“Contemporary” Worship vs “Biblical” Worship

by | Aug 22, 2020

The idea of “the worship wars” has always been fascinating to me.

For some, this is but a distant reality. For others, a present concern.

I was having a great discussion last night with a few brothers, one of whom is a self-described “contemporary worship leader.”

I—and probably you—know precisely what he means by that term…

However, there are certain connotations that come along with such a word. He recognized them, and yet embraced the term.

So, perhaps there is something instructive here.

My buddy’s concern is that often the word “contemporary” is associated with the sort of physiologically manipulative words, sounds, and behaviors often used by magicians and illusionists in order to illicit a certain response from their crowd.

It’s a pretty valid concern, right?

Not to mention, the word only fuels “the worship wars” because it pits music written during a certain time period vs music written during another.

For example, Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers.

And yet, the “traditionalist” will often criticize their music for being “contemporary”…

Now I ask you:

What in the world does a period of time have to do with what songs we should choose to sing?

I mean, have you ever thought about that intelligently for more than three seconds?

I think it is certainly fair for those in leadership of their church to make a decision based on preferences of genre, etc., as to what will be allowed.

For example, in our church, we sing “contemporary” worship songs.

But I have a hard time believing we will have Lecrae in for a concert anytime soon.

Does that mean Lecrae’s music is objectively wrong?

Of course not!

But it would not fit the context of our church well (at least in my opinion).

The word contemporary just means: “Living or occurring at the same time.”

By that definition, every song written during the time we live is contemporary. Do you see the utter absurdity?

It would be like saying it is not okay to sing the songs that are written today because they are written today, but in 300 years from now, they will be just fine.

So what’s the solution?

As long as there are pastors and worship leaders (so, forever) there will be different styles of music that make sense within different congregations, because music does have a very serious preferential element to it.

However, when we’re trying to decide whether a song is biblically sound, there can only be one standard: the Bible.

(Imagine that.)

And while I realize “the worship wars” are a thing of the past for so many, there are thousands still living this debate.

To those in such a situation, I would implore you to begin to think biblically about music.

Here are some questions one could ask:

  1. Is there express biblical teaching that the words of the song are at best inaccurate or at worst heretical?
  2. Does this song add something meaningful to my experience of God, take something meaningful away from my experience to God, or is it entirely indifferent to my experience of God?
  3. Do the words of this song sound more like a love song to my spouse than to my Creator and King?
  4. Was this song written in such a way (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to induce a sort of psychological experience through manipulation?
  5. Could this song be redeemed by attaching a different genre of music to its performance?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Want to know the problem though?

It’s just so much easier to paint with a broad brush and label a song as “contemporary” if it allows you to get out of thinking about it for more than two seconds.

If we are interested in being folks who love, worship, and honor God, is it not worth our time to carefully think through how we worship him?

I question whether a person really loves God if he will not devote a few moments of his time to think about how he chooses to worship.

There are some songs I will not participate in because I have thought through these questions.

By the way: Some of them are hymns.

Yes, there are hymns that teach unbiblical ideas. Should we still sing them just because they written during an acceptable time period?

Give me a break.

So, I implore you: Instead of thinking about “traditional” music or “contemporary music,” let us be worshippers who think about biblical, Christ-honoring music.

That, my friends, is the way.

If you are interested in learning more about how to bring biblical worship into your church context, I invite you to join us for free inside of Worship By Numbers™.

It’s our program designed to teach worship leaders and musicians how to bring the band together, have more confidence than ever come Sunday, and understand how to play music like the pro’s do.

Here’s the link: www.WorshipByNumbers.com

Steve Schramm

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