News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 26, 2013

VERNA DAVIS: Music in worship has only one purpose: It’s about God

Verna Davis
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — On Nov. 30, 2002, a column I had written caused a lot of buzz. It also started a rather heated two-year email debate with a gentleman who disagreed with what I had said.

Seven months ago, I was at my sister’s bedside when a group from her church came to sing. As they sang her favorite songs, she squeezed my hand and said, “Oh good. They are singing “old geezer songs!” Yet, at her funeral a month later, she had requested a few choruses to be intermingled with those old geezer tunes!

Just after Christmas, a friend shared with me her dislike of the music services at her church. She used words like, “dull,” “boring,” “mono-tone” and “meaningless.” The very next day, another friend shared with me his dislike of any music that was not in his hymn book.

E.E. Ryden wrote a forward to a book called “The Story of Christian Hymnody.” I’ll paraphrase his rather flowery language. He said it would be difficult to estimate fully the role that Christian hymns have played in Christian growth and in the spread of the Gospel. He said that in every great spiritual movement in the history of the church, music has played a part with an outburst of a “fresh kind of song.” He noted his belief that all the current hymns in the hymn books were of literary excellence, enough so that he expressed a concern about the “weak, florid and sentimental tunes of other generations” are making their way into congregational singing making for a loss of “dignity, virile compositions and a lack of reverence” resulting in sentimental tunes in worship.

Hmmm … sound familiar? I have actually heard people say things like this about the music in their church: “I wish we could get the musicians to sing the kind of songs we want to hear. These younger people had better understand that it is the older generation that pays the bills and keeps the church running, so they’d better sing the kinds of songs we like or we will stop putting our money in the offering plate.”

I wonder if Mr. Ryden thought those things when he wrote his little piece about music. But wait! When did Mr. Ryden write those words? 1959! As in half a century ago! That generation that he was so critical of was my sister’s generation … the one who enjoys what our children’s generation refers to as “old geezer songs.”

Music in worship has only one purpose. It is not meant to entertain us, tickle our ears, please our personal music taste, showcase the talents of the musicians and soloists, placating one generation to the exclusion of all other generations. Music in worship is not about pianos, organs, guitars, drums, professional music tracks, lyrics on a screen, what hymn book we use, or any other musical paraphernalia.

Music in worship is about God. Period. It’s about praising and honoring and glorifying and testifying and raising our voices in worship of our God.

Verna Davis, speaker and writer, maybe reached at VrdSpeaks@yahoo.com.