Friday, November 26, 2010

Stop It. Just Stop It.

OK, I have officially had enough.

Back in September, Tullian Tchividjian's church made the move to one service, from their previous format of one "traditional" and one "contemporary" service.  He wrote an initial post about their kickoff week and a little of the background behind their decision.  At the end of the post, what he didn't write but might as well have was "Cue Psalms-only, Western-musical-tradition-obsessed, Regulative Principal types: pontificate away, fellas."

Here are just a few of the many comments that made me want to throw stuff at my computer:

I foresee a time, probably when the current minister of music retires, when the two services will be blended. My hope is that Jesus will return before that happens.

Even the best expressions of blended worship represent a level of compromise

I’m having difficulty understanding why churches insist on dumbing down something intended primarily for God so that we aren’t challenged by it.

Granted, classical music is not as appreciated in today’s society as it has been in the past, but then again, neither is the Gospel.

Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past” ministered to me and soothed the hurt I felt inside. Trading all that for the moaning and twitching of contemporary worship, the loud praise band and flashing lights, is a thought too horrific to contemplate.

Can we please just take a second (after we've all picked our jaws up off the floor) to evaluate the assumptions behind these claims?

1. Modern styled music is something to be dreaded, avoided, and pushed back.
2. The choice of music and style is primarily about my felt needs (oh, the irony).
3. Our only choices are the lovely, rich, comforting old hymns and an overwrought seeker-sensitive rock concert style (complete with "moaning and twitching"?!?).
4. If a long-standing traditional style is denigrated or underappreciated, that's a theological issue akin to people's rejection of the Gospel.
5. The culture is changing, so we have to reject change by holding our ground with traditional styles of music.
6. Anything other than a Western classical style represents "dumbing down" of worship.
7. The goal of modern styles of music is that we won't be challenged by worship.

Seriously, people.  Stop it.  Stop making arguments against your brothers and sisters in Christ based entirely on logical fallacies.*  Stop claiming some special knowledge about how public worship gatherings are supposed to look.  Stop insisting that Western classical musical from 400 to 150 years ago is the pinnacle of all human achievement.  It's not just silly, it's xenophobic and exclusionary.  (Notice that I didn't say that using Western classical music, or even preferring it, is xenophobic and exclusionary -- insisting on its superiority [even its spiritual superiority] over all other types of music is.)

We sing theologically rich songs at Sojourn, songs that are full of Scriptural truth. We often sing hymns -- in fact, I would guess that a majority of our songs have a hymn structure (i.e., a particular meter in each verse). Four of the five songs we did this past week were hymns.  Two were traditional hymns, two were written more recently.  One of the modern hymns was based on a Puritan prayer from the outstanding Valley of Vision.  We sing a fair number of Psalms (I can think of a dozen or so) and are always up for singing more.  Why, then, do people continue to insist that, because we use guitars and drums, we're contributing to theological shallowness in the church?

Church music ministers need to be students of their culture and their congregation as well as of the Scriptures.  And, furthermore, it's absolutely possible to obey the commands of the Scriptures without having to use only piano and organ or orchestral arrangements or Western classical style (thank God -- if not, boy, would overseas missionaries be in trouble).  It's even possible to adhere to the Regulative Principle and still -- gasp! -- use guitars.  Maybe piano, organ, and classical style are what's best for your particular congregation.  But why then does everyone else have to agree that it's better?

If we want to talk about what styles of music best carry theological content in a coherent way, I'm happy to have that conversation (and no, I don't think all musical styles are equally suited for public worship, just on a practical level, but I also think that particular knife cuts both ways).  If we want to talk about reverence and decency, I'm up for that too.  Attitudes toward our collective history?  Yeah, definitely, let's talk about that.

But if folks are going to approach this conversation with an attitude of snobbery towards everyone who doesn't have their "special knowledge" about the superiority of the Western classical tradition, a traditional hymnnodic structure, and the Fill-In-The-Blank Psalter... Well, I'll just turn off my computer and have a little chat with the doorknob instead, thanks.  ;-)

*In that list, you'll see a false dilemma (either good thing A or hideously unimaginable thing B must be true), a package deal fallacy (modern music goes together with shallow content and theological inferiority, therefore if you use modern music you're embracing shallow content and theological inferiority), an appeal to fear (this thing is so dreadful that I hope Jesus comes back before it happens, an appeal to emotion (hymns are comforting; if you want to get rid of hymns you are getting rid of my comfort waaaaaaah), cherrypicking (here is the worst example of how churches can do this, never mind all the good examples), confirmation bias (I believe it will be like X, therefore I will experience as X), tons of bare assertion fallacy (NO IT'S THIS WAY DON'T ARGUE IT IS SO!), and plenty of equivocation (what exactly do these folks mean by "traditional" or "classical" or "hymns" or "contemporary" or "modern"?).