In his seminar on service planning, Mark Dever speaks about his Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s use of hymns. It seems some of the attendees wonder if he gets many complaints about his use of hymns. He says,
The people who I know who tell me they don’t like it are other evangelical Christians who want something . . . –the word that’s used again and again with me is light. They want something light. “I want something lighter.” Well, that wouldn’t be here. But I’m not really worried about that, because . . . so many other places they can get that. So that’s what so many people are telling them will actually bring people in. What I would say about the whole culture of the church we’re trying to establish is that . . . we are not meaning to be catering for nominal Christians. We’re catering for people who are sort of dead-out and willing to follow Christ or non-Christians who are spiritually curious. If they’re people who just want to be kind-of entertained or cajoled in, then that’s opposite of the way we’re trying to teach them about following Jesus.
Then someone asks him about RUF tunes.
“Brian asked about the RUF tunes and there are some good things being done by RUF and we certainly have all their CDs and we have the books. I leave some of that musical stuff, as far as that, I’ll give things like that to . . . two guys in our church who work with the music, and if they think a tune is good enough to use they’ll push it through to me. I can’t remember if we’ve used any of those RUF tunes or not. My one kind-of problem with the RUF tunes–I do like them–but I generally like the tunes that they’ve replaced even better. Those RUF tunes are done for people in the South, conservatives, college students, who want the content of the hymns, which is great, but they can’t deal with the music. I think that that’s because–sometimes it’s just because the music is old fashioned–but other times I think it’s because they’ve gotten used to a top-40, you know, guitar, or . . . electric kind-of style, which is fine, but there’s no singing of parts in there, it entirely gets into a unison singing, and you’ve become entirely dependent upon the accompaniment. So all you get is this melody line that you’ve got to have a thick accompaniment for. What we have is deliberately, the electricity could go out and the Holy Spirit’s still here. You know, it’s the humans in the room singing together, that’s the unusual thing. So we deliberately go after music that’s going to capitalize on the congregational nature of the singing, so we actually like good parts in the songs. We think that will encourage people in their singing.
I appreciate what he is saying here, though, with respect to Dr. Dever, I would go a step further in wondering if these tunes are so “good.” In fact, the RUF tunes should be put in the same category as the “lighter” fare Dever laments in the previous paragraph. RUF is just the trendy (or more recent) update of what the lighter stuff was in previous generations; they hold in common the desire to merge entertainment and worship. Dever himself comes close to saying this when makes the apt link between this stuff and top-40 music. I do not want to diminish the force of his critique, which I think is good and courageous. What is the modern church to do when the electricity goes out?
Dever later speaks on the importance of the service leader:
A good service leader can be almost as edifying in communicating God’s Word to his people as a good preacher. So that’s an important thing. The last thing we want to communicate is casualness. Casualness as a kind-of stand-in for intimacy with God is not a good idea. You know, “the more casual you are, the more close you must have a relationship with God. That is not good. The last thing I want is a service leader who has not thought about it, kind-of quickly look down and see it’s hymn 143, and just come up, “Let’s pray–Dear God, we just want to thank you we’re here today. Hymn 143! Let’s stand and do hymn . . . um . . . do the first and second stanzas today!” . . . As far as just that service leading itself, I would rather have more pauses between things, and him having well-known what hymn was being sung, and prayed about it in his own soul, thought what about what would be an edifying one or two brief sentences to say beforehand to call the attention of the congregation particular matters to help lead us even better in our meditation.
I wonder how many of us wrongly connect any spirit of sobriety and seriousness in worship with “liturigcal” worship. What does it say of our day when so many nearly automatically make that connection?