There’s a line of thinking from those who prefer traditional forms of worship/music that goes something like this:
Contemporary worship is like dessert. It’s sweet, appealing, and easy, but not long-lasting. It might bring people in, but it won’t keep them nourished. It might bring immediate satisfaction, but it isn’t healthy. Traditional worship and more classical forms of music are more like a feast. It’s like the difference between plasticware and fine china. Traditional hymns and classical instrumentation require a more refined, mature, and discerning pallet. We can’t have the sounds of the world in our church services. We must move people beyond the dessert and into the feast. Only then will our congregations experience the “real thing”.
On the flip side, there’s a line of thinking from those who prefer contemporary forms of worship/music that goes something like this:
Traditional worship is all religion, all ritual, and all routine. Classical forms of music are irrelevant to most people in our culture, and the traditional hymns don’t engage people’s hearts like contemporary songs do. No one can relate to choirs, organs, hymns, or hymnals. If you want to help people really worship – not just with their minds but with their hearts – you’ll use the more accessible contemporary songs. And if you want to draw in the younger generation, you’ll use the kinds of music they’re used to hearing. Contemporary music feeds people and meets people where they are. Traditional worship starves people and leaves them cold.
I’ve heard both of these arguments for almost my entire life. My guess is that most of you have too, and you’ve probably made one (or both) of these arguments at one point or another. The problem, of course, is that they’re both ridiculously off-base.
Why? Because Jesus is the feast.
Few issues generate as much passion and division as the topic of music in the church. And for generations, scores of well-meaning and godly people have come down on all sides of the “is music neutral” or “is music non-neutral” argument. I tried to tackle some of this several years ago in my most “Handiwork and Jesus” but for now I want to make one simple point and give one simple reminder:
Jesus is the feast. And music is a tool.
Music is not the feast. Our choirs, organs, harpsichords, festivals, liturgy, and soloists are not the feast. Our bands, screens, effects, lights, state-of-the-art worshiptoriums, and worship leaders are not the feast. When they are, and when we make them to be, then of course we can exalt or put-down the lesser-feast that we see down the road (or down the church hallway at the alternate service).
The Church must never forget that Jesus is the feast. Music (traditional or contemporary or hipster or whatever) is just a tool. A passing tool. A tool that will inevitably look like bell-bottoms to some future generation. But Jesus never fades, changes, or disappoints. Jesus always satisfies. May our churches embrace a confident, wide-range, biblical, and whole-hearted embrace of all sorts of styles of music as we seek to exalt and point to the One who calls us to feast on him.
36 thoughts on “Jesus Is The Feast”
Rez Band sang that Jesus was The Living Ark. 🙂
He is also our Feast…
That said, both forms of Worship are agreeable to me.
But, as commercialism continues to overwhelm the Contemporary scene I am starting to miss the Scripture choruses of the Jesus Movement and early Hillsongs.
There is so much radio air play making its way into Sanctuary Worship that I am quite frustrated with it all. It’s hard to sing, twisty phrasing or cute phrasing has, IMHO, no place in sanctuary worship.
Neither does songs that are sung only in a key that accentuates the gifted singer and leaves the congregation left standing silent.
Lastly, while I am venting, songs that have solo versing aren’t really congregational worship songs, either.
Maybe this 62 year old has been, can sing all the new stuff, if his voice is in perfect shape and I have time to really learn the song.
But, when my voice is ‘perfect’ isn’t where the congregation can sing it anyway…
And, we wonder why the congregation isn’t entering in?
We have an incredible talented, expressive Praise Team who exemplifies Excellence. But, I just feel “left behind” right now.
(Must be getting old…)
Sign me SpiritualMadMan 🙂
What happened to using Facebook or Discuss to log-in to comment?
I used Facebook to log in to comment on this post… seems to be there still.
To your point however… I’ve found the same to be true, and I’m only half your age. I don’t think the fault lies with the folks writing and singing the songs though… they are recording artists first, who happen to sing songs that glorify God. Its ironic that in our race to make “church” music accessible (i.e, contemporary), we may have inadvertently made it inaccessible (i.e, participatory) to the vast majority of our congregants.
