Music as the great Divisor

Chris Salzman

Recently, my family attended a very flashy worship service: lights, cameras, rock and roll. I'll admit even to my younger senses the ambiance proved to be distracting; however, this visual and aural assault really bothered my father. I don't think this is a, "Oh, he's just stuck in his ways" issue either.

Because music is such an inextricable part of culture, the difference between electric guitar and electric organ can mean the difference between someone being able to use the vehicle of music to worship God or not. So, the perfomer must be cognizant of their congregant's preferences and backgrounds or they might unduly impede worship. Given the amount of other distractions in life, the last thing anyone needs is for the time we set aside to corporately worship God to illicit confusion or anger.

With that said, I don't blame worship music or church musicians (I've been one, it can be hard). I blame the importance we heap upon the vehicle, because I'm not so certain it was designed to handle the load.

From a recent article on Scripps Howard News Service about music in church:

On one level, the music divides [High Desert Church]. But on another level, the music is at the heart of worship services that create zones of comfort for people who have been raised in a culture in which consumers define themselves by their musical choices. ... In recent decades, many churches have been shattered by the intergenerational strife that researchers call the "worship wars." If you want to split a national church, change its teachings about sexuality or salvation. But if you want to split a local church, you toss the hymnal, hire a drummer, unleash the teen-agers or make some other musical change that rocks the pews.

When worshiping God through song is conflated to the focus of the worship service it will necessarily divide us. On the other hand, if the main focus of your worship service is that it's in, say, Russian, what will divide your congregation will be vastly different. Or if it's about the preaching, or the fellowship afterwards, or the skin color etc. Divide, in this sense, is not necessarily bad, divide simply means the things that separate one congregation from another.

We do get to choose, as the church above chose, how to divide our local church.

"This is reality," he said. "Everything is about the music. When you go to the mall, you can even tell what kind of people are supposed to be shopping in different stores just by listening to the music that is playing. ... Can you imagine kids wanting to shop in a store that is playing the music that their parents listen to? No way."

The last thing we need are impediments to worshiping God and I applaud this church for doing as much as possible to diminish them; however I wonder if the time for dividing churches based on music has run its course. The more we divide based on preference the more the above comic can become true.

I'd be very interested in how you've seen your church divide, over music or otherwise. If you're a church musician, how has music been used effectively in your church? Anyone go to a church that has had worship services without music? Any other thoughts? I'm still thinking all this through myself.

(HT: Beliefnet)

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, News & Politics, Social Trends, Media