New sounds of worship are breaking out in Kensington Temple. Music that expresses our praise to God in a contemporary style is bringing freshness to our services and inspiring a new generation to connect with God. Tired of the worn-down sameness that characterizes much of the recent Christian worship music we are breaking out of the mould and finding new expressions of joy. This fresh sound releases people in the church and connects with those outside.
Once thought radical and outrageous, various forms of Christian rock music have had a pervasive influence on the musical vocabulary of churches for decades. And yet, there is much more out there for us to discover and bring to God.
The contemporary R & B style of music is rich and varied. Its technique of layering sounds provides an ideal platform for creativity and musical expression. Almost any combination of musical sounds can be built onto its rhythmic foundation. That way we can explore, develop and embrace a wide range of musical styles and tastes while presenting something that is clear, uplifting, honest and authentic. A truly contemporary London urban sound.
Our Music Director, Fabio D’Andrea is currently introducing this new style into our worship repertoire. He has written around 30 new songs and they are being well-received by our congregations. Dax O’Callaghan, the successful singer-songwriter and performer who brought us the hip-hop dance production, “Soldier” is about to release a new contemporary Christian music album containing many songs suitable for congregational worship.
Committed Christians like these are dedicating their talents to bringing new expressions of joy, praise, worship and reality to the musical life of the church. They are helping us become true worshippers and, at the same time, to connect us with the world around us. However, using contemporary music in this way is not always welcomed.
Why should the devil have all the best music?
General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, horrified respectable Victorian society by encouraging Christian words to be set to popular music tunes and played in his meetings. He responded to the inevitable criticism by asking “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?”
Larry Norman, the Christian singer and song writer introduced popular rock music in the “Jesus Revolution” of the late 60’s and 70’s of the last Century. He fostered the legendary “Jesus People” movement that reached out to the hippie generation. Young people loved him, but some Conservative Christians hated him for it. Like Booth, he responded by writing a song entitled, “Why should the devil have all the good music?”
Contemporary Christian music has never had an easy ride in the church. Every innovation, every fresh musical instrument brought into the service of God, was at first resisted, criticized and condemned before becoming more generally accepted. The pipe organ for us today is the symbol of traditional church music. But when it was first introduced some centuries into the Christian era it was condemned as being of the devil. During the 16th Century some leaders of the Reformation called it “the insignia of Baal, foolishly borrowed by the Papists from the Jews.”
Evil Musical Instruments
It is easy to see how the Early Church refused to use musical instruments which were associated at that time with paganism. The organ was connected with gladiatorial combat. Pipes and flutes were associated with idol worship. Clement, one of the Early Church Fathers, wrote, “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and intent on their idol worshipping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wingless feasts, for they are more suited for beasts and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men.”
Lyman Coleman, a Presbyterian, wrote in his history of the Primitive Church, “The tendency of this (instrumental music) was to secularize the music of the church, and to encourage singing by a choir. Such musical accompaniments were gradually introduced; but they can hardly be assigned to a period earlier than the fifth and sixth centuries. Organs were unknown in church until the eighth or ninth centuries. Previous to this, they had their place in the theatre, rather than in the church. They were never regarded with favour in the Eastern Church, and were vehemently opposed in many places in the West.”
Rejecting the Sacred/Secular Divide
It is not only the Early Church that struggled with the concept of Contemporary Christian Music. The Modern Church has also had its opponents to the electric guitar, the drums and the sounds of a synthesizer. Appeals to Old Testament forms of worship, which apparently enjoyed the sounds of practically every available instrument in ancient times, are groundless in the opinion of some. Are these not symbols of Old Testament flesh worship made redundant by Christ’s call to worship “in spirit and truth”?
The real issue here is not whether we use musical instruments or not, but whether our praise and worship is the genuine expression of our hearts. We can worship God a cappella or accompanied by musical instruments. The only real question is whether we are offering genuine worship.
Another big error to avoid in all this is the false separation between the so-called “secular” and the so-called “sacred”. This sacred/secular divide is one of the biggest evils of our day. To the believer it means that we must disengage from our contemporary society and live in a holy bubble. To the unbelievers it means that the Christian faith should be pushed to the margins of society.
But surely there is nothing truly secular except sin itself. Objects, machines or technology are not sinful in themselves – only in how and to what end they are sometimes used. Much modern contemporary music is dedicated to ungodly goals. But God can make even “the wrath of man to praise him”. Contemporary music styles can be brought to the feet of Jesus and surrendered to him. This way we show that he is Lord of everything, including the gift of music.
There is also a hunger for God out there in the world and this hunger is reflected in much of its music. A recent song by the band, “The Wanted”, expresses simple sentiments about the search for and appreciation of love. It is as if they are singing about Jesus – and do not know it. We should be out there telling them that Christ is real and showing them what a personal relationship with him can mean – the difference only he can make. What better way than doing it through music, the language of our contemporary world?