The Big Tent of Bible Believing Christianity – read Catholic – Protestant and its many Denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) – and of course the ever-growing “Non Denominational” Movement covers a lot of people, theology and personal preference. I have often thought that these various “Names” or groups of Christians can by their very nature lead to divisions and disagreement where none ought to exist. After all there is only one God and One Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to redeem us all from our sin and unworthiness – of which Uncle Larry has plenty.
One topic that occasionally comes up in Christian circles that is seen by some as being divisive is what has come to be known as “Praise and Worship” Music (P&W). On the Right we have those who love the old music and on the Left we have the Musical Progressives who use P&W pretty much exclusively.
No one loves the Old Hymns, Gospel Songs and Choruses more than Uncle Larry. It is the music of my youth and the generations that went before me. If you have known me long you will remember some time back when my Mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s – her muscles eventually forgot how to eat and God took her Soul home because her mind had left years before. Marty and I would fly to visit her monthly in Atlanta and she had no idea who I was. However, when I would start to sing some of the old Hymns and Gospel songs her eyes would brighten and she would sing right along with us on the chorus. Proof positive to me that the old Hymns and Gospel had real staying power and was used by The Holy Spirit in Christian’s lives.
Now Marty and I go to a church that uses P&W and though it took me a long time – I have come to appreciate it’s appeal and see it now – like so many things in life – as a complex issue. Here are a few random thoughts for your consideration on the topic of Hymns Versus P&W.
1. Many traditionalist are concerned with the “repetition” of P&W. I have heard some say that they feel P&W is akin to chanting as it repeats the same phrase over and over. Question – Is it the lyrics repeating over and over again that is an issue or is it the music repeating over and over again that is a concern? As I recall, almost every Hymn I sang in my youth had four to six “verses” and all of the verses shared the same music and of course the “chorus” repeated the same music. If you grew up in a Baptist Church how can you ever forget standing and singing every verse of “Just As I Am” – a great Hymn – over and over and over again until someone came forward to get Saved or join the Church. My perception, therefore my reality is that P&W “musically” is not significantly more repetitive than the hymns I grew up with.
2. What about the lyrics or P&W words that are just sang over and over again? Almost all of the P&W lyrics we use at CF – the phrases we repeat – are based on Old Testament Psalms and other OT and NT verses and Biblical principles. One of my favorite P&W writers is Chris Tomlin. I downloaded about fifteen of his songs on my iPod for my car and every one of them are based on the Psalms of David and Biblical concepts. Where is the harm in repeating – as did King David – The Word of God?
3. I’d say these first two “perceptions” of mine lead me to place VERY HIGH VALUE on the “phrase” or phrases that are being repeated. If they are either Bible verses or Biblical concepts and the repetition is in fact a good teacher then I see and feel value in it. This places great responsibility on the P&W Leader/Music Pastor to carefully select the music and phrases chosen.
4. I could be wrong about this next point but in a way I think that modern P&W writers are getting too much criticism or praise – depending on your view point – about the repetition. How can I say this? My perception is that much of the “chants” or “chanting” of the historical Jewish faith and the traditional Catholic Church were/are repetitive. Much like the stain glass windows that told Bible stories to people who could not read – the repetitive chanting was a good teacher of the particular “phrase” being repeated (see 3 above – very important).
5. P&W in the 21st Century is a tool for growth! I play a lot of golf with The Founding Pastor of CF – Tom Mullins – Coach as some call him or Dr. Thomas J. Mullins by official title. One of Coach’s goals in life is to beat me straight up before we die and we were both born in November of 1945 so his time is running short. A fair amount of our golf involves visiting Pastors and Christian friends of Coach who come to town and want to play Jupiter Hills and ask Coach “the secret” to CF’s amazing growth. If I have heard the following conversation once I have heard it dozens of times. The guest will ask Coach for “the secret” behind CF’s tremendous growth – from five families twenty-five years ago to 35,000 on Easter and Christmas and 15,000 plus on regular weekends – counting kids – the ones Coach wants to reach the most. Naturally he starts by talking about being faithful to preaching the Word – being a Leader of Integrity and having a leadership team of Integrity. However, when pressed by the guest to say what “one thing” jump started CF’s growth he always gives the same answer – when he turned the music program over to his son Todd and CF began to use P&W. From that point the church basically doubled in size every year or two for two decades.
