In recent decades, evangelical Christians have talked a lot about the “worship wars” happening in their churches. The debate is usually between so-called “traditional” worship songs (i.e. hymns) versus more contemporary music. In most places the dust has settled, but I think that arguing about musical style misses the point.
Style matters but the real battle lies elsewhere.
No matter whether our church has traditional or contemporary music, every worshipper is tempted to judge the value of the songs based on how much they like the music, not on the content of the lyrics. I myself face this struggle. There are some contemporary worship songs that I really enjoy musically even though the words are not much to write home about. So, should we use such songs in worship? Musical style has a big role in creating a certain feeling or atmosphere, but the lyrical content must always take precedence in choosing worship songs. Writing in the 16th century, John Calvin had this to say about the issue:
A fellow missionary recently sent me the lyrics of the song “So Send I You” which for many years had been hailed as the greatest missionary hymn of the twentieth century. I read through the lyrics and knew that something wasn’t right. The song goes like this:
SO SEND I YOU
So send I you to labor unrewarded, To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown, To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing, So send I you to toil for me alone.
This morning my wife Sun had a good chat with one of the neighbor ladies and as they talked about this, that, and the other thing, somehow my wife ended up lending her a Christian book. Like my wife, this neighbor is also a young mom with a little boy. One of the things that this mom likes to do at home during the day is read. The book that my wife lent her is called “Songs from the Heart”, the life story of a Thai traditional drama performer and musician who became a Christian, and eventually a well-respected pastor in Central Thailand. Also significantly, Pastor Song San used his excellent musical abilities to compose many original Thai Christian hymns, using traditional Thai, Chinese, and Cambodian tunes. Unfortunately, these traditional hymns are not used much anymore in Thai churches but they are a wonderful example of the Christian message being expressed using indigenous music and lyrics, rather than merely being translated from English.Personal testimonies are not the Gospel but many Thai Christians say that hearing testimonies of people whose lives God changed were significant in their coming to faith. God can and does use all sorts of means to pique people’s interest enough that they want to hear the Gospel. Things like personal testimonies, Biblical principles for parenting, practical helps, or the love of the Christian community are distinct from the Gospel message itself, but they are wonderful results of the Gospel that adorn
The is a lot of talk in modern evangelical churches about the Holy Spirit and not all of it is helpful. It is not uncommon for people to talk or sing things like, "Let the fire of Holy Spirit fall on us" or "Come Holy Spirit, revive us again" or other similar things. I was in a church meeting the other day, and the pastor had written (in Thai) on a handout, "This is the age of the Holy Spirit. We all are living in this age. The Spirit is ready to move in the lives of Christians if only we give the Spirit the opportunity to work in our lives."I want to ask, what exactly does it mean for the Holy Spirit to move in people's lives? What does it look like to have the fire of the Holy Spirit fall on someone? And isn't it our Sovereign God who takes the initiative in our sanctification, changing our hearts to respond and be transformed? Is the Holy Spirit really sitting around, wringing his hands, waiting for us to ask Him to fall on us? I am hard pressed to find any Biblical reference to needing to call the Holy Spirit to fall on us again and again or to light us (or the land) on fire, as it were. Sure, it happened at Pentecost but that was a rather unique event that was initiated by God, not the apostles. From that point in history, believers are henceforth indwelt with the Holy Spirit from conversion onwards (Eph. 1:13-14).
A young man from one of our supporting churches recently emailed with the following question, "I was wondering if you have ever heard of anyone using music education as a platform for missions. If someone wanted to do something like that, how might they get started?" I imagine that there are lots of Christians out there who are interested in missions but not quite sure if their interests and skills are usable on the mission field and if so, how. So I thought I would post our answer to his question in hopes that others who are wondering about getting involved in missions, particularly in the area of music, would be benefited."There are lots of ways to use music education in missions. Formally, you can get a job teaching music education in a school, either in the local language or more likely in English. In a number of countries, there are schools that want to offer an international track where local students have all their classes in English, including various subject matter like science, math, music and so forth. Of course, there are also international schools, both secular and Christian where one can also be a music teacher. The requirements to teach in the Christian (MK) schools are probably lower than the secular ones. Getting a job as a music teacher in a school is something that