Proponents of contemporary worship music ordinarily compare it to what they call traditional hymns, and argue that some of the best of the one are nearly as good (or as good) as the worst of the other. Fair enough, but is that our standard? Study the biblical psalms and ask whether, on lyrical grounds, the various forms of contemporary music demonstrate anything like the theological or literary integrity or profundity of the individual psalms. The best hymn-writers have made this their goal and standard. T. David Gordon in Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, p. 48.
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I have taught 10-year olds the melody to an Anglican chant in about 30 seconds. I have then taught them – in about 90 seconds – how to pair up the notes of the simple melody they just learned to the words in a Psalm text that was pointed for singing with Anglican chant. Then, they have sung the 23rd Psalm from start to finish with nary a bobble.
When I have taught the same thing to adult men whose closest encounter to liturgy was to pass by a Roman or Orthodox church while driving their car on an errand, they learned just as fast. With such an option – ~singing~ the Psalms in English, the very texts which are in their Bibles – not some bowlderized version paraphrased into a meter the text does not have – again, when such an option is so readily, so easily available ~to any Christian congregation~ I am flabbergasted that the singing of Psalm texts is not the ordinary thing that happens across the land, across every denomination of Christians.
My flock sings the Psalm appointed for that Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary each Sunday. Additionally we sing two canticles (portions of Scripture, sung to Anglican chant melodies). Additionally we corporately sing big chunks of the Eucharistic liturgy (the sursum corda, the sanctus et benedictus, the angnus dei, the gloria in excelcis), and I sing most of the rest of the prayer of consecration. All this in addition to three hymns from the hymnbook! If you ignored my homily, the words sung in our worship are just about double the words spoken!
Are we all trained members of the operatic chorus? No way! We’re “just folks.” Housewives, clerks, car salesmen, car-wash managers, retired military men, cradle Baptists, previously Presbyterians, refugees from Bible churches that morphