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June 23, 2009

Stuff Christians Hate (Or Should)

Barefoot Roberto alerted me to the Stuff Christians Like site and the spinoff called Stuff Christian Culture Likes, which are very funny. But this picture made me wince. It wasn't the bare feet thing so much as the rock band plus the words-up-on-a-screen thing. I think there's a reason God repeatedly tells his people to sing (as opposed to appointing a Christian version of a Greek Chorus to sing FOR us at church). As T. M. Moore writes in "Whatever Happened to Singing," "It's curious, but Scripture gives us no specific guidance in how to listen to music. Music, according to the Bible, is not the spectator sport we have made it to be." 

Even when congregations are encouraged to sing along to the music of the band, there is, inevitably, too much focus on the (very loud) singers up on the stage at the expense of focusing one's thoughts on God. And I can't help but think that being up in front of worshipers performing puts the entertainers' minds on themselves instead of the Almighty. ("Do I look okay? How do I sound?")

I can't think of a scriptural criticism of big screens with verses on them, but I hate them anyway. Why do we need these things? If you can read the words on a screen, why not read them out of a hymnal? Does anyone think a big screen makes a church sanctuary look more attractive? And--as my husband, a veteran of a number of church choirs, has noted--without the musical instructions in hymn books, congregations no longer know HOW to sing anything but the simplest melodies. Brent once began singing the harmony of a famous hymn whose words were shown on a screen (a hymn he was familiar with through following the harmony line in hymn books). He was shocked to find that he was the only man singing the harmony. Nobody else appeared to realize there even was one. And the new "praise choruses" (inflicted on us by "music teams") and other contemporary abominations NEVER offer anything but simple (and often sappy) melodies.

There's been a huge loss of depth in church music, and I am angry about it. In A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken writes that he and his wife, Davy, while still unbelievers, used to go into churches to listen to the music. Today, I suspect very few churches would draw strangers in with the beauty and complexity of their music.  

Finally--whatever happened to dressing up for church? What we wear reflects our respect for the occasion. When we meet to worship the One who saved us from eternal damnation--shouldn't our clothing reflect it? It occurred to me recently (when confronted with the wrinkled T-shirt and torn jeans of a worshiper in the pew in front of me) that the only thing people dress up for anymore, at church, is weddings and funerals. They do this partly because they know the bride will KILL them if they show up in jeans on her special day, and also because they know a grieving family will never forgive them if they show up in shorts and thongs at a loved one's funeral. In other words, they show respect for the occasion. So who gave them a permission slip to wear, Sunday after Sunday, the grubbiest clothes in their wardrobe when worshiping the King of Kings?

(Image courtesy of Stuff Christian Culture Likes)

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Comments

JamesR

Thank you for the post, Anne. I couldn't agree with you more!

The thing I hate about the big screen lyrics is that there is no music displayed with it. How in the world can you sing along, especially harmonize, without the musical notation "road map"? I, for one, need the help as my ears alone aren't good enough to help me get things right.

My wife & I recently attended a friend's wedding held at a Mennonite church. As part of the ceremony, there was congregational singing, and the wedding program had the music printed in it - notes and all.

When it came time for the folk to sing, they did - and extremely well at that. It was indeed a joy to participate in song during that ceremony.

Thank you, Jeremy & Kristen, for inviting us to be a part of your wedding ceremony!

Matt

I dress up for church, I don't wear a suit but I look nice. I don't have a problem with people who don't though, I'd rather people hear the word of God in grubby clothes than not hear it at all.

I do get tired of some of the extremely simplistic or repetitive worship songs, but maybe they really speak to someone else's heart. Should we banish such songs simply because I'm a snob?

Zoe

Very good points raised here. I do think there is a never-ending tension at play here. I'll try to flesh it out a little, as I see it.

I have experienced the distraction that the large-screen, more entertainment-focused, worship-leading style creates. And, Matt, I couldn't agree with you more that overly repetitive lyrics do more to create opportunities for daydreaming than seeking God's glory through rich worship.

I think the tension is introduced when we assume that hymnbooks are the default remedy to the problem. Personally, I have found reading out of a hymnal equally as distracting as staring at a screen. Yes, some people prefer it and find it more personally worshipful. I think the true can be said of alternate worship styles.

I do agree that the rich words found in our hymnbooks speak of a depth of Christian heritage and wisdom that we may be too quick to throw away for more modern preferences. However, as rich as many hymns are ("Come Thou Fount," "Be Thou My Vision," etc.), I have stumbled across a few that tout lyrics that are equally as fluffy as some more contemporary favorites. Yes, the language is different, but the words are not necessarily deeper and truer.

I say all of that to point out that there are equal and valid arguments on both sides, as well as for the discussion about dress code. While it could be a respect issue, I would venture to say that, in many cases, it is more of a generational issue. There is a place to dress appropriately, but I don't think that a suit and a tie necessarily implies more respect.

Just some thoughts from Gen-Yer trying to be a moderate as possible.

Anne Morse

Matt writes:
I do get tired of some of the extremely simplistic or repetitive worship songs, but maybe they really speak to someone else's heart. Should we banish such songs simply because I'm a snob?

I don't think these songs speak to many hearts. I think the people who write and sing them get themselves put on the music committee at their church, and then perform this musical dreck Sunday after Sunday. And nobody has the courage to stop them.

I forgot to mention another pet church peeve: People who read aloud (ALOUD!) to their kids during the sermon. What is WRONG with these people?!

Kenneth Conklin

I'm in agreement re: music.
On the dress code, however, this strikes me as a rather cultural issue. I know too many folks who were driven away from church due to being judged by others because of their appearance. Unless their wardrobe is clearly tacky and inappropriate (i.e., swimsuits, bikinis, etc.), I don't worry about clothing. We have differing opinions, typically because of culture and upbringing, regarding what's appropriate to wear. And what does Scripture say? It says not to look ostentatious (not too much jewelry). But amazingly, it doesn't really address what we wear on the outside, as opposed to the inside.

Matt

Anne, I'm not sure what songs you're referring to but I was thinking of "Love the Lord" by Lincoln Brewster or "Everlasting God" by Chris Tomlin. Artists who get played on christian radio stations quite a lot; I assume that means lots of people like these songs.

I don't know how it is at your church but when members of the music ministry where I attend perform their own original songs they are usually excellent and very touching.

Dan Gill

Two words: Lighten up.

As a long-time member of the Churches of Christ, where we have had only acappella music for over a century, this post is hilarious. We've been all over these issues in our own version of the worship wars.

One reason for words on a screen is that the churches are easily able to get the rights to project the words. Another reason is that it gets everyone's heads up and out of their songbooks.

I, too, lament the loss of learning to read music, but in reality most folks cannot read music anyway, and they are not going to learn. Harmony suffers, and that distresses me, but we must remember that harmony itself is a relatively recent cultural thing.

Perhaps we're different from most churches, but I sing on one of our acappella praise teams (with words on the screen behind us), and I assure you that the congregation sings and sings with passion. We strive very hard to make it be about worship, not about the praise team. And it is absolutely wonderful to be up there and to see how people are worshipping rather than looking at the backs of everyone's heads. Occassionally we will gather all the praise teams together to sing over our elders or others, and it is marvelous to be in a circle singing toward each other.

As for dress, I no longer care. Those who like to dress up always say it is a sign of respect for God, or the church, or the occassion. I think it's more a sign of tradition and nothing more. At our services you'll see everything from suits to shorts, and there is NO relation between how people dress and who is sold out to God.

This way lies legalism. Believe me, I've been there.

Matt

I think a few other things are far more deserving of Christians' hate. For example: injustice, oppression, murder, war, lies, etc.

Benjamin Ady

Anne,

I fundamentally have a different approach than you. But that's ok. =) And you get yotta brownie points for mentioning Vanauken's brilliant tome.

Mary DeMuth

I'm not really sure why it would be wrong to worship or lead worship barefooted. I'm guessing many disciples went without sandals from time to time.

Chris Krycho

Anne,

Respectfully, as a person with a very deep loathing for superficial, hyped up "worship," as a person with a deep love for hymnody, harmony, and humility, and as a person with not-inconsiderable time spent participating in leading worship --

I couldn't disagree more with your post.

I have been at churches with a praise band where the "worship" was nothing but over-the-top guitar jams sending thrills of emotion through people and churches where quietly played organ accompanied deep worship from hymnals. But I have also been at churches where the hymnal was a rote exercise and not a person in the place could be said to be truly worshiping, and in churches with outstanding praise teams where the entire congregation regularly enters into deep, true, spiritual praise of the Almighty God.

Style has perhaps something to do with whether something is worshipful or not -- but very little. Some of your favorite hymns were set to the tune of popular bar songs of the day, and your vaunted harmony (and I love it, too!) was so reviled for the way it distracted from truly worshiping that men as Godly as Calvin banned it from their churches. The early church had no hymnal and almost certainly no harmony, and it survived just fine.