We need to recognize that the companies whose mission used to be to provide musical resources to the church have (in most cases) been purchased by the major labels in the last 15 years. There mission is no longer to provide resources to the church, but to sell records. Resourcing the church is a secondary objective, and is viewed primarily as a way to advertise. This is not evil. Its just reality. We need to deal with it.
There are a few steps we can take to help remedy the problem:
1) Lower the keys of the song to standard congregational ranges. In many cases, this takes care of the problem.
2) Be more selective in which new songs we do for congregational singing.
3) Please, please, please stop singing all the ad libs from the original recording. Its no longer ad libbing when we do this! (This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Another; I remember in the late 90s when the “british worship invasion” was first starting and everybody would pronounce the songs like Matt Redman and Tim Hughes. Drove me nuts!) Simplify the melody, don’t make it more complicated by singing all the ad libs.
4) Don’t retire songs so quickly. If we allow great songs form the 90s and early aughts to remain in our repertoire, we don’t need to add as many new songs. This allows us to be more selective in which new songs we do. And if we do retire a song, perhaps it only needs to be for a year or so, and then we can bring it back.
5) If the second verse of a song doesn’t add something absolutely vital lyrically, don’t do it. Just repeat the first verse again, and then get out of the song sooner.
Just some thoughts.
“I don’t think the fault lies with the folks writing and singing the songs though… they are recording artists first, who happen to sing songs that glorify God.”
This is a great point Anthony. I think it’s a good thing to remember to when choosing songs for the congregation to sing. Sometimes I feel, despite the beauty and theological sound message of a song, it clearly was written as an expression of the artist for a specific place and time, but doesn’t make sense when sung by 300 people on any given Sunday. That’s not a knock on the song or artist because he or she wasn’t writing it to be sung during corporate worship in the first place.
Great reminder! The actual music will always be only a tool, a vehicle, a medium, a palette of colors, etc… the lyrics of course, are another matter entirely.
More frequently, I’ve heard the complaint that contemporary music is devoid of lyrical substance. Anyone who attempts to make that claim across the board is either being deceptive, or has never been exposed to Matt Redman, Paul Baloche, Jon Egan, or a host of other contemporary songwriters.
However, its useful to take that critique into account when selecting our music, regardless of whether it is traditional or contemporary. Does this song merely stir up emotions through repetition and the use of harmonics and instrumentation, or does this song actually feed us with the Word of God? There’s room for both, of course, but we need to make sure that we’re not ONLY selecting songs of the former variety. I know I’ve been guilt of that in the past.
Excellent post. As a follow up, please consider the problem of the extent to which our music (and other “tools”) actually serve to distract from Jesus, our feast.
Great points! There’s no reason a church can’t use both traditional and contemporary music in its services, while keeping the focus on Jesus.
I chuckled when I read the one “argument” for contemporary church music – “And if you want to draw in the younger generation, you’ll use the kinds of music they’re used to hearing.”
My first thought was…does the “younger generation” really just adore the “adult contemporary” genre? Whenever I hear that argument, usually made by a baby boomer, I wonder…does this guy/gal even know what kids are listening to these days? Pssst…it’s not Michael Bolton.
Music is not a tool. Music is a gift. Music is inherently valuable because it comes from a Good Giver. It exists in heavenly eternity. It is not a human invention like a hammer. It is a spiritual language that we have the privilege of learning to speak.
Regarding music as a “passing tool” leads to fruitless debates about musical styles in Christian worship circles. Regarding music as a gift gives your freedom to create and appreciate the wonderful, diverse, beautiful reality that is music.
Jesus is the feast, and He gave us the beautiful language of music to articulate our praise to Him. Please consider this, brother…music is a gift, not a tool!
Thanks, Nate. Music most certainly is a gift from God. But it’s also a tool. Yes, we’ll continue to make music in heaven (and probably use hammers too), but as for earthly genres and classifications and fads, those things will come and go, until one day we keep enjoying this gift of music (and seeing it used as a tool) to the glory of God throughout eternity.
