Quote of the Week (Month?)

I have always thought of “Contemporary Christian Music” in much the same way that Voltaire said of the Holy Roman Empire that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. As usual, T. David Gordon nails it on the head. The longer article (well worth reading) is here.

“Contemporary worship” to me is an oxymoron. Biblically, worship is what angels and morning stars did before creation; what Abraham, Moses and the Levites, and the many-tongued Jewish diaspora at Pentecost did. It is what the martyrs, now ascended, do, and what all believers since the apostles have done. More importantly, it is what we will do eternally; worship is essentially (not accidentally) eschatological. And nothing could celebrate the eschatological forever less than something that celebrates the contemporary now. So ultimately, I think the Apostles’ Creed will stick its camel’s nose into the liturgical tent, and assert again our celebration of the “holy catholic church, the communion of the saints.” The sooner the better.

15 Comments

  1. John Harutunian said,

    November 6, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    A great insight, David (despite our disagreements in the past, when you were at GCTS and I was at the College!). Though I’m not an enthusiast of CCM, I think that we all understand that there’s nothing wrong with a “contemporary” musical style -as such. But “contemporary worship” (in addition to being an oxymoron), is too big, perhaps even too pretentious, a concept. It has the potential for bringing into the Church’s worship any musical (or even non-musical) elements as long as they’re perceived as being “contemporary”, “relevant”, etc. Whatever happened to the other side of the picture: that it’s primarily the worshipers who need to “relate” to what’s happening at the front of the Sanctuary? (Or, if that word is too High-Church, “auditorium.” The larger point still stands.)

  2. Nick said,

    November 6, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    This is quite ironic considering that Scripture doesn’t present a Christian Liturgy, so all “worship” done by Protestants is technically contemporary, even going back 500 years to Luther. Apart from the Catholic Priesthood and Mass, which derives mostly from Apostolic Oral Teaching, it’s impossible to worship God as He wants to be worshipped. Every other attempt at worship is man made.

  3. November 6, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    As long as (1) worship, including music, is actually centered on God in Christ and (2) song lyrics can pass biblical and theological muster, then the music from any era, including today, is acceptable.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 6, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Richard, if you read the whole article, you will find that he is not rejecting something simply because it is new. Rather, it is the pop, entertainment style that is problematic. There are modern hymns that are good. However, that is not the precise issue that Gordon is dealing with. The problem with CCM style is that it is soloistic, musically inferior (no arch shapes to the phrases), highly syncopated (I’ve never YET seen Presbyterians do CCM well or accurately), and WAY too low, melodically. It is, quite frankly, musical junk.

  5. rfwhite said,

    November 7, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Green Baggins: A few musings with T. David’s commentary in mind.

    In what I ask and say below, I presume that we must worship God only in the way He wants and the way that pleases Him, and He tells us what He wants and what pleases Him in His Word.

    Should our music choices reflect the fact that the church of God is a people with a heritage that reaches across many generations? Ageism and consumerism have infected our music choices. Can’t we agree that it is wrongheaded to allow our music choices to be driven by the taste of the most influential age groups in our churches? Shouldn’t history – heritage – matter in our churches, not only in doctrine but also in music? As a people with a heritage that reaches across many generations, Ps 145.4 captures the point: “one generation shall tell [His] works to another.”

    Current generations should receive the heritage of God’s people from past generations to pass on to rising generations. By definition, the heritage we receive and pass on is “traditional.” Having embraced the historic aspects of public worship, the heritage of our churches continues.

    The psalter-hymnal-songbook that God gave us in the book of Psalms was given to us as a lyric sheet without a musical score. What are the implications of His musical choice? Should we remain open to new contributions that establish their place in the music choices of our churches? Are there doctrinally sound, God-focused, high-quality newer works to employ? Are there new tunes, arrangements, and instrumentation that have been given to lyrics of longstanding usage in the church?

  6. roberty bob said,

    November 7, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Much of CCM is performance music made popular by a particular singer [soloist], and is ill-suited for congregational singing; the possibility of four-part harmony has been negated.

    A lot of the CCM offerings is textually irreverent and undignified, as evidenced by words such as “gonna” and “‘cuz.” God would have to find it in himself to be far more gracious than I am to accept such musical offerings! I just flat out will not sing along.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    November 8, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Dr. White, I have no doubt that there are excellent modern hymns. Hymns for a Modern Reformation is a good example. The lyrics are by Jim Boice, and the music by Paul Jones. The Getty hymns are also decent (although by now they are overused). I have no problem with people making new hymns. That should always happen. Modern hymns are not necessarily worse or better. However, we should recognize that hymns that have stood the test of time have a better claim on our attention, and should have the priority until the modern hymns have had a chance to become part of the repertoire.

