Let’s Rise Above…A Response to Tom Raabe’s article “Why Churches Should Ditch the Projector Screens and Bring Back Hymnals”
In his article, Why Churches Should Ditch the Projector Screens and Bring Back Hymnals, writer and editor, Tom Raabe, offers an extensive article on worship and the place of technology in worship gatherings. For a few months this article has been shared on social media by church goers, resulting in attacks on the modern style of worship, which includes projection screens, contemporary music, informality in worship, and everything else opposed by traditionalists (that’s his self-proclamation, not mine!). Raaeb’s article may not have been intended to divide the church, but it is certainly not unifying the church. The tone and language of his article do nothing to affirm the bride of Christ, but only discourage her.
From the beginning, Raaeb pits generations and styles of worship against one another. After offering a short history of the debate over worship, Raaeb writes, “More likely, the reason you don’t hear much about the worship wars is that one side has won. It may not be a total victory, but one side is clearly winning while the other is cowering in a back pew….” Seriously? What benefit is this thinking to the unity of the church? We are not playing against each other in the church. We are on the same team! Well, we should be, anyway! The church is not a place of winners or losers! The church is most definitely not a place of cowards! Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for the church (Eph. 5:25). Let us not bash her with such slanderous statements.
Raaeb continues his article addressing the informality in worship today. He writes, “Informality in worship is way up (shouting “Amen,” wearing shorts to church) and formality is way down (calling the minister “Pastor So and So,” dressing up for services).” Did he really just equate the shouting of “Amen” to informality? Using his words and reasoning, Raaeb will be uncomfortable with the “informality” of heaven! John’s eschatological vision is clear of those gathered around the throne of God who will shout for eternity, “Amen” in affirmation of the One who sits on the throne of heaven (Rev. 5:13-14).
As a pastor, I am less concerned with the formality of worship and more concerned with the authenticity of worship. Jesus gave clear guidelines for worship in John 4:23 when He said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Spirit and truth have nothing to do with formality, but it does have everything to do with substance. Worship should be spirit-filled and grounded in truth, specifically, the truth of God’s Word! This must be the standard for all worship music—hymns, praise chorus, or modern contemporary music.
Speaking of substance, Raaeb argues, “as hymnals fade, theology also suffers.” While he does not dive off the deep end of this debate, Raaeb does imply a lack of theology in modern contemporary music. He continues, “the rich repository of religious wisdom contained in hymns will be lost.” This reasoning implies no religious wisdom on the part of modern-day song writers. Does God not speak, through His Word and the Holy Spirit, to song writers today, as He did the hymn writers of yesteryear? Can God not bless the church today with songs of praise and glory, from gifted writers, as he did the church of old? Sure, He can, and He does! If there is a fear of losing theology with the progression of time, through contemporary music, let us discard modern music, as well as hymns, and return to singing from the Psalter. Therein would be no threat of losing theology or religious wisdom.
This argument of lack of theology seems to be the battle cry of many who oppose modern Christian music. Here is where I take major issue with Raaeb’s position, and all who make this argument, because it is simply not true! Raaeb argues, “The old-fashioned language of hymns may strike some as unusual, but their text teaches the Christian faith far betterthan most of the choruses that dominate contemporary services.” There is no evidence to support this argument. This is purely speculative. I wonder if Raaeb would critique me for not preaching from the “old-fashioned language” of the King James Bible? For many who wave this banner (and the KJV only banner, for that matter) it is a statement of ignorance. Unless one has taken the time to give careful consideration to the lyrics of modern worship music, let us not make such a categorical and determinative statement.
Now, I will be the first to argue that not all modern, contemporary Christian music is theologically accurate. But let us be fair—neither are all hymns. There are both hymns and modern music which should be avoided in our worship services. However, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. For many, hymns and contemporary music carry emotional or sentimental appeal, but we must not sacrifice substance for style. If I have peeked your interest of hymns with poor theology, read Mike Leake’s article, “6 Hymns That Have Been Teaching You Bad Theology.”
In his concluding thoughts on hymnals providing deep, theologically rich worship, Raaeb writes, “Inked on the paper accompanied by notes and staffs, hymnals were real. The words on the screens may look like the words in the book, but they lack substance. They will disappear the moment the switch is flipped off.” Well, so do the words of hymns the moment you close the hymnal! I believe Raaeb’s thinking is dangerous to the church, because his arguments place more focus on the methods than the message. As in theology, where we have primary doctrines, which we guard at all costs, and secondary doctrines, which we can agree to disagree on, I believe hymnals and technology in worship is a secondary issue. As times and cultures change, so has worship. We do not worship the same way Moses did. Nor the same way Paul did. Nor the same way Martin Luther did. This does not mean their styles or orders of worship were wrong. We do worship the same God of Moses, Paul, and Luther! We do not have to divide fellowship, or pit groups against each other, to worship the Lord together. As leaders in the church we must rise above this debate to lead the church with a kingdom perspective!
While Raaeb says much in his article, there is one thing lacking, and it is very important—scriptural support. There is not one reference to the Bible to support any of his statements. Now, let us be honest, many of Raaeb’s preferences come from a history of his own respective church tradition, as do mine. However, when we draw our convictions from church tradition, instead of God’s Word, we have fallen into the same sin as Roman Catholicism. Let us, traditionalists and non-traditionalists, not abandon scriptural truth on the altar of culture, preferences, traditions, or personal expectations. There are a group of people in the New Testament whom Jesus clearly rebuked for the same practice (Matthew 23).
Let us celebrate the diversity of the people of God and the diversity of worship in the house of God! Let us realize today is a day when everyone outside the church is trying to destroy what God wants to do inside the church. Let us remember there is a clear distinction between conviction and preference. We must realize these concerns from Raaeb, and others, are personal preference. In full disclosure, I have a personal preference in worship style as well. There is no rebuke necessary on either side of this debate. Instead, “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:29, 31-32).