We will not see music used as a tool in heaven (thank God) because the sly human intent to “use” music (whether for noble or corrupt ends) will be gone. Music is pure gift we are invited to create with, not a tool for us to use as a means to an end. Music glorifies God without any help from us.
Nate, I appreciate your passion on this issue and your helpful contributions to this discussion! I’ll be contributing more to this discussion in a post over the next several days. But for now, let me say that I hear where you’re coming from, and I’m afraid you’re (a) setting up a false dichotomy between music being a good gift from God and a tool we can use for his glory, (b) reading a negative connotation into the word “tool” that’s not inherently there, and (c) assuming that something being a tool and a gift is mutually exclusive. Music is such a wonderful gift. Praise God for it. We’ll enjoy it for all eternity. And it’s also a wonderful tool we can use to bring glory to God, and to preach the gospel. Again, I’ll add more later on, and for now will leave it at that. Thanks again.
I think that’s the whole point of the discussion. Stores and the secular community use Music as a tool to enhance selling power and influence thinking.
While Music *is* a heavenly gift. Many churches are not using it as a Gift from God we render back to God in Worship.
They are using it merely as a tool to increase bodies and give an emotional high to their congregants.
Something which is very dangerous to the soul because it leaves us feeling encouraged and fulfilled without any changes on the inside.
This discussion could get awfully pedantic, but here goes :)…
What about Spiritual Gifts? Are they not tools that God gives us to edify His body? The fact that God gives us something as a gift in no way changes its nature as a tool. As Nate said, “It is a spiritual language that we are privileged to speak.” Well, ok. Language itself is simply a tool that allows us to communicate more freely.
A tool isn’t defined by being something man-made. If you pick up a rock and use it to hammer a stake into the ground, the rock becomes a tool. A tool is something that we use to achieve a goal. A tool isn’t diminished because it is a tool. In fact, we are all tools that God uses to accomplish His will. Are we diminished because of this? No! The fact that we are tools in His hands in no way means that we are not ALSO his beloved children. And the fact that music can be used as a tool to help people enter into God’s presence doesn’t mean that it is not ALSO a gift from God. Of course it is! God gives us gifts to accomplish His purpose. In that respect, EVERY gift that God gives us is a tool.
I do not believe that viewing music as a “passing tool” causes fruitless debate; I believe the inherent selfishness of the human condition is what causes that. People want what they want, and if they don’t like something, they fight against something out of their own preferences and desires rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Anyway, my main point is that referring to music as a “tool” in no way diminishes its dual nature as a spiritual language. Especially considering that language itself is a tool, along with all the spiritual gifts listed in the bible. God gives great gifts, and frequently those gifts are tools meant to edify the body.
With this analogy in mind, aren’t some “tools” better than others at accomplishing a specific task. If I needed to sink a nail into a 2×4, I would choose a hammer not a screwdriver. If I got creative I might be able to use the screwdriver to sink the nail, but it simply wouldn’t be as efficient as a hammer. Isn’t the same true of songs? Some songs are simply better “tools” for magnifying the worth and beauty of Jesus than others. All songs are not created equal.
With music it’s a very thin line between soul lifting worship and entertainment. Once that line is crossed, we lose the God given purpose of the music. By the way, in scripture, there is no such thing as the gift of worship (or worship leader). Every redeemed child of God is called upon to worship.
Yes, Jesus. He is all.
Each time I am in a different context (home church, new church, college campus, around a campfire, mega church, tiny church…) it is my own heart that makes or breaks the worship experience. I may raise my hands to an accapela hymn, or an overdone contemporary worship song because my heart and mind are focused on Him. He is worthy. My thoughts resonate with Christ; His Spirit teaches and inspires me.
I may stand, or sit, eyes down, heart wrestling, annoyed by every distraction…when my mind and heart are weighed by sin or neglect, feeling far from Jesus. As a worshipper and sometimes worship leader, I’ve always thought the core of these arguments, either way, is human pride.