Admittedly, the hymnal has some fine pieces in it, pieces that truly turn our hearts toward God. But it is a mistake, and a serious one, to believe that their seeming solemnity -- more a product of the difference between the culture in which they were written and our own than an actual musical artifact -- is actually more reverent than a modern song like "Everlasting God" or "My Savior Lives," both of which have some of the most resoundingly Christ-centric lyrics I have encountered anywhere.

My issue with your post, then, is not your love of hymns, but your enshrining of them and the style in which they were set as the ultimate goal toward which we should all strive.

I despise shallow "worship experiences," but I also despise a sort of shallow intellectualism that believes that a hymnal and a harmony make for worship "in spirit and in truth." Rather, heart attitudes are fundamental to the reality of worship -- style aside, clothing aside, volume aside. Any one of those may be at nearly any point in the spectrum, and the song still be offered worshipfully. They may not suit our own personal tastes, but whether they suit God's is the question, and so long as the worship is offered with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 13), we ought not despise it. We need not prefer it, but we ought not despise it.

You might try listening to some Christian hip-hop. Lecrae might surprise you with his depth. He's not my style, and never will be -- but I learned a great deal when I first realized that this rapper has more theological depth than most of CCM aside.

And to be clear: I can't abide most of the garbage that's spewed our way. I just can't stand the (very incorrect) notion that just because there's a good deal of garbage in "praise music," all of it is bad. Quite the contrary.

Nick Alexander

I concur with Chris.

I'm currently doing a personal survey of the songs that make up the CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc) 2000, that is, the contemporary praise and worship songs that churches have rights to use for a small fee. And certainly, there are its share of overly repetetive songs out there... but more likely, it is the result of the worship leader being lazy.

There's also an incredible amount of deep worship lyrics within some of these songs. But better than that, there's been a resurgence of the old hymns that the author admires, but placed in new formats. A song like "New Doxology" takes the entire hymn and adds a contemporary chorus, that, believe it or not, is quite good; it's as if that medley should have always been there. And the depth of lyrical beauty is not sacrficed in the least.

What I find most prominent in these new songs is, not only are they fantastic vehicles for Scripture memorization, but they often provide a musical/lyrical venue to get to the heart of worshipping God. What I find prominent in the older hymns is that they get to the mind of worshipping God.

Let's use both.

Lastly, after using songsheets/songbooks, my own itinerant ministry has finally found a way to incorporate overhead projection for my worship experiences. The difference I've discovered is that, before, people sang downward, into their own individual books, whereas now the people sing outward, together, as a community. Plus, I have far more flexibility. I'm of the opinion that learning how to medley the right songs--or better yet, mashing multiple songs together--is a fantastic approach to fulfilling what is lacking in a single song, and breaking the ennui that gathers with too much repetition. It is a skillset that is sorely more in need of learning.

JamesR

Regarding the use of projected lyrics, is there anything out there that can show the music along with the lyrics? That way, those who can read music a little can get their noses out of the book.

I would welcome its use, provided the folk running the display keep up with the song's progression. :)

Dan Gill

Sounds like this post struck a chord. .

JamesR, thre are problems with projecting the music along with the lyrics: It's hard to get enough music up on the screen to be useable, and the license may not allow projection of the music. In addition, the projectionists at most churches have a hard enough time switching between lyric slides. Add a musical score to the list and it would be even worse.

Matt

Just a note of clarification: I dislike the 'verse' of Everlasting God, the chorus is quite excellent but I feel like Chris jipped us out on the single boring repetitive verse and it kinda ruins the whole song for me.

Roberto

Anne: you are older. I am older. Let's be old together.

jason taylor

Well honestly, there are a lot of folkways in my Church that I dislike. But much of those are matters of taste. There is no Commandment "Thou shalt not have different aesthetic tastes to Jason Taylor."

Jason Joyner

Words on the screen help those holding squirmy little ones to sing and worship with a hand raised without juggling a hymnal/song sheet as well. Just a point.

I think the key is the church needs to listen to the Holy Spirit and walk out the leading as Scripturally accurate as possible. A good worship leader should recognize if the focus is getting too much "up front", know when a hymn is the appropriate next song, and mainly keep Jesus the focus.

One skilled and spiritually mature "music team" I knew spent a season playing acoustically, with as little amplification as possible, BEHIND the worshippers, as they felt the attention was being too focused on the team.

