Quick—grab a pen and jot down five of your favourite songs to sing at church on Sunday.
Now take a look at what you wrote. Do all of or most of your songs lean toward a certain time period or style?
If you’ve been raised to worship God with songs in a certain style, it makes perfect sense to relate better to that style. The problem arises when believers assume that their way is the only way to worship. Christians brought up on hymns may cover their appalled ears at the hammering drumbeats and electric vibrations of modern worship hits. Worshippers bred on 21st-century praise songs may scoff at the archaic four-syllable mouthfuls in some of the Victorian worship classics.
What does the Bible have to say about worship music across the centuries?
Turning to the songbook nestled in God’s word, we discover the enduring power of God-adoring music and lyrics. Psalm 145:4 tells us that “one generation shall commend [God’s] works to another.” God’s people have always been doing this through song. The Book of Psalms itself is a Spirit-breathed legacy left to us by some of the earliest worship leaders. Songwriters today still dig into this treasure chest of lyrics to root their creations in a strong foundation of faith. Praise is meant to be passed down.
But there’s room for modern music as well. Psalm 149:1 invites us: “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!” New songs can take their good share of cudgelling. A revolutionary young worship musician was once harshly criticized for publishing a praise song that was too “man-centred” and “focused on human experience.” That song was no other than Isaac Watt’s now beloved hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
For the first 12 years of my life, my idea of church music was almost exclusively limited to a certain brown hymnbook in the pews of the sanctuary where my parents and I sat every Sunday. Visiting Faith for the first time in 2009, I was amazed to see a full worship band, complete with guitars and drums. The foreign-sounding choruses and syncopated beats of Chris Tomlin’s masterpieces overwhelmed my ears, which until then had been fed on the intricate poetry of “The Solid Rock” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Since then, I’ve learned that both old and new worship songs have the power to touch people’s lives and direct them towards Jesus.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not play drums in church.” Nor does it say, “The old hymns have passed away; behold, the new Hillsong hits have come!” What the Bible does say is this: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1)
The pronouns make it clear: church worship is an “us” thing. Because it’s an “us” thing, God calls us to listen to the songs He uses to work in people’s hearts—no matter how sacrilegiously loud or outdated they may seem at first.
Whatever way we may prefer to make that “joyful noise” to our praiseworthy God, let’s take the time to learn how worshippers young and old prefer to make theirs. Why not invite someone from a different generation to share their top 5 church worship songs with you this week? After all, we never know if one of those songs will make it onto eternity’s worship set list.
(Bible quotes taken from the ESV.)