Fri 17 Sep 2010
I’m not particularly shy in expressing my admiration for the new hymnody/rewriters movement. Put simply, these worship musicians are reacting against the frequently shallow (and even occasionally unbiblical) theology of much of today’s contemporary worship. To that end, they advocate a return to the Church’s rich treasury of hymns, pushing also for the writing of new hymns. But (and here’s where they differ from what might be considered the normal “traditional” side in worship debates) they just as strongly advocate for the importance of new musical settings (guitars and all) for older hymns. In other words, they argue for the importance of using theologically robust and Christ centered lyrics. But they also want those lyrics to be made accessible to a contemporary audience through a musical “language” they can actually understand. [For a more in depth analysis of the new hymnody/rewriters movement, see my post “Worship Wars: Bridging the Divide”.
Earlier this summer, the rewriter Matthew Smith wrote a guest post for Challies.com entitled “Confessions of a Failed Worshiper”. There, he recounts the events that led to his abandoning of typical contemporary worship music for new hymnody. He recalls that, when leading contemporary worship, he would always feel that he had failed to please God.
After leading the music, I would sit down and hear a message, whose point was often that I needed to try harder. Try harder to be a “good witness” at school. Try harder to avoid temptation. Try harder to obey God.
Somehow, the idea of trying harder carried over to worship. My repertoire consisted of praise and worship songs… mainly ones that talked about how much I wanted to worship God. I thought that if I tried harder, was sincere enough, and really meant it enough, that I would enter into a state of capital-w Worship. The world around me would fade away, I would lose my inhibitions, and I would achieve a spiritual state of being lost in worship.
But this state of spiritual ecstasy never arrived. And, in my mind, there was only one person to blame–me. I was a failed worshiper.
The good news of the Gospel of Christ finally broke in upon him when, while attending college, he was part of a campus group whose preaching was Christ-centered and whose worship songs consisted of hymns set to contemporary music.
Over the following weeks, as I stood and sung these hymns and sat and heard the Word preached, I found myself intrigued, fascinated, and even offended. For the first time I heard clearly that life was not about me and how hard I tried. Every way that I had tried and failed to please God, Jesus tried and succeeded. And he didn’t do it in order to put me in His debt, or just be a good example for me to follow, or show me how easy life would be if I came up with the right strategy. He did it while I was dead in my sins. Everything that needed to be done was already accomplished at the cross, and the empty tomb meant true, lasting freedom for me.
The lyrics I was singing were not about my desires and how much I wanted to worship God, they were about Jesus and His desires, and they gave specific and beautiful reasons why He was worthy of worship.
The article is well worth a read. I commend it (and the idea of new hymnody/rewriting) for your prayerful consideration. You can visit Matthew Smith’s website here.