CCM Smackdown

This was too good to stay tucked away in a comment by my Aunt Barbara (hide it under a bushel?  No!  I’m gonna let it shine!).  The blog she mentions can be found here: go read it, and see if you can find this intense quote among the comments:

Evangelicalism is so liturgically bankrupt, confused, and accomodated as to be repulsive. When the idol of consumer relevance is enshrined in the center of our passions and our worship, the result is a wasting cancer that will destroy us from in inside out, just as a quite different idolatry consumed Israel.

Now I’m no musical reactionary; my church uses not only the Trinity Hymnal, but also a songbook of our own devising (I say “our” because it was principally my church brothers and sisters, but it was before my time there), with a number of excellent songs of recent vintage (some of which in style I think can well be categorized as actual hymns).  There are some songs in common rotation which I find too poppy (well, maybe I am kind of a reactionary), but the collection is by far the best para-hymnal I’ve ever run across.  I just wish it wasn’t self-published so I could tell you where to go and buy one!


12 Responses

  1. Sigh….”Sing a new song to the Lord”, anyone? I too love and appreciate the hymns of yore, but, as Martin Luther so famously said when criticized for adopting bar tunes and changing their words to fit Christian worship, “Why sould the devil have all the good music?”

    I must admit I don’t understand people who rock and roll all week long in their cars and with their i-pods, but then, when they worship God on Sunday, must travel back in time to a place with no electric guitars or trap sets. Maybe these are the same folk who read the Bible as if God were Shakespeare…

    Can’t we have both? Is it really necessary to be a “worship Nazi”, and limit worship to my own favorite style? Can’t I sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart” in the same worship service? All music is ours and all music should be used to worship an Almighty God who created variety in the world.

    In closing, “Play that funky music, white boyeeeeee!”


  2. I just remembered a good cartoon from “Leadership Magazine”, that sums up your Aunt’s frustration. A Christian rocker is at the microphone and says the following, “This is a song that God gave me, and if you sing or project it on an overhead without my permission, I will sue your pants off!”

  3. ‘bino, you know me well enough to know that I don’t “rock and roll all week long in my car”. I just plain don’t like crappy music in my car, home, or church. What’s better, a song that has remained relevant for centuries, or the latest wishy-washy pseudo-pop which will be gone next year? Does the songlist of the modern evangelical church keep changing because people keep writing better and better songs, or for the same reason that secular top 40 is always changing — because shallow faddy songlets with little substance can’t titillate the ear or pull the same heartstings for very long?

    I gotta say, though, I learned a lot of good, Bible-lyric songs at BMT & LWC. When I read the Bible, I stumble across all kinds of old tunes! Sing it with me (and don’t forget the hand motions)!

    We are the circumcision,
    Which worship God in the spirit (2x)
    And rejoice in Christ Jesus,
    And have no confidence in the flesh (2x)

  4. I think one important factor is missing in this vibrant discussion of worship music, which has to do with both the relation of us to our music as worshipers and the relevance of our music to the world, or culture. I think that Luther, and others after him who inquire after’s the world’s monopoly on “good music” might have misplaced the artistic value of cultural music (the “good” part) with the worship value of the Church’s music. In other words the music that the Church then or today might try to transplant into its liturgy may have no value to our Lord and His congregation based on its lyrical or musical value. Nor does the music of the culture when the lyric’s are changed to be “spiritual or christian” necessarily mean that God is glorified or His people edified.
    In terms of relevance to our culture’s temporarily current music style (i.e. fad) I think the Church has and will continue to win hearts and minds for Christ with music and lyrics that have depth and duration. By duration I mean something similar to the relevance that the Gospel has to all men throughout time…

  5. Hey T-had (a little lamb?) thx for joining in!

    I was just having a discussion at church today with a very wise & respected elder who was making the point that music carries meaning, even without words. He was talking specifically about some gospel ballads that “blatantly borrowed from the style of Peter, Paul, and Mary”, whose music is “great for delivering their message”, which is nothing is worth fighting for, let’s just all do what makes us each feel good. So his reaction to these songs was that the message of the music was too strong, and it canceled out the Christian words that had been shoehorned in.

