Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Dangers of "Contemporary" Christian Music

This one wouldn't let me sleep the other night, and as I laid there flipping from one side to the other, trying to get some sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about how dangerous what has come to be known as "Contemporary Christian" music really is.  Now, if you know me, I know what you're thinking: "But that's all you do at Grace on Sunday morning."  I know...  I know... But that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous.  

Now, let me tell you what I mean.  "Contemporary" really only means "right now."  If  you've heard it used to describe a certain type of music, let me offer a definition:

Definition of Contemporary:
1: Of the same time: existing or occurring at or dating from the same period or time as         
     someone or something else.
2:  Existing, in existence now
3:  Modern in style: distinctly modern in style.

Definition #3 is the only one that would come close to the proper use of the word "Contemporary" in describing music in the church today.  But, then again, chanting the Psalms during worship 500 years ago could have been considered "Contemporary" also.  

Ok, semantics aside...on to the reason for this post.  

I serve a growing church.  Our worship is wide open on Sunday morning and is so by design.  Our praise band does "contemporary" worship music 95% of the time with the occasional hymn plugged in for the offertory.  I have learned over the last month or so that this "contemporary" worship music is dangerous.  

I grew up on the old Cokesbury Hymnal and a little green paperback hymnal with a picture of the gates of heaven on it but I can't remember the name.  They were packed with songs like "Amazing Grace," "The Church in the Wildwood," "Ivory Palaces," and "Victory in Jesus."  I remember Scotty standing up front and belting out those tunes loud enough for the church across the highway to be able to sing along with, and folks were clapping their hands and tapping their toes.  

I'm a United Methodist pastor, and was born into a United Methodist Church, but it wasn't until I was 16 or 17 that I was even introduced to the United Methodist Hymnal.  I know that the songs in our Hymnal have been carefully chosen to teach our theology, but when we started singing from that hymnal, and this is just my observations, the hand clapping and toe tapping stopped.  There was theology in them, but little fire...we knew them...they were safe...they were comfortable...and they told our story.

Then in my early 30's I was introduced to "Contemporary" Christian music...and I hated it.  I didn't know any of those songs...I had never heard any of those songs...and I'm not talking about songs like "Kum ba yah."  (I actually had one church member tell me one day that we needed to be doing more upbeat and contemporary music in church, and when I asked, "Oh?  Like what?" Her answer seriously was "I don't know, like Kum ba yah."  #Facepalm ...not a fan...)  I'm talking about drums, electric guitars, floor thumping bass, keyboards, and multiple vocalists...

Now, you may be asking, "Jamie, why do you think it's dangerous?"  Good question.  It's not because it's loud and we shouldn't do loud in church.  It's not because of all of the instruments instead of the organ and piano.  It's not because it may seem undignified to some.  David, in the Psalms, wrote about all kinds of musical instruments and about how undignified his worship could become.  It's because it's sneaky.  

When we sing from a hymnal, we know that we are getting theology and doctrine.  Sometimes it moves us, sometimes it doesn't.  When we sing along with a "Contemporary" worship song, we're just singing along, and then BOOM!  we're singing a prayer and don't even realize it.   Not that this can't happen from a hymnal, but for me it hasn't happened from a hymnal.  

"Contemporary" Christian music is dangerous because it leads folks into prayers they may not even be aware they're praying.  One example for me, just recently, was "Keep Making Me," by Sidewalk Prophets.  For a couple months, I sang along in my truck with them, then I woke up one morning and God had actually answered the prayer that I had been praying and didn't even realize I was doing it..."Make me broken, so I can be healed.  I'm so calloused and now I can't feel.  I want to run to you with heart wide open, make me broken...Make me empty, so I can be filled.  Cause I'm still holding onto my will.  I'm completed when you are with me, make me empty."  

It's not Church in the Wildwood, but God answered that prayer in a huge way in my life and I didn't even know I was asking for it.  Dangerous, I tell you.  Sneaky.  But it works.  

"Show me your glory" by Third Day...prayer.
"I will follow" by Chris Tomlin...prayer.
"Hold us Together" by Matt Maher...prayer
"I need a miracle" by Third Day...prayer.
"Let them see you" by JJ Weeks Band...prayer
"Lord, I need you" by Matt Maher...prayer

...and that classic contemporary song...

"Sanctuary" by Randy Scruggs...Prayer...are we sure we really want God to prepare us to be a sanctuary?

Sneaky.  Dangerous.  If we sing along with them, we need to be ready for God to answer those prayers.  Sometimes I don't think we realize what we're doing as we buzz down the highway with the radio on.  

Now, I'm not dissing the UM Hymnal at all.  It's my theology...but for this 43 year old rebel preacher, it just doesn't speak to me like some of these others.  Maybe it's not the hymns, maybe it's been my experience with the presentation of those hymns... piano... organ... about half tempo... trying to stay awake until the end... oh my God are we singing that one again this week... but this month, I had an epiphany, and that is this: for the last 13 years I have been praying prayers that I didn't even realize I was praying and this month God answered one of those, sending my sand castles tumbling down.  

So, if you still want to argue "Contemporary" verses "Traditional" that's cool with me.  What I have realized lately though, is the danger in singing a "Contemporary" worship song.  I will always love the old revival hymns I grew up on.  "Ivory Palaces" is running through my head right prayer life has been taken to a completely different level through some of these new fangled contemporary songs...and I'm not alone.  

Now, if you are a fan of contemporary worship songs, and contemporary worship bands, do me a favor...check out the lyrics before you sing along with them because some of them are prayers, and when God's people pray, God listens whether we realize we're doing it or not.