Monday, March 7, 2011

Praise Music

Praise music has become very popular in a lot of churches. Its especially used in churches attempting to draw in younger people.  Many will now offer two different Sunday morning services, one featuring traditional hymns and one featuring a praise band. The church I joined in Texas is one such church. While I originally resisted joining it because I didn't like the idea of a congregation divided in such a way, the young adult Sunday school class won me over and I soon found myself a member here.  Since my Sunday school class meets during the traditional service I find myself attending the contemporary praise music service.

I don't like praise music. Its not that I don't like that style of music or that praise music "just doesn't do it for me", no, I have a deep theological problem with it because it lacks meaning.  Praise music is characterized by romantic language and little or no doctrine. They are catchy, emotional songs, but they don't teach anything.  More than that they don't mean anything.  I will attempt to illustrate my concerns by comparing some hymns I like to some of the praise music I don't.

First up is a hymn that I like. Hopefully you've heard of it, its called "Before the throne of God above"
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
Ok, stop. In the first four lines we already have the doctrine of Christ as our High Priest presented very clearly. Awesome, who would have thought you could learn something from a hymn!
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
Again, more doctrine. "No tongue can bid me thence depart," our salvation is secure in Christ! Awesome!
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
So much here. We see that we are sinful, we see that God has to punish sin, we see that Christ substituted himself in our place, bearing our punishment for us and satisfying God's justful wrath. Wow. We even see the practical application of this! Not only are our sins forgiven, but when we're tempted to despair we are instructed to turn and see that before God we are justified. We need not carry our guilt and shame any longer. So much doctrine! So much instruction, in so few words!
Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!
 Amen. This song is everything you need to know about salvation in one package. Awesome. Too bad we haven't song this song in forever, I think we might have sung it once. Lets take a look at a song we sung a few weeks ago:
Oh God, You are a mystery
We crowd the streets in hopes to see
The Son of Man before our eyes
His holiness uncompromised
Ok, so God is a bit mysterious, he's more than we could possibly understand, and Jesus is holy, but why are we in the streets? Newsflash, Jesus lived 2000 years ago. Zacheous stopped saving you a spot about 2 AD.  Sorry man.

But Scott! It's just poetic language, you need to back off some dude.

Ok, I'll play. Poetic language is fine, but all good poetry has some sort of meaning. Poetic language absent of that meaning is just frivolous. What is the meaning here?
Oh God, we have a history
The saints who told of Calvary
And the martyrs who laid down their lives
For the cause of Christ were sacrificed
Ok, Christianity has quite the history. Much of it bloody. Some of it is pretty awesome. There's a lot we can learn from some of the martyrs, but what is the point of this verse? There certainly isn't a history lesson here, and there's no other lesson as far as I can tell. What there is though is a lot of emotional language meant to make you feel like you are part of some bigger movement. I'll get back to this later.

Let our faith be not alone
May our hearts be not of stone
Give us souls that never close
To the grace that You bestow
May our eyes be quick to see
You are here
You’ve come to rescue me
 No lessons here, just lots of vague, fluffy requests. The chorus is also designed to make you feel. Doesn't matter how you feel, it just there to make you feel something.
Verse 2
Oh God, You are a mystery
Redemption for the world to see
The Son of Man before our eyes
His holiness uncompromised

Oh God, we have a history
The saints who told of Calvary
And the martyrs who laid down their lives
For the cause of Christ were sacrificed


You are here
You’ve come to rescue me
You are here
You’ve come to rescue me
Thank You, God
You’re here
You’ve come to rescue me
 Here we have the mandatory repetitive ending. As long as everyone is singing along its fine to repeat the last verse or the chorus of a praise song until Jesus returns.  The simple fact of the matter is that praise music is written to invoke strong emotions. They are designed to make you feel. It doesn't even really matter how you feel as long as it keeps your hands in the air. This is manufactured emotion and it is false emotion. It is not healthy.

Songs like this do not move me because they have no meaning. "Before the Thrown of God Above" almost always moves me to tears. Why? Because as I sing it I remember I have a savior who gave his life on a cross so that he could save me from sins. That creates deep emotions in me. Emotions are the natural response to truth. Emotions never lead to truth.
"The heart is deceitful above all things,
   and desperately sick;
   who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9
Emotions are proper when their source is reason and truth. Outside of that they are dangerous. Emotional decisions, no matter the emotion involved, are almost always poor decisions.  Obviously there are exceptions but I'm making a general case that applies to the subject of what music is appropriate in church. Purposefully manufacturing emotions that have no ground in truth is dangerous and it should not be taking place in the church.

There is a lot of good music out there, even hymns, that can be sung in church. There is no need to fill services with meaningless praise music. Perhaps there are other churches that have this figured out, but FBC sings the same dozen meaningless praise songs every month.

So I'll end this with a modern hymn that I almost always have a hard time singing without choking up, it has such powerful truth in it.

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