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New songs of praise

Let the godly sing with joy to the Lord, for it is fitting to praise him… Sing new songs of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp and sing with joy. — Psalm 33:13

“Worship wars” is a sad term in the history of Christian dialogue. It is difficult to imagine anything more discouraging than Christians actually fighting over the subject of worship. But it happens.

“War” may be too emotive a word to describe what has happened, but “skirmish” is a little on the weak side, given the emotion generated by the issue.

The problem has its roots in the tendency to equate music with worship. Not many years ago, song leaders gave way to worship leaders—with little discernible difference in function. People old enough to remember song leaders may sometimes wonder about their metamorphosis into worship leaders and all that’s involved in the change. Of course, music has been and continues to be a powerful means of expressing praise and communicating a message. It is a legitimate aspect of worship! But worship is much more than music and involves more than praise.

Perhaps the central question, and the biggest cause of strife, is, “What precisely constitutes worshipful music?” To a large extent, the differences of opinion on this issue are generational. Younger people have been raised in an era dominated by a powerful music industry that fills every waking moment with music—most of it contemporary. So their musical tastes have been firmly fixed in place, and they often have little knowledge of, or interest in, music that is not contemporary in style. Meanwhile, the older people, having been raised on “church music,” view the new styles with varying degrees of suspicion and rejection.

So what to do? The psalm writer gives us some clues. First, he said, “Let the godly sing with joy to the Lord” (Psalm 33:1). Music has a mandatory place in worship, and it must be addressed to the Lord.

Second, the psalmist encouraged the people to “sing new songs of praise to him” (33:3). So there is a place for contemporary music!

But third, the music should be done well. Musicians who aspire to lead worship should learn to “play skillfully” (33:3).

Fourth, song (or worship) leaders should constantly bear in mind that their songs and everything else in their worship should be based on “the word of the Lord” that “holds true” for everyone regardless of musical taste or generational preferences (33:4).

The only war the church is commissioned to fight is the war against evil. The only restriction on the church’s style of worship is that it be compatible with truth. The only explanation for worship wars is that the evil one has deflected our focus. So let’s get back on track.

For further study: Psalm 33:1-22

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.