A Question of Accessibility
Emerging Confessions Part One

What Should Worship Sound Like?: Dusting Off an Old Story

Back in July of '06, I wrote an blog post entitled, "The Pope's Rift with Riffs" on my blog, relevintage.com.

I would like to dust it off for the sake of conversation here on Worship Helps.  Here it is:

It's official.  The Pope has entered the worship wars.

From the New York Sun this past week:

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI has called for an end to electric guitars and modern music being played in church and demanded a return to traditional choirs and Gregorian chants.

The Catholic Church has been experimenting with new ways of holding Mass to try to attract more people. The recital of Mass set to guitars has grown in popularity in Italy; in Spain, Mass has been set to flamenco music, and in America, the Electric Prunes produced a “psychedelic” album called “Mass in F Minor.”

However, the use of guitars and tambourines has irked the pope, who loves classical music. “It is possible to modernize holy music,” he said at a concert conducted by the director of music at the Sistine Chapel, Domenico Bartolucci. “But it should not happen outside the traditional path of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonic choral music.”

His comments prompted the newspaper La Stampa to compare him with Pope Pius X, who denounced faddish classical and baroque compositions and reinstated Gregorian chants in 1903.

Uh oh.  Get your camo on...

As I have been in ministry and encountered with the idea that an earlier musical form is a more Biblical form of worship, I can’t help but feel like we are actually talking about something extra-Biblical. In fact, it borders on elitism.

Does the Pope really have scriptural grounds for his comments? Is he saying that Gregorian chants are a more purer form of worship? Eh?

It is amazing to me that one will elevate one form of worship music style over another, claiming it is more Biblically appropriate, when in reality, it is just their preference [the article says the Pope ‘loves’ classical music].

Sorry Benedict, all musical styles are affiliated with some form of cultural expression. Further, music has no inherent spiritual content. In other words, it is amoral. Music is a message bearer. Lyrics are the message.

Here is the rub. There are those of us who prescribe to the idea that it is Biblical to be missional to our culture [just read Acts 13 [+/-] & 17].  So for me, cultural relevance, as it pertains to music, is a non-negotiable.

But I don’t claim that it is a non-negotiable for everyone, depending on their context.

What I struggle with is those who have deemed that a certain musical form from a certain time is the only acceptable form within the context of corporate worship.

Now, can those who endorse contextual worship border on snobbery? Yes. I am concerned that for the sake of being relevant, we diminish the rich tapestry of all musical styles. So fellow contextualizers, in defending the Bible’s liberties, we have to be careful not to fall into the same elitist trap.

Here is the bottom line:  Can’t we appreciate of the many diverse musical styles that help individuals engage with God in worship? Can’t we agree that different people respond differently to certain worship styles? Can’t we affirm that we need the full breadth of worship expressions within evangelicalism?

The issue of music styles falls into the category of a non-essential. Let’s not condemn, globally, something that is against our preferences!

Especially you Benedict!