    On the flip side of the coin, I have also heard arguments that some hymns have tunes which are unsuitable for worship because they are, in a sense, too “good”.  For instance, “We are God’s people”, set to a theme from Brahms’ 1st symphony, or O God, Beyond all Praising, with a tune from Holst’s Planets (according to the elder, apparently originally adapted as a hymn for a coronation or royal wedding or some such).  These hymns have music which is so sweepingly majestic, that there are twin dangers of a) not really paying any attention to the words because the music holds all the attention, and b) with music like that, you could set any words to it, and people will still eat it up!

    So I really agree with you T-had, that music has intrinsic characteristics which must be suitable for worship, apart even from consideration of the words. And this is where I was starting to have some problems, because Luther was “adopting bar tunes and changing their words to fit Christian worship”. How is that situation different from today? I am not well-informed about the musical history of Luther and bar tunes, but I bet that he didn’t merely “adopt” bar tunes and change their words, but “adapt” bar tunes so that they became suitable for worship. CCM is not adapting good music for the church, but has a stated mission of being musically like the world, in order to “speak to people in their own language”.

  6. I think I understand CCM’s motive for trying to “speak to people in their own language,” but isn’t there a point when Christianity has to realize that we are called to be set apart in everything?
    Now I know that there is two important distinctions to be made in this conversation with regards to evangelizing and music in general. From the perspective of the evangelizing Church, I can understand that contemporary music is a big draw and is the reason that many new people come to a church. There must come that moment when every part of worship points to what it should, Christ and the Gospel and not simply an upbeat melody. I believe that this is where CCM falls short of preserving the depth of faith that most traditionally orthodox hymns maintain.
    Which brings up the second distinction between music and glorifying music. I don’t think the question of whether God is glorified with CCM more or with traditional hymns is pertinent to this discussion, or even determinable by us. What I think is important is tied together with the idea that we are part of the universal Church, connected through Christ to churches around the globe and throughout history. That significant contextual history is carried with the music and conveyed through our worship. I also believe, and the idea was reinforced during a recent Bible study on Revelation, that our worship in a specific place and time is beneficial not only for our own spiritual formation, but that we are more able to be edified and to edify others if we take that “spiritual high” and carry it with us in to our weekly walk. This is where I feel that the CCM is lacking. While it does a decent job of making me feel worshipful for a short while, I don’t feel continuously renewed throughout the week as I do with the depth of hymns. That’s all for now…

  7. Hymns…they are dead and gone…let’s give them a good burial and say goodbye…stop trying to hold onto and maintain a pseudo past emotional experience in the Lord and move on to what He is saying, doing and SINGING today.

    There is no Biblical basis for requiring the word ‘hymn’ to be defined as some song from the past…a hymn is simply a song written by someone other than a Biblical writer. This is how the apostle Paul categorizes them in Ephesians.

    There are ‘psalms’ (songs of the Scriptures, primarily written by David or his boys), ‘hymns’ (songs written by believers of any and all generation), and then ‘spiritual songs’ (songs sung under the anointing of the Spirit, probably in an unknown language).

    When Paul said ‘hymns’…he wasn’t referring exclusively to songs written at least 50 years ago.

    So…let’s move on from Luther’s drunken theological cogitations set to music!

  8. Welcome to the smackdown, Davie!

    stop trying to hold onto and maintain a pseudo past emotional experience

    Oh no you di’int! How can you call an emotional experience “pseudo”? Can you think you experienced an emotion, but you really didn’t? And that’s exactly what I have to say to your crowd: every time I am in a CCM service, everybody around me is whipped into an emotional frenzy by the pseudo-pop LiteFM music (& rock band), and I am left stone cold. Mostly from the crappy music, but also any edification that might be gotten from the (often biblical) lyrics is completely nullified by my instinctive angry reaction to the attempt to manipulate me emotionally through music.

    move on to what He is saying, doing and SINGING today.