Like it or not P&W attracts younger adults – many with families – most of whom are “un-churched.” They may have come from un-churched parents or they may have forsaken the Church of their past. Here in Palm Beach County this represents the majority of the “Christian” population.
CF is not the exception but rather the rule. The super majority of growing Christian Churches in the USA, Australia, Europe, South America and other parts of the developing World are using P&W almost exclusively.
My Dad would not consider touching my iPhone much less my computer. Marty has chosen the same path. She truly believes she can’t operate either an iPhone or an iPad and doesn’t want either one for her birthday coming up in April. She doesn’t e-mail and has no idea about Face Book or Uncle Larry’s Blog – until I print it out for her. Those are perfectly good and sound decisions for my generation and one even older – yes its hard to believe there are people older than Uncle Larry. Yet we know technology is the way of the world. It’s not the future – it’s the present. It’s here and like P&W if Churches want to grow and reach new audiences both P&W and technology are tools that should be in the growing Church’s tool box to reach today’s society with the message and love of Jesus Christ.
6. Finally – mercifully you say finally – thinking this Blog Post was never going to end – let me share my personal P&W journey with you. Marty and I first visited CF in late 1997. We got there on time and proceeded “down front” because that’s where we always sat at LaGrange Bible Church in Chicago. CF had about 600 people on Sunday by then and we were in a section that had Whites, Blacks, Latinos and even a few Pentecostals. When the P&W started our section stood up and most of them were raising their hands. I did two things: One, I put my hand on my wallet and kept it there the entire service. Two, I leaned over to Marty and told her that if we got out of this service unscathed we would NEVER come to this crazy church again.
Mercifully the music finally ended and Coach took the stage and as an old football coach gave a sermon that was like a locker room talk that fired up every one there and me as well. On the way home Marty and I talked about how great the message was and what a blessing it was to both of us. We came up with a strategy for the next visit. We would wait and come 30 minutes late so we wouldn’t have to endure all of the P&W but could give an offering and hear the message. That strategy didn’t work because the small auditorium was filled when we arrived stylishly late the next time. We just resigned ourselves to being willing to endure the P&W so we could hear the Pastor.
I told Coach this story some time later and he just laughed and said I know how you feel because he loves the old Hymns and choruses too and misses them himself. He even used my story as an illustration in a message once.
After a few months I began to take my hand off my wallet, pat my foot with the rhythm and even sway a little as I sang – though I would never raise my hand – thinking only crazies and Pentecostals did that. A little over a year later I began to appreciate the excellent quality of the musical component and came to like having the words on the screen so I didn’t have to use my glasses to read the hymnal. Being somewhat of a singer – my modest opinion only of course – I began to enjoy the P&W as a form of Religious Entertainment. I like the sound of my voice so for several years I sang enthusiastically so the people around me could enjoy hearing me sing.
Then one day about five years later it dawned on me – like a lightning bolt out of the sky it hit me. The name of this style of singing was not Religious Entertainment but Praise and Worship. Not praise and worship of me and my singing voice but an opportunity for me to join in with other believers Praising and offering corporate Worship to The Living God. I’ll never forget that epiphany. I even sent a note to Pastor Todd (Tom’s son and our P&W Pastor at the time) telling him this story and admitting that as an older person who loved the great Gospel Hymns it only took me five years but if finally dawned on me – P&W doesn’t just “set the mood” for the message – it is a message – from me to God and from God to me.
Sure I still miss the old songs of my youth and our current P&W Pastor James Duvall will sprinkle one in now and then and occasionally has a quartet of our very talented Praise Team do a Gospel Classic. But when we sing “He is my rock, my fortress, my shelter, my very present help in time of need” I raise my hand or occasionally both of them and weep openly – as I am doing now as I type you this note. And when we sing “Awakening”, “Our God”, “I Will Rise” and so many more of these moving P&W songs I personally, Uncle Larry, the least in mercy and Chief of Sinners with the toughest skin am moved in my spirit as I reach out to my Living God in Praise and Worship to Him, with thankfulness.