Congregational Singing Is Cool Again

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Jim's picture

Previous record = 2 miles 

This one from Indianapolis to D.C. with a ricochet in Minneapolis

We need to be careful when pendulums swing. I’m glad that twenty-first-century Christians are rediscovering the blessing of congregational singing. I’m thankful that wise spiritual leaders are pushing praise bands off the platforms, telling organists to tone it down, and encouraging congregations to do what God commands — to sing. I rejoice that Mark Dever, John Piper, and the Gettys are making congregational singing cool again. But watch out for those who fail to understand that when pendulums swing, things like choirs, ensembles, quartets, and solos can get broken if we neglect to understand that special numbers are simply an element of congregational singing and should therefore be viewed as an integral part of the worship service.

TylerR's picture

Here is another excerpt from the P&D article

While I’m thankful that congregational music has become cool again, I would encourage church leaders to exercise discernment and caution in order to receive the counsel of Mark Dever and John Piper with wisdom. Let me explain.

This is what I wrote on the P&D comment board:

What I am disappointed in is the incessant fortress-mentality from some men, the compulsion to "warn" people against everything - especially conservative evangelicals. Phelps frames the article at the outset by warning us to "exercise discernment and caution" before we accept and counsel from Dever and Piper on music. He closes by warning against "pendulum swings." This compulsion detracts from the point of the article, and is unnecessary.

At the beginning and end of the article, Phelps framed this as a warning against heeding any advice from Dever and Piper on music. "Ya'll might like what ya hear from them fellas, but I'm 'a tellin' ya - watch out fer 'em!" It is more wagon-circling, "the grass isn't greener over there" rhetoric.

Phelps has good points to make. He could have made them without more tired references to evangelicals. For too many men, their banjo has but one string - and it's labeled "evangelicals are bad."

This is why, instead of being helpful, his article reads as pitiful and cheap.

This could be good material. But, instead, it's been poisoned by the bitter swill of "pious" disapproval. Certain strands of fundamentalism cannot help but produce this slop; in some circles it's endemic and as ineradicable as Ebola, and no less deadly. It's a sickness; an unhealthy compulsion to castigate everyone who isn't like you; a mad desire to tear down, not build up. The kind of fundamentalism that routinely produces this kind of slanted and unhealthy rhetoric needs to die.

Every time I read something infected with this kind of bias, I feel profound sadness and disgust. I pray I don't become like this.

Chuck, you used to be a Bible College president - can't we do better than this?

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

TylerR's picture

I don't there was evil intent. It's just a symptom of a mentality that needs to go away.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Steve Davis's picture

This comment caught my attention (in addition to Tyler's observations on warnings about those evangelicals:

"But watch out for those who fail to understand that when pendulums swing, things like choirs, ensembles, quartets, and solos can get broken if we neglect to understand that special numbers are simply an element of congregational singing and should therefore be viewed as an integral part of the worship service."

Maybe you better watch out for me! I'm not a fan of most special music. It's not wrong. Quartets, ensembles, etc. are a tradition/practice in many churches and it works for them. But I don't see special music as an "integral part of the worship serivece." We don't have a choir or special music - maybe we had special music once or twice when someone was visiting with us. Maybe we would if we were a larger church or had inherited a church with special music. My experience is that special music isn't always that special and I don't see the point of having the choir up front looking at the congregation (or the pastor(s) sitting on the platform). Our congregation really is the choir and I find it more special than special music. I do agree that there are churches with "worship teams" so loud and dominant that they drown out the congregation or provide the music/entertainment for others to listen to. That's not "cool."

TylerR's picture

This is what we look like to conservative outsiders. I stand by my response:

Younger men, let's resolve together to not be like this.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Craig Toliver's picture

Proclaim and defend WHAT?!

Ron Bean's picture

Explain to me again why the FBFI is shrinking into insignificance. This snide, hyper-critical, nit-picking attitude is why the FBFI  has gone from annual meetings in large venues to local churches. Keep this up and I may live to see a meeting in the back room at Golden Corral.

"Now get off my lawn!"

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

AndyE's picture

I don’t know but some of these comments seem like vast overreaction.  What is so wrong with Phelps noticing a trend he disagrees with (i.e., eliminating choirs, solos, specials from the worship service) and highlighting where he thinks this trend is coming from (i.e., the Dever’s, Piper’s, and Getty’s of the world).  You don’t think these groups are influencing our churches in that way?  I don’t see what’s wrong with trying to identify where you think this trend is coming from.  Maybe he’s wrong about the source. Maybe you disagree with what he is concerned about.  But is the right response to say, for example, that the “one thing” our older generation of Fundamentalist leaders are good at is hating people?  The one thing? Seriously?  I think maybe a more gracious reading of this article might be in order.

To Phelps’s point, I agree with the priority of congregational singing but I also agree that eliminating choirs, special music, et al, diminishes the overall worship service and the ability of those with gifts to minister musically to others.  Some songs don’t work congregationally but can be performed effectively in choirs, or groups, or solos to teach biblical truth to the soul.

