Thursday, May 30, 2002

"Praise and Worship Music"
Recently, I attended what was billed as a "contemporary worship service." It's a monthly event that attracts hundreds of people. Since it is right in my backyard, I thought I should check it out. Allow me to make some observations (which I also discussed with the organizers of the service).

The service consisted of three main components: a message, songs, and a drama clip.

The message was pretty good. The speaker addressed the audience on Romans 7:7ff and, in my estimation, got the points right about original sin, total depravity, and sovereign grace.

The songs were…. Well, let me elaborate.

The service started off with a lot of singing—about 45 minutes worth non-stop. The songs were all of the Praise and Worship genre. I made several observations. Whereas at first everyone was singing, as song after song was projected on to the screen, less and less people continued. They remained standing and swaying, but many were no longer singing. At some points it seemed as if only the praise band on stage was still singing. I had the sense of people slowly being mesmerized or hypnotized. The music seemed to have an anesthetic quality. I had to think of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:15, "…I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind." After a half hour of the highly repetitive choruses, were people still singing with their minds?

Another observation I made is that all the songs were about how great things are, about ecstatic raptures and victorious living. They are uni-dimensional and, thus, superficial. Remaining on a constant high of the victory and the ecstasy is surreal. Life is not like that, as any adolescent or young adult can tell you. Here are a few examples of the genre:

God Is Awesome (1)
God is awesome, God knows it all
He’s got the big picture up on his wall
So don’t worry just keep trusting tomorrow’s in his hands
God is in control

(Chorus)
‘Cause God is awesome
God is awesome
God is awesome
God is awesome

God is awesome, he rules the land
Demons tremble at his command
Nothing ever happens that he doesn’t see
So pray and keep on prayin’

CHORUS

I Say Yes! (2)

(Chorus)
I say Yes Lord, I believe in you
I say Yes Lord,
I will be faithful and true
I say Yes Lord
I know I've been blessed
By the power of your Spirit (clap)
I say Yes

I say Yes! (clap)
When you call my name
I say Yes! (clap)
When you tell me to change
I say Yes! (clap)
To your every request
By the power of your Spirit (clap)
I say Yes....

CHORUS

I say Yes! (clap)
I will love only you
I say Yes! (clap)
I love the things that you do
I say Yes! (clap)
I want to be like you
By the power of your Spirit (clap)
I say Yes...

CHORUS

I say Yes! (clap)
I will not be afraid
I say Yes! (clap)
I will stand and be brave
I say Yes! (clap)
For the ones who are blessed,
By the power of your Spirit,
They say Yes...

If you sing only this type of song, your singing has only one dimension, that of victory and ecstasy. That is not realistic. Compare this with singing the Psalms. The Psalms are so rich in that they are inspired by God but also describe every human emotion and condition from the most depressed to the most ecstatic. The Psalms are true to human life. Think, for example, of Psalm 116. After describing how the cords of death had entangled him, the anguish of the grave had come upon him, and how he had been overcome by trouble and sorrow, he cried to the Lord to save him. The Lord did save him from his distress, and he praised the Lord for the salvation. This one song travels the journey from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. This is real! This is life!

Some Psalms speak largely (or only, e.g., Psalm 88) of despair; some sing only of joy (e.g., Psalm 150). Taken together and sung in variety, our song will be a true reflection of life which has downs and ups, sadness and joy, despair and ecstasy. Life has a lot of sharp edges and dark corners. We simply do not always have the Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?! Down in my heart! Where?!… To pretend is false. To sing only about the joy is not real or true.

Another observation I made was (and I do not mean to sound irreverent) that in some cases I could take out the name "Jesus" and insert the name of my wife, and it worked: Jesus, do you know how much I love you. Let me tell you now how I adore you. I'm so in love with you; yes, Jesus, I'm so in love with you (sung about a half dozen times).

Making Praise and Worship music your staple song will leave you hungry. At best, the genre does not provide enough because of its single dimension; at worst it presents some pretty questionable theology.

Please do not forget to sing the divinely inspired and multi-dimensional true to life Psalms.

1. © 2001 Chris McNaught
2. Rob Des Cotes - Copyright © 1997 Omega Project Publishing.

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