  8. rfwhite said,

    November 9, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Some other musings

    For what it’s worth, I come at this discussion as a father of two classically trained musicians who have regularly contributed to church services, contemporary as well as traditional.

    As some have suggested, too many CCM songs seem to be written as “sing along with the soloist” (though it seems clear to me that solo performance orientation is by no means unique to CCM). We have all seen CCM songs simply taken off the radio and adapted for a congregation. Does that mean, however, that such songs should not be part of congregational singing? If not, why not?

    Speaking only from my experience planning worship liturgy (with some musical training of my own), I have found that many hymn tunes are just not singable either — or at least they are no longer singable by our congregations. And it’s not merely a matter of familiarity.

  9. roberty bob said,

    November 9, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve noticed that older [traditional?] hymn texts are being sung to contemporary music. Whenever there is a terrific match [marriage!] of old text to new tune, the singing of the old yet new song is fresh and inspiring.

    Hymnbooks are known to include the criteria which guided the selection process: integrity of the text, appropriateness of melody and harmonies, etc. The church used to believe that it could recognize and identify the finest psalms and hymns because they had an agreed upon standard by which the church’s songs would be selected. Now, it seems, the church is in utter disarray because they are afraid to uphold their own standards; what is “acceptable” is based on preference — how many “likes” the song is awarded.

  10. Kevin said,

    November 11, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Nick, thats how the cats at Nicea felt about the Catholic mass, ” moden worship” with one extra word, false. K

  11. Kevin said,

    November 11, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Greenbaggins, I am a professional musician who has played more contemporary evangelical worship services than I can count. As I became more Reformed, I changed my views somewhat. Much of cotemporary worship is self styled and I would dare say not glorifying to God, although I believe much of it is intended so. But the issue is worshiping God in an acceptable way. He desires to be worshiped in Spirit and truth. However, if a christian from the altar of his heart is singing praise and thanksgiving to God ( acceptable sacrifices in the NT) with his guitar or piano, will God reject this? If I play the Hallelujah chorus on my trumpet in praise to God, will God reject this ? K

  12. roberty bob said,

    November 12, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Go shopping Kevin for a car or a house or any particular commodity, and you can recognize top quality when you see it; and you will pay more for top quality in order to own it. The same holds true in worship. You can recognize quality music and singing and praying and preaching when you see it and hear it. Why? It is because there actually are standards — whether or not these are acknowledged — that spell out what is required to produce the fruit of quality worship. Even the Apostle Paul speaks of such things in 1 Corinthians, where those who experience quality worship exclaim, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

    Yes, quality worship can be enhanced with the instrumentation of guitar, piano, and trumpet! Psalm 150.

  13. Kevin said,

    November 13, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Robert bob, I dont disagree, but when it comes to worship certain things are to be avoided. Its a serious subject. Look what happened when Aaron’s sons offered up strange fire, or Saul offered up the sacrifice in place of Samuel. Worship is a serious subject before God. I recomend an article by Tim Kauffman called ” Novel Antiquity” how the early fathers rejected images in worship. God is Spirit, and must be worshiped in Spirit and truth. It has always interested me how much leeway God gives in music worship. K

  14. roberty bob said,

    November 18, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Kevin, I thought that the discussion here was about CCM in worship, not images in worship. Why are you bringing images in worship to my attention? As to your belief that God allows much leeway in the music we offer up to him in worship, I’m curious how you arrived at your belief.

    Do you believe God has a standard by which worship music is evaluated in order to help ensure that the very best will be offered up to Him? Or, are we at liberty to offer up anything we want on the grounds that God is indifferent to musical styles, tones, tunes, texts, and choice of instrumentation? I do not believe so. I believe that God finds some of our worship music acceptable and pleasing, and some of it not acceptable and pleasing. I believe that Christians who compose music for worship with the aim of offering it up to the Lord in faith for the glory of God will tend to produce a work of integrity [the beautiful integration of text, tune, tone, style, to the most pleasing instrumentation].

    Case in point: David, the original church musician, established a kind of of church music college in order to improve upon and perpetuate the work that he began. The Psalter attests to his vision and effort.

  15. Kevin said,

    November 18, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Robertybob, im not sure wherevthe line is. My background is playing big contemporary church services as a lead trumpet player, and have even played jazz church services. As I became more reformed, im rethinking the whole thing. As a jazz musician by profession it would be real easy for me to error liberally. K


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