As stated before, I've seen plenty of spiritually thin contemporary services as spiritually bereft traditional meetings. Let's all strive to go deeper with our Lord in the Word and prayer, and that will help in abundance.

Samantha

Wow. I normally agree with everything said on The Point but today, this post, I do not. I must respectfully, Anne, disagree.

I think it's ok to have different tastes in music, style of worship, dress, etc. The most important thing is that we're really worshipping. The other things are superficial and getting upset over them doesn't do anyone any good. I guess growing up in the South where one had to "dress" for church has tainted me. I remember my pastor would ask people to leave if they weren't dressed up to standards. That is not right, period. That cannot even be debated.

I am a proud jean-wearer each and every Sunday and I don't think Jesus minds too much anywho. I'm there for Him.

As for the lyrics issue, I do not like repetitive worship songs. I tend to zone out when I'm asked to sing the same chorus 35 times and end up quietly praying instead. I ADORE hymns and listen to them a lot on my own. The lyrics to the hymns I like are filled with heritage as someone pointed out. They're beautiful. I like it when a worship leader changes up the music a little. Slows it down or speeds it up. Adds something to it. Makes it new - yet eternal, if you know what I mean.

And, what about people who want to raise their hands in praise during worship? How can they do that holding a hymnal?

becky

I'm in complete agreement with Anne. We recently attended a worship service where the musicians were very good but the volume was so loud that I had to go listen in the hallway. Some of the contemporary stuff they did was quite good but some of it is too repetitive and predictable.
The whole projection business seems here to stay. At our church the pastor is projected giving the sermon, and our sanctuary isn't huge. No one else seems to be bothered by the pastor being seen as "bigger than life" but some do find it distracting.
One last thing, there is also a growing practice of projecting scripture as well as the music. My theory is that if we want people to go home and open their Bibles we should have them do it at church too!

jason taylor

Thank you Anne. Someone agrees with Anne. Not that I quite agree myself but it makes the conversation more interesting.

Anne Morse

Samantha: Would you wear your jeans to a friend's church wedding? Why or why not? If you dress up, aren't you showing more respect for your friend than you do God?

Re: Waving your arms around during worship--doesn't that block the person behind you from seeing what's on the screen? :)

Throughout history, Christians have always worn the best they had to worship services out of respect for the importance of the occasion and other people (Including, I am very sure, members of the early church, who met in each other's homes out of necessity). Today, there's much more emphasis on wearing what WE want to wear, regardless of other people and the occasion---the latest fashions, comfortable pants or sneakers, etc.

The idea that we should dress up out of respect for each other and for the occasion is point is illustrated in films such as "The Quiet Man," in which Mary Kate Danaher takes off her apron and changes into her best daytime clothes before going into town for a little shopping,, and in "Anne of Green Gables," in which Marilla (the woman who adopts Anne) gets into her Sunday best before taking Anne to apologize to a neighbor. Marilla tells Anne something along the lines of "You don't wear kitchen clothes when you go to make an apology." When you go to court, you're expected to wear decent and sensible clothing out of respect for the importance of the proceedings and the judge (who may kick you out if you show up in ragged cut-offs and a revealing top). Fine restaurants usually have a dress code. It's a way of saying, "Show respect for the place, the occasion, and other diners by wearing appropriate clothing"--not just whatever you feel like wearing. Most places of employment have a dress code, as well. Have you ever asked yourself why?

I think pastors ought to do more to teach this concept so congregations don't think it's just a matter of enforcing a silly dress code. In church, as elsewhere, it's not "all about me," although people increasingly seem to think so. While I don't advocate throwing newcomers out of church for wearing jeans, I do think they should be taught (in a nice way, of course) that their clothing should echo the importance of the occasion.
It's not all about you. It's about respect for God.

LeeQuod

Anne, your post has helped me to understand an issue I've been struggling with for a quarter century. "Thank you" is wholly inadequate.

The conflict expressed by your respondents can be summarized like this: Snould the church be an inspirational place, or a comforting place? Should it encourage us to do our best, or should it salve us when we've done our worst?

As if those two were mutually exclusive. But we seem to think that a church has only one character, and that's all.

This is wrapped up in feelings of wanting to be accepted by a social group. Most churches cater to a particular socioeconomic stratum, and this can tend to make the others feel unwelcome. There's only so much we can do about that.

