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Emily Bounds Writing 110 Honors Dr.

Keri Franklin 12 October 2012 Worship Wars: the Ongoing Battle Between Hymns and Contemporary Christian Music

For those who worship God under the umbrella of Christianity, the use of music in the worship service is a vital part of faith life. Depending on the exact religion, different formats and styles are used for the service, but the one truth they all have in common is that music is often debated and argued over between members of the congregation. Singing worship songs is a part of religion that Christian individuals participate every week, so naturally, the worshiper wants to feel comfortable and able to easily enjoy the worship they take part in, causing everyone to have a preference. To define each genre, traditional describes the ancient hymns written in the early stages of the church which have been printed in hymnals and sung by congregations for decades, while contemporary describes the modern rock or pop-like songs released by recording artists and bands. In the Christian worshiping community, there is an ongoing debate over worshipers favorite styles of music, traditional hymns or more modern contemporary worship songs, and whether or not one is better for church than the other. Hartje, Blankschaen, and Mathis disagree on the best choice of music (or lack of best choice) and on the importance of the arguments; Hartjes view sees both styles as equally flawed, Blankschaens favors traditional hymns as the foundation for worship, and Mathiss view finds no harm in moving toward the modern style as long as it is authentic.

Bounds 2 Hartje makes it clear that the two sides to this war, though frequently debated, have surprising amounts of similarities. She writes to the main point that amidst all the discussion about differing styles, the similarities between traditional hymns and contemporary songs get overlooked (Hartje). For example, neither actually requires skill of reading music, but is accomplished by familiarity with the tunes. Hartje explains, and both provide a mediated version of the lyrics one printed on a page, the other projected on a screen or printed in a CD booklet. So in that way, both are part of contexts in which whether or not a congregational member knows a song is implied (Hartje). One who argues in favor of traditional worship might mention that most hymnals are printed sheet music, on staves with notation. But regardless of that aspect of tradition, worshippers are able to read the words underneath that correspond to the familiar hymn being sung. Another similarity which Hartje describes is that both styles of worship became an element present in peoples everyday life. She alludes to a theme written about by the Anglican bishop John Inge, who noted that hymns were often sung before supper, while traveling, and for other occasions outside of church. This also applies to praise and worship music (P&W), in that electronic media is a huge part of modern life and radio stations now hold airtime specifically for worship programs and church songs. More and more music has been released to the public in this new genre and has become transportable (Hartje). Making a connection with her previous point, Hartje suggests that because hymns and P&W are so present in individuals lives, they present similar meaning to those who sing them and become life-long devotional companions. The music functions as a meaningful way of structuring ones day. Both hymns and contemporary worship songs have a way of sticking in your head and easily accompany devotional activity, like prayer or reading scripture, thus

Bounds 3 becoming permanent companions of devotional life (Hartje). If the only difference in the genre of song, it can be said then that traditional and contemporary music impacts a spiritual individual in the exact same way, speaking to their religious life and in addition, their quotidian activities. Furthermore, both types of music create identity and form community. Supporting this claim, Hartje explains In the North American evangelical culture, which is split in so many ways because of denominational differences, music is the one factor that unites the different groups. At any given point in time, the same songs are usual en vogue in many churches around the country (Hartje). So whatever style of music being performed or played unites people, in some cases without them knowing it. More than one type of worship music is capable of bringing people together in the spirit of their god, whether or not a winner of the worship wars has been named. Even though Hartjes conclusions of their similarities are quite clear and poignant, evangelical blogger Bill Blankschaen loudly calls out, without any hesitation, a few key flaws he sees in the use of P&W in place of traditional hymns. The title alone of one post in particular is bold-faced: Why Ive Stopped Singing in Your Church. Even further, his opening statement sums up his perspective, I love music. Truly I do. I love to sing. But you wouldnt know it on Sunday morning when Im visiting your church (Blankschaen). This begins to answer the question of why people are so affected and for that matter agitated by a worship service choosing one style of music over another. He essentially divides his frustration into three problems with contemporary worship music: overly simplistic lyrics, tendency to only access the Top 40 Worship Channel, and lack of theological content. Its that so many of the songs remind me of the ditties we sang at camp when I was ten. Come to think of it, Im pretty sure the theology in some of those camp songs was more advanced than the ones Ive heard in some of your services, Blankschaen describes the lyrical

Bounds 4 simplicity (Blankschaen). He goes on to suggest that lyrics should be truthful rather than appealing to a fifth-grade level of understanding, that worship songs need to be written for an adults God-seeking soul, much like the tunes in a hymnal. In the worship wars, its obvious that Blankschaen is not neutral as Hartje, but fights more on the side of traditional hymnal use. In addition, Blankschaen seems disgusted because it seems as though P&W forgets all about the previous 2,000 years of church music history and focuses solely on the Top 40 mainstream worship songs heard on the radio, just as pop or hip hop. He argues also that hymns such as Arise, My Soul, Arise or Rejoice, the Lord is King have deeper content and doctrine than their contemporary counterparts (Blankschaen). Blankschaens reasons for ceasing to sing in your church and thus for disagreeing with Hartjes sound argument are deeply personal to his worship experience, ironically ending up in agreement with Hartjes point that both types of worship serve as permanent companions to ones devotional life. Blankschaens devotional life is interrupted by this new and disappointing change in style of music, causing his strong and blunt reaction. However, one quote from this blog does suggest that there is a greater issue, maybe one of a stubborn or self-minded origin causing his disagreement with contemporary music; Instead of feeling the joy of joining with other believers in offering praises to the Almighty, I often feel insulted, bored, and disconnected from 2,000 years of worship history. And just when I think that maybe its just me having a selfish and sinful attitude a very real possibility a flamboyant electrical guitar solo breaks out. In response to opinions like this, Mathis argues, How a song is offered minimizes and often dissolves the issue of genre. When the singer sings with authenticity, vulnerability, and deep faith, everyone in the sanctuary recognizes it (Mathis). Her article highlights a much softer

Bounds 5 side of the war between hymns and P&W, speaking from her position as a worship leader and recording artist. Mathis explains that music is the glue, regardless of the method, and has the capability to bring people and differing cultures together in one spirit, no matter what style of worship is being carried out. If the individual leading is worshiping from the heart, drawing from real faith, why should anyone be so concerned with making the genre of their worship an issue? (Mathis 1). Her argument disagrees with the main points of Blankschaens blog and possibly sees and supports some of the similarities in the study and observations Hartje has made. A happy medium is suggested, as Mathis writes about some contemporary settings of ancient hymns. She uses Tim Hughes modern remake of When I Survey, newly titled The Wonderful Cross, as an example: the lyric of the hymn is clear and delivered with raw intensity, and the timeless melody of the hymn is set to a fresh arrangement uncomfortable for a Bach lover but accessible to a 19-year-old (Mathis). Moreover, Mathis makes it apparent that she does not see traditional or contemporary worship music totally winning these wars. This new contemporary music isnt wrong, nor is the hymns which have been sung for generations, and each have their own advantages and flaws. She draws this conclusion, Some contemporary Christian music is emotionally manipulative, poorly crafted, and lyrically simplistic; and some contemporary music is thoughtful, provocative and easier to sing than older hymns. Some traditional music is powerful and timeless; and some of it is tired and clichd and sung because it's always been sung (Mathis). In this way, Mathiss argument sides with Bill Blankschaen to a certain extent: hymns are timeless and P&W is lyrically simplistic. Therefore, since neither style of worship is completely perfect, there cant be a complete win on one side of the war; compromises must be made.

Bounds 6 And though every writer or thinker on the subject can craft their own opinion based on everything they know or have observed, a paramount question is still raised: whats the point of battle? Debates and discussions continue to grow as our culture changes, but theres no way for one side to win the war, ending with all worshiping individuals in absolute agreement. Amidst these three sources alone, there are numerous points of disagreement about what style is better, what should be changed in certain worship styles, and whether or not people should be in conflict in the first place. If this example serves as a model for broad spectrum of debates between churches among the Christian parts of the country, its overwhelming that so many will fight for one genre above another when in Mathiss words, worship is truly about authenticity and deep faith. For worshipers who are more removed than involved in these ever-present debates, determining the correct style of music to be played in worship seems to be better left up to the wisdom and discernment of the deity being praised.