Worship music styles, especially in protestant churches, have been consistently controversial for a half-century. Sadly, many faithful, well-meaning Christians feel they have to defend their worship preferences as if defending God Himself. I believe some people tend to worship their style of worship more than they worship the Almighty.
I wince every time I see a social media post criticizing contemporary worship and lauding traditional hymns as “superior.” The argument is usually that current and future generations are missing the theology and doctrine the exudes from the hymns. Granted, hymns teach us more “about” God than do most contemporary lyrics. But contemporary lyrics are mostly deep expressions of love and thanksgiving “to” God. There is a need and a place for both in Christian church services.
I have been singing in church for over 70 years congregationally, in choirs, and on worship teams. For the first three decades of my life, I and every other protestant Christian sang the hundreds of good, uplifting hymns from various hymn books. There was very little singing to the Lord, and a lot of singing to each other. The lyrics were mostly instructional and inspirational. They were written to help us reflect on God but were somewhat lacking in helping us share our hearts with Him. Recent generations have sought a more balanced worship and have made some course corrections toward a more intimate connection with God in our corporate worship and praise.
The question should be who are we directing our worship toward. If it consists predominantly of theology and doctrine from the hymn writers, the congregation is the audience. God doesn’t need to hear us repeat our interpretation of the Word He inspired. He desires to hear our love songs to Him. Psalm 22:3 says, “God inhabits the praise of His people.” I imagine He is pleased when we sing about His teaching, but He doesn’t “inhabit” teaching. He joins us when we sing “to” Him. Would an earthly father rather hear his children tell other children that their father is good and should be obeyed, or would he prefer hearing, “I love you, Dad?” We are made in the image of our Heavenly Father who desires what we desire from our family.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The message of Christ is found in Bible teaching, in sermons, and in hymns. But singing to God with gratitude in your hearts is done primarily through intimate worship and praise songs. I believe this verse from Colossians is our direction to include both hymn lyrics and contemporary lyrics in our worship services.
And let’s not get hung up on whether to use hymn books. Hymn lyrics are just as meaningful when projected on screens and arranged for contemporary styles of music. Likewise, all instruments are pleasing to God if the instrumentalist is playing for Him. The Psalmists reference numerous different instruments to accompany worship voices and dances.
So, unless a church is worshiping with heretical lyrics, let’s refrain from criticizing how a congregation chooses to worship. Leave that up to that congregation and God. Follow John 4:24 and worship in spirit and truth. Worship with both the heart and the head. Contemporary lyrics are mostly from the heart, and hymn lyrics are mostly from the head. Neither should be exclusive, and neither should be excluded. Instead of condemning either, celebrate and respect both.