(or, how about a good old-fashioned Gregorian chant?)
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
~Sir Isaac Newton
Or, possibly, Sir Fig Newton. Or maybe Jimmy Neutron.
Anyway, someone said it and life since then tells us they were either very right or highly quotable.
Since the beginning of the Christian faith, believers have gathered together and sung. (See Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26 and Acts 16:25 among other verses.) In the early days, I’m guessing they sang the Jewish songs they had grown up with, but shortly after that, I’m sure they began writing their own hymns. Some people have even suggested that certain parts of the books of Paul may be him quoting early hymns.
And, I’m relatively sure, that when the first Christian songwriter wrote the first Christian hymn and presented it to the loving fellowship he worshiped with, the loving members of his fellowship beat him to an ever-loving pulp and excommunicated him.
Eventually, his song caught on and other people wrote similar songs in a similar style and they were for the most part well-received. The problem arose when someone wrote another song that was just as theologically sound, and the loving members of his (or her) church family shouted epithets at him (or her) until they broke down crying and agreed to only write songs in the way songs had always been written because that was the way God wanted songs written!
Flash forward a couple thousand years, with the knowledge that this cycle has been repeated throughout church history for the entire time of the church’s existence, and we come to “modern times” where we have become so sophisticated that we no longer excommunicate or beat anyone for music we don’t like, we just write blogs like this and articles for “Christianity Tomorrow” about “Why My Music Makes Me Holier Than Your Music, Which Will Undoubtedly Land You in the Screaming Infant Section of Hell”.
Lately, the articles I have been reading are about these wonderfully enlightened “worship leaders” (some of whom are so enlightened they’ve gone back to calling themselves “song-leaders”—just like Paul probably referred to his leader of songs back when he was conducting those brush-arbor revivals in Troas, Iconium and the southern section of Macedonia) who have been leading their congregations in praise choruses for several years* before coming to the surprise knowledge that, “Hey, some of those old hymns aren’t so bad!”
So they lead their congregations in hymns and write blogs about what “diadem” and “Ebenezer” mean and how much better and “richer” and “fuller” is the lyrical content of the old hymns, forgetting that some old hymns have all the theological and/or spiritual depth of an old Burger King jingle. I’m looking at you, “Church in the Wildwood”.
Meanwhile, they feel a need to denigrate the modern “worship choruses”, lumping them all into a “too repetitive and emotion-only” bag that is remarkably similar to the bag they used to lump all the old hymns into. In other words, for every action (in this case, a swing toward choruses), there is an equal and opposite reaction (back to hymns).
I’m not going to make one of those “can’t we all agree that … “ pleas, because that would be like trying to get all Americans to agree on and vote for the “sane” party. However, if I were going to try and build a consensus it would be that we all admit that not all hymns are great and not all choruses are bad. If I had to put an intellectual and well-written hymn, for instance, against a repetitive chorus that quotes Scripture … well, what if I like them both, for different reasons and for different uses? Maybe my spiritual diet would be best served with portions of both emotion and intellect.
This might well be delivered by a single leading voice, a choir, a worship team, a person on guitar, twelve people on guitars, a keyboardist or someone with limited rhythm playing the drums. (I just don’t understand the need for all church drummers these days to be surrounded by enormous spit guards. If they’re worried about loogies from the teens, that’s what the moving guitar players are there for: interference.)
I think the real reason we like arguing hymns versus choruses is a] because we want to validate our personal preferences and 2] a well-presented argument on the subject makes us feel superior. That being said, maybe we’d all do well now and then to participate (participate, not just sit and listen) in a worship service that takes us wildly out of our comfort zone.
*There are some churches who have been singing the same chorus over and over for all those years, because apparently no one knows how “Pass it On” is supposed to end.