed others! Their devotion to the Lord was so complete that it was the Lord Himself that was the focus of all their singing, praying and preaching. In 1 Cor.14:24-26, Paul says that it is the word of God coming through in the meeting that convinces and challenges the unbeliever and ‘exposes the secrets of his heart and leads him to fall on his face to acknowledge that God is among them in truth. How far we have come from Paul’s day and from Paul’s teaching! What we have today is not so much the single-eyed devotion of those who are utterly consumed with a sense of the greatness of God’s goodness, grace, salvation and holiness and what we owe Him, but on making things ‘user-friendly’, ‘non-judgmental’, ‘relevant’ and making people feel comfortable and ‘at home’ – this approach effects everything.
God brings this indictment against His people in Jer. 2:9:13,
“Therefore I still contend with you, declares the LORD, and with your children’s children I will contend. For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Why do I quote this? It is because there is no other religion today where the leaders are so shamelessly compromising their teaching and worship, importing worldly styles of music, and making concessions to the sinner and unbeliever to make them feel accepted and comfortable. Islam is on the increase. Why is this? Can you imagine a Muslim inviting you to the mosque and trying to attract you there by telling you about their ‘worship band’ and how ‘comfortable’ you will feel and how great it is? If you go to the mosque you will not ‘feel at home’ in that sense. You will definitely feel ‘out of things’. Not because that is their aim – just as it wasn’t the aim of the early church – but because their focus is totally on the god they believe in, and their devotion is single-eyed to him in their prayers. There is no compromise in what they believe and teach; there is no adaptation of worship to entertain, amuse or attract the tastes of the visitor. I watched a video of hundreds of Muslim, most of them young, listening intently to their imam in a mosque. There were no musical instruments whatsoever, yet Islam is growing.
No other religion is ‘selling’ their god so cheaply as modern Christian leaders are doing today in evangelical and charismatic churches. Of course I am aware of the differences in these two contexts, but the point remains! In this sense, Muslims today honour the one they pray to more than many Christians honour God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. Church leaders are ‘packaging’ church as though it were a product to ‘sell’ to consumers.
Although this article is about the type of music that is being played in churches today, it is of course not an isolated phenomenon. It often comes with a ‘user-friendly’ approach that dilutes, undermines or actually corrupts the preaching of the word of God. ‘Another’ gospel is being preached, and ‘another Jesus’ is being presented; a gospel that has absorbed – without shame – the tenets of humanism and the concept of ‘self-esteem’. Instead of the preaching of the word of God, men and women corrupt the word of God through ‘motivational’ talks on how to live better by having the right attitudes, by setting ‘spiritual’ goals, or by learning the seven steps to a better whatever! Humanistic teaching regarding the ‘needs’ of others is producing a young generation of social activists as they corrupt biblical texts to replicate in the church what the world has been busy doing for the last 30 or 40 years in terms of ‘care’, ‘compassion’ and ‘justice’. Few will be true followers of Jesus Christ who are brought up on these delusions that stem from ‘another spirit’. Moreover, a lot of the ‘popular’ preaching today that attracts thousands is in fact not preaching but ‘life-style’ teaching. Again, it doesn’t develop disciples of Christ, but rather attracts people looking for a way to improve and enjoy their lives. These are all modern ‘drumbeats’ that are drowning out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leading people away from the knowledge of the truth and away from a true experience of Christ’s salvation.
