I am in the midst of teaching a Sunday School class on Christian Worship. During our last class we discussed the somewhat controversial matter of music quality in worship. One class member noted how there is some music that is just plain bad and should not be used in worship. You know, the kind of music that kind of makes you cringe when you hear it. I'm talking beyond the "worship wars" debates here, I mean plain old junky music. I think there's room for debate as it relates to style and quality, but some music is just not befitting the worship of God. I think most people know it when they hear it.
The caution I usually give when assessing the quality of music used in worship relates to guarding ourselves from judgmental attitudes towards those who have a different understanding of what "beauty" and "excellent" means. Our church leadership has chosen a certain style (predominantly classical, hymn-oriented) for our morning worship services because we believe it embodies beauty and excellence. Could we be wrong? Sure. However, much of what we choose to use in our worship services has withstood the test of time and multiple generations of the godly have bolstered our assessment. There is great safety in this. Obviously, I think a solid, liturgical, covenantal service using well-written hymns married with excellent tunes is the best way to worship corporately, I also acknowledge I am but human and can err.
Having said what I think, in general terms, does not mean that I wish to judge the motives of those brothers and sisters who have a different standard of what is acceptable in worship. I think we are all at different places in our journey with Christ and our views on such things might fluctuate. I know from experience that style isn't necessarily an indicator of our heart's devotion. I shared this somewhat humorous, and a bit embarrassing , confession with the class-
In 1989 I was a freshman at Moody Bible Institute. Prior to MBI I formed a rap group (yes, you heard me right) with my good friends Nathan and Bob. All three of us went to Chicago for college (Bob went to U of Illinois-Chicago). We tried to keep our rap group together as we had opportunity to do some concerts for youth groups. Word got around to some of our new Moody friends that we had a rap group. Providentially, the president of Student Mission Fellowship, a senior, was on our floor and heard of our skills as MC's. He asked us if we would do a missions rap for the special missions chapel he was in charge of leading. I thought it was a great idea. I didn't realize that Moody, at that point, had never had any rappers do anything in a designated time for worship. We would be pioneers of sorts, however that didn't really phase me or the guys because in our hearts we thought our rap would honor God and encourage our fellow students concerning missions. We recruited a couple other guys to be dancers (poppers and breakers, as the old 80's rap jargon goes- for you homies out there who are trippin' and unaware). Keep in mind, there were professors, administrators, and guest missionaries there for this chapel. Moody was, and still is, a pretty conservative school. We decided not to run up on stage and start bustin' lyrics, rather we wanted to kind of fool the students. Instead of dressing in our normal rap gear (see above picture), we dressed in suits and went up on stage as if we were going to do a traditional gospel quartet. The president introduced us without saying what we were going to do. We stepped up to the microphone and began singing in the most awful way you have ever heard anyone sing. You could see the cringing postures and embarrassed looks on the faces of our fellow students as they thought we were unaware of how bad we sounded. After egging the audience on for a bit, we quit and acted disgusted that we stunk so bad. I then said, "hey, wait a minute guys, we can still do this...we'll do it our way", and just then the sound man hit a rockin' beat and I busted a rap I wrote especially for the occasion called "The Bible's Great Commission". To top it off, Nathan and the other guys were dancing up a storm while I was rapping. The crowd was going nuts. It was a first at MBI.
Now, what's my point? Looking back, I think the quality of music we used was bad. I can only tell you, at that time, I didn't really know the difference. Further, I can also tell you, my heart really was focused on praising God and encouraging the brethren. One of my professors was asked what he thought of our rap, he very gently said, "I think their hearts were right". He was being kind by not saying what he clearly thought, that the style was awful and not a good choice for the worship of God. The music wasn't congregational, it was loud, it had an overpowering bass tune, I'm sure our busting a move wasn't all that worshipful either. Still, at that time of my life, I really thought I was doing a good thing.
I have a different perspective now, one that I have thought through biblically, theologically, historically, and musically. In this light, I think our choice of style is faithful to God's Word and and can be classified as "right worship". I also think most people know what fits that category, when they really analyze it. Still, as opinionated as I am about such things, I want to be careful not to judge the hearts of those who see things differently than me. I might judge the music, but not the hearts of those who choose it.