Why Contemporary Worship Is Biblical

Featuring Bruce Kunkle Posted on March 30, 2010

Contemporary worship is here to stay. My purpose is not to justify it Biblically or to argue the fine,theological points. I do believe, however, that contemporary worship has its foundation in scripture.  Tabernacle and temple worship in the Old Testament featured a great deal of music (see I and II Chronicles and the book of Psalms) played by skilled musicians on a variety of instruments. A brief look at the book of Psalms shows that Psalms are generally much longer than today’s hymns. In fact, music was probably more important then than it became later. Music as part of worship survived until the timeof Christ because He sang a “hymn” (a song of praise, not a song from the hymnbook) before leaving the last supper to be crucified (Matt 26:30). Many New Testament scripture passages5 seem to quote contemporary worship songs6. That they were important is seen from the two passages where believersare reminded to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16; see also Ephesians 5:19-20).

But the heart of New Testament worship is described7 in Romans 12:1-2 where we learn that our spiritual (or reasonable) act of worship is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. While these verses say nothing about music, they do describe what happens in many contemporary worship services when, during an extended time of singing, worshipers gradually open themselves to God and His will for them. This can result in God revealing Himself to them as promised in Romans 12:2 “Then you will be able to
test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

But the major opposition to contemporary worship music is directed toward the musical style. Nine times the Bible speaks of singing a “new song” to the Lord; four times in the Psalms  and once more in Isaiah 42:10. Twice more the psalmist says he will sing a new song. In the book of Revelation, we are twice shown heavenly creatures and believers worshiping in Heaven with a new song10. Five times then, we are told to sing a new song, and four times we are given the example to follow. At the risk of being called a simple man, I believe that when the Bible says to sing a new song it means that we should sing a new song. It doesn’t say not to sing old songs, but it does say to sing new ones and if we’re not doing that, it would seem that we are disobedient to the Word of God.

Why Use Contemporary Worship?

The statistics quoted above would indicate that if your church switches to contemporary worship, your attendance may grow. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if it involves attracting people who do not presently attend a Bible-believing church. I would suggest, though, that a more noble goal is to worship God in a way that is as meaningful as possible to as many people as possible and still remain true to the word of God. Music written during the lifetime of its intended audience (i.e., contemporary) tends to be more meaningful to most people than music that is much more dated.

It can be too easy to jump on the bandwagon when everybody is doing the same thing. If the churches on both sides of yours move to contemporary worship, you may feel like “we need to do this before it’s too late.” But good things done for the wrong reason have a way of self-destructing. A worship program that self-destructs has the potential to hurt a lot of people in the process, especially its proponents.

Why Not Use Contemporary Worship?

Contemporary worship is not for the faint of heart. A song-leader and a piano player (and an optional organist) are all you need to have hymn singing. But these same people are not nearly as likely to be very useful on a contemporary worship team. If that is the case, they will feel rejected and hurt if they are displaced. You will have to put together a worship team, arrange to project lyrics, obtain new music, provide sound and musical equipment, schedule rehearsals, and deal with a hundred details that just seem to pop up out of thin air. Your pianist who played the hymns might not have been a Van Cliburn, but you could at least depend on him or her for a certain degree of musical excellence. Now, somebody’s nephew wants to play the drums on the team and you can just feel the whole thing sliding out of control.

And things can very easily get out of control. In fact, control issues will almost certainly cause some (and probably most of your) headaches. Nothing turns people nasty faster than introducing change and taking
away something they like.

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