TylerR's picture

As I wrote above, I think Phelps had good points to make. I just think he ruined them all by his unnecessary framing against Dever and Piper. It's the one-string banjo all over again - "evangelicals are bad." That is my protest. That has always been my issue with the FBFI. If they don't fix this or come to grips with it, it'll die. They don't seem to see it. There are too many articles where the authors sound like grumpy and/or bitter men. I don't think it's a coincidence. It seems to be a unconscious compulsion.

They can do better than this. If they couldn't do better, then I wouldn't be upset when I see things like this.

Regarding the "one thing" comment, I stand by that. Some fundamentalist leaders are good expositors, but not many. Others are good pastors. Others are great teachers. But, the one universal thing fundamentalists have generally all been good at is hating other people. Have you been reading Bauder's mini-series on the CBA, NTAIBC and the FBFI? Let me sum it up for you - they all hated each other. That series is the most depressing stuff I've read in a long time. That is our heritage. Pardon me while I retch.

Perhaps there will be a season in my life when I am proud of Baptist fundamentalism. That season is not now. We can and must do better. I don't think warning folks against Dever, who wrote 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church and Baptist Foundations, is a particularly helpful step forward.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

They can do better than this. If they couldn't do better, then I wouldn't be upset when I see things like this.

Regarding the "one thing" comment, I stand by that. Some fundamentalist leaders are good expositors, but not many. Others are good pastors. Others are great teachers. But, the one universal thing fundamentalists have generally all been good at is hating other people. Have you been reading Bauder's mini-series on the CBA, NTAIBC and the FBFI? Let me sum it up for you - they all hated each other. That series is the most depressing stuff I've read in a long time. That is our heritage. Pardon me while I retch.

Tyler, you can do better than this.

First, you are entirely wrong to say the summary of Bauder's series is "they all hated each other." While some of the actions in the CBA seemed quite underhanded, the resulting groups pulling out of that fellowship were not in agreement about how to proceed. The men involved had decisions to make that took them in different directions at the time. To say they hated each other is really reading too much into it.

Further your comment: "Pardon me while I retch." This is the kind of dramatic hyperbole I object to when you take this tangent. How is it helpful? How does it advance the argument? How is it any different from the tactics of "haters past" which you say you object to?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

AndyE's picture

There are five blog articles on the front page of Proclaim and Defend right now and this is the only article that mentions an evangelical (unless you count normal academic type footnotes). So, they are hardly a one-string banjo -- they have articles on all sorts of things. Maybe its just that SI highlights these types of articles.

And, two, Phelps doesn't say that Dever or Piper or the Gettys are bad. He doesn't.  He's dealing with a very narrow topic and saying that they are "overemphasizing" something. Why should it be controversial to suggest we need discernment when listening to the counsel of Dever and Piper?  Are those guys infallible?  Plus, in the context of the article, he's just talking about discernment in regard to what Phelps sees as an overemphasis.

I don't see any bitterness or grumpiness in this article.  I like Mark Dever. I've been to his church and I appreciated the service. It was very conservative. I posted about it on Facebook.  It was great but I agree that he has an overemphasis here and that he has influence in this area.  It's legitimate for Phelps to point this out.

TylerR's picture

Fair enough. There is a divide here that will likely only be breached when the FBFI dies. It makes me sad to read Bauder's series. There is nothing there to be proud of. It's a history of backstabbing, divisiveness and pettiness. I'd be one of the men who had nothing to do with either organization. I become upset when I see this kind of animosity perpetuated.

That's where I am now. Many younger men feel the same. That's why the FBFI will die.

I understand other people still like the FBFI and the brand of Baptist fundamentalism it represents. I wish Greg Linscott and the other guys all the best as they desperately try to right a sinking ship. I don't think it will work. I'm also not entirely sure it should work.

I'm done with fundamentalism as an identifiable movement. It's better framed as a philosophy of ministry. Ciao, fellas. Life is too short for this.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Of course Bethlehem and CHBC have not omitted choirs and special music all together.  They are just not essential parts of every service. Good grief, he's talking with Keith Getty who is a performer who has concerts! This implication was just fiction that seemed to be added to the narrative to make those inside the FBFI "Village" more fearful of those outside. 

While I have no objection to special music and choirs, my personal preference is to sing rather than to be sung to. 

And remember P and D is the voice of the FBFI. Chuck's article didn't get here without being approved.

BTW, I'm old enough to be familiar with the battles Bauder writes about. "Hating" each other may, and I say may, be hyperbole. The fact is that they and their followers didn't like each other, refused to work together, separated from each other, and often spoke disparagingly of each other in private. You can label that what you will.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

that "special numbers ... should therefore be viewed as an integral part of the worship service."

Integral means necessary to complete the whole. Is Phelps claiming that without special music (choirs, solos, men's quartets, etc) the worship service is incomplete? Because that's what he wrote.

