Friday, August 15, 2008

Tradition though a telescope

An odd thing happened while I was doing some Bible Study online ... I suddenly began thinking about the tug between "traditional" worship services and "modern" ones ... between "traditional" music and "modern" in worship. I deliberately use "modern" instead of "contemporary" or similar that currently carries more connotation baggage.

In my experience, some people (clergy and laity alike) link "traditional" worship with "authentic" worship, as if any style of worship other than what they personally prefer is false worship -- not "authentic". Some carry it even further by decrying any use in a worship service of music that's considered gospel style, inspirational, or praise. They insist that "people want" the traditional hymns and service, not the "contemporary" ones. Is that true or are they projecting their personal desires onto "facts" and perhaps even selectively touting research into the area?

Perhaps we would all do well to step back a bit, peer down through the ages and take a long, unemotional look at the work of John Wesley. Wesley was considered a rebel in his day and he didn't make the Anglican Church of England very happy at all. He was concerned not only with feeding people the gospel but in feeding their bodies as well -- a primary regard for the welfare of others. Charles Wesley created tons of new music -- the Wesleys didn't just insist on music of their "good old days" during worship.

What would Wesley think of those who today insist that we must continue singing "old" religious songs merely because they are "traditional" and sung centuries ago? Would he not applaud those who create new religious music to touch the hearts of today's people? If "modern" music and worship services offer some light to people in a world of darkness, would Wesley not consider a good thing?

Like many businesses that stagnate, some current church leaders and clergy prefer to conduct worship "like we always have". We would do well to consider the words of the famous comedian Will Rogers who said, "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

So let us move forward in worship, not backward and not standing still, doing worship "like we always have." Remember, charges were brought against John Wesley for his "unusual liturgical experiments".

Something tells me that Wesley would wholeheartedly approve of using "new" inspirational religious music and even experiments in worship in order to better reach those who so desperately need to know Jesus or to know him better.