Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Traditional or Contemporary Music?

In a discussion on the Yahoo Groups Theology List, a couple of people have argued that it is only acceptable to use Traditional Music and Traditional Instruments in church.

I don't think that this argument is sustainable. I don't think it allows for the diversity in cultures in the church today. I understand that there are now more Christians in China than in any other country. After that comes Africa.

Does God expect them to sing old-fashioned British and American hymns only?

There are many kinds of music that I enjoy and some which I don't enjoy. But I can't say that the music which I enjoy is godly but the music which I don't enjoy is ungodly.

And I think it is also dangerous to say that the music which makes me feel spiritual [whatever that is] is acceptable to God and the music which leaves me cold is unacceptable.

I am a Bach lover and have recordings of all his extant works [not to mention other music that has been attributed to Bach]. Bach's music makes me feel religious, especially the vocal music, but it leaves others cold. Also, the music of his secular cantatas is often very similar to the music in his sacred cantatas. Cantatas about hunting or drinking coffee include music that is similar to, or even the same as music that is in a cantata in praise of the Holy Trinity.

I think music has associations which we have made and so may make us feel happy or excited or sexy, but I'm not sure it is the music itself which does this. My wife just remarked that music might make her feel sexy if she was close to me, but we aren't sure it is inherent in the sounds! [Nice when your wife whom you have been married to for 36 years says that!]

Some of what people say about music borders on racism, I think.

For many of us, it would be extremely difficult to praise God in the ancient music of Israel or in the music of other cultures.

I think it is legitimate to say that music which makes us focus on the sounds and forget the message can be inappropriate. Unfortunately, for many people this would include a lot of the supposedly kosher spiritual music, because it makes many people focus on the sounds, on their emotions and not truly on our God and Saviour.

For many people Handel's Messiah is a lovely concert and doesn't make them feel remotely like worshipping the God whom it tells us about. But when I am at a performance of this wonderful work which has been performed every year since its creation over 250 years ago, I stand up in the Hallelujah Chorus, not because an English king decided to stretch his legs while it was being sung: I'm standing up for the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" the magnificent anthem is written about.

Loud music which drowns out the message must be inappropriate, but this is not at all to say that we can't enjoying shouting to the Lord in joyful song.

I'm interested to know what is meant by Contemporary Christian Music. Would you include the wonderful songs of Stuart Townend? His music is actually "wordly", because it is based on Celtic folk music to some degree, but I don't believe that rules it out from being used in praise of God, because the words are terrific.

David McKay
Theologically trained music teacher.

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