Worship at Redeemer, NYC
Yesterday I posted a link to an excellent article by Tim Keller, lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who writes about evangelistic worship. It is worth reading his thought-provoking words on this important topic. You’ll find my thoughts below:
Keller begins his article by looking at contemporary worship. In another blog, you can read my thoughts on what he has to say about what he calls historic worship (some would call it Traditional worship). Here’s my response to his points on contemporary worship:
First, says Keller, some of the music that is composed for contemporary worship actually does the opposite of its intended effect. Although the composers of contemporary worship music almost certainly hope to compose music that helps to facilitate worship, some current music chokes the life out of the spirit of worship. If contemporary worship music is shallow in its thoughts, sentimental in its feelings, clumsy in its poetry, or awkward in its melody then it will probably stand in the way of true worship. The congregation will focus on the poor quality of the song, rather than on the glory of God.
My thoughts: This criticism may also be applied to some historic hymns, too, if they are dull, dreary, or awkward. So, what is the point of any song that the congregation sings during the worship service? It has to help people worship the God they love.
Next, Keller notes that Christianity has an incredibly rich tradition which a church may lose contact with, if the congregation only sings current music. Keller observes, ‘Part of the richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people. An unwillingness to consult tradition is not in keeping with either Christian humility or Christian community. Nor is it a thoughtful response to the post-modern rootlessness which now leads so many to seek connection to ancient ways and peoples.’
My thoughts: This is a great point. The Church not only includes people from around the world, it also includes people from every period of time. Everyone who has responded to the Good News by receiving Christ as their Lord and Saviour is part of God’s immediate, adopted family. The hard truth is that current Christian music just on its own cannot possibly convey how large and rich and abundant the church is.
But let’s not forget the reverse. Historic hymns have similar restrictions because they, too, are bound to a specific time, place, and style—albeit their time is usually the period between 1650 and 1950; their place of origin is usually Europe or North America; and their style is often a mirror of the style of the culture at large of the period in which they were composed.
Finally, a worship service that is strictly contemporary will become dated pretty quickly. Besides, Keller asks, when Christians talk about the contemporary style, which one do they mean? Do they mean the ‘white, black, Latin, urban, suburban, boomer, or the Gen-X’ version of contemporary culture?
My Thoughts: Keller mentions that a church has to work especially hard if it makes contemporary music and dramatic arts the centre of their Sunday morning worship service. Port Elgin U.C. doesn’t currently put those things at the centre of its worship. Yes, our 9 AM service features contemporary music. But most of the songs are ‘standard’ now. Keller, I think, is speaking of churches that keep their music current, as in up-to-the-minute. So, I’m not sure that this point pertains to us.
Keller makes some good points in his assessment of contemporary worship. These are points to ponder as our congregation plans for the future. In Evangelistic Worship—Part Two, I’ll look at historic (traditional) worship.