As though I hadn’t done this enough already, I’m gonna commence to “preach” again — to a crowd that is probably not reading, making what I’m about to say pointless. . . .
This first admonition is to all the vocalists in “worship teams” (why the ever-present sports reference?) and “praise bands”: if you’re really in touch, all “realed up” and sensitized to your contemporaneity and communications, you won’t cover your face with a microphone. To me, covering your face with as much of the mic as possible is analogous to wearing a hood over your head when a) it’s not cold and b) you’re not outside. Obscuring your face with the mic makes you look like you’re hiding something. Yeah, it’s a style thing, and style is always related to taste. I get that, and I’ll be outvoted on this by all but the stodgiest of my friends (my age or younger). I still think covering some of your communicators up, when you’re supposed to be communicating, makes little sense.
P.S. I searched pages of Google’s “pop singer” images and never did find an example of what I’m talking about. (But I think you, my readers, will know.) Apparently, singers and Google both know to choose better images — those that display the entire face. On a whim, I searched “rap artists” and found these.
Back to music style now. . . .
A few months back, a younger acquaintance recently commented on the so-called “worship wars” and mentioned a time frame of the last decade. Given his age, his perspective is limited to about a half-dozen years of actual experience, and he wisely expanded that by a few years to be inclusive of history he has not experienced. My timetable’s length is more than double his when I speak of style changes in worship and assemblies.¹ I have experienced about twenty years of what he thinks of as ongoing for only ten; moreover, I’m aware that style changes were afoot before I personally became involved and attentive. Style is always with us. (Ever heard that John Calvin [I think it was] outlawed “those Geneva Jigs” that others might have called “spiritual songs” — because they weren’t in his favored style and didn’t have strictly biblical texts?)
I have little comparatively little concern over contemporaneity in music. Although I don’t go out of my way to be archaic, whether an expression is hip or in any way current is far less important than whether its content is relevant to people. Real people — those who live real lives and are more concerned with real situations than a surface-level “keep it real” might indicate — will be drawn to meaningful, genuine content.² I recently came upon some unfamiliar hymn words that struck me as very meaningful, although a couple centuries out of date in terms of the surface-level style. What do I do with that discovery? Well, not a lot, really, but I surely wish more people would be more interested in such good content than in mere style.
What do I mean by good content? Well, just like style, content is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Check out the words below from Bob Kauflin, a contemporary song writer, describing an album he and his group had produced. Here, Kauflin draws attention to content over style:
Many of the lyrics on this CD were written long ago by men and women who loved God deeply and wanted to give the church tools for knowing and worshiping Him. So they wrote hymns. We want to benefit from and emulate their example.
Hymns focus on rich lyrical content, giving us a feast for the mind which leads to a feast for the heart. The music and melodies may change to communicate more effectively with each generation, but the biblical truths they proclaim remain constant and must not be lost.
The word “hymn,” often associated with supposedly moldy songs of past centuries (in other words, labeling age and neither style nor content), is better used to describe
- musical style
- lyrical content, and/or
… as opposed to merely commenting on how old the song is. These days, quite a few “contemporary hymn writers” such as Kauflin and the Gettys and Stuart Townend, are standing up to advocate good, “hymnlike” depth and quality, and I applaud them. They are writing what have been called “modern hymns for the church.”
I trust that the closure of this mini-series with some lyrics that are rich in content will highlight some truly worthy thoughts. The excerpts below come from several centuries, including the last couple of decades. These communicate real truths and relevant, God-honoring worship and edification for any generation. At times, style-consciousness may lead to updating a few words and some of the music. But, as Kauflin says, “The biblical truths they proclaim remain constant. . . .”
Lord of all being, throned afar, Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Center and soul of ev’ry sphere, yet to each loving heart how near!
Lord of all life, below, above, Whose light is truth, Whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever-blazing throne we ask no luster of our own.
- O.W. Holmes, 19C
By faith we see the hand of God in the light of creation’s grand design,
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness, who walk by faith and not by sight.
We will stand as children of the promise;
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward,
Till the race is finished and the work is done,
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.
- Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, 21C
O Thou fount of blessing, purify my spirit, trusting only in Thy merit.
Like the holy angels who behold Thy glory, may I ceaselessly adore Thee,
And in all, great and small, seek to do most nearly what Thou lovest dearly.
- G. Tersteegen, 18C
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my god and King, the triumphs of His grace!
- Charles Wesley, 18C
In beholding the glorious Son,
My eyes see the Magnificent One,
And His splendor, as bright as the Sun,
Reveals me: I am undone.
- Brian Casey, 20C
Jesus, Thy name I love
All other names above.
Jesus, my Lord.
O Thou art all to me.
Nothing to please I see —
Nothing apart from Thee —
Jesus, my Lord.
- James G. Deck, 19C
How deep the Father’s love for us!
How vast beyond all measure –
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
- S. Townend, 20C
Father and Friend, Thy light, Thy love beaming through all Thy works we see.
Thy glory gilds the heavens above, and all the earth is full of Thee.
Thy voice we hear, Thy presence feel, while Thou, too pure for mortal sight,
Enwrapt in clouds invisible, reignest the Lord of life and light.
Thy children shall not faint nor fear, sustained by this delightful thought:
Since Thou, their God, art everywhere, they cannot be where Thou art not.
J. Bowring, 19C
From life’s first cry till final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
- K. Getty and S. Townend, 21C
¹ Worship is primarily a verb and should be conceived of differently from “the assembly” (gathering or meeting) of Christians. Neither is “worship” synonymous with what is so often called “the service.” Worship and service are certainly not the same thing, and the historically attested, yet conceptually illegitimate use of the term “service” doesn’t even enter the picture here. A few prior writings in this topical area reside here, here and here.
² Transparently, I would add that I don’t always feel the same way when dealing with Bible translations as I do when in the musical arena. I don’t have much patience with outmoded, oblique, obscure wordings when we’re trying to study scriptures, but I think there’s a bit more value to the aesthetic and artistic quality of song lyrics. Artful wordings tend to be heavier on aesthetic beauty than on trendiness.