I think it's possible that both are right, but that the people they're appealing to and the people they're helping worship are simply distinct cultures within Christianity today. I wonder whether these proponents of different styles are simply applying the homogeneous unit principle to different musical styles. In other words, I'm increasingly convinced that we should be talking less about contemporary vs. traditional and more about the value of simplicity or "mereness."
Mike McKinley wrote a piece on the 9Marks blog that makes a similar point. He says:
I'm becoming convinced that the way to become all things to all people is to make our churches less culturally specific, not more. The more we consciously try to accommodate our church gatherings so that they appeal to the surrounding culture, the more we alienate everyone else who doesn't identify with that culture. In our effort to become all things to all people, we sometimes become all things to only a very narrow slice of people.How exactly do you do this? How do you get rid of unnecessary cultural trappings? Yeah, great question. I'm not totally sure. But here are a few ideas:
- Choose music because the text is rich, not because you like the tune or the arrangement or the fact that it's on the top 40 Christian chart or because they sing it at the Wilds.
- Include more congregational singing and less performed music (choirs, solos, etc.)
- Choose music that reflects the whole range of Christian experience. Sing songs that are meditative, plaintive, and sorrowful, not just the bouncy, happy stuff.
- Reduce the volume of your instrumentation. You'll help the congregation hear itself and encourage their own volume, and you'll also limit one of the most culturally conditioned aspects of musical style. And that applies to bass guitars and organs, drums and violas.
- If you're fortunate enough to be in the middle of designing an auditorium, build it to amplify congregational singing, not to deaden the congregation and amplify performed music from a stage.
In the end, if the elements of worship, or our actions in worship, or use of media, or technology, garner more attention in a worship service than Christ, then something is out of order. Christ is the sovereign, not technology or anything (or anyone) else. We need to be more cautious about making a servant (technology) the master in our public assemblies.