I don’t recall my dad ever outright criticizing the music I listened to as a teenager. But I have to smile when I think of the times we listened to WLS playing the Top 40 on the car radio, and Dad chimed in with his own version of the Beatles’ chorus. In a high-pitched voice, he’d repeat their lyrics.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Nowadays, I find myself mimicking the music my son listens to. Except it isn’t as simple as yeah, yeah, yeah. My son tells me they’re screaming the opening lines to How Great Thou Art. To me, it sounds more like Oscar the Grouch singing the old Beatles’ lyrics.
Music has a way of uniting people. From Christmas carols to the birthday song, people come together in song. But music can also divide, particularly in church. Some want to stick with the hymns and their doctrinal themes. Others prefer more current, popular music, complete with electric guitars and drums. Some feel strongly enough to leave a church if the music no longer ministers to them.
I must confess to my own private complaints about today’s current worship music. These songs that consist of few lines sung over and over just don’t move me like the old hymns I grew up with. Frequently, I feel more like I’m singing around a campfire than worshipping in church on Sunday morning. And when we do sing a classic hymn, there’s usually a new chorus added in somewhere. As if the song wasn’t good enough as it was.
Although the music at church is not what I prefer, I made peace with it. Understandably, the church leadership is appealing to a younger generation. My faith is stable. If the popular music appeals to others who are young in the faith, let the music play. I can worship at home with the hymns I like.
I say I made peace with the situation. But it was a disappointed peace, until the Sunday morning I listened to the music and wondered about the history of church music. What kind of music was used before hymns were written? At one time, music consisted of unified chanting of psalms. Was there resistance when that was replaced with the ornate music of Mozart and Bach? Did anyone leave the church in protest when hymns replaced the great composers?
While I considered this, a phrase from Psalms came to mind. “Sing a new song to the Lord.” A new song. Variations of that phrase appear in at least six Psalms, as well as Isaiah and Revelation. And Ephesians 5:19 says we should speak to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I’m still looking for the verse that tells us to sing old songs to the Lord.
Music originated in heaven, for certainly the angels who sing didn’t learn music from human beings. No, music is from heaven. It is holy. Like any of the other gifts God provides, music can be used for good or for evil. The lyrics may not be holy. The performance may not be holy. But music itself is a gift from God. Whatever the beat. Whatever the style. Whatever the age. All music can, and should, be used to worship the Lord. The question is, will we use it for its intended purpose? Or will we let it divide the body of Christ?