Last month, my Anglican colleague Peter van der Leelie made some cheerfully rude remarks about guitars in church. His phrase “cute enhancements” comes to mind, as cosmetic add-ons that fall short of “the gritty mission of Christ.”
The McDiarmid Drive Alliance church has always been noted for its modern style of music, so I invited Pastor Dan Pope to defend it. But first let me say my piece.
Music in church is a two-edged sword. It can enhance worship wonderfully. It can also be divisive: church members can leave and go to another church, or even start their own, if the music isn’t quite to their liking.
My own tradition, like the Roman Catholic one, is liturgical. Worship is offered by the whole congregation singing words they all know by heart, to easy-to-follow melodies or plainsong (the music at St. Augustine’s church is perfectly matched to people’s abilities).
The anthem is different: it is sung by a robed (anonymous) choir, who face each other, not the congregation. No arm-waving or histrionics. The purpose is to ram verses of scripture, borne on superb music, into the memory banks for future use as required. Anyone who hits rock bottom and can recall SS Wesley’s anthem “The Wilderness,” based on Isaiah 35 — “the desert shall blossom as a rose ... and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” — can put present troubles into proper perspective. When psalms are well sung, the absurdities of “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe” (Ps 60) just melt away.
We’ve not even mentioned hymns. The advantages of reading words off a screen are obvious: it allows fresh, contemporary lyrics and avoids holding heavy books. My misgivings are that the sentiments often seem banal, endlessly repeating a closeness to the second person of the Trinity, but no hint of the complexity of his work. God is praised for his many blessings, while the appalling state of the world is put down to “sin.” It ain’t as easy as that.
The old style hymns, for all their dubious theology — and some are very dodgy — offered a variety of moods, such as aspiration (To be a pilgrim), devotion (Let all mortal flesh keep silence), penitence (When I survey the wondrous cross) and poetry (King of glory, King of peace), not to mention scripture (The Lord’s my shepherd). Passively mouthing words displayed on a wall doesn’t compare with hearing a Welsh congregation belting out “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” to Cwm Rhondda.
Are modern worship songs worthless, then? “Oh no,” says theologian Keith Ward, “for teaching purposes, they’re excellent examples of the early Christian heresies.” Apologies for all that. I’m really looking forward to how the pastor stands up for modern music in a non-liturgical church setting.
Pastor Dan Pope replies: “I must confess that I straddle the fence a little when it comes to the issue of music/worship styles in the church. My religious background is Anglican and Lutheran, and I have a deep appreciation for liturgy and hymns. On the other hand, I am also a product of the hippie movement of the 1970s and managed a rock band. I do not believe that either the old hymns or the modern choruses are right or wrong. While we may attempt to spiritualize the issue, it is more than anything else, in my opinion, a matter of personal preference.
“It is clear in Scripture that a variety of musical instruments are appropriate in a worship service (Psalm 33:2; 71:22; 81:1-3; 92:1-4; 98:5-6). In Ephesians 5:1, the phrase ‘making melody’ is the Greek word, ‘psallo’ which means ‘to cause to vibrate by touching; to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate; to play on a stringed instrument …’ (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). Therefore, I am convinced that there is nothing ‘unbiblical’ about guitars (or other instruments) being used in church.
“What I am concerned about is the fact that young adults are leaving today’s church in droves. While there are a myriad of reasons for this, I believe one of those reasons is the style of music they find when they do come to church. Rather than the style they listen to on their iPods, they find their parents’ or even their grandparents’ musical style. It is not something they can relate to or enjoy. I would rather have young people coming to the church and being equipped to be the leaders of the future than to stick to my own musical tastes and ask the last one out to turn off the lights. In the past few years, our church has grown from less than 200 to more than 400 people a week. The majority of this growth has been among those less than 30 years old. When we ask them what made them decide to stay, the most common answer is ‘the worship/music.’
“However, I am equally concerned about caring for those who have served the church so faithfully for many decades — those who prefer the old familiar hymns. I love and appreciate them and do not want them to feel totally left out in the cold. For this reason, we try to ensure that we have a hymn or two in every service. While many of our senior adults greatly miss singing more hymns and wish they could go back to ‘the old days,’ they have been amazingly understanding and gracious in their response to our worship style. I have been told by many that they are just happy to see so many young people coming.
“We have some in our congregation who feel our music is too loud and some who feel we need to still take it up another few notches. It is not easy to walk the tightrope of meeting the musical needs of the generations, but I believe that it is well worth the effort to do so.”
Nicely put. Music is clearly a valuable way to bring people to God, whether directly or indirectly.
» Dan Pope is pastor of the McDiarmid Drive Alliance Church and the Rev. Michael Skliros is a retired Anglican priest in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 19, 2012