Sing a New Song?

Sing a New Song? February 2, 2023

Sing a New Song?

I love satire, including Christian satire. I used to devour every issue of The Wittenburg Door (intentionally misspelled). Now I’ve moved on to Babylon Bee. Both are great Christian satire publications. Not that I agree with everything in them. But I think we evangelical Christians (and others) need jokers (jesters) among us to make us stop and re-think trends, fads and downright bad stuff happening among us.

As you long-time followers of my blog know, I am very strongly opposed to the contemporary fad of throwing out hymns in worship and substituting “songs” that really can only be sung well by performers—usually a worship band on the platform—with the congregations hardly able to sing at all (“concert style worship”).

Recentely Babylon Bee published this “news” article: “God Regrets Writing ‘Sing To The Lord A New Song’ After Hearing The New Songs Christians Are Singing.” I’m sure you can find the article using a search engine, but here is the link to it: https://babylonbee.com/news/bible-publishers-frantically-add-footnotes-to-sing-to-the-lord-a-new-song-command-after-hearing-new-songs-Christian’s-are-writing .

One thing that captures my attention and kind of amazed me is the one contemporary praise and worship song mentioned in the article is one my wife and I struggled to learn recently. I was asked to lead it in worship and, after trying to learn it, knew I couldn’t learn it or lead it and that most of the congregants couldn’t sing it. I agree (my opinion) with what the Babylon Bee says about it and I think that applies to many, perhaps most, of the recently written and performed “contemporary Christians songs.”

Am I just an old geezer, an old codger, an old fundy-daddy, a grumpy old man? Well, yes, probably, but I think there is a theological issue at stake in this paradigm change in Christian worship. I can say with some degree of confidence that many, perhaps most, of the newer songs have little or no theological content and are more like the Sunday School songs or Youth Group songs that we sang as children and youth in churches, at camps, in Youth for Christ “rallies,” etc.

I feel blessed that now, in my old age, retired, I am pastoring a church that allows me to choose the hymns every Sunday. And the church has a very good, older hymnal that is full of theologically-profound hymns and gospels songs. And the congregation sings them with gusto even when they don’t know them. They are easy to learn because they have tunes/melodies which many, perhaps most, of the “new songs” do not.

I love some of the newer hymns being written by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend. But I do NOT like some, probably most, of the new arrangements of old hymns being sung by praise and worship bands because they can’t be sung by ordinary people in the pews. They were composed for performance (e.g., by Casting Crowns) rather than for congregational singing.

A few years ago I visited a church where most of the congregation consisted of middle aged and older people. There was a sprinkling of youthful people in the congregation. The worship band seemed to pay no attention to whether the congregation sang along with them. One song they choose to sing was “One Day” (By early 20th century evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman). (“One day when heaven was filled with his praises….”) But the arrangement was new and, in my opinion, impossible to sing. Lots of bridges and no discernible melody. Nobody in the congregation sang, only the six members of the worship team on the platform.

I dared to approach the leader of the worship team after the service and asked if he would sit and talk with me for a few minutes. He agreed to and I asked him why they chose that version of the old hymn rather than the original tune? He was nonplussed. He didn’t know it was an old hymn. I sang part of it for him. He had no idea and had never heard of it or J. Wilbur Chapman, the “Billy Graham” of a century and more ago. His only answer to me was “Go ask Casting Crowns.” I would love to. Here would be my question: “Did you intend your new version of this great old hymn to be sung by congregations?” And if they said yes I would say “Well, I think you’re wrong. Most won’t be able to sing that.” Then I would compliment them on their creativity and innovation style (I have attended one of their concerts and enjoyed it), but tell them most people can’t sing their new arrangement of it.

I have seen some churches advertise their worship as “concert style.” I attended one large Nazarene church where the worship band was very energetic and had vapor rising behind them together with colored strobe-type lights on them. I made a point of looking all around the congregation and didn’t notice anyone singing with them.

That is the trend now. And I think it is so different from anything I recognize as “my Christian worship” — of my youth and young adulthood—that I wonder if it is even continuous with that in any way, shape or form. I feel like this is a new Christianity, largely devoid of doctrine, theology, biblical lyrics and images, etc. I learned theology from the hymnal when I was growing up—as well as in Sunday School and sermons. In fact, the hymnal was our “book of confessions.” My father, the pastor, used the hymns to teach doctrine, theology, and spirituality. We, the kids and youth, had our own Sunday School classes and youth meetings where we sang our ditties, but rarely were those sung in the worship services of the church.

Paradigm change can be a good thing for Christians, especially in church styles of polity and practice, so long as the new paradigms are biblical and faithful to the Great Tradition of Christian belief and practice. But I fear the new “youth-oriented churches” of today are shifting too far, at least too far away from “my evangelical Christianity” that thrived on congregational singing.

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