I mentioned ‘motivational talks’ above. Such talks and such speakers appeal to the natural instincts and desires, to the potential of the listener. Those who preach the word of God speak as ‘the oracles of God’ and His word is directed at the heart and conscience of the listener; it comes as a ‘two-edged’ sword to divide between soul and spirit, to convince the heart about the truths of God, to encourage, comfort, edify and to convict the conscience where our lives don’t accord with the word of God. They are two very different things! Instead of preaching that is the result of men spending time before God in prayer and studying His word, ‘talks’ are devised. It could be a talk on any subject, it just happens to be about something related to the Bible – entertaining, amusing, engaging maybe and even perhaps with a challenge – but a talk no less. The sense that the person is speaking as ‘an oracle of God’ seems to have long gone by those that follow the fashion of the times. I love the verse where it says that although the Pharisees could see that Peter and John were unlearned men, yet they recognised that they ‘had been with Jesus’. (Acts 4:13). One of the most distressing things today is preachers and teachers who give talks but there is no sense that they had been with Jesus! No sense that they had spent much time with the Lord privately, waiting on Him, seeking Him. Little or no sense that what was being spoken issued out of the disciplines of the Lord in that person’s life! No sense that God Himself and Christ are the all-consuming passion of the person and that he declares His word with weight and power. I know that it is not through our holiness that the Lord empowers His word. Yet Peter said it was not right that they should be involved in church administration, but they, the apostles, would give themselves ‘continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ It is also clear from scripture that men who preach should be faithful, righteous and holy men. However, as in Samuel’s day, it is true today that the word of God is rare and precious! Many today are doing what is right in their own eyes concerning how to ‘grow’ the Lord’s church! Has there been a generation in recent centuries that has been so let down as this generation has by leaders and writers who fail to preach ‘Christ and Him crucified’, the need for self-denial and true sacrificial devotion and living? Even preaching ‘Love not the world’ can be met with a kind of bemusement today, or it has lost much of its meaning because there has hardly been a time in recent centuries when the very life-style of the church members so approximates to the manner of living of the world.
Church leaders are trying to attract young people by the kind of teachings mentioned above and by this kind of dominating music, or they are unwilling to upset them by attempting any change to such music. In some ways this focus on the young is idolatrous. In fact, one could venture to say that such church leaders do not love young people. Proverbs 13:24 says this,
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
Leaders are sacrificing biblical truth, and spiritual discipline and dynamic on the altars of ‘being user-friendly’, ‘being relevant’ and ‘church growth’. ‘Christ and Him crucified’ and living ‘dead to sin’ is not the central theme or even a theme at all in many churches. This departure from the truths of God in the Bible is preparing a generation that will be vulnerable to a ‘falling away’. The cross of Christ is so missing from preaching and teaching, not just in word but the very heart and spirit of it, that it is leading young people and others to build on sand. The spiritual disciplines that make us into disciples of Jesus Christ will be lacking or missing because of teaching that has compromised or corrupted the word of God. Those who have sought to ‘win’ young people over by these methods are sinning against them. Many in such a generation will lack the spiritual wherewithal to overcome all the things that await them in their personal lives and all things that are yet to happen on earth. This blatant disregard for God and His word, this refusal to preach ‘Christ and Him crucified’ and direct hearts into being true followers of Christ is a type of laziness and self-pleasing, and that is why Proverbs says that such ‘hate their sons’.
The end shall not come until there is a ‘falling away’. I don’t know in which generation the Lord shall return, but from all that is going on in the world, including the kind of apostasy that has already begun – in embryo if not in fact – in churches today, leads me to believe that it is quite possible that the time is near. The corrupted teaching of today is preparing such a generation.
To return to the subject. Often the great care taken to appear to be singing well and professionally, and the manner in which those playing instruments tend to get almost totally absorbed with, or ‘lost in’ the playing of these instruments, tends to render the whole thing a ‘performance’ rather than an aid to worship. This is another obstructive feature of worship bands. This focus on performance is, I believe, the result of simply trying to replicate the manner and style of rock or pop artists on stage in the church. In other words, the term ‘worship band’ becomes a contradiction in terms if those singing and playing are more focussed on their own performance and on ‘performing’ than being an aid to the worship emanating from the hearts of the whole congregation. This kind of ‘professional performance’ inevitably leads to an element of ‘entertainment’, creating the ‘performers’, and the ‘listeners’ who ‘sing along’ with the stage musicians! I believe what we are witnessing is unparalleled in recent church history as far as evangelical churches are concerned.
Let me just say here that of course any instrumentalist needs to focus on their playing, but this is insofar as it enables them to play well – not so focussed that they give the impression they are on stage at a concert! I was in a church where there was a group that played a variety of instruments but the piano player was skilled enough to allow her to join in with the singing – she was ‘one’ with her brothers and sisters. Some are so ‘lost’ in their performance it seems at times they not even aware of the congregation.