As someone who is on staff at a IX Marks church in the DC area that was planted by CHBC, I'm well-versed in the regulative principle and IX Mark's interpretation and application of it. And Phelps statement in his final paragraph is a pendulum swing that Dever and others are attempting to correct - the belief that special music is necessary/required for the worship service. I can't tell you the number of times that people have written my church off as unbiblical because we don't have special music.

I don't believe (and neither does Dever) that special music during a worship service is necessarily sinful. Nor do I (or Dever) condemn or separate from churches and pastors who have special music as a part of their worship service. That being said, when Phelps writes that, "things like choirs, ensembles, quartets, and solos can get broken," my response is, "I don't care."  If the price for reclaiming congregational singing (something commanded by Scriptures) is the loss of special music (something not commanded by Scripture), so be it. Except, we don't live in the world of false dichotomies; special music is not going to be "broken" in the churches that want it. Many pastors and churches are going to listen to Dever's interview with the Getty's, ignore Dever's beliefs about special music, and take away from it what they find helpful.

Delete that final paragraph, and Phelp's article is a gracious and edifying argument for the place of special music in the church. And an article that will sadly now be dismissed by some because of the wording in that final paragraph.  

Andrew K's picture

"It's good that the Reformers are trying to get back to the early church by bringing back the simplicity of worship, eliminating icons, worship of the saints, etc. But you have to watch for those pendulum swings... Things like nice decorations, honoring and respecting our martyrs and elders, and so on, can get broken." Wink

Bert Perry's picture

Being one of the most "uncool" people I know, do I have to stop singing at church now that it's cool?  :^)

(never mind, I didn't stop wearing flannel just because it was cool, either)

Seriously, there is, sad to say, some implicit sniping on Phelps' part here, and I also read Bauder's commentary on NTA/FBFI in a similar way to how Tyler did, and I started quoting Rodney King "can't we all just get along?" to myself when I read them.  We fundamentalists do indeed have trouble with this concept, sad to say.  When Phelps refers to a worship team being "cacaphonious", he's participating in this sad tradition.  For those who would defend this, simply ask yourself what would be the purpose of this column if not to snipe.  Not too many people in the "modern music" side of that debate would tell a congregation not to sing along, after all.  

I also had the thought, when I read Phelps' comment about appropriate attire and music for the NT church being arguable from the OT prescriptions for life in the Temple, Psalms 149 and 150 came to mind with prescriptions for percussive instruments and dancing.  I'm a "feet nailed to the floor" man myself, but somehow I'm persuaded that this is a flaw on my part that I'd do well to repent of; God's love ought to connect itself somehow with our feet.  

Jay's picture

...is how anyone can take Chuck Phelps seriously after he church disciplined a young woman and lied about it to his own congregation.

Isn't there something in 1 Timothy 3 about being 'blameless' and 'above reproach'?  Even if I did agree with Phelps that Tina engaged in illicit sex and was not raped, he still lied about the situation to his entire congregation by insisting that TIna and Willis' situations were not related when he presented it for church discipline.  

That's not something that I can just blow off.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Barry L.'s picture

I've never heard anyone say that not having special music in your service is unbiblical until now. I didn't know it was a thing.

Besides, I think pastors like to have choirs so that at least he has someone attending Sunday night services...

Ron Bean's picture

John Eliis' post was great!

I don't think anyone said that special music was unbiblical, as in prohibited by Scripture. It's just not a Scriptural mandate nor is is integral and necessary to complete worship which is what was said in the article. What is mandated by Scripture is congregational singing which has always been the case under Dever's leadership at CHBC.

I wonder how many pastors who have special music would dare to confront the choir director over music that was over orchestrated or unintelligible or the soloist who can longer carry a tune or hit the F# in His Eye on the Sparrow but still sings it a couple of times a year.

I seem to recall someone saying that, in church history, the church has been "sung to" during its lowest spiritual condition but has "sung" when it's  been revived.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Has anyone seen an issue with churches ditching special music as "unbiblical?" Is this a "thing?" I suppose in some more austere, Reformed church you might have something like this, but I haven't seen it be an issue, myself.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Andrew K's picture

I don't think so.

I mean, churches that hold to a particularly strict interpretation of the RPW, such as my current and former churches, (both OPC), typically don't have choirs or special music. But then they never did. I've never heard an actual example of a church that once allowed special music eliminating it.

Ron Bean's picture

I don't know of any churches that are ditching special music. (A project that I wouldn't dare undertake in a church that already had it.) What I'm seeing is that a lot of the newly planted churches (those pesky convergents) don't have it and don't see it as an integral part of worship. The church plant we were a part of in Virginia has never had it other than an occasional solo at Christmas. CHBC has never had it since Dever became pastor as far as I know. The church we're joining now is 12 years old and doesn't have it either. BTW, all three churches I've mentioned here have always stressed congregational singing.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

T Howard's picture

Our church used to have special music, but discontinued it several years ago because the people who wanted to perform the specials weren't willing to sing with the regular worship team. They only wanted to sing in front of the congregation when they were given the spotlight. So, no more special music.

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