(The following is an article I wrote for my home church’s – Bacolod Christian Community Baptist Church or BCCBC – newsletter. Pastor Ricky Benitez is the pastor of The Lord’s Lampstand-Bacolod City and has spoken in our church on a number of occasions.)
Pastor Ricky Benitez, one of our regular speakers here at BCCBC, once remarked that he finds our church unique, in that we employ traditional hymns as well as contemporary praise and worship songs in our worship. I remember sensing a note of amazement in his remark. Probably he was amazed because he was aware that for some churches hymns and contemporary Christian music don’t mix.
I have no intention of taking sides in a debate that has caused so much bitterness as to split many churches in half. All I want to do is to point out that we here in BCCBC do not find this a problem. Good hymns are a gift from God, but so are a number of contemporary praise and worship songs. The point is we sing for the glory of God songs that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy – see Phil 4:8 – whether they be traditional or modern. The songs we sing are chosen on the basis of their merits, whether they satisfy the criteria found in Phil 4:8.
Of course, others do not see things as we do. For some, the fact that we employ contemporary praise and worship songs is in their eyes proof of our having succumbed to worldliness. The fact that we use drums (electric drums at that!) is to them proof that we are flirting with seducing spirits. They argue: “Did not African pagans use drums in their worship of spirits? Do not rock stars use drums in their satanic concerts? What justification can there ever be in using these satanic instruments in church?” I wrote above that I don’t intend to take sides in this debate, but this charge is so common, and to my mind so unfair, that it just won’t do to leave it unanswered. Suffice it to say that we must distinguish between the instrument per se and the use we make of it.
It seems to me those who are critical of the use of drums in church are guilty of the fallacy of attaching guilt to someone or something by reason merely of association. The same goes for contemporary music styles: these are automatically branded as “worldly” simply because they happen to be similar to what the world is singing and enjoying. It saddens me to hear this kind of charges for the simple reason that they are simplistic and unfair. The fact is instruments in general are neutral: it’s the use to which these instruments are given that is either good or bad. For example, in the hands of a cook a knife is something to cut and carve meat with, which is of course a good use of the knife. In the hands of a murderer, however, the same knife can be use to perpetrate a crime. The point is the knife is in and of itself neutral. The same principle applies to drums and other musical instruments. Drums, guitars, keyboards can be used in a decent and orderly manner. On the other hand, they can also be used in an indecent and disorderly manner.
In the same way, good musical styles, which are decent and orderly, can be legitimately used in church for God’s glory. The fact that these same styles are popular and appreciated by the “secular world” is beside the point. The fact that these styles are modern is also beside the point. What matters is: Is this style “good”? Is there anything here excellent or praiseworthy? Can it be used in the church in a decent and orderly manner? Well then, if it is “good” in the best sense of the word, God is its author (its secularity notwithstanding), since every good and perfect gift comes from him, and God’s children are entitled to it.
Going now to the other side of the fence, we see Christians who deplore the fact that we have not completely cast away the shackles of tradition. “The hymns are good,” they say, “but they have served their purpose. They are now passé. For you to continue using them is like putting new wine into old wineskins. They are not relevant to this generation. We need new songs for a new generation. Let the dead therefore bury the dead.” My answer to that is really quite simple: some good things never grow old. We call them timeless classics. “Rock of Ages” and “How Great Thou Art” are hymns too great to die out.
The bottom line is I do not see the logic in being prejudiced against the old simply because they are old, or against the new simply because they are new. Whether they are new or old what matters is they are excellent and praiseworthy – good gifts from God that can be offered back to Him.
At any rate, after all is said and done, the thing we must never forget is that God looks at the heart. The important thing is we worship him in spirit and in truth. Whether we employ the lively style of contemporary Christian music or the more serious style of traditional hymns what matters is we truly seek to love, please and honor him. Pastor Ricky Benitez said a very wise thing one time: “If you focus on the externals you’ll always find something to criticize.” What matters in worship is the attitude of our hearts towards God and our submission to his will as revealed in his Word. When this is foremost in our worship of God the criticisms by people who cannot see our hearts in the first place will not be able to hurt us. “Men heed thee, praise thee, love thee not; the Master praises! What are men?”