95 Theses on the Worship Wars

95 would be a nice number. Luther wrote 95 theses and nailed them to Wittenberg Church door. No one does that anymore, and who would read them? Alas, here are my 95 Theses 71 random thoughts on the worship wars, that unfortunate bickering and fighting about what songs we sing, what instruments we play, how we light the church, and more. As a church musician who enjoys many flavors of worship music and as I have experienced a skirmish or two in the "worship wars" myself, I have thought often on the subject of the church and her music. What peeves me the most are generalizations and overstatements.  Much of this, I think, is water swiftly flowing under the bridge. Why do I think that? Because when everyone is, in fact, singing the same songs, then we really aren't fighting about this anymore. But the issue never really completely dies down as it is a practical one, a very visible one, and one I think we will repeat with great energy every generation.

  1. One should not compare the worst of older songs with the best of newer songs.
  2. One should not compare the best of older songs with the worst of newer songs.
  3. A church should regularly sing the best of the older songs.
  4. A church should regularly sing the best of the newer songs.
  5. One should not judge a song based on the actions of the songwriter.  Think of King David.
  6. Remember, unless Jesus wrote a song, every song ever has been written by a sinner.  Again, think of King David.
  7. Judge not a song by its instrumentation, rhythm, or beat but by the content of its lyrics.
  8. Condemn not a song by the theology of its author, but by the theology of its lyrics.
  9. 95% of the songs you sing, new OR old, were probably written by people whose theology you could not fully agree with.
  10. If you condemn someone for singing new songs from "unorthodox" sources then you probably should stop singing songs from old "unorthodox" sources.
  11. Think twice before condemning a worship song, or rather check your Bible, you might be condemning God's Words set to music.
  12. Condemn not a worshiper based on the songs he sings, but whether he worships the true and living God in spirit and in truth.
  13. Judge not a song by its use of repetition. See Psalm 136.
  14. Remember that stringed instruments were one of the main melodic instruments in the Bible.
  15. Coolness and relevance are not exactly Biblical categories but passion, excellency, integrity, honor, order, and decency are.
  16. Tradition too is a Biblical category and generally commended in Scripture. Thus, good tradition, including the great songs of the faith, should be passed on.
  17. Missions too is a Biblical category and always commended in Scripture. Thus, it is not wrong to translate the faith into the music of the day in order to reach out to this generation and pass the faith along to the next generation.
  18. The Bible itself includes examples of co-opting culture where it is good and useful. See Proverbs 30 where Solomon includes the words of the unknown Agur. Or see Acts 17 with Paul on Mars Hill.
  19. There really is such a thing as false worship. If your worship is not all about Jesus, then you need to melt some golden calves. It shouldn't be about America, or the American dream, or your dream, or prosperity, or organs, guitars, drums, and other well-known idols. Keep it on Jesus.
  20. Whatever works is golden-calf religion, remember it did get a bunch of 'em to shout didn't it? So that's not good enough. Remember there is a way that seems right to a man... so we must exercise godly wisdom.
  21. Scripture commands us to sing a new song to the LORD.
  22. Setting the singing of songs against the preaching of God's Word in worship or vice-versa leads to overstatement and imbalance one way or the other. One should not do it.
  23. If it is ALL about the preaching then why is it that the last thing a preacher normally does is request a song to be sung?  See you shouldn't say that sort of stuff.
  24. Best way to say it, IMO: the preaching of God's Word is primary but not solitary. It is the main course, but not the full meal.
  25. The music and singing should not wear the congregation out so that they cannot keep attention during the preaching.
  26. Church services should be Word-driven and Scripture-based in both the music and the preaching.
  27. Reading Scripture during the music and singing is a great way to keep the worship focused on God and His Word.
  28. All church music is contemporary. Contemporary is the present and means to belong to that age. Obviously, whenever a song was written, at that time, it was contemporary: it belonged to that age.
  29. All (or most) older songs are not classics.
  30. Most new songs will not be sung again five years from now.  Or ever.
  31. One generation should sings the praises of God to another. No age group should entirely control the music of a church.
  32. Great hymns and songs of the faith should be continued to be regularly sung. They are a part of providing a continuity of the Faith from one generation to another.
  33. Hatred and anger is commended in Scripture only towards sin and unrighteousness. It is not a proper attitude towards someone else's worship of Jesus Christ.
