Soul Music



davemeurer.jpgSoon our church will welcome a new worship pastor.  This is NOT his picture.  So, when my friend, Dave Meurer (pictured) offered me the use of this article, I jumped. Dave is an accomplished author, or as he prefers to be called, Awe-Thor. He’s written six or so books and hundreds of articles. Click here to check out his site. He’s mentoring me into authorhood. Here’s his article called…

 

Soul Music

    For the past several decades, one question has troubled churches more than just about any other. And that vexing question is: “Why isn’t the Holy Land actually blue like it shows on our Bible maps?”

    This question demonstrates that theological awareness is in the tank these days, because scholarly research has proven that the Holy Land is actually orange like it shows on the globe.

    But a second question has also registered pretty high on the church vexation scale, and that question is: “What kind of music does God like?”

    Most of us secretly believe that He likes the kind of music we like. But we have nothing to base that on, because the Bible is not at all clear on this issue. Even if we agree on a set of words, we can put those words to radically different styles and tempos, with wildly differing instruments.

    I recently heard a high school youth group kid playing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” on his car stereo in the church parking lot. But the song could have just as easily been titled, “I Have Decided to Deafen Jesus,” because there was so much bass blasting from the speakers that the car windows were literally bulging in and out, and the shock waves were knocking small birds off branches at 50 yards away.

    What did God think of that?

    I was raised in a religious tradition that was very formal, very traditional, and very reserved. When it came to God, there was only one kind of music and that was organ music. And we are not talking about one of those dinky little keyboard things that sort of looks like an organ but really isn’t. We are talking about a real, solid oak organ that was bigger than a Volvo station wagon and weighed twice as much. If you would have slapped four tires on that organ and put it on the freeway, it could have passed for a Winnebago. So we are talking a serious organ.

    People at my church were quiet. We filed in very placidly and somberly and reverently, and eased into our hard, unpadded oak pews where we learned the meaning of suffering for our faith.

    We weren’t like the noisy, hugging, back-slapping evangelicals with their padded seats and pianos and . . .drums.

    Drums? In church?

    Do you think the apostles had drums in their gatherings?

    I think not!

    No, the apostles had enormous Wurlitzer organs with three levels of keys, just like my church had.

    Drums?

    As far as we were concerned, the next step down that slippery slope might be a fog machine and a big disco ball with all those little mirrors.

    Well, we were certainly not going to go down that road. We knew what kind of music God liked, and He liked the organ and the only tragedy is that He never quite got around to mentioning it to Saint Paul or it would be in the Bible and we wouldn’t have to keep arguing about it.

    It took a long time for me to get used to being a Protestant. I’m getting there, but it still isn’t easy.     Being from a formal, liturgical background, there are some things that I am still just not used to – like people raising their hands during worship services. I know that it is Biblical, and that the psalmist says “I will lift up my hands unto Thy name.” But it is not what I grew up with, so it is way out of my comfort zone.

    I once did a poll of our congregation, which is composed of people from all kinds of church backgrounds.

    “How many of you were raised in a more formal church background?”

    About a third of the hands went up.

    “How many of you are uncomfortable with raising your hands in church?”

    About half the hands went up.

    “Well, now what do we do?” I asked. “If we put up one more hand, we are basically just like the radicals that do all that hugging.”

    I think some of them are still recovering from the experience. I know I am.

    There is a great scene in The Muppet Movie where Kermit the Frog and Fozzie the Bear enter an old, abandoned church building where a Muppet band is playing some pretty loud, jazzy music. There are electric guitars, drums, a keyboard, and a saxophone.

    Fozzie turns to Kermit and says, “They don’t look like Presbyterians to me!”

    That is an interesting statement, and it raises a logical series of questions. First, what should a Presbyterian look like? Is there a standard height, weight, clothing style, toothpaste brand, or musical taste for Presbyterians?

    When the Muppet said, “They don’t look like Presbyterians to me,” what he was really saying is that “Christians should look and sound a certain way.”

Well, what should a Christian look and sound like?

One day I came into church and saw, seated in the front row, a big, burly biker looking dude dressed in a black leather coat. He had a wild beard and frazzled gray hair. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m glad that this large biker person has come to church today. I hope he learns something. I just hope he doesn’t make a scene.”

Well, he did make a scene. He got up and quoted several chapters of the gospel of John verbatim from memory, and then he came back that night and quoted the entire book of Revelation.

He didn’t look like a Presbyterian to me!

    But, again, what should a Christian look like? What should a Christian sound like? What kind of music should a Christian make?

    When I was a kid, I assumed that God liked organ music simply because it is what I grew up listening to during religious services. I think many of us make these kinds of huge, illogical leaps. Our preferences and habits are projected on to God.

    So what kind of music does God like?

    Is it the organ? The harp? The guitar? How about an electric guitar? Or how about that weird, twanging, strange music they play in the Middle East? To me, it sounds like a bunch of overwound clock springs being broken. And it is probably pretty much what Jesus grew up listening to. And he probably liked it.

    And what about the instruments they play in China or India? Those sounds just aren’t sounds I like.

    But what does God think about it?

    Can He like sounds that are very different from my preconceived notions music that is Christian?

    Duh!

    I now think that God likes music that is offered up to him by people who love Him and who seek to honor Him. That definition has enough room for every child of God, of any nation, age, group, or culture.

    Technically, that definition could include a big disco ball and a fog machine, but let’s not push it, young people.

    I will end this discussion where the Psalms – God’s music book – ends. This is the final Psalm:

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty heavens.

Praise Him for His Acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.

Praise Him with the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre,

Praise Him with tambourine and dancing (do NOT get me started on THAT),

Praise Him with the strings and flute,

Praise Him with the clash of cymbals,

Praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

— Psalm 150 (NIV)


STUDY GUIDE QUESTIONS

1.) Nevertheless, old hymns are still the best. Just deal with it.

2.) The author maintains that, while technically accurate, the song performed by a group called The NewsBoys wherein the singers inform us that breakfast is not served in hell, does not hold a candle to ANYTHING ever penned by Isaac Watts, even though the author has to agree that the song kind of grows on you after awhile.

3.) The author had no choice but to learn this song after the author’s boys played in 6,000 times in a row when the CD was originally released.

4.) Don’t you agree that the author, like all parents of teen boys, puts up with a lot?

5.) Try convincing his kids. They think they are practically martyrs.


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8 thoughts on “Soul Music

  1. My answers to the study “questions.” (I hope I got an “A”)
    1: True
    2: False, although the reference to a 10 year old Christian Rock song counts against your hipster cred. Needs updating. Try “Relient K” or “Switchfoot”
    3: Could be worse: what if your kids liked hip hop? Or the Gaithers?
    4: Poor Bunny!
    5: Darn Child Labor laws! Why in MY day…

    Great article. Lot’s of fun. I’m sure glad that this discussion is over for most churches!

  2. Bob G: Even though I would hope the discussion is over in most churches, the truth is there are still a LOT of older folks who just have a hard time with all the new stuff!! And the kids, no matter who are their parents, still have a hard time with all that old stuff! (I’m amazed how many don’t even know of the famous old hymns!!) And these are “kids” in their thirties and forties!

    I suppose the very best that can be is to have a situation where half the people are happy half the time instead of all the people unhappy all the time….The poor music man can never please them all!

    Best wishes on your new music man, Dr. G!

  3. Bill… Friends…

    Awesome. Looking forward to the praise and glory to the Savior…!!

    Some of the most encouraging Christian music I have ever heard (during some of the most depressing moments of my life) was the “soul” music of a Chicagoan, the Rev. James Cleveland (http://www.jcchorus.com/Biography.htm or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cleveland), who, unfortunately, saw a tragic end to his life cut short too soon.

    Rev. Cleveland was part of the original developers of the gospel sound in Los Angeles so familiar among African American Christians. (Aretha Franklin studied under him.) Some of my favorites are

    “Walk, Talk, Trust, Live”
    “Try Jesus”

    These kinds of siongs were written in pain, but sound so glorious.

    Click here to listen to these snippets–
    http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/5502522/a/God+Can+Do+Anything+But+Fail.htm

    Grace,
    Joe

  4. I remember as a teen and new Christian (I’m 44 now) I grew up in a very consevitive and legalistic church. All we ever heard were the old hyms, once in a while I would be touched, but mostly I tuned out. I often felt like a hypocrite. I would listen to one type of music in church, and would walk out into the parking lot and tune in something totally different. I think it is great my 4 kids (ages 21- 12) can listen to “cool music” without feeling different. Groups like Switchfoot and The Myriad do a great job of ministering without preaching. They show young people you can be (normal) and still love God. Their music is played on secular radio as well as christian stations. What a great Ministry. I say enjoy whatever is played and remember, the music director is doing the very best he or she can.

  5. My Orthodox friends good-naturedly poke fun at me (and, implicitly, all of us evangelicals) for our “worship wars.”

    They solved this problem, they tell me, 1,400 years ago.

    Joke’s on them tho, cuz they decided to stand up for 2 hours at a time. Yikes!

    I think the approach taken by Jars of Clay on their album Redemption Songs was interesting; They took some very old school hymns, changed the instrumentation and arrangements and created a kind of cultural synthesis. Check it out if you haven’t heard it yet.

    As church history has often demonstrated, Church unity is maintained through synthetic solutions to very oppositional problems. Just ask St. Thomas Aquinas.

  6. Yes, Jonathan. We know that 1,400 years ago, a page from the sheet music of heaven dropped to earth, and landed in, uhhhh…. Greece. Truly sacred music: the Chant, gregorian and otherwise. Great! The language of Heaven, finally.

    Really, every generation tags its own tastes as “sacred” leaving the rest of us musical sinners to like it or lump it.

    I’d rather lump it.

    bg

  7. Sheez, didn’t we discuss this before…..?

    PS – I had to listen to Gregorian Chants and just couldn’t “get it, them, those things…” Yikes.

    I guess I’ll lump it, too, being the musical sinner I am.

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