Christianity 201

July 18, 2012

Why Modern Worship Music is Praise, Not Worship

I know you guys like to go deep, so today’s post is no exception, but unfortunately the writer delves deeply into this topic, but leaves us without a key scripture verse today, so just to frame it up, we’ll begin with a brief repeat item.


The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (NASB)

Christianity is a singing faith. No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.

Why?

The verses give us the answer, we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course, we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text. Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence. Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.


…That brings us back to today’s item with the provocative headline!  The writer is Father Christopher Smith, writing at the Catholic Education Center Resources blog.  You MUST click through to read this, I am simply reiterating his points without the supporting paragraph that goes with each one. If you leave a comment, please identify which item number you are responding to.  And please don’t leave a comment if you didn’t read the supporting paragraph for that item.

Father Christopher Smith, PhD, STD is administrator of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Taylors, South Carolina.  He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. Father Smith speaks Spanish, Italian, French and some German. He enjoys reading, kickboxing, and music.

I’ve changed his title in the headline above, because I believe he is mostly addressing the modern worship movement as practiced in most Evangelical churches and blended with hymns and liturgical music in more traditional churches. I address that more at the end of this first section.

Here’s the link: Why Praise and Worship is Praise but Not Worship.

Outline of points:

  1.  P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2.  P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence

Let me again state that where he is using the phrase P&W music, I believe it is more correct to say “Modern Worship.” The reasons he gives are rooted in a deep understanding of Roman Catholic spirituality, but are overshadowed with the assumption that only certain styles or genres of music are an appropriate part of a liturgy, i.e. a worship service. This assumes that would be impossible to make the mass (or an Protestant worship service) more culturally relevant to people overseas, or that an encounter with God through worship is not going to have a deep emotional element. (If the end result is rooted in, for example, Gregorian chant; to impose this on people in other countries is not unlike the fringe groups who insist that only the King James Bible saves, and therefore, they must first be taught King James English.)

I also think it is important to remember that today’s modern worship is an outgrowth of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, and today’s CCM has its earliest roots in the Catholic folk masses of the early 1960s. (See this video as an example.)

But I also believe it not wise to be too dismissive of the writer’s passion about the qualities of worship music we aim for; and I have reproduced this here because I believe there is application here for Christians of all stripes. This is, I believe, the type of thinking more of us need to be exposed to, even if we ultimately disagree.

He ends with a more positive restatement of the same eleven points:


  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

~Father Christopher Smith