Organic Riff

The sanctuary was full, and though the closing hymn was listed as the “Recessional Hymn,” the congregation sat down following the benediction for the playing of the postlude. It was a well played piece by an obviously talented organist.

As the moving toccata came to a close, the congregation applauded. Some stood. It was clear; the man’s talent was appreciated and was a ouseing way to end the worship experience.

This brought to mind the debate over worship styles. The service that night was entirely traditional. A large choir sang three different selections, and did so very well. I suppose it was the way we were instructed to sit for the postlude that brought to my mind the “worship wars.” The points were going to be made that THIS was worship, that the ORGAN is the instrument of choice for worship, and that THIS organist was a very gifted musician.

To toccata was beautiful. What I could not get out of my mind, thought, was, in what way(s) was this performance better, or more inherently worshipful than a well done guitar riff?

Please help me understand!

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2 Responses to Organic Riff

  1. Richard H says:

    You musical relativist!

  2. Alastair says:

    Different types of music have different places in our lives. I do not believe that many (there are exceptions) contemporary music styles are appropriate for gathered worship (just as they would not be fitting for a state occasion, a wedding or a funeral). This does not mean that they are to be despised. They have valid places in our lives. For every type of music (with possible exceptions) there is a time and a place.

    I do not believe that there is any type of music that is inherently wicked. However, I believe that many types of music are thoroughly inappropriate for the gathered worship of the people of God.

    In determining which forms of music are appropriate, I believe that we need to have a pretty robust idea of what worship really is.

    Many people today regard worship more or less in terms of self-expression (‘Lord, I just want to worship you’ worship). The goal of worship is to whip up our feelings into ever greater heights. I believe that this is a very poor and unbiblical form of worship. True worship is designed to express the glory, truth and beauty of God, not primarily to excite our own feelings.

    We need not like worship music. That is not ultimately the point. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. The worship wars also result when the ‘me-centredness’ of individualistic personal experience focused worship deprives us of the ability to lay down our musical preferences for the sake of the brethren.

    Many modern forms of worship music place too much attention on the individual performer (as do many types of traditional worship music) and do not successfully integrate every worshipper. We must always remember that the Church is a congregation or gathered assembly, not an audience.

    Many modern forms of worship, in the effort to be contemporary, have forgotten that the Church’s music must reflect the Church’s catholicity. We should sing songs from around the world and from all stages of the history of the people of God. Many who seek to be as contemporary as possible are merely expressing their sectarianism.

    Many modern forms of worship pay little attention to the Spirituality displayed in the book of Psalms. They do not train people to sing about despair, defeat, sorrow, loneliness and anger. Nor do people learn the imprecatory psalms. As a result people have an impoverished vocabulary to express the Christian life. Modern songs tend to be far too upbeat because they are primarily designed to whip up our feelings, rather than to be truthful.

    Besides music has far too central a place in many churches. Music has become the new sacrament, with the worship leader the new priest. Music is good and glorious, but it seems to me that it is far too central in many people’s lives. We seem incapable of living our lives without a soundtrack.

    I also fail to see why our styles of music in the Church must be dictated by styles of music in the world. We have our own traditions of Church music. We should primarily draw on them and only secondarily draw on musical styles in the surrounding cultures.

    I believe, and I hope that I do so as a result of mature and wise reflection on the basis of Scriptural principles, that instruments cannot just be interchanged in worship as if they were equivalent. The organ brings a distinct character (largely cultural, but not merely so) to worship and the guitar brings another.

    The guitar has, I believe, an appropriate place in the gathered worship of the Church. However, and I believe that this is the case with every musician in the Church, the guitarist must seek to be as invisible as possible and not to draw unnecessary attention to himself or to his instrument. His virtuosity and talent ought not to obscure the worship of God. In my experience, guitarists are more prone to falling in this area than organists are.

    I don’t believe that there are strict commandments in this area, but I do believe that there are clear principles that are routinely ignored by evangelicals today. I do not come down wholly in favour of ‘traditional’ music in churches. I think that this position can be sectarian and reactionary. However, as I see the doctrine of worship that guides much of the drive for ‘contemporary’ music and the introduction of new instruments, I am dismayed by the lack of wisdom and grounding in biblical principles that is often shown.


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