Amen, Jamie! Jesus is the feast. And how wonderful it is experience the feast side by side worshiping Him. Love to your family!
Jamie, Anthony, jch:
Music as a gift — It is an invention of God. It is eternal. It is inherently valuable and transcendent (no matter how we “create” with it).
Music as a tool — It is an invention of man. It is temporary. It’s value and transcendence are dependent on how well we “use” it.
I agree that Jesus is the feast. But understanding music as a “tool” (or people as “tools,” Anthony) diminishes its value. Music and people are index “purposeful,” but best recognized as “gifts.” This may seem like semantics, but it’s not.
I would drop the word “tool” from my Christian vocabulary unless you are referencing a power drill or a tape measure.
What else would you point to as a gift on a par with music? Would speech be equally “inherently valuable?” How about dance? Art in general? Or maybe it’s other forms of ministry that rise to this level of inherent value?
I’d just like to better understand where you’re coming from. Questions sometimes help.
Sorry, see below. I posted in the wrong spot.
I must confess that I am a musician, so my thoughts on “music as gift” come from personal experience and reflection.
I do think language (or “speech”) would be comparable to music. Like music, language is not a human invention (though we “create” with it). Language is eternal. Language is inherently valuable and intended for much, much more than the simple utilitarian function of “conveying information.” Language is a gift that enables us to manifest invisible realities (emotion, spirit, mind) and to transmit culture and community. And finally, like music, language is often “used” by Christians as a mere “tool” for spreading information (and is degraded in the process.)
God’s “Word/word” is inseparable from His character and creative action. He speaks promises that carry the weight of His character and will. Therefore, our use of language, particularly in the Church, should be (and historically has been) treated with deep reverence and careful precision. In the Reformed tradition, of which I am part, the verbal proclamation (and audible receiving) of the Gospel is the core of the worship experience. Language is seen as a gift that carries the mysteries of God to the hearts of believers.
I don’t think dance would be comparable to music. Music is affirmed in the scriptures as an integral part of the life and worship of a Christ-follower in a way that dance is not (though dance is affirmed). However, the “arts” in general (dance included) have been, and will be, a central and necessary part of the Christian experience. I exaggerate slightly, but I believed in the Church’s art before I believed in the Church’s Lord. And I venture to say that art, like music, exists in eternity.
T, to what “other forms of ministry” were you referring? Artistic forms? Or spiritual gifts?
Thanks for giving me an excuse to ramble. 🙂
Thanks for elaborating. Next question: does mathematics have inherent value? It’s been called the language of science, it captures an aspect of the faithfulness of God in the way His creation is structured. It’s the language through which we design aircraft that take the gospel to remote areas. And the connection between math and music had been explored for many centuries by masters of both areas. So again, would mathematics have inherent value just like music?
I don’t know.
I find the view of things that are used for a purpose as degrading is… troubling, Nate. It seems like you a placing a perjorative connotation on the word tool that neither the word (nor the Word) nor the OP is placing on it.
I believe that neither the OP , nor any professional linguist or trained theologian would view the word “tool” in such a derogative fashion. You seem to however, so we will need to agree to disagree. That being said, I don’t think what you are saying is at all in conflict with either the OP or my comments. I certainly view music as a gift from God, and find it to be one of the most important pieces in my walk with Christ. But it is not central. Christ is the center. The music doesn’t matter at all if it doesn’t draw me closer to Him. It has no inherent value on its own. Nothing does. Only what draws me to Christ has value. Everything else is dross, as scripture says. When I use the word tool, along with the OP, I think this is how we are both meaning it.
The value in something doesn’t come with it being a tool or a gift (assuming those two things are separate) but in its usefulness in drawing me closer to Christ. It has no value outside of this context, because NOTHING is of eternal value outside of this context.
It think the “sense” is that anyone can go out and make or buy a “tool” all by themselves, and a Gift is given by someone else…
In my case I see Music as a gift from God to His Church to be given freely back to God.
But, music is also a Science, and therefore also a tool.
And, when viewed or used as a tool can be abused.