Whether it is preaching, singing or playing instruments, the focus when the church meets together (and in our lives) is to be on Christ alone and to glorify Him alone, so that ‘no flesh should glory in His presence’, (1 Cor.1:29). The elevation of a worship band to an up-front ‘performance’ moves the focus from being exclusively on the Lord and instead makes room for human skills to go on exhibition. The same holds true for the preacher! We glory in our ability and prowess in a manner that is no different to the world – our performance is meant to impress and make an impact! This ought not to be. It is the Lord’s church but we behave in a manner as if it weren’t. This unfortunate aspect also creates a scenario where there are performers and spectators, or people who ‘sing along’ as best as they can. But the people ‘love to have it so’! (Jer.5:31). All this leads to a situation where ‘worship leaders’ can assume a role of importance in churches far beyond that which they should. This preference dominates and prevails.
Any ‘worship leader’ worth his or her salt, would not want their voice piercing through the room to be heard much louder than all the other voices put together! It is not meant to be like a pop concert. Or is it? This is one of the least attractive features of what is ruining worship in our day. The lead singer’s voice not only dominates as if they were at a concert, but the congregation must listen to various impromptu solo interjections which display the singer’s vocal skills. There are many instances of those leading the singing blending in with the congregation. It works fine. The only reason for the lead singer’s voice dominating over other voices is ‘performance’. For those who want to reproduce, or continue to live the culture of pop concerts, this, of course, is great. Insofar as this is the case in any church, it is definite departure from what God intends it to be! To see some ‘worship’ groups and compare them to pop or rock groups, there is little difference between the manner of playing, the way they dress and the way they look. Those that play can simply get lost in their performance and their own enjoyment of playing instruments in that way. The whole-hearted disposition of believers when they come together should be to focus on Christ, to sing to Him, to praise Him, to worship Him without being particularly aware of each other or the musicians! In fact, true worship will be as wonderful even if the musicians are absent!
Another aspect that seriously detracts from or completely destroys heartfelt worship and praise is the choice of songs, which seems to be left to the ‘worship leader’. This again is the result of ‘performance’ dominating the proceedings! CDs are created by Christian song writers. Some of the songs are suitable for praise and worship. Some are what I will call ‘performance’ songs. That is, they may be artistically well composed, and nice to listen to (if it happens to be your taste in music) at a stage performance or on a CD at home or in your car, and those who do so may learn to sing along with them. However, they are not particularly suited to congregational singing because of the intricacies of the tune – they are not ‘user-friendly’ in praise and worship. This is not difficult to discover. During such songs any number of people in the service are either not singing at all or just singing parts of the song, or just trying to mouth the words. I have been in meetings when the number can reach about half or more of those present! How is it that this issue is not addressed? Why do those who are supposed to be ‘leading’ the worship just continue playing when half the people in front of them are not engaged in the singing. Why are questions not asked and changes made? Don’t people care about the worship anymore? How is it that the church has become subservient to the ‘worship group’.
I mentioned this fact about many people not singing during some songs to someone who sometimes leads worship in a church and his immediate response to me was this, “You don’t know why those people weren’t singing. Maybe they were just meditating on the words. You can’t know why they weren’t singing unless you ask each one of them individually why.” Firstly, it is clear that the person was not questioning the fact that a whole segment of the church are not engaged in the singing at times. The response was of course a complete and disingenuous evasion of the issue. It showed no concern at all to find out why so many people don’t sing at times. Not all worship leaders might respond in this way but since the problem continues to be widespread it seems there is little concern in addressing it. Why is this so? Because of the pre-eminence that the worship group has assumed. Because ‘performance’ prevails over mutual concern for one another and over the interests of true worship. People listen to CDs with songs by Christian songwriters. Worship leaders who are taken with these songs ‘perform’ these songs in church with little or no obvious consideration as to the ability of the believers to sing these easily and fluently. The volume of the amplifiers masks the fact that there is little volume coming from the congregation. If the worship group were to suddenly stop altogether in the middle of one of these songs, it would be a wonderful and welcome revelation as to the state of things! You would be left with feeblest singing imaginable given the number of people present! I have seen it with my own eyes – people mouthing the words without emotion as they try to cope with a rhythm and complex tune.
