Sometimes, life forces us to make decisions made all the more difficult because of the emotions wrapped up in the outcome. As a young adult, I left my family’s denominational church and sought membership at an independent Bible church. The Bible church required believers’ baptism, which means undergoing immersion after a profession of faith. My father, an ordained minister, baptized me as an infant, and I confirmed his act of faith by personal public profession as a teenager. However, the Bible church elders did not accept that. They encouraged me to pray about being baptized again, while assuring me that if I chose not to, I’d still be welcome to participate in all church activities except for voting.
The fact that my daddy baptized me had always meant a great deal to me. For weeks, I struggled with the idea that what he did wasn’t good enough. It didn’t count. Intellectually, I understood the need for believers’ baptism, but my emotions didn’t want to accept it.
Recently, I’ve been forced into another difficult decision, one that is again bound up in my emotions and my background in a traditional church where classic hymns were the norm. Nothing inspires me to worship like the old hymns of faith. The melodies are familiar and dear, allowing me to focus on the meaning of the words which communicate a depth of truth I often find lacking in contemporary Christian music.
Over the past year, my church has adopted a more contemporary style of worship. The orchestra was disbanded, in favor of a praise band with guitars and drums. The music is faster-paced, with songs and choruses from the modern praise writers. The hymns we do sing are usually the words from a classic hymn in an updated melody, often with an added chorus somewhere. That just doesn’t cut it for a traditionalist like me.
I often left church angry and disappointed, resenting the new music and feeling like I hadn’t really worshipped. The congregation was growing, filled with young families, but I wondered when I had become so old that I no longer fit? Had I become irrelevant to my church?
Thus began my journey, asking God how I could worship in a setting that did not draw me into worship. Change seldom comes easily, and this journey required several months. I’m not sure it’s even yet complete. But these are the messages God spoke to me, the questions He posed to change my attitude. I don’t offer them as a definitive statement, for I believe God leads honest seekers to varying conclusions. They are intended only as questions to help others think through their choices and convictions.
Hymns haven’t always been the standard for worship. Before the Reformation, church music consisted of monks chanting in Latin. The reformers demanded melodies the common man could sing, and words in everyday language. Insisting the songs must be scripture-based, they set scriptural passages to rhythms and rhymes, called metrical psalms. About this same time in the 1600-1700’s, Martin Luther and others were writing the hymns I’ve grown to love. But in England particularly, great conflict ensued over using these hymns in the church. Compared to the metrical psalms, the hymns were criticized for containing only vague references to scripture. That sounded a lot like my own criticism of the new music. Would I have been one of those objecting to the use of hymns in church? Would I have missed the rich heritage I now treasure by sticking with the status quo?
I blamed my church for catering to young families, believing that was who the church wanted to attract with the new style of music. Then I looked at my own family. My husband came to Christ as a young adult. He didn’t grow up in the church, had no heritage of church music. Hymns don’t carry the same meaning for him that they do for me. Sadly, a staggering number of people like my husband have grown up outside the church. Is my relationship with the Lord strong enough, solid enough to sacrifice my desires for the sake of those who don’t have the foundation I’ve been so blessed to enjoy?
Sunday morning worship is approximately 1 hour out of the week. The amount of time we spend singing is a fraction of that hour. I have the other 6 ½ days of the week to listen to and enjoy hymns to my heart’s content. I can sing them at home, in the car, while I’m walking the dog at the park, on the treadmill, etc. Worship was never meant to be limited to Sunday morning. Can I truly not worship our Lord if I have to listen to other music for one hour a week?
Traditions remind us of the meaning behind certain events and practices. But when traditions are given a level of importance beyond what they deserve, they become dangerous idols. Jesus didn’t have a lot of good to say about the Pharisees’ traditions. He said they paid more attention to their traditions than to the spirit intended by the Law. (Matthew 23:16-23) Was I elevating traditional hymns to a place that should only be reserved for the holy Word of God?
I had no choice. The music was chosen with a total lack of regard for my preferences. One Sunday morning, I sat in the cascade section to the side of the stage and looked out over the congregation. One elderly gentleman caught my eye. His hand was raised, his eyes closed, his lips moved to the words of the song. And there I stood, stubbornly refusing to participate in worship that didn’t appeal to me. Obviously, he’d found a way to worship to music that was decidedly not of his generation. I came under such conviction. Worship isn’t supposed to be about me, but about God. All about God. The choice really was mine. Would I worship God, or my own desires?
I live in the midst of such great privilege, I can choose to worship in a style that “fits” me. But if I moved to Africa, would my worship suffer because they don’t sing the hymns I’m accustomed to? If I lived in a remote area with believers from various backgrounds, would my worship suffer because they sang different songs than hymns? If not, then why should my worship suffer in the midst of privilege, simply because my church chooses music that differs from my taste?
Sing a new song. That’s what the Holy Spirit whispered to me one morning while I rebelled against learning another unfamiliar song. At least six verses in the Bible urge us to sing a new song to the Lord. Am I willing to bring God new praise, like the first fruits? After all, He seems to like new creations.
In seeking God’s heart on this matter, I had to humble myself before Him, surrendering my rights, my desires, my expectations and demands. Only then did I discover God’s heart.
Years ago, I eventually concluded that the difference in baptisms wasn’t as important as I had thought. I could enjoy the obedience of believers’ baptism, while still treasuring my dad’s act of faith. One didn’t exclude the other.
Similarly, the issue of worship music is not as important as I once thought. I can accept and appreciate the new music while still valuing the old hymns. (Well, okay, at times, I still have to work at the appreciation part. But I’m getting there.)