We choose music for worship to help us tell the story of Christ to each other. We tell this story over and over – never tiring of the details – because the subject is so rich. We tell how God loved us so much that he sent his Son into our world. We tell how Jesus loved us so much that he died for our sins. We tell how Jesus conquered death and extends his grace to us. We tell how Jesus the Christ is at work in our lives and in our community.
We all agree on the story. Why then, do we disagree on the way we tell it?
Babysitting for a young nephew, I was called upon to read a bedtime story. We hunted for the requested book, but couldn’t find it. Finally, with bedtime quickly approaching, I offered to just tell the story (it was one I knew well). My nephew accepted my retelling of the tale, and turned over to go to sleep. His comment before I kissed his cheek and left the room was “the other one is better”.
I was hurt for a moment, but then understood. Sometimes when we’re listening to a story, we need for the words to go a certain way. Even though I told the story with enthusiasm, and interjected some fresh wording, he wanted the comfort of the original. Especially at bedtime on a night without his mother around, he needed the reassurance of the other story.
Same story, different storyteller: this is the problem we have with music in worship.
There are some of us who want the reassurance of the traditional hymns and liturgy. Perhaps we have lives that need the stability of a worship service (and Church, and Savior) that does not change. We crave the comfort of familiar tunes and patterns. It is important for us to tell the story of Christ as it has endured across the ages, because Christ has also endured across the ages. The hymns and tunes that have come to us through our traditions give us reassurance and comfort. In our restlessness, tradition helps us to feel settled.
Likewise, there are some of us who have felt settled for too long, who need “disturbing”. We need the words and music of fresh, new hymns and liturgy that stir up the community of believers with their excitement and enthusiasm. These contemporary hymn-songs and music break the patterns of traditionalism and give us the story of Christ told in today’s language. Although they tell of Christ who has endured across time, it is also the story of how life in Christ makes all things new. Traditional tunes don’t fit as well.
We need both types of music, both types of services. Life in Christ transcends time and place. Traditional and contemporary music serve different needs as we tell the same story, just with different storytellers. We love to tell the story.