So what about the argument mentioned earlier, namely, the accusation that traditional singing is lifeless and dead. If singing is lifeless and dead it is because of the state of the hearts of the people – it has nothing to do with the instrumentality. It is a bizarre and false argument. It is an unbiblical argument. Loudness of music will simply hide the spiritual lifelessness of a congregation – it cannot make the singing spiritual. It is far better for the lifelessness of a congregation to be revealed so it at least gives opportunity to recognise it and deal with it!
In this article I will not address the issue of the actual content of songs. (However, one other thing that seems to have changed over the years is the key that songs are played in. I don’t know why so many songs nowadays are started in such a low key. I am singing ‘in my boots’ more than ever before. The problem for me is that it means I cannot sing ‘with all my heart’, I cannot use my full voice in singing. It may not be an issue for others so I don’t want to make much of this, but that there has been a change over recent decades is unquestionable as far as my experience over the last 40 years is concerned.)
Let me say again, these problems with worship groups do not exist in every place, and in some places only in measure, but that there is a widespread problem is evident.
Now, of course what I am writing will be considered legalistic and condemning etc. Others are so baptised into the overwhelming superficiality of much modern Christianity that the above comments will just be shrugged off with a laugh and forgotten. But what I am addressing here is not so much the particular details of what should or should not be done with regard to worship, but a whole mind-set that has infiltrated modern Christianity. The problems discussed above are not the root of the problem at all. It is a mind-set that has been forming among evangelical Christians over the last 40 years or so, and what is happening in relation to worship is simply one of the many fruits of a mind-set that is selling off the Gospel cheaply, and undoubtedly in not a few instances represents ‘another gospel’ inspired by ‘another spirit’ – to quote the apostle Paul. Having the wrong or carnal mind-set gives the devil opportunity to deceive us. Peter’s mind-set was wrong, and that’s why the devil could influence him and use him; and that’s why the Lord Jesus said to him, ‘Get behind me Satan. You are an offence to me, because you consider not the things that are of God, but the things of men.’ (Mtt.16:23). Peter didn’t need a demon casting out of him. He needed the Lord’s rebuke to bring him to a repentance that would change the way he thought, because his way of thinking was so aligned to the devil’s mind-set! Peter couldn’t stand the idea of apparent ‘failure’. ‘By the strength that we have, we must, we absolutely must be successful! Even if it means rebuking the Son of God.’ This was Peter’s thinking. His idea of how God’s community should ‘grow’ was quite different to God’s! So it is today – men think they have better ideas of how to build the Lord’s church ‘successfully’ than what is written in His word. This generation of believers is in danger of drawing to itself the same rebuke that Laodicea got from the Lord.
It is painful and grieving when a speaker is trying to tell unbelievers that Christianity doesn’t really spoil your life but that ‘Christianity is fun!’ Again I say that no other religion today is selling their god or gods so cheaply as many modern Christians. Christ turned my night into day; He bore my sins away and gives me a joy unspeakable and full of glory – whatever the circumstance! When I was without God in this world I was in a desperate state. I was seeking God. I had had no religious upbringing. If I had walked into a church and someone tried to ratchet up the appeal of Christianity by saying, ‘Being a Christian is fun!’, I would have dismissed it as unserious and left. I have not altered my view. Today young Christians are encouraged to go to the pub to show people we are ‘normal’ and can enjoy ourselves just like them! They think it is cool to go clubbing. Various church events are held in pubs with the idea of going where the sinners are – or where the ‘unchurched’ are. Have you ever heard of such an un-English, unbiblical word as ‘unchurched?. John Wesley’s preaching closed pubs because people got converted! Salvation Army folk went into pubs and boldly proclaimed the Gospel. There has been a seismic shift in evangelical circles and we have yet to bear the full disastrous fruit of this.
I trust this will help some who have been concerned about this matter by giving some context to the issue.
© David Stamen 2013
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