    What exactly is God SINGING today (how would you hear that to know)? So God no longer wants us to sing “mine, mine is the transgression, but thine the deadly pain“, but instead we should sing “When He rolls up his sleeves, he ain’t puttin’ on the Ritz“? Does God have a storefront on Madison Ave. where he reaches out to our consumer-driven culture with jingles that get stuck in your head (or is it in Sydney)?

    There is no Biblical basis for requiring the word ‘hymn’ to be defined as some song from the past

    I’m fine with that. Let’s adopt a common vocabulary: I sing hymns that have lasted for hundreds of years, and you sing hymns that were written yesterday and will be gone tomorrow (what is the turnover in your typical worship songlist? How many songs that you will sing next Sunday did you sing 1 year ago? 5 years ago? At what age must a good song be euthanized?). And don’t give me that “Sing unto the Lord a new song” — in your categorization, that applies to “spiritual songs”.

    There are two threads to this discussion that need to be disentangled: style and substance.

    In terms of musical appreciation, some people like churches with traditional music, and some can’t handle the transition between their car radio on the way to church, and music in the sanctuary. That’s a subjective matter of taste, and we can’t really argue about that productively.

    But what I want to address is an objective evaluation of the characteristics of hymns/songs; the suitability for worship of their words and music. There is a lot of stuff here recognizing the substance of traditional hymns, and the lack of substance of CCM. I have seen no evidence presented by modernists in this department, and plenty on my side of the aisle (and no refutation of my side).

    I contend that this is because (a) CCM is sorely lacking in substance, and (b) that’s the way y’all like it. Wonder Bread is a lot easer to chew, and what you are really looking for is a catchy tune and a punchy beat, and vaguely Christian-enough lyrics that you don’t have to feel guilty about turning your Sabbath into a soft-rock concert (is there more hand-raising in a CCM church or in a rock concert? I don’t know because I’ve never been to a rock concert, but I’ll go out on a limb and give rock concerts the edge on lighting Zippos (although this could be the Next Big Thing in Charismatic worship — let’s call it a Wave Offering))

  9. My Dear Friend,

    I think you are banging on the wrong door…I would in no wise categorize myself, or our community as CCM. In fact, we do not have a “pseudo-pop LiteFM music (& rock band)”. We have a piano, sometimes drums, keyboard, and/or guitar.

    In fact if you feel God has called you to be the Siskel and Ebert of Church Worship of the 21st Century, then you should get out more often. It would make your commentary seem a little less trapped by socio-economic, racial, and denominational limitations and barriers.

    The issue here is ‘worship’ and not ‘singing of songs’. CCM ‘worship’ services can be just as void of the Spirit as Presbyterian ‘worship’ services. It is not dependant on the music at all…it is dependant on the heart condition of the one singing, AND, the obedience to the Biblical mandate to worship the Lord in ‘spirit and truth’.

    When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, the heavenly throne-room was engulfed in worship. But that worship, as I see it recorded was not very clever either musically or lyrically. The lyrics were simply: Holy, Holy, Holy, etc. And those few lines were repeated over and over, much like a CCM worship service.

    If you are looking for high quality music, go to the symphony. It is not required for Biblical worship. If you are looking for rock concert, go see Creed, its not required for Biblical worship. I am sure you are not against emotion-filled worship, are you? God has created and designed us to be emotional beings…our worship is not based on our emotions, but funnels through them in ‘joyful’ singing!

    That which determines the ‘substance’ of accurate worship is not primarily the lyrical content of the songs being sung. (Of course songs giving glory to Satan would qualify for ‘inaccurate’ and without ‘substance’), however, theological depth is not of primary importance.

