In many U.S. churches today, worship musicians bang the drums for God and singers croon as if Christ were their boyfriend. Bye-bye to Be Thou My Vision, a sixth-century Irish hymn with century-old English lyrics. Godspeed, Amazing Grace. Nearly 50% of Protestant churches now say they use electric guitars or drums in worship, up from nearly 35% in 2000, according to the recently released Faith Communities Today study of 14,000 congregations.
But just because you don't like the tune doesn't mean it's theologically incorrect, says Rick Muchow, music pastor for the Saddleback Church founded by evangelist Rick Warren. "The Bible does not have an official soundtrack." The nation's fifth-largest Protestant church, with nine satellite locations, runs several concurrent worship services Sunday mornings at its main site in Lake Forest, Calif., each with a different genre of music. Good News Baptist Church fights the tide of contemporary music with a traditional choir. Muchow lists: a Gospel praise service; a "straight-ahead rock" called Overdrive; one called Fuel that's "geared to 20-somethings with more alternative music"; and a Traditions service with piano and a singer. Traditions is the only service using hymnals.
In the vast main worship center, however, the sound is "radio-style contemporary Christian with a small rhythm section," maybe an orchestra or choir now and then, and big screens beaming down the words to be sung by praise choruses, Muchow says. "There are all different kinds of churches for different kinds of people. We don't worship music, we worship God," Muchow says.
Only a fool would suggest that only music from one era or of one particular "style" is suitable for worship but hideously missing from this article is any discussion of the content and the power of music to steal the imagery away from the content or to detour it. In every discussion of church music appropriate to the worship service (and, I would argue, the individual soundscapes or soundtracks of Christians), what we hear is neither neutral nor equally suitable for the expression of the Gospel. When we have it right, the content (doctrine and not mere feelings from us) and melody form a common unit in which each work together for the same goal. Is this not why certain hymns endure and become part of the beloved musical fabric of Christianity. Listen to Mozart's Ave Verum or to Bach's Magnificat or to Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God or to Gruber's Silent Night and you see how these work together.
Banging the drums for God and singers crooning as if Christ were their boyfriend will not and cannot replace the Church Music of early and late that understands that the medium glorifies God only when it speaks His Word and communicates the Law and the Gospel -- with appropriate expression of our grateful and joyful response of faith and trust. When the focus is on the players or the singers and when they steal the stage from the Gospel (by word or visual focus), you have to wonder what the real reason of this music is... We don't worship music, we worship God.... that, Mr. Muchow, is exactly the point!