Dr. Barbara J. Resch writes:
"500 teenagers who participated in my research study have stated what many of us already know: that the Church's song both reflects and forms what that Church believes, that importing a musical expression into the Church from a conflicting culture is dishonest and ineffectual, and that the music of the Church needs to carry its text clearly and understandably to all of its members. When it does not reflect the popular taste of any particular age group, and when it nurtures its own particular language, the Church's expression becomes both diverse and inclusive, because it is unbounded by the considerations of age. It becomes "our music" early in life, draws on the richness of past centuries, becomes ever fuller with the discovery and endurance of new creative expressions, and then remains ours for a lifetime. "
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So this is saying that churches who use more contemporary forms of music are "dishonest"? I would be more cautious of levelling that accusation at a fellow believer.
It is curious that the writer feels that the text should be clear and yet should nurture its own language. The problem with this is that it may only be understood by the initiated and be a barrier to those coming to faith. In practice I feel that the church always goes through periods when popular tastes are made part of worship (for example in the 19th century when the Salvation Army put Christian words to popular tunes.), these songs are then subsumed into the great and diverse body of worship material the church uses. We do not make church culture in a vacuum. We all live and are effected by the culture around us.
It's great that some churches go for worship drawn from our culture. It's also great that some churches stick with the main body of the tradition.
It seems to me one of the implications is that the music should be associated with significant emotional/spiritual experiences--if the church is not engaging you, neither will the music. If you are finding a connection, either to other humans or to God, the type of music is less important.
Phil brings up a good point. I think even further, to those kids surveyed, the church IS its own culture in their minds and they value it as a part of their identity and appreciate the separation between it and the current popular music. It's the closest they have to an idea of Sanctity. Even her survey was a bit biased when she asks "Imagine sitting in church..." Many cultures don't sit. Our particular, or in her case Lutheran, culture does sit in pews.
Although I agree that Christianity must avoid imitation and emotionalism to make it hip, I think that the responsibility of musicians of this and any culture is to bring light to tradition through creative means. That may entreat old forms but it also draws into new and unexplored forms and, much in the image of GOD, continually creates that which has always been.
I'm not by any means a fan of "contemporary" church music (if by "contemporary" you mean the guitar-assisted folksy songs or the soft-pop ballads that seem to invite vocal gymnastics on the part of music leaders), but I think there are those who really connect with that sort of music and enjoy having it supplement their worship experience. Maybe they're alienated by the music I find inspiring (Latin chants, more traditional hymns, etcetera), just as I am by what they find inspiring. To that end, I like that many churches offer different types of music at different services, i.e. having a "traditional" service and a "contemporary" one on Sunday mornings.
However, I think this tends to lead to the formation of distinct communities within a single church. Is that worse than having people leave because the music doesn't move them? I don't know. How can we acknowledge that different people have different needs without worsening the divisions? I guess that's a question for the liturgical experts. In the meantime, I'll stick with my traditional hymns.
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