I love tradition. If ever we do anything the same way twice (the same holiday routine, the same vacation spot, the same meal two Saturdays in a row), I immediately want to canonize it and say that we have to do it the same way every year. When Christmas time rolls around, I try to find as many ways as humanly possible to “create” tradition while Jim huddles in a corner somewhere, waiting out the storm of my enthusiasm. We have to listen to the same Christmas CD while putting up the tree, eat the same foods, use the same ornaments, etc. This also applies to my church-going routine. If I could convince my family to attend a church that played only hymns from the first century A.D. sung in Latin, I would do it. I am greatly comforted by the knowledge that if I am in error, I can blame some guy with a funny name who died thousands of years ago who may or may not have shaken the hand of our Lord and Savior. Sadly there are no such churches in our area so we have settled on a reformed church with one foot solidly planted in traditional worship and maybe a big toe and a few smaller appendages dabbling in the territory of the more contemporary.
Anyhoo, when we are visiting my greatly esteemed parents, we have occasion to visit their church. It is a good church and the preaching is excellent but the worship style is definitely a stretch for my traditional tastes. On a recent visit, I was struggling with both the style and content of a string of choruses, when a realization hit me like a censer between the eyes. (According to Wikipedia a censer is a small metal or stone dish used for burning incense which in the Roman Catholic Church is suspended on chains.) The reason I object to so many of the modern choruses is what I perceive to be an overemphasis on our emotional response to God. It isn’t that I am against emotion in general. (Just ask my kids, who enjoy forcing me to read “The Giving Tree” or “The Story of the Three Trees” just to watch me blubber like a whale on hormones at the end of each.) I love classic hymns because they tend to focus our attention on God’s attributes and his saving works, and my pigheaded self-centeredness needs all the refocusing it can get. But what I hadn’t realized was that although there are certainly some doctrinally justifiable objections to a number of choruses making the rounds these days, I was not responding based on such reason. I was responding with my emotions. I don’t like that style and it doesn’t make me feel like I am worshiping God.
I believe that there are some objective standards by which we can evaluate sacred music. (Like, for starters, could we have an actual melody that most of us can sing? And is it mandatory to repeat the chorus fourteen times? Just a thought. Not that I am bitter or anything.) But I do believe that there is a lot of room for diversity here, and we (okay, I) need to be careful that worship is what it is meant to be—an expression of our obedience to God, not an expression of how we are feeling at the moment. And if I like to worship in the traditional (read: correct) ways and you like to worship in the contemporary (read: slightly less correct but perfectly within the bounds of orthodoxy) ways, then that’s okay. Yes, we should hold one another accountable to standards of excellence in both content and form. But within those standards there is a great deal of room for diversity, just as there is a great deal of diversity within the body as a whole. After all, we are a body of many parts, not just one big toe.