Why Do We Sing?

worship3I recently asked social media for inspiration because I needed side project to sink my teeth into for a while. In response I received the following question from one of my students,

On the subject of Hymns: What’s your opinion on the modern day version of “church music”. Which is to say, do you think that the music has become more representative of the modern church and, if so, is that something that should be avoided?

Great question and timely.  I’ve been thinking and talking about worship with some of my close friends lately and wrestling through my thoughts on the subject and what I want to role model to the young adults I lead as a person who believes that worship is very important.

I’ve experienced worship in many different settings; from the extremely conservative to the rock concert variety to the ancient traditions to the super emotional… I could go on…

If I’m being honest, I have to say that I have a lot of frustration with the idea of boiling worship down and making it all about music and singing. That’s not to say that I don’t like music, music is a very important part of my life, it’s essential to my personal creative process when it comes to writing, and God has often used music, with lyric and without, to speak to me in ways that have pulled me out of very dark places. Music is powerful, it’s a language of its own and it’s something that, I believe, is linked to the soul of humanity and the essence of being made in God’s image.

That being said, I strongly believe that worship is something we do with our lives and not just about the songs we sing on Sunday morning and how we sing them.  And I know that’s not exactly addressing the question being asked here, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere.

The biggest complaint I hear from young people about current praise and worship music is that it’s self-indulgent and too emotional, and I get it. I do. And I have been right there with them at different points in my life thinking, “I’m singing ‘it’s all about you Jesus’ but it sure feels like it’s all about me and what I’m getting out of this whole thing.”

The truth is, at least in my opinion, even when you look back at old hymns, and I love old hymns, if you consolidate them into everything that encompasses worship, then they don’t really come out looking much less indulgent than the stuff we have today. So there’s this thing that happens in Christian music where we work out what we’re going through in these songs and it is emotional. I found it really hard to relate to until several years ago while I was living in Dallas and going through what were some of the most desperately sad times in my life. I’d lost my mom, my job was falling apart, and I was facing people saying horrible things about me in a way I had never experienced before in my life. And in that pit of a place that my life was then I started reading through the Psalms and where I used to think David was the whiniest guy in the bible suddenly he was reading my mind. And at that time in my life those songs that had seemed indulgent and over-emotional to me before were suddenly my prayers, they gave me words when I didn’t have them and God spoke back to me through them.

So after that I couldn’t see those songs as not having a place and I couldn’t honestly say at that point if I was worshiping God so much as having a conversation with him through song.

In the midst of that time I also was introduced to ideas about worship being a way of life, worship being something we do with our time and our attention and our obedience, worship being about our lives.

So maybe this doesn’t answer the original question at all, maybe it does, but I don’t think, if worship is only going to be about music, that we can get it right. There wont be a type of song, or a way of singing that will be holy or reverent enough.

Yes, there will always be crappy Christian music. And it’s just crappy because it’s poorly written or maybe it’s intention is to force you to cry. That happens and I support people avoiding crappy music as much as possible.

What I know is this, personally I can’t tell you what kind of song God prefers coming out of your mouth more… traditional, mainstream, chanting, or anything else you can think of.  For me whatever the words or style, worship has a lot more to do with why we’re singing and what we’re doing with our lives to honor God, than it has to do with the style of our songs.

I hope that in some way answers the question. =)

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One thought on “Why Do We Sing?

  1. So, I have to take pretty strong exception to this:

    “The truth is, at least in my opinion, even when you look back at old hymns, and I love old hymns, if you consolidate them into everything that encompasses worship, then they don’t really come out looking much less indulgent than the stuff we have today. So there’s this thing that happens in Christian music where we work out what we’re going through in these songs and it is emotional. “

    If by “old hymns” you mean American Revival era Baptist hymns, or you mean Wesleyan hymns of the slightly earlier British Revival, then OK, I can agree with your assertion about the music, but I can’t agree to call those “old” hymns.

    On the other hand, if you mean the hymns penned by the likes of St. Romanos in the late 5th and early 6th century, then I can agree those are “old” but I can’t agree that they boil down to essentially the same “emotional experience” as contemporary, Western Protestant so called “worship” music. There’s absolutely nothing emotional about the hymnography of the Orthodox church. Yes it can stir emotion, because that’s how humans are wired, but that’s not its purpose and certainly not the essence to which it can be boiled down.

    The problem is two fold:

    (1) You said it yourself the “what am I getting out of this” problem. A friend who grew up in an Assembly of God church was horrified one day, when they helped organize all of the transparencies for the music, that alphabetically, the overwhelming majority of the slides went into the “I,J,K” folder because the titled were all “I …” You will almost never find a single Orthodox hymn which even _includes_ a first person reference, let alone is focused on that or titled by it. The hymns may not all be about God (many are about Mary or the saints of the church or events and feasts) but they’re basically never about yourself, the singer.

    (2) What is “worship”? In the contemporary West the various attempts to re-capture the charisms of the Holy Spirit seen in Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament which seemed to have been lost by the Latin Catholic subordination of the Holy Spirit through the addition of “the Filioque” to the Nicene Creed which eventually culminated in Pentacostalism, Charismatic Evangelicalism and finally in contemporvant (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giM04ESUiGw ) styles of services in which “worshipping God” ceased to have any root in what the Bible actually told us God _commanded_ his people to do when worshipping in his tabernacle and became all about trying to re-produce a pre-supposed list of activities and behaviors believed to have taken place in the first century ecclescia (which, if you read early 2nd Century writings it becomes obvious was not the case) that are fundamentally about drawing attention to oneself, and the gift (charism) God has given you, and the _emotional experience_ of sharing that with everyone else.

    This is not worship.

    People forget that a “praise offering” in the Old Testament wasn’t a song, it wasn’t clapping hands or blowing horns or even composing or singing a psalm.

    It was a cow. And you killed it.

    People also forget that if you keep twisting the church to be “culturally relevant” to the world around it, you eventually end up with something that looks so much like the world that (a) the sick of the world will cease to see it as the hospital they need and (b) that hospital will take in so much of that sickness it will cease to have what people need.

    If the culture is broken and you want to save people out of it, why on earth would you try to look like it?

    “But I don’t get anything out of old fashioned church services.”

    Who said you were supposed to get anything out of it? God is the creator of the universe. Worship is his _DUE_. You _OWE_ it to him, and you owe it to him in the way which he deems appropriate — not in the way you find personally edifying or culturally valid.

    The contemporvant church is dying and soon will be dead. Those inside are discovering how hollow it is and how once they are sated on bread and milk find that there is never any meat and wine to follow. The focus is always on the new babes and suckling them in but never on nurturing those who need to find maturity of faith to carry on. Those outside see an absurd parody of the world desperate to _sell_ a brand image that says “you don’t have to change too much, and you can still be cool, but… there’s this sin thing you should probably maybe look at, but not too hard if that’s embarrassing or offensive” and they see it for the joke that it is.

    The West can’t keep spinnging ever outward into what’s new, what’s next and whatever we can think of. At some point, if the West _really_ wants to find the first century ecclescia and restore it, it has to get serious, do some research, discover that Theodosius I didn’t “invent” the Catholic church out of thin air and impose it on people, and realize that most of Paul’s epistles talk about asceticism, oral tradition (outside of scripture), bishops and deacons and priests and the centrality of confession, the eucharist and baptism.

    The first century church wasn’t lost. It doesnt need to be re-discovered or re-invented. But the West broke communion with it in 1054 and the only way to get plugged back in is to re-join what was left.

    Then worship as the one true bride of Christ can begin.

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