Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rappin' for Jesus

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.


Frontier Forest said...

I must confess, my wife and I have heard Nathan and Tony share this crazy, funny story first hand. So while sitting at my desk, trying my best to hold back the laughter, Tony’s thoughts about Rapping for Jesus and “what is proper music for worship?” takes me back at the beginning of my walk of faith! In 1972, Christian contemporary music was in its infancy. Andre Crouch and the Disciples were really pushing the envelope! Most of the “fundamental” leaders of that time ravenously attacked these radical bands of unruly looking rebels, aggressively throwing out hateful, stereotypical phrases like “these sounds are of the devil! If it rocks… it must be stopped!” Thinking back, probably 35 years ago, I would have hardly embraced the sounds and the ideas of Rapping for Jesus! But have to admit, Rappen’ for anything or anyone, turns my stomach! I get a knot in my gut at the sound of the first note, or guess I should say, nasty words being vomited out by these baggy-pants, upside down, pointed finger artist! Boy, am I getting old! Bet many of you remember when the Beetles hit the US in 1964! My passive father never had much to say about anything, but I remember him threatening me with this embolden declaration! “Son, don’t you ever bring one of THOSE Beetles albums in this house! If you do, I’ll burn it!” Wow, have things changed? The Beetles music of the 60’s sounds like coral hymns of Charles Wesley compared to the junk that our grandkids are listening to today. How things change! I will take Pastor T’s final thought to heart. “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!” Powerful words spoken in love by a powerful pastor, directed to ole’ fuddy-duddies like me. “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre. Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shouts of joy!” Psalms 33:2-3

sbaker said...

Great story!! Did I see you guys singing on the corner of South and Broad streets in Philly 1977??

AJF said...

Well, let's see...I was 6 in 1977 (but still very sad when Elvis died) and I have never been to Philly. Not sure who you saw, but they must have been very talented!

Kampfgruppe Hoppa said...

I certainly have grown to appreciate and love my pastors more and more each day! The insight provided has given me a better appreciation and understanding of the issues at hand. When I was in college, I attended a Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church. They didn't have a choir but they had a super-talented rock band leading worship. The band sounded good, I even bought some of their cassette tapes. In my mind the problem was the Sunday service was more like a rock concert. I'm sure the bands' hearts were in the right place. However, I know my heart/mind struggled with focusing on the LORD. When it comes to worship music, I am thankful Redeemer has the style/genre of music it does.