Augustine writes in his little work on Christian teaching that sermons need to do two very simple things teach and inspire. Words flowing from human beings should tug at the head and/or tug at the heart.
Over the last few years I’ve read articles and listened to various speeches advocating for either praise and worship or hymns. The former argues for praise and worship because it’s more marketable, the latter because of taste. Even really good articles advocating for keeping hymnals with well thought out reasons that call us to the rich heritage and instruction found in their pages end up falling back on taste.
Taste rules the day.
Just like when people talk about why there are so many denominations – it’s just a matter of taste.
Taste rules the day with sanctuary design from carpet colors to the position of the altar. Taste rules the day for sermons and prayers or standing during worship or the way offering is done. It all comes down to taste.
I don’t want to dismiss taste entirely, but let’s realize that a service can be thought out and planned to a greater extent for the purpose of worshiping Christ together.
There are those out there that design and think thoughtfully about every aspect of worship including the music. People that are unappreciated in their hard work because people are so concerned about taste they don’t take time to consider the intricacy of what they are dismissing. They take into account the details of their setting, the audience in its diversity, the ideas, and the methods and orchestrate them all together into worship of Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – the Triune God.
That is not an easy feat – I’ve been working for years and am not even an amateur at that enormous task. Music though is our subject. Within all that complexity of setting and substance and imagery comes the music. While we argue over hymnals and praise and worship, these guys have their gaze in another direction. Some of them are pastors, some composers, some worship leaders, some conductors, but they’re all servants of Christ.
They don’t just pick music out of the blue, they plan and develop the music. They work that our hearts and minds might not be distracted by the instrumentation or the pagination or the words. If it goes right for them, our hearts and minds are turned towards Christ in worship and are not turned aside by transitions and pace.
What this phenomenal effort offers is a way to tug at peoples minds and tug at peoples hearts. Praise and worship or hymn, hymnals or screens – all are done well to the glory of God and the building up of his kingdom. To go back to Augustine, what this accomplishes is the use of music, setting, and space to shape our capacity to understand the grace of God, the love of God, and the power of God.
It’s time to recognize that screens and songs and words can distract from this purpose or truly enhance it. In doing so we free up the body of Christ to compose, write, speak or to use the words of those who came before to communicate all that God is doing right now in our midst.