Fr. Kendall Harmon at Titusonenine and Fr. Leander Harding linked to my post on "The Catholicity of the Reformation", specifically my quotation of Frank Seen discussing the pros and cons of contemporary worship (ok, more con than pro), so I thought I should clarify my thinking on the subject. Here’s the reply I wrote to Eric in the comments section below:
Thanks for the comments. I don’t see them as a broadside at all. I agree with you for the most part in regards to the source of music or musical style. Indeed, I posted the piece as a conversation starter, and I’m glad it has done just that!
Where I agree with Seen is in his estimation that rejection of traditional Christian doctrine (or at least a backgrounding or deemphasizing of it) often goes hand-in-glove with an embrace of free-form "seeker-friendly" services. Indeed, the problem has become even more acute in some "emergent" circles where the doctrine of the Trinity is seen as "irrelevant," not wrong mind you, but irrelevant to our context. When I first heard this position articulated, my first response was something along the lines of "truth is never irrelevant," and I still believe that.
My own view is that there are a great many laudible and impressive elements in the contemporary praise and worship scene. There are also some negatives. One of the negatives would be that some versions of it support a subtle idolatry of the performer. Of course the very same can be said of some choral eucharists or Evensongs… for me, anything that excludes the congregation from participation and makes them observers or an audience rather than participants and worshipers is wrong. Praise music that fails to deal appropriately with the great truths of our faith is simply bad (some of it is heretical, but the same can be said of some popular hymns as well)…
Thankfully, most of the people I know who are planning services and picking music are very careful. And more and more people are writing praise music with some theological depth (rather than 14 choruses of la la la or you you you)… over the course of time the weak stuff will, I’m sure, simply no longer be used while the good songs become, as my Fiancee says, "The hymns of today" and the classics of tomorrow. Another wonderful trend I’m seeing is that of contemporary musicians setting old hymns to new music, a great way to introduce a new generation to the genius of Charles Wesley for example.
As for the selections that I’ve highlighted, I think its true that many clergy who complain about the boring nature of liturgy simply don’t know how to plan or lead it effectively while many of the worshipers who say so have had the misfortune of worshiping with one of those clergy.
I don’t think the style of service matters as much as the passion of the worshipers and the ability of the worship leader to illicit a response. I’ve seen dead churches that sing old hymns and do liturgy by the book, and I’ve seen contemporary free-form worship flop when the passion wasn’t there, and the reverse is true for each as well. In the end, the only necessity is that the people who are there to worship and show their love for Jesus in the way that best suits them and glorifies God.
I would add to this that the style of worship that has had a great deal of impact on me is what has been termed "blended" worship, which is what my field education parish, Holy Cross Church, did and I got a lot out of it. The structure of the service was a basic Rite II Eucharist from the Book of Common prayer with the processional and recessional being a great hymn of the church. In between however, the music was all contemporary–even the Lord’s prayer was set to music. Additionally, Fr. Freddy Richardson, the priest at Holy Cross is a gifted musician and liturgist, so he not only sang during the service (it’s a sung eucharist, which is also interesting with the contemporary music), he’s also authored or co-authored several of the pieces of music used in the service, all of them well-grounded theologically I might add. In conclusion I’ll cite Fr. Harding’s response to one comment:
The issue I was focusing on was not the use of contemporary praise music(which I approve, though the differences in quality is vast) in services but the replacement of the ancient forumulas by things more relevant. This is a problem on all sides of the theological divide at present.