Speaking from my own heart now, on style . . . following three installments from Erik Routley on contemporary “pop” styles from decades ago. . . .
I might still perk up when song quality is the subject of Christian discussion, but, frankly, I grew weary of assessments of musical style several years ago. ¹
In my corner of Christendom, I was part of the move toward including contemporary music before it was common knowledge that there were “worship wars” going on, and I stayed in those trenches for a decade or more. I went to conferences, and I consumed music products, and I thought, and I wrote. I wrote and arranged songs, and I wrote letters and e-mails to others, in dialogue about songs and the worship of the church. I published a digest on worship (a good deal of material about church music) that ended up going to a mailing list of nearly 200. I visited churches of other stripes . . . oh, did I visit churches . . . sometimes 2 or 3 in a day. I created transparencies (later, PowerPoints) and supplemental songbooks. (A finance/treasurer deacon-friend expressed a little good-natured jealousy, because he perceived I was deacon-ing in ways that mattered more for the kingdom than the things he, the official deacon, was doing.)
Now, my eyes gloss over when people talk enthusiastically about new songs (or older songs, for that matter). The new songs I’ve seen used haven’t done anything more for the souls, over the long haul, than the good, older songs had. I mentally and spiritually turn away from any discussions in which believers even begin to hint that one style group might be set over another. It’s all so terribly “old hat.” Often, those discussing things like this don’t even know whereof they speak, anyway.
Yeah, there’s that “cultural relevance” thing, but I find no lasting value in the pursuit of contemporary music. Nor do I find that the tiny number of stalwarts who have steadfastly dug in around true hymns are any more spiritually minded, overall, than the other group. This latter group is probably more classy and more staid (read: less likely to have body piercings or tattoos or to wear skinny jeans), but not necessarily more God-minded. I certainly reserve no first-class berth on the kingdom train for those who were weaned on Stamps-Baxter music or who find 19th-century gospel songs and heaven songs to express soul-longings better than either the “contemporary” type or the “hymn” type.
While I was more actively advocating songs written in our era, I never abandoned a love of the time-tested poetry of hymns. (Here, “hymns” refers to a large group of songs that excludes gospel songs with a “refrain” or “chorus.”) I miss the full-hearted, full-harmonied singing of the likes of . . .
O Sacred Head
Lord of All Being, Throned Afar
Father of Mercies
Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love
Holy, Holy, Holy
In fact, my weary soul longs for songs like those. Remember, please, that I love some of the newer songs, and I advocated them for quite a while. I’ve written more songs myself in a contemporary Christian style than in a hymnic style. But the above songs are what my soul needs now. They also happen to be hymns in every sense of the word. I wouldn’t say that all the musical particulars of all those songs are equal in terms of quality, but they are of similar musical style and form. And I miss them, because no one sings them, and I miss them. (Did I mention that I miss them?)
B. Casey, 5/17/15
[To be continued]
¹ There are other subjects of which I’m just as weary, for different reasons. Try women’s roles, sermons, fellowship meals, church signs, and the King James version, for starters.