We watched a profoundly disturbing report on CTV’s W5 yesterday about a church in Hamilton, Ontario – the Dominion Christian Centre. (CTV is one of Canada’s national broadcasters.)
The D.C.C., as it’s known, is no ordinary church. No hymns here. Every Sunday service begins with a one-hour rock concert – complete with power vocals, driving guitars and pounding bass.
The man on the drums is the pastor. Peter Rigo came to Hamilton, he says, “on a mission from God.”
The report was disturbing on so many levels – I recommend you watch it for yourself. What I found interesting was my own reaction to the music. I liked what I was hearing. It appealed to the rocker in me. And it was attractional to my two teenagers who watched the program with Imbi and me. The band was tight, the crowd was hopping and it looked like “fun.”
Music has incredible power to affect us. Martin Luther, half a millennium ago, said:
I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.
The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…
Listen to a group of physicists talk about String Theory and it will slowly dawn on you that they’re explaining the entire universe as nothing but the quivering, dancing echo of the voice of God. “Let there be light.”
String Theory describes energy and matter as being composed of tiny, wiggling strands of energy that look like strings. And the pitch of a string’s vibration determines the nature of its effect.
In essence, String Theory describes space and time, matter and energy, gravity and light, indeed all of God’s creation… as music.
Could it be that, we don’t just resonate with music, we are, in fact, music. Our physical reaction to music (toes tapping, body swaying, hands clapping, people dancing) is just a function of how we’ve been constructed. Which would explain both the power of music in the church, and the reason there’s so much discussion and disagreement about it.
I’M SO DANG OPINIONATED
I’m a reasonably good rhythm guitar player with a relatively good singing voice. (Or so I’ve been told.) I’m married to a gifted musician (keyboards, violin, vocals) and we have three musically gifted kids. Imbi and I have been music leaders in different churches (on and off) for the past 20+ years. (Imbi grew up in a very musical church, was the pianist for a “killer” Estonian youth choir and is from a wonderfully musical family.) We have strong and definite opinions about church music.
These opinions actually cause me to not attend the Sunday morning services in the church I profess to love. Much too often, obscure hymns leave the congregation voiceless – or drowned out by an overpowering organ. (In spite of the fact of not coming to any kind of faith position until my mid-20’s, I grew up attending Anglican services on Air Force bases around Canada and Europe and have a good knowledge of hymnody.) The contemporary worship songs used are mostly in the “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” vein, played ad nauseam. The evening service, however, is normally led by a gifted musician with a varying music team – and the music covers a wider spectrum of music (leaning contemporary but away from the J-I-M-B dreck). I attend that service.
Some would argue that the style of worship music is “not about you, Bill.” I would disagree. I’ve been wired by my Creator to respond to music – perhaps to be music, if Roy Williams’ interpretation of String Theory is accurate. My engagement in the worship of God is affected by the style and quality of music played.
Let me go back to the CTV report mentioned at the beginning of this post. I would suggest that the most attractive aspect of this church for the young people who attend is the music. It appeals to them – resonates with them, if you will. It’s a great hook to draw people in. In a healthy church, I would have little problem with this style of music. In a church that might be more cult-like, the music can be simply addictive.
In a traditional church model (physical plant focussed), the style and quality of music has a major impact on who attends. If you desire to be inter-generational and cross-cultural, then the music needs to reflect this. If you want to engage thinking people, then your music choices need to reflect substance over style. (J-I-M-B style songs, written as I, IV, V chord progressions, with endless repetition are not appropriate for sentient humans, in my not so humble, but accurate opinion.)
The style of worship also needs to be seen as a part of the missional nature of the church. If God’s call on your church is to work in an Afro-Cuban context, then 18th and 19th Century hymnody will not cut it. Nor will 20th and early 21st Century J-I-M-B “contemporary worship.”. The gorgeous melodies and rhythms of Afro-Cuban music will need to inform the worship style of your church (and please, can you let me know where your church is, so I can visit!). Who you are called to minister to and with whom should inform your choice of music.
This isn’t an issue of being seeker-sensitive. It’s a call to be reality sensitive. Too many church leaders ignore the impact of music on their church family. If the leader likes it, “well, that’s good enough.” No it’s not.
I look forward to your comments.
This post was prompted by an ongoing discussion of worship at Rob McAlpine’s blog, which I’d recommend you read. (I also look forward to the publishing of Rob’s Post-Charismatic book in 2007.) I added a quote in the comments on Rob’s post from Stanley Hauerwas that Gideon Strauss pointed out – which also helped to prompt this post:
“One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.”
Fortunately, my best friend lives in Pittsburgh. He’s safe for now.