By. Carver Yu
In just two decades, significant changes have taken place in the church’s perception and practice in worship, most noticeably in the area of church music. We have witnessed a drastic decline in traditional church music. Most regrettable, the church has from generation to generation played an important role in nurturing musical aesthetic sensibility and creativity, now the tradition seems to be dying out. However, these are only observable changes; the real concern is the attitude and conviction behind the music.
Of course, church music should not be limited to one type only, nor is the classical style necessarily the paradigm. Whether classical or popular, as long as they are good music, with substance of religious affection and inspiration, being appropriately used in worship, they should be regarded as equally good in glorifying God and elevating the human spirit. Guitar, tambourine and saxophone can be just as good the piano, violin or the harp; cymbals and gongs accompanied by clapping and cheers can be as effective as meditative singing or a cappella. This is not the real issue, the real issue is the music itself and the spiritual content it carries. Many worship songs today are very thin in the substance of faith, and more than that, they simply lack creativity, with tunes and melodies of the same mode that they are almost indistinguishable. Some are immediately identifiable as composed by people unfamiliar with music. We have to ask, “Are we offering to God the best and the most beautiful praise?”
However, the lyrics deserve even more attention. Many popular church worship songs these days are shallow in their expression of faith; many are even subjectivistic and self-centred. Because the faith contained in words of hymns enters lives invisibly, the lyrics’ power matches, or even surpasses, that of great theological discourses or eloquent sermons. Songs in worship is a church’s statement of faith, it is also powerful materials in Christian life education. For centuries the church has been guarding this life gate zealously. Yet somehow, without our noticing it, more and more pastors now let go this gate-keeping task, and even allow young believers with shallow spiritual experience and little musical gifts to lead the worship. Hence, a masters of ceremony (MC) culture popular in the world of entertainment creeps into worships, and gradually, the nature of worship is being transformed, being in danger of becoming something like ‘entertainment’.
Worship is the celebration of life, rejoicing in the presence of the great and wonderful God in our midst, calling us to be deeply in awe yet immensely joyful. Deep in this joy is a sense of awe and affection to our Lord, which constrain us from any sort of carelessness. The centre of worship and the object of our reverence is God, who sets mountains and calms waters. We bow before Him for His glory and majesty. This prostrating attitude is vital for the nurture of our spiritual life, for it prevents us from doing what is right in our own eyes and it maintains an obedient humility in us. Worship nurtures such life attitude. Yet, this seems to be on the vane. Humble reverence and solemn celebration do not necessarily lessen the joy in praise; as long as the design is appropriate, the two can go together wonderfully. This is an important pastoral task of the ministers.
Worship is also a celebration of thanksgiving, where remembrance of God’s favours induces gratitude so that we want to offer our life’s best, urging within us to give our best to the Lord. How can we dare to be casual knowing that in worship we are facing the gracious Lord? We ought to express our gratitude with the most fitting words, music and action. To achieve this, an attentive and cherishing respect for worship is essential.
Worship is a sign of the church’s spiritual life, revealing that community’s heart for God and how much the members know about Him. This basically is a representation of the church’s identity. The church must treat worship seriously. We have no choice but to “redeem” the solemnity proper to worship.