face the music

Here is my latest for Our Daily Journey. As always, if you see something, say something. Thanks!

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other (v. 33).

The wise pastor told his new worship director, “There is one style of music I hope you never play in our church.” She grabbed a pen and asked, “What is it?” He replied, “I will never tell you. If we all insist on getting our own way, we will never sing anything.”

Few issues are more controversial in church than music. Some churches solve the problem by providing two worship options, a traditional service for older folks and a contemporary one for those who enjoy more upbeat music. This often keeps both groups happy, but at some cost.

Marva Dawn warns, “it is utterly dangerous for churches to offer choices of worship styles.” She says it divides the church, treats Christians as consumers whose tastes must be catered to, and robs us of the opportunity to serve our neighbor. We should rejoice when a tune is sung that we don’t like, for that is an opportunity to deny ourselves for the sake of our brother or sister (Matthew 16:24). When veteran saints try to learn a new chorus or young people sing an old hymn both are saying to the other, “This may not be my cup of tea, but I’m willing to make room for you. I will sing along for your sake, and the whole church will benefit.” Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are unwilling to do this during worship, when do we think we ever would? (Mark 12:29-31).

God expects there will be variety in our worship services. He made us different, and He says that Spirit filled believers will variously sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19). Our great God deserves to be praised by the widest variety of worshipers and styles. Keep your preference, and keep it to yourself.







22 responses to “face the music”

  1. […] Wittmer recently posted a nice reflection about worship styles in our church services that I found […]

  2. Jeremy

    I just returned from a weekend trip to Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to seeing the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Johnny Cash Museum, I had the privilege of spending Sunday morning at “The Mother Church of Country Music”. The Ryman Auditorium, originally named the Union Gospel Tabernacle, was built as a permanent place for evangelist Sam Jones to preach. I got chills standing on the former Grand Old Opry stage, where so many classic talents have performed for 120 years.

    I am glad you are becoming open to Gospel Bluegrass, Dr. Wittmer! I am sure Dr. Meadors will be, too! Welcome to the fold of Christians who appreciate all types of good music!

  3. mikewittmer

    Whoa, Jeremy. I am pretty sure that “Gospel Bluegrass” is an oxymoron, and that the banjo was invented by the devil, in conjunction with wayward NT profs, to torment their righteous theological brothers. I see that I will need to dramatically qualify what I’ve written to prevent sinful minds from twisting it for nefarious purposes. It seems that impending fatherhood has messed with your heart.

  4. Jeremy

    It was worth a shot. I thought maybe you were turning over a new leaf. I will keep you in my prayers. One day, the scales will fall from your eyes, and you will embrace the beauty that is pickin’ and grinnin’!

  5. Ray Paget

    Thanks for noting the wisdom of Marva Dawn.

  6. Jonathan Shelley

    I was thinking (and this is just my initial reaction) that Heb 10:25 is actually a more powerful verse for this meditation. Isn’t that the danger of splitting the congregation by worship style, that we are effectively forsaking the assembly?

  7. mikewittmer

    Thanks, Jonathan. How have you been? Rumor is you’re sinking money into your house. Remember, this can’t go on forever. Once everything is replaced, you’re good to go. Or stay.

  8. Great work, Dr. W.

    I wonder if churches are guilty of emphasizing the “EXPRESSION of worship” to the point where “expression” equals “preference.”

    I’m paraphrasing Bob Kauflin here, but “Services that divide generationally announce loud and clear that music has more power to pull us apart than the gospel has to pull us together.”

  9. I think one thing worse than offering a choice in worship music is for those with power to determine that they will never, ever use the style(s) of music that speak deeply to a significant chunk of the congregation. It doesn’t matter whether that chunk is young or old or Anglo or black or Latino or something else–if we declare that their kind of music isn’t worth considering, we’re effectively declaring that they don’t matter. We are ceasing to pastor them, and should not be offended when they look for a group of believers where they are neither invisible nor devalued. If I love my brothers, I want them to be able to worship.

  10. paul M

    Mission oriented churches tend to avoid this debate. Because all decisions are put through the prism of “is this effective for reaching the lost” those who do not share the enjoyment of a style instead enjoy seeing the lost enjoy hearing the gospel.

  11. I am troubled by the decisions made by leadership in churches abandoning scriptural, reverential, music that is dominated by the “melody”, not the beat. Music affects the listener, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Does the music in worship draw you to sensual bodily motion, more than the truth and beauty and holiness of our God? We’re losing the great hymns, and spiritual songs that have blessed our souls and replacing them more and more with bodily or emotionally “feel good” music! And I do think there are songs that are written today that are fine, for example, the Getty’s works. However, much that is written today I believe, caters to the flesh more than the Spirit.

  12. I so appreciate your discussion. Our church is split at present into two worship services: traditional and contemporary. The two congregations have little interaction so we do not know one another. It grieves my heart that we went this route, I do not see much fruit when it comes to doing this. Now that it has been done, I do not know how the pastors will ever bring us back together again. “A house divided cannot stand”.

  13. […] Sunday May 11 I preached “worshipping God in music”, which I’ll post online.  Mike Wittmer wrote on his blog on the same topic and arrived at some same conclusions.  Thank you […]

  14. […] recently read a brief article by Mike Wittmer, professor of theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, that summed up this […]

  15. […] Face the Music “God expects there will be variety in our worship services. He made us different, and He says that Spirit filled believers will variously sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19). Our great God deserves to be praised by the widest variety of worshipers and styles.” […]

  16. […] I love the little anecdote in this post by Mike Wittmer: […]

  17. Craig Curtis

    Don’t forget to add God inspired rap lyrics. The young fellow at the prison taught me that rap can be beautiful when the lyrics praise and worship the Lord. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to rap by choice but this young man, demonstrated his way of praising the Lord. I think you might remember him, he was the one who read a poem to the Lord when he was baptized.

  18. Jim Huber

    The worship music influence that I came out of is pretty well defined by this book:

    I know the author personally and respect him greatly. But, I left that church in 2002 and one aspect of that calling away was regarding music (as well as the church’s deep Bob Jones roots).

    I do recommend this book to anyone who wants a credible, understandable explanation of why traditionalists are so troubled by CCM. As I said, I don’t agree with all his points but they are valuable perspectives to hear.

  19. […] Rivalries…we all love them, but at the same time we all hate them. They make sports games better, individuals more driven, and life more interesting. The beauty of rivalries, I believe, is the best they bring out of both teams. However, rivalries have their down side as well. They can cause hatred, tension, and polarization. And if there is one place those three things should not exists its within the local church body. There should be love, unity, and community. However, few issues can polarize, cause tension, and stir up hatred than music. This article gives one great point about music in the church. Face the Music! […]

  20. […] Unfortunately, one of the greatest venues where music divides rather than unites is the church. This article speaks to that division and gives an exhortation I needed to hear and wanted to […]

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