More than 10 years ago, a friend gave me a small metal sign that merely says "It's All Good." I've had it in different places in my house -- my study, the laundry room, the kitchen -- but currently, it is on the wall in the garage and has become the reminder Steve and I see when we pull our cars in from the driveway.
Recently, I sat in a worship service and heard a drum set on one side of the platform and a magnificent pipe organ on the other. Between them were woodwinds, brass, and possibly a guitar. I saw them all and thought, "They are all good." No one was trying to dominate. They weren't jockeying for position. Their focus was on harmony, blend, balance, and excellence.
A 60-voice choir was in the loft singing (including 26 men -- hallelujah!) and a 5-person praise team stood beside the director. All were lifting their voices in praise to God, and "it was all good."
We stood for some of the songs. We sat for some of the songs and rose to our feet when the words and music moved us. "It was all good."
Some worshippers sang with tears pouring down their cheeks. Others responded by lifting their hands. "It was all good."
(3 of my granddaughters in a program at their church a few years ago)
My church is currently in the midst of turmoil about worship style preferences, and it saddens me.
I have been surrounded by "church music" since I was born. We actually had 2 Hammond organs and a piano in our living room for a few years when I was young. My dad played by ear, and my mom had taken lessons and could play passably. They started taking me to piano lessons when I was 7. My first experience trying to play a hymn happened one night when my mom and my Aunt Gloria were rehearsing a duet and needed me to help them with their parts. The song was "He Lifted Me." Do you remember it? "In loving kindness, Jesus came my soul in mercy to reclaim. And from the depths of sin and shame, through grace He lifted me." I can't remember the last time I heard that in church, but I'll never forget that night at the piano.
We sat near the front of the church when I was growing up at First Baptist Athens, and I watched with amazement as Martha McCartney on the piano and Gloria Haye on the organ played. I couldn't wait to be able to do that. We moved to Troy, I kept taking lessons, and by the time I was in high school, I was playing for youth choir and Sunday night services.
Fast forward to majoring in piano performance at Samford and being the organist at First Baptist Trussville, then marrying Steve, finishing my degree at Auburn and playing for the First Independent Methodist Church of Auburn. We moved to Hartselle, joined First Baptist, and within a year, they needed a pianist. I was in that position for almost 15 years. Later, I was asked to be the organist at Central Baptist in Decatur, so we were there for 10 years. Steve and I chaperoned youth groups our children were a part of to concerts by Carmen, 4Him, DC Talk, and many others. They graduated and married, and we headed to Ecuador to be missionaries. While we were in Ecuador, we witnessed an exuberance in worship that moved us, and often for my personal time with the Lord, I listened to recordings by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. All this to say I have been around a LOT of church music in my 71 years. So many styles. So many great influences. I LOVE hymns, but I have found real value in much music written for the purpose of expressing praise and worship to God.
When did WE decide that only "the old hymns" were valuable?
When did WE decide which instruments were acceptable for accompanying worship music and which were not?
When did WE decide that choirs were better than praise teams or gospel quartets?
Does God get a vote?
A few years ago, I was in the choir at First Baptist Athens, and our music minister was Ryan Leffel. He led us in a program he called The Colossians 3:16 Project based on the verse: "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." In the second program of the series, the theme was "Honor Him with Hymns." We sang some beautiful arrangements, and he read very insightful narration he had researched and written.
Let me share with you the words in his conclusion. They are SO important. PLEASE read it. I believe you'll find some surprising facts.
Much has been made about the worship music of the church over the last several decades. As I have studied the history of Christian song, I have learned that every generation has had its own “worship wars.” Hymns were first rejected in favor of strict metrical Psalm singing. Gospel hymns and songs were criticized for their lack of depth and simplicity. Modern worship music is criticized and rejected because of its repetition, lack of depth, and instrumentation. Every generation seems to be critical of the music of its own time.
Isaac Watts, the Father of English Hymnody wrote nearly 700 hymns.
Joy to the World, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed.
As a teenager, Watts complained about the singing in his church to his father, and his father told him to write something better. The next week he presented his first hymn to the church.
As an adult he continued to complain, “to see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”
Though German Lutherans had been singing hymns for 100 years, John Calvin had urged his followers to sing only metrical psalms; English Protestants had followed Calvin’s lead. Watts’s 1707 publication of Hymns and Spiritual Songs technically wasn’t a collection of hymns or metrical psalms, but it was a collection of consequence. In fact, it contained what would become some of the most popular English hymns of all time, such as “When I survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Watts didn’t reject metrical psalms; he simply wanted to see them more impassioned. “They ought to be translated in such a manner as we have reason to believe David would have composed them if he had lived in our day,” he wrote. Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament followed in 1719.
Church members protested Watts’s writing of the Psalms. One protester said, “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy.” Others dubbed the new songs “Watts’s whims.”
The controversy split churches including the one that John Bunyan had pastored.
The issue spread to the new world in 1789 when Rev. Adam Rankin told the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, meeting in Philadelphia: “I have ridden horseback all the way from my home in Kentucky to ask this body to refuse the great and pernicious error of adopting the use of Isaac Watts’ hymns in public worship in preference to the Psalms of David.”
2 Letter about the music selection
“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”
This letter was written in 1863 and the song they were concerned about was the hymn “Just As I Am.”
“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn. Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. The tune was un-singable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”
This letter was written in 1890 about the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
So you see the “worship wars” you think are new are not so new. Every generation faces the same challenges. I believe it comes down to an issue of the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, You shall love your neighbor's music as you love your own if it draws them to a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what is on my mind today. Some of you will agree. Some will vehemently disagree. As long as we can continue to love and respect each other, "it's all good."
1 Peter 1:3 -- "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation,"