Saturday, August 25, 2012

Old Rugged Hymns

I’m hearing a lot of talk lately about the theological integrity of worship lyrics. It’s a reasonable concern. Many churches are complete with songwriters who provide original material specific to the church’s worship and theological needs. Just think of the possibilities. Just think about all the money that will be saved. Who needs the music industry, anyway?

It’s a little scary, though, don’t you think? I mean, for all the foibles and flaws of the business, it provides a good training ground for writers to learn the craft. Unfortunately, industry standards are, indeed, more about the craft than the theology. Craft. Let’s see. That can be code for “Will radio love it?” Nothing wrong with a little commercial appeal. No more of those old stodgy hymns like The Old Rugged Cross that go on for ten minutes.

Have you sung all the stanzas to The Old Rugged Cross lately? It tells quite a story. It’s not easy to get that much information into the few lines and short phrases of a worship tune. You can’t, really. What to do, what to do? I wish we could keep writing traditional sounding hymns for the church to keep the format alive and fresh, (instead of merely changing the tunes and forcing the old hymns into new molds), but the money would be an issue. If you can’t play it on radio, how will it go mainstream for all the churches to sing? The delivery system and flow of money disintegrates. Let’s write them anyway, along with the worship songs.

Getting back to the songwriting worship team trend, maybe this is a good thing. Creative forces are exploding everywhere. What if writers write for the church instead of for the publishers? Of course, I thought that was what I was doing, or more specifically, I thought I was writing for the Lord, and my publisher was simply a stepping-stone on the way to the people, the aggregator and collector of the material and the money, a necessary facilitator. I always assumed that Christian publishers were, hopefully, called to what they do, concerned about the message first, the money second. I’ve always been a little naïve.

Still the question lingers: where’s the accountability? Without a publisher acting as editor to critique and guide, without a standard raised by the pros at every corner of the professional music maze, how will we have quality and theology control?

On the other hand, change is good. It’s the fertile ground of creativity. In some sense, change IS creativity. New. Exciting if you let it be. We may be uncomfortable for a season, but it will all shake out okay.

It’s not exactly new for God to shake things up. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:27-29 where it speaks of the “removal of things that are shaken” so that “the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” He says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Whatever may happen, the good news message of God’s unfailing love is not going away, and neither is music. So, we’ll work it out. What a beautiful creative playground, all these songwriting worship leaders everywhere. We may just have to trust the Spirit to lead, again.

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