In this sense when we do not approach music reverently as a gift from God it then can become a tool that is bought and sold or even co-opted.
Agree to disagree.
I define “tool” as a man-made creation that serves a temporary, utilitarian purpose and is valued according to its effectiveness. I think that is a sound definition. Music does not meet that definition.
And having purpose is not degrading. I didn’t write that. But using things as tools that are not by definition tools is degrading.
I think we do agree on many things mentioned here, but this is apparently not one of them.
Jamie I am sorry for this incredibly long comment. And, I know that your primary readers are probably not Charismatic or Pentecostal like myself. But, you really got me thinking with your posts. But, here goes… 🙂 Originally posted to FB
The other morning at church we sang a song that included the lyrics “Greater works than these shall be done, in this city”.
I’ve been thinking a *lot* about that lately. Especially, after Jamie’s latest “Worthily Magnify” post, “Jesus is the Feast”.
Greater Works than what?!?!?
I can’t remember the last time I heard of something truly miraculous happening in any church. Not since the Jesus Movement and Youth Revival on Guam. mid 70’s
Well, maybe a few things did happen while attending Faith Assembly in Summerville, SC… 80’s early 90’s
Yes, we occasionally pray for one another. But, I almost *never* get anything from assembly line altar calls.
(Which is why I seldom if ever respond to one unless God lays on my heart to go up and pray for another.)
I usually do get something when someone takes me aside and personally prays for me, though. Why?
Possibly because it singles me out and tells me that God remembers me and my “friend” responded by counting me worthy of their time and that means I may actually be worthy of God’s time.
We are told repeatedly encourage one another and to pray for one another and this CANNOT be done as an assembly line.
It must be one on one. Period.
But, back to my topic… Why are we so powerless? We have the latest technology. The best pastors the best praise teams. Why so powerless?
Has God left us or have we left Him…
Have we forgotten to rehearse His Mighty works and to encourage ourselves and each other of those works that He has done historically and for each of us?
Maybe the lyrics in our songs have become “incomplete”, like the above?
Maybe the lyrics of our songs have been edited for sales to the point of excising the Worthiness, Majesty and Glory of Jehovah and Jesus.
Have you noticed how few of our songs, today, seem mention only a generic “god” and not the One True God and His Only Begotten Son Jesus?
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In reply to Nate:
[I define “tool” as a man-made creation that serves a temporary, utilitarian purpose and is valued according to its effectiveness. I think that is a sound definition. Music does not meet that definition.]
Music can serve a temporary purpose, that’s why there are compilation of music from various time periods. They exceeded their time period. They were temporary.
Businesses use music on a daily basis as a utilitarian “tool” to enhance the shopping “experience”. Much as many churches use music to enhance the worship experience, unfortunately.
Music in the secular community is only valued if and only if it makes them money. It is valued according to its effectiveness.
So, that leaves the question whether all Music is God-made, man-made, devil made or some mix thereof. Perhaps, “made” isn’t the right word, “Inspired”, IMHO, is more correct.
Granted we are straining at gnats here. In the final analysis Music was created by God as a result of Creation. How we utilize the concept of Music depends upon our purpose and our inspiration. (There was a third thingee but my 62 year old brain lost it while typing. Drat!)
I call Music a tool when it is *not* reverenced and referenced to Jehovah and Jesus.
I call it a Gift when it is reverenced and referenced to Jehovah and Jesus. Maybe a linguist will slap my wrist. But, that’s how I conceive it. 🙂
We are trying to express heart felt, yet highly subjective opinions and concepts. So, there will be both disagreements and misunderstandings. That’s a given.
So, please understand this is not a rebuke but a clarification of where my head is at.
I would consider all music gift. We use and abuse music in various ways, but that doesn’t change it’s inherent value. If others use it as a tool, that’s there problem, but I still consider it a gift.
Reblogged this on Humble Donkey and commented:
My thoughts exactly. So much to say in this area of difference and sometimes tension but clearing the decks to see Jesus as the end point is vital and if we allow it can transform and elevate the conversation.