Traditional and Contemporary Worship

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Traditional worship

When we read the above title on a sign of a denominational church building, we usually know exactly what it means. The “traditional” worship will probably be more orderly, more typical of what has always been done, and the music will be “church music” with an organ or piano and a choir, or in some cases, a “praise team.” Traditional worship will make the older people feel comfortable because that is what they have always done.

guitarContemporary worship, on the other hand, will be filled with younger people who have longed to throw off the shackles of rigid, “do-it-the-same-way-every-week” worship. Music will typically (and traditionally) be filled with guitars and drums and will be upbeat, something people can “rock” to, “raise your arms” to, and in some cases even “dance” to. In many cases there will be more freedom for anyone in the audience to “share” some part of their life or give a testimonial. All in all, the main rule will be that there won’t be rules.

Up until the last ten years or so this choice between worship styles was not usually found among what we would call “conservative” churches. But now we are seeing it appear, albeit in a little different form. Instead of one church having traditional and contemporary worship times to suit the varied tastes of the members, younger people have simply formed a “contemporary” church and left the traditional folks behind.

The reasons for these more “contemporary” churches are widely varied. Two reasons stand out:

  1. Some have reasonable complaints against older brethren who are unwilling to make simple, scriptural changes in the format of worship. In other words, young people are often rebuffed when desiring to lead songs that are newer and do not have the more traditional “Stamps-Baxter” timing. Others have met strong resistance to a leader starting a song from his seat to initiate the time of worship instead having a man giving announcements and calling the assembling to order. Some received complaints when the typical two songs, a prayer, and a song format were changed in any way. More disturbing are occasions in which young people were commanded by the elders to stop having prayer meetings at the building without “permission” or small group Bible studies. I could make a very long list of such things, but you get the point. Some folks see a “slippery slope” in some of the most innocent changes. Variety in worship format as well as the initiative of members who desire to “encourage one another to love and good works” is not only beneficial, but ought to be encouraged.praise
  2. On the other hand, while folks who attempt to turn tradition into law can trigger the beginning of a non-traditional church, it is usually not their only or even primary motivation. The reasoning goes something like this: “Those traditional folks claim to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent, but they clearly are like Pharisees adding laws where God made none.” If it stopped there, I would be in agreement with them. But it doesn’t stop there. Immature Christians, Christians who do not understand “balance” and respect for God’s authority, tend to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” In others words, “Since the traditional people are clearly wrong in making up rules, we will throw all the rules out. After all, God doesn’t care about rules! He just cares that we love Him and worship Him with feeling and the emotion of our heart.” From that, a worship period is invented that generates enjoyment, feels free and uninhibited, and stirs the emotions, but has little regard for the parameters God placed in worship and the purpose God has for worship. After all, if I feel closer to God, that is the only real test of true worship. It is usually not long before musical instruments are considered “tradition” and members are talking about feeling the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Social drinking becomes a personal choice that should not be judged and divorce and remarriage is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue.

In Titus 2, Paul addressed various groups of people that should typically be in a local church. There are instructions to older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves. John does a similar thing in 1 John 2:12-14 except that he addresses groups in the church that vary by spiritual maturity: “little children, fathers, and young men.”

With the above in mind, let’s ask a question: what is one of your first thoughts when you attend a church that has almost all older people in it? My thought is, who stopped reaching out? What happened here that young people do not want to attend? Is this a bunch of cranky people?

What is your thought when nearly everyone in a local church are young, especially when the worship is “loose” and “contemporary?” My thought is, what are these young ones up to? Why aren’t older people interested in worshiping here?

prayerHealthy churches are filled with old and young who love each other, are involved with each other, appreciate the strengths and importance of each other in the body, and who actively consider one another. Older Christians should never disregard the desires and initiative of younger Christians to have scriptural variations in the work and worship of the body. And younger Christians should never get upset with an older brother who leads worship in a “traditional” way and doesn’t particularly care to lead “camp” songs or sing during the giving. Most importantly, old and young had better be focused on giving honor and glory to the Lord and respecting His authority, not to their personal preferences in worship.

Younger Christians are just as important to the body and should be considered and respected as much as any. Conversely, younger Christians should appreciate and value the wisdom and experience of older Christians. We are one body. It is important that we act like it.

Berry Kercheville