I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors.
So why bother with the question? Because there are a few battle-scarred, dazed, war survivors out there wondering what happened.
What happened is that we fought with the wrong weapons, and naturally lost. We objected to the drums and the guitars for at least two bad reasons. First, because we associated them with a rebellious rock culture, we thought they didn’t belong in church, though they did belong in our living rooms. We couldn’t keep them out of the sanctuary because we welcomed them into the rest of our lives. While not everything in our work week rightly fits on the Sabbath (work, for instance), Sunday is not the day wherein we are supposed to be good, and the other days when we are free to be bad. So if they are bad, drums and guitars, let them be bad. If they are not bad in themselves (which I would argue) then let’s not object on the basis that they seem bad to us, or that they are often used by bad people.
The second reason was rather unspoken. Too many of the soldiers on our side objected to meeting the felt needs of others in the church not because felt needs are unimportant, but because it means our felt needs are not getting met. If the music with which we worship is decided by popular vote, some of us with unpopular tastes are going to lose. But if our argument in favor of our tastes is that they are our tastes, we can’t expect to win. If everyone agrees we should get what we want, there is no use protesting when they are we and we are on the losing side.
My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars. Few traditionalists would object to kettle-drums. Few would object to all instruments wherein tight bands of steel are struck. That, after all, is what a piano does. The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music. The war did not end when fifty one percent of churches embraced contemporary worship. It ended when we bought into the devil’s lie that forms don’t matter, just thoughts; that media carries no message; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It ended when we determined to watch the lyric front, but give up the music front.
It’s true the evil isn’t in the instrument; it’s in us. Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental. Jesus, remember, didn’t throw the money out of the temple, but the money-changers.