    What matters is that a sacrifice of praise is given from a unified group of believers making that gathering a place in which the presence of God can fully move and work. You can sing lyrically correct songs, but have no presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Your beef should be to fight for Biblically defined worship and not post-reformation and pre-charistmatic/pentecostal only songs with a ‘good beat’ (Remember, ‘good beat’ is relative…for you, a ‘good beat’ is found in Luther’s ‘Might Fortress Is Our God’)…for Luther’s peers in his day his hymns were downright ‘worldly’ and seen to be compromise with the ‘spirits’ of the day which ignored the stable and time-honored worship of the Church. (Sung in Latin of course).

    Oh…I see, Luther can move forward, but we must stop with him, or Sir Isaac Watts, or Fanny J. Crosby, or whomever. You said that you ‘sing songs that have lasted for hundreds of years’…well, the week after they were written they were not songs that had ‘lasted for hundreds of years’ were they. It is impossible to know the shelf life of a song…More importantly, who cares?

    Music is to prophetic and the means by which we ‘enter into His presence’. If singing a five-hundred year old song moves you into worship and the presence of the Lord…great. If repeating ‘holy, holy, holy,’ over and over to a Latin beat moves another into worship and the presence of the Lord…great. If neither do, dump ’em both. The Pharisees had the most ‘lyrically’ correct ‘songs’…but their heart never came near the Lord.

    The best worship song is one that is not displayed on an overhead, or in a giant plasma, nor in a hymnbook (although at least overheads and plasmas lead one to ‘look up’ as they worship). The best and most ‘suitable’ song for worship that which every believers sings in and through the Spirit, in unison to the Lord in the congregation of the House of the Lord.

    Our (within our community) best times of worship do not come when we see either Matt Redman or Martin Luther crafted songs…our best worship comes when we, like David the great worshipper of old, offer to God the sacrifices of thanksgiving, the fruit of OUR lips which give thanks to the Lord…it is when we ‘sing praises to God’! I need no author to write my lyrics for me. I refuse to vicariously worship through others words, but rather my worship is from the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth.

    Oh…and let’s not forget that true worship is also composed of ‘good works’ as the writer of Hebrews so poignantly reminds us.

    Worshipping In Spirit and Truth (without a single hymn),

    davie copp

  10. we do not have a “pseudo-pop LiteFM music (& rock band)”. We have a piano, sometimes drums, keyboard, and/or guitar.

    ?!?! I do not eat sandwiches, but I am fond of putting meat and cheese between slices of bread.

    for Luther’s peers in his day his hymns were downright ‘worldly’ and seen to be compromise with the ’spirits’ of the day which ignored the stable and time-honored worship of the Church.

    It seems that you are referring to the myth that Luther championed popular music in the church, which has already been smacked down here.

    I am sure you are not against emotion-filled worship, are you?

    I am against emotion-only worship. I am wary of the power of music to undermine the ability to rightly divide edifying biblical truth from anaesthetizingly meaningless pap. God speaks to us through Word; words have meaning, ideas have consequences. The songs we worship with are confessional statements, set to music. Otherwise, why not just play some really moving music, and ask people to hum?

    And music matters. You cite the extreme possibility of lyrics that glorify Satan; how about this? What words could you put to punk or death metal or house music that would yield a song that would be appropriate for worship in your church? You say you don't use a "rock band" for worship — why not? Because the music is not appropriate for worship. Music carries its own message, which can contradict and overpower lyrics of any quality.

    well, the week after they were written they were not songs that had ‘lasted for hundreds of years’ were they. It is impossible to know the shelf life of a song…More importantly, who cares?

    Well, obviously I care. I never said that music was automatically bad because it was new. For instance, one great modern hymn that I love and can think of off the top of my head is Melody (&Keith) Green's "There is a Redeemer", which I'm sure you know. Another is "We Believe", with a chorus of

    We believe our true salvation; comes by grace through faith alone; but true faith results in action; by our deeds we make Him known

    It's a sermon on James, every time you sing it! These two songs (I'll even call them hymns, because that is really what their musical style is) were appropriate and edifying for church worship "the week after they were written", and I believe they'll be around in a hundred years.

  11. How would the Brigham Young University Men’s Chorus singing attempting a Black Gospel song fit into this discussion?

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