POSITION PAPER ON WORSHIP MUSIC FROM THE ELDERS OF GRACE COMMUNITY CHURCH
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing: "To Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:13-14
The apostle John says that we will all be singing a new song, both angels and humans, one day in the future. And the people will be from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). Most worship leaders would love to know the musical score of that "new song." They dream of a diverse audience singing with power and passion, praising the Lord with authentic worship. Such unity by so many different kinds of people over what to sing will be a great kingdom blessing that we can only imagine this side of heaven because today what we sing and how we sing it is frequently a source of frustration and even anger and resentment by many who want to worship the Lord.
At Grace Community Church, the elders are aware of the frustration that members of our body sometimes feel over the issue of music in the worship services, and we would like to address this issue as follows:
First, some preliminary remarks:
We believe that God longs for true worship to take place at Grace. Worship is important to God and therefore should be important to us. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, "A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24)
We believe that worship is a spiritual matter, and as stewards of God’s household we believe that He would want the elders of the church to oversee the matter of worship within the church (Titus 1:7; Acts 20:28).
We believe that God is most interested in the worshiper’s heart or motives (Mark 7:6-7). We also believe that it is unwise for people to judge another person’s heart when it comes to worship. Only God knows a person’s motive for singing a song. We believe that if a person’s heart is intent on worshiping God, a wide variety of music can accomplish that end. There is no particular style of music prescribed in Scripture because God desires people from all cultural backgrounds to worship Him. Therefore the question of "What particular style of music should we have at Grace?" cannot be answered simply. The question is not directly addressed in Scripture and is therefore a complicated matter that calls for much wisdom and prayer.
We believe that there is a wide range of diversity in musical worship preference within the body of Christ at Grace.
We believe that God wants us to protect the unity of the church despite the wide range of diversity in musical worship preference within the body at Grace in the same way the apostles sought to protect the unity of the church despite the extreme cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles in the early church. Paul addressed the divisions that were present in the Corinthian church by saying, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." (I Corinthians 1:10)
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul deals specifically with the cultural clash between Jews and Gentiles and how Christ brought the two together to form one new entity. Around the time Paul wrote those words arguing for racial unity in Christ, Jews and Syrians were massacring each other in the streets of Caesarea, a city where he had been not long before. The New Testament supports the ideal of unity within a diverse population. Even though individuals retain their race, gender, age, socio-economic standing, and musical preferences, these differences should not cause divisions because in Christ we have a new unity, a new identity despite our diversity. If Paul’s insistence-- "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3)--applied to the often violent cultural clash between Jews and Gentiles, shouldn’t we also try to make every effort to keep unity in the body despite other potentially divisive factors like diverse musical worship preferences? It seems as though Paul’s consistent call to unity within the church certainly argues for a unity within the diverse musical worship preferences at Grace.
Given these considerations and having considered the expressions of concern and compliment about our musical worship, we have decided upon the following path for the present:
We believe that an excellent musical blend, somewhat weighted toward the contemporary, is best for our Sunday morning worship services. Part of the communication challenge over the worship issue revolves around definitions of terms, and we realize that "blended worship" is not clear to everyone. By "blended worship" we mean that our worship services will be planned to include both contemporary praise and worship music and music from the older body of traditional church music. Thus there will be a variety of music styles within our services. We also realize that such a "blend" or variety may be a challenge for the worship leaders as they try to lead us all in effective worship by creating a "seamless" flow within each service. Therefore we ask our worship leaders to use their abundant creative abilities to weave musical styles together, using a variety of instruments, including voice alone (a capella), piano and keyboard, percussion instruments, amplified, brass and stringed instruments. We realize that all of these instruments cannot be used all the time, but would hope that the worship leaders consider all these instruments to be in their "palette" as they consider how to best paint a musical expression of praise to God.
The following are observations about music issues from history and our culture as they relate to Grace Community Church:
- Predictability -We recognize that the church music scene has changed. Some people do not like diversity in music, especially as they worship. People enjoy predictability, and blended music does not always allow predictability. We realize that churches that have a low diversity in musical style (all traditional or all contemporary) tend to be more predictable. For example, in the ‘60s churches were very stable in music expression. The services were predictable in that hymn numbers would change from week to week, but most people knew that traditional hymns would be sung. The comfort level was high. We realize that some people within Grace long for those days again. This is not wrong, but it is not the direction that we believe our church should go.
- History and culture - As we have now entered the third millennium of church history we believe that we should understand our culture as well as the Scriptures. From the beginning of the church Christians have translated, adapted, and adopted the language and the cultures of others for the purposes of Jesus Christ. This is particularly true in the area of music. Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, and Isaac Watts all used contemporary musical forms (even though controversial in their times as well) to communicate the Gospel and lead the church in worship. Today our culture is moving away from the traditional worship sounds so prevalent in churches a couple of decades ago. The contemporary musical sounds of our culture are extremely diverse. There is no one musical sound that everyone enjoys. Therefore, we desire our worship leaders to do the same for us today that Luther, Wesley and Watts did for their churches centuries ago. We would like them to use the contemporary sounds of our culture in an attempt to prompt us to worship. Contemporary worship music is often profoundly God-centered and God-directed, frequently specifically Scriptural, and provides a freshness in the worship experience. It tends to communicate well with younger Christians and un-churched visitors. In addition, we would like them to include within the worship service classic hymns of the faith, creatively woven and blended into the textures of the overall worship experience as more than just token concessions to the "traditionalists." We hope that Grace continues to sing the classic hymns of the faith for years to come. They provide a depth of expression and teaching ability that the church needs to continue to experience. We realize that such blended services may not be pleasing to everyone. However, we believe that they may best demonstrate the unity of the church, meet the needs of the most people, provide diverse ministry opportunities, honor the past and the future and give people opportunity to grow in their musical preferences.
We believe there may be other opportunities within the church structure in which worship leaders can experiment more freely with the music of our culture. These may be youth or young adult ministries or other gatherings. While these may include some traditional music, they may be primarily a more contemporary worship experience. We encourage worship leaders in our Sunday morning services to do their best to be sensitive to the concerns of those who may not enjoy the "louder" sounds of other gatherings.
We encourage people who prefer a more traditional style of worship to pursue opportunities that appeal to their tastes. We encourage worship leaders to work together with those within our body to occasionally plan gatherings with music that may appeal to the more traditional segment of our body. These worship opportunities outside Sunday morning need not be "blended’ services.
We appreciate the sacrificial service of everyone on the worship teams as they seek to do their best in leading us to worship. We are blessed to have so many talented musicians in our church and we hope they feel appreciated and loved by the whole body as they lead us each week.
We encourage those whose personal tastes are more exclusively contemporary to broaden their worship experience by seeking to develop an appreciation for the classic hymns of the faith. We ask those whose tastes are for traditional music expression only to sing the "new songs" of the faith with a heart open to developing a true acceptance of contemporary worship music as a legitimate worship expression of the body of Christ.
Having said all the above, we recognize that growth in Christlikeness comes not primarily from singing a certain kind of music in a certain way but also from an abiding appreciation of and commitment to worship in our hearts. It is to that end that we pray God will lead us.
To God be the glory!
The Elders of Grace Community Church