As to music, anything can be done halfheartedly. One would hope that a church service would be an inspirational beacon, telling us that the best music is written by Christians and performed by Christians, and in fact that it's more than a performance - it's an experience of God. And the whole service should be that. So just as people ought to respect it, by dressing their best and keeping their children quiet and not blocking someone's view with their waving arms, neither should someone disrespect it by making someone else feel unwelcome.

In all cases God should be getting the glory, not men. The real issue is not clothing or singing or anything else except whether or not we're trying to be in relationship with God, in good times and in bad.

So thanks again for helping me to work through this.

Anne Morse

You're welcome.

Robert Van de Water

Anne,

When I attend a friend's wedding in a suit or a tuxedo, I do it because it is a once in a lifetime event that they are going to treasure memories of for their entire married life. While there I do not say to myself, "Look at how much respect I am showing for my friends.", but, "How soon can I go home and get out of this thing? My shoes are killing me."

For me, attending church in my every day dress keeps me from being distracted by clothes I find uncomfortable. I do not go to church "once in a lifetime", I go several times a week. Sometimes I go for a prayer meeting, sometimes I go for a Bible study, some times for a Wednesday or Friday service. At the risk of sounding less spiritual, let me say that if I had to dress up for each of these occasions, I am afraid that my church attendance would drop precipitously. It just takes too much time and energy to keep dress clothes clean and neat.

Now I appreciate that you feel differently about it, but I think that we are going to have to agree to disagree. As the Apostle Paul said, "let each one be convinced in his own mind."

Steve (SBK)

This is a good discussion (to read).
It does appear though that this is mainly a cultural issue Anne (like praying with our heads covered).
Vanauken and Davy (as modern pagans) sought out beauty in any and everything. I don't really see how this applies to Church music. Many would enjoy going to church every day and listening to J.S. Bach, but many would not.
"There's been a huge loss of depth in church music, and I am angry about it. ... Today, I suspect very few churches would draw strangers in with the beauty and complexity of their music."
I'm not so sure. What about the explosion of worship bands that then make it 'big-time'? I bet their churches get some peripheral attendance based on the music.
Complexity may not be their #1 goal, but then, what is the goal of music? Church music has the difficult task of fusing the intellect and the emotions.

Anyway, I appreciate good melodies, harmonies, lyrics and variation. Some might say it's a privilege to even be able to sing aloud in Christian fellowship.

I've never heard anyone reading aloud to their kids during a sermon. Maybe they have a Starbucks/Mall mentality where background noise is soothing? Can't really see any reason other than selfishness for that one.

Chip Boyle

Anne,

I find the choir, band, whatever in front of the congregation to be a distraction from focusing on God. Sometimes I close my eyes so that I can just focus on the words. I imagine it would be distracting for the musicians as well as there would be a temptation to be concerned about the delivery rather than focusing on God. I'm not sure it would make sense accoustically (a big if!) but I would prefer the musicians to be placed behind the congregation.

jason taylor

Howabout quarterbacks with their sneaky little tricks?

Or is that Pepsi light fans rather then Christians.

David R

Chris Krycho pretty much summarized my thoughts on the music matter.

I always wonder what non-Christians think about these debates when I read them.

I do have to respond to the whole dress thing. God doesn't care what we wear. He looks at our hearts, not our outside appearance. If dressing up helps someone focus on God better, then they should dress up. For me, it just makes me uncomfortable and distracts me from God.

Also, what about the people who can't afford to dress up? Should they just stay home? Should the Church spend money from the food fund to dress them up?

I also have to say that I would wear jeans to weddings and funerals. In fact, both my uncle and I wore jeans to my Grandma's funeral. There was nothing disrespectful about it at all.

jason taylor

God cares what we wear insofar as it is reflecting what is in our hearts. Not in itself.

Really this argument is a contest between "The blood of bulls and goats does not cleanse away sin" vs "Why not give it to your governor; would he be pleased with you." Both are necessary points or they wouldn't be in the Bible.

Steve Davis

I find it interesting how thoroughly many people have "canonized" recent church history and their preferences. Hymnals date from the Middle Ages and didn't take off until the invention of the printing press. They have always been primarily a European/American thing, so for the first 1200+ years of church history we managed to worship fine without them--and much of the church throughout the world never did really adapt them. And I really doubt the early church "dressed up" for services, since they primarily only owned one set of clothing. Personal preferences are fine, but when we choose to make our preferences more important than reaching the younger generations, well, what result are we expecting?

jason taylor

Why not just sing newies sometimes for the youngsters and oldies sometimes for the oldsters? Both are still part of the flock.

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