Was it All in Hymn?

Was It All In Hymn?
The Importance of Changes in Apostolic Music
By Tom Trimble

There are many things that have changed in the worship services in Apostolic Pentecostal churches. What is the correct balance between substance and style, lyrics and lighting? What is the difference between entertainment and anointing? And as we conscientiously leave colloquial songs of a different era – try to explain the meaning of “Jesus on the Mainline” to a teenager – what will replace them in the future?

The power of music is amazing.

Have you ever wondered why we forget important birthdays and remember ridiculous childhood songs? In a recent New York Times article, “In One Ear and Out the Other” (www.nytimes.com, 3/17/09), Natalie Angier explored some of the reasons and ways the brain remembers.

A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information:’ said Dr. Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, pre-schoolers can learn it with ease.

In other words, the songs we sing – which link scriptural truths with moving melodies – teach us things that won’t easily be forgotten. This is obviously not a recent discovery. Martin Luther began writing hymns so his doctrine would be remembered, and singers traveled from village to village singing them. These songs had a great impact on spreading the Reformation.
If it is true that music carries a message, what are we communicating as the people of God? Let us consider three areas: (1) influences on the music in our services, (2) presentation of the music in our services, and (3) content of the music in our services.

Influences on music and worship

In the past we have been influenced by a mix of hymns, current Christian music, and, to be honest, several styles of secular music. The only difference in a Country and Western song and a Southern Gospel song was, many times, the lyrics. In Nashville, the same studio musicians could have played for both bands. We adapted some songs from popular music of the time, e.g., “Danny Boy” (which became “He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs”). In the 1970s it was popular for guitarists/singers to sing and play “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” (How is that for incongruity?) We were also influenced by artists like Andrae Crouch who worked closely with R&B artists of his day including Quincy Jones.

Even the instruments we have in our churches are influenced heavily by changes in music in our culture. There used to be more brass and woodwinds in church orchestras. Could the recordings of musicians like Glen Miller and Louis Armstrong have influenced this trend? The popularity of the accordion probably had more to do with Lawrence Welk than the apostle Paul. I am not proposing that everyone wanted to emulate these musicians, but the overall popularity of styles and instruments in our churches are obviously influenced by our society, usually with some time delay.

What we experience in church today may have a lot to do with the pendulum swing from the over-produced electronic bands of the 1980s to the 1992 release of Eric Clapton’s Unplugged CD. The guitar was used to express tender lyrics like “Tears from Heaven,” a song written after the death of Clapton’s son. In the years since, the guitar has become a much more accepted and sought after instrument. But the societal influences on instrumentation are a secondary issue here. If the song is anointed and has solid Christian lyrical content, who cares if it is played on a violin, a guitar, or a piano? (The exception is music that inherently expresses anger and rage.) There have been times in the past when we had a few songwriters who were heard in larger markets, and we actually influenced some of the trends. Popularity, many times, has proven more difficult to handle than anonymity. At this juncture we are not influencing worship music; we are being influenced by worship music. While we should be a voice, we are more like an echo.

And we need to retain our identity. We must continue to sing songs that cannot be sung at every other church in town. We must ensure that all of the songs in our current worship repertoire are not so homogenized they would fit into any church of any faith anywhere. We have been indelibly influenced by the worship trends of the charismatic and nondenominational masses. Undoubtedly many of the songs are good, but let us be honest about where they are coming from. Surely we do not want a day when everything we sing can be purchased on the Time-Life Worship series of CDs.

Our worship presentation should be different.

It seems obvious that there is a difference in whether people intend for God to get the glory or not. If we draw attention to ourselves in worship, whether through our appearance, our antics, or our “stage presence,” God is not pleased. We must be careful about who gets the attention. God will not share His glory with another. We should be invisible. This is not the trend. Worship personalities are the trend. Oh that every worship leader would just disappear into Jesus! That is the goal. Cool lighting is not the issue. Lights will neither bring nor deter anointing. Has the fire in our censer first burned up our flesh? Or is this American Idol? To be truly Apostolic in our presentation means that people actually tune us out and turn their attention to God, “That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:29).

The content

There are three purposes for worship music in the church. They are the same as the purposes of the church itself, found in Acts 2:42. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers:’ Proclamation (kerygma), fellowship (koinonia) and worship (leitourgia) are the main ingredients for church and for worship. While fellowship has always taken a back seat in worship compositions (“Bind Us Together” and “I Need You to Survive”) there has been a drastic shift away from proclamation to an almost exclusive vertical worship. This trend to more vertical worship is documented in The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship by Robert Woods.

According to Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) reporting, between 1989 and 1999 kerygmatic songs were the dominant choice. In their most recent reports leitourgic songs were three times more likely to be sung than kerygmatic songs. In other words proclamation has taken a distant back seat to vertical worship. I admit I loved it when songs became more relational, intimate, and personal. We changed from singing about God to singing to Him. I think the song that brought the change was, “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice. . . .” I still love that song. I did not realize at the time that this type of worship song would nearly eliminate all others.

Obviously praising and worshiping God should be our highest priority, but proclaiming the truth of His Word should not be eliminated. There are newer equivalents to “There Is Power in the Blood” and we need to make sure they are in our worship mix. (“Nothing but the Blood” by Matt Redman and “All Because Of Jesus” by Steve Fee are examples.) Some “proclamation” songs are being written now, and perhaps it would be good to track if we have a balance in our mix. (“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” by Chris Tomlin is a good example of a more current “proclamation” song.)

Specifically, there are several themes that we must retain. We need Apostolic writers to compose new songs of proclamation in these areas. (1) Conviction. Do we hear it enough in our pulpits and in our music repertoire? (2) New birth. Because we are following instead of leading, we have no compositions that propagate the essentiality of the new birth. (By definition I mean the essentiality of new birth in the water and the Spirit.) (3) One God. We’re not going to import that from CCLI’s top ten. (4) The Second Coming.

We can do one of two things about the problem. We can write new, fresh, truth-proclaiming songs, or we can revamp some old ones. Perhaps we can do both. I mentioned this dilemma to one of our worship leaders who is also a songwriter. Now “Our God Is One” is part of the youth choir repertoire. How refreshing to hear apostolic truth proclaimed with an unforgettable melody and a great band! Some of our Bible college projects have produced some original music with distinctly Apostolic lyrics. I’ve also heard choirs sing hymns to reggae or some other style. Larry Carter sings his testimony while playing straight ahead blues.

We can be thermostats instead of thermometers. Since worship is based on revelation, we should celebrate the truth that has been revealed to us. We can worship vertically and celebrate and proclaim truth. And when we get those balanced in our repertoire, we can think about finding a new fellowship (koinonia) song.

Tom Trimble is senior pastor of Winds of Pentecost in Saint Charles, Missouri.