  34. You don't have to play your grandson's favorite songs on your home stereo but you shouldn't detest them.
  35. You don't have to play your grandmother's favorite songs on your iPod but you shouldn't detest them.
  36. If you are old, you were once young, and if you are normal, you liked and enjoyed the music of the era of your youth. Remember that.
  37. If you are young, and if God blesses you with long life, you will one day be old, and if you are normal, you will probably complain about the music the younger folks are listening to. Don't forget that.
  38. If it is sinful to use a rock beat or distorted guitar then it is sinful to use a country western beat and a steel guitar.
  39. In like manner, if it is wrong to sound like Bono then it is likely wrong to sound like George Jones or Garth Brooks.
  40. Nevertheless, if you're serving in a church in Hazard County and most of the folks (and the kids) listen to the country station, then rock-band worship probably won't fly. Be relevant where you are.
  41. The church started going electric a long time ago, not long after Edison started building the first piece of the power grid in 1880.
  42. The church started using lighting a long time ago, not long after Edison invented the first commercial light bulb in 1879. Otherwise, how would we have had all those Sunday night services throughout the years?
  43. God loves light but not just bright lights. He obviously enjoys the big lights, like the sun, and lights contrasted against a dark sky, like the moon and the stars.
  44. The Church needs a revival of creativity. Let's use other's stuff and write our own stuff. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery what does that say about our music? Let us become the creators, and they, the imitators.
  45. That being said, music is a language.  And like Bible translations, to some degree, your music had better communicate in the language of the day.
  46. Wisdom and discernment in song selection are always the order of the day.
  47. There was great music written before AD 2000, or even before the 19th Century.  Shoot, there was great music written way back in 1000 BC.  See the Psalms: we no longer have the melodies, but we do have the lyrics.
  48. Great music has been written after AD 1950 and even in the last decade. God hasn't stopped anointing and inspiring people.
  49. Whether you are old or young there are probably old songs that you've never before either. You should explore them too.
  50. God actually loves and enjoys diversity.  Or He wouldn't have made you.  Or me. Or millions of plant and animal species. See Genesis 1 and go watch Planet Earth.
  51. The music of the church ought to preview the worship around God's throne: voices of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Again, diversity. God loves it.
  52. God loves new stuff. He made the heavens and the earth but He's also making new ones.
  53. God is the Creator thus creativity that honors God is good. Again, see Genesis 1. Or Job 38-41.
  54. Powerfully anointed music still needs to be played in tune, in the right key, and with solid rhythm.
  55. Spontaneity may mean a change of plans, but not a lack of plans. Let the Holy Spirit anoint and guide your services but plan your services in decency and in order.
  56. At the very least, the qualifications that apply for deacons ought to apply for worship pastors and music directors.
  57. The godliness and spirituality of the worship pastors, musicians, and singers really is more important than their talents and abilities.
  58. People in the congregation ought to be able to hear themselves singing.
  59. People in the congregation should be able to understand the words that they hear being sung.
  60. If you're going to go through all that effort to put song lyrics on the screen then get them right, spell the words correctly, and change the lyrics on cue as the song progresses.
  61. Most of the songs selected for a service should be known by the saints in the pew.
  62. One should probably not introduce more than one new song per service.  Oh, I just said something like that.
  63. On the other hand, if you go six months without learning a new song you are probably turning into a museum.
  64. You may not realize it yet, but there is actually a recovery of the great songs of the faith underway.  That's a good thing.
  65. We actually need more songs written not less. From 1863 to 1915, Fanny Crosby wrote over 8,000 songs and hymns (and a number of secular pop songs as well), of which we have maintained maybe a dozen or so. All songs are not going to stick, so we need more.
  66. The music, singing, and presentation of a church should beautify, adorn, and make Jesus Christ and His Gospel more glorious, if not, then stop it. Change it up. Get back on track.
  67. The music and singing of a church should focus on God and drawing people into an experience of His glory.
  68. The music and singing of a church should use lyrics that make truth memorable and embed it on the heart.
  69. The shadow of the cross of Christ should fall often across the music of a church, and the blood of Jesus flows through its lyrics.
  70. The church should regular sing anthems of the greatness, majesty, and holiness of God.
  71. If the church can sing songs that ring with such praises as described in the previous two points and you can't worship God and sing-along, where's the problem?
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