When the Music Changes
The Beat Goes On
“…what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
It works for about ten years and then we are in trouble.
When we are young in the ministry of worship, say in our 30’s, our tastes match those of the innovators who are bringing fresh winds of creativity to church music. We find several publishers, arrangers and composers who produce exactly what we want. As we use this music in the church our peers in the congregation resonate with it and we have success. But in a decade or less, the music will change. What do we do then?
- Do we spend the rest of our life doing the songs we love and see them age into sentimental relics of a former move of God?
- Or, do we spend the rest of our lives using music we don’t really like as much as music of that golden decade when we were in sync with the industry?
Neither prospect is really worth a life’s work.
There has to be another alternative. With several decades of this ministry behind me, I want to recommend ways to remain authentic in our music leadership over a lifetime of ministry. Music will change but there are things that will not change, no matter how violent the shaking of society may be. We just need to see the difference.
And the world is definitely shaking. The old ideas of the enlightenment are crumbling and the older ideas of paganism, now called “post-modernism,” are rising like new-formed mountains thrust upward by a violent earthquake. The world of music is not protected from this seismic disturbance. Worship music is constantly changing. Some of us are ready for it; others are not. Some people can flow with it while others resist it. For some of us, it is a natural and welcomed process; others are angry about it and threatened by it. In this time of shaking, there are unchanging elements in worship that remain unshaken but music is not one of them.
It’s Happened Before
No one can doubt the power of King David’s music yet all that remains is the lyrical content. The mysterious musical instructions given before the psalms have no certain meaning for us today. A slow, centuries-long earthquake, barely perceptible to the human senses, saw this music crumble into nothingness.
Pope Gregory (596-604) sought to write down the music of the early church and he succeeded. Notation was born—a great gift of God to the church. But he couldn’t stop the tremors in society and the music of the people changed. So “church music” came to be, a music separated from the daily lives of the people and separated unto God. It was not the music of the people, it was the music of the priests and when it was sung it celebrated the visitation of God in previous centuries. Worshipers could enter another world through this music, another time and place. Gregorian Chant still has that effect today.
Throughout the centuries the forces of art and those of utility have pulled on church music. This tug-of-war moved worship music closer to composers and professionals in one era and closer to the people in another era. During the Protestant Reformation these forces led the Reformers to different conclusions about music.
- Luther wanted worship in the language of the people and he supported the use of the arts in worship.
- Calvin distrusted the arts in worship and insisted that only the Psalms be sung. But psalms had to be sung with “modern” music because David’s music and the music of Apostles no longer existed. In fact, the texts of the Psalms had to be re-written into modern poetic meter so that they would fit the contemporary music of the Reformation.
Times change and so does music and at an ever-quickening pace. Societal shifts that once took generations to complete are now seen in less than a decade. The earthquakes are coming faster and stronger. So, what can we hold on to that will not be shaken? The answer is in the verses quoted: There is a “Kingdom that cannot be shaken” and there are biblical elements of worship thanksgiving, reverence, awe and joy that will never change.
A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
The Kingdom of God is earthquake proof. As foundations give way, the kingdoms of man crumble but the Church Universal stands strong, built as it is, upon the Rock Christ Jesus. But what does that mean?
It means that while the tools of worship may wear out,
the work of worship never changes.
The TRUTH of the Kingdom of God never crumbles. The content of worship music is same from age to age. That’s why the Psalms have endured. They express who God is and who man is and these things do not change. As one style of music crumbles, another rises to take its place to express the great themes of Kingdom of God.
What are those unchanging themes? Among them are:
- The King Himself: The Lord Jesus. He is the content of the songs of worship as we proclaim His excellence just as Peter commands us. (I Peter 2:9)
- The Trinity: The Mystery of the Godhead. This revelation that defies mathematics and stirs our hearts is essential to Christian Worship. All doctrinal errors begin with the dissolution of the Trinity. We come to the Father though the Son by the Holy Spirit.
- The Word of God: Truth for the Ages. Worship songs should celebrate the Word of God, the eternal truths we live by and must use to lead the church. These don’t change with the styles.
- Prayer: Calling on God. Songs of prayer are called hymns (literal meaning of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”) in the Bible. These will always be a part of worship.
- The Sacraments: The Signs of the New Covenant. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have always been and always will be a part the Christian Community.
- The Mission: The Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Our mission remains to love God with everything within us and to live and tell His story to the world.
We can count on these. No matter how things may shake around us, the Mission, the Sacraments, Prayer, the Word, the Triune God and the Lord Jesus Himself form a Kingdom that cannot fall.
Biblical Elements of Worship.
Whatever the music may sound like, certain elements of worship are essential and will not be shaken.
- Thanksgiving is the gateway to the Lord’s Presence (Psalm 100:4) and always will be. This should always be the starting point for worship.
- Reverence is the fear of the Lord based two essentials, humility and a respect for the holy. God will always resist the proud and give grace to the humble. The Lord’s Day will always be holy, as will the places of worship God provides us.
- Awe is the worshipful response to the revelation to our hearts of who God is. True worship will always be a cycle of revelation and worship, revelation and worship.
- Joy and Rejoicing are not tangential, optional elements of worship—they are commanded, as in:
Nehemiah 8:10 NKJV
…for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Philippians 4:4 NKJV
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Psalm 100:1-3 NIV
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
No matter what form or sound the music may have, True Worship will always be marked by thanksgiving, reverence, awe, and joy,
So, what do we do when the music changes?
We let it change. No one has been able to stop it yet from King David to Pope Gregory, to Martin Luther to your pastor or board or bishop or superintendent. How could you or I ever stop it? But while it is changing, listen carefully for the unchanging things.
- Find songs about Jesus. Only he can unite the church.
- Keep an ear tuned for music of community (the Table) and of repentance and commitment to the Lord (Baptism).
- Seek out the songs of Thanksgiving, of Reverence, Awe and Joy.
- Search out the Prayer songs.
- Listen for praise songs to the Trinity, and most of all,
- Look for opportunities to sing the Word of God.
If you are diligent, you will find these things. You will find them because today’s songwriters are true to the ancient call of the Gospel Troubadour, to hear the song of heaven and sing it here on earth. This calling, too, has not changed. Their songs may sound different, have strange structures or a new turn of phrase, but the old, unchanging themes of the faith will be there. On a practical note: to ease the process of change, you can actually hook the new songs up with old songs that say the same thing.
When I hear the songs the millennial generation,
- I hear the great themes of the church: salvation by the blood, holiness, humility and seeking the face of God.
- I recognize the biblical texts I love: Hallelujah!, Praise the Lord!, Holy, holy, holy, Worthy is the Lamb and some new scriptures I never thought about singing.
- And I hear songs about Jesus, the same Jesus who found me a sinner and saved me; the same Jesus I want with all my heart to please; the same Jesus who is coming back with His reward in His hand.
And that is reason enough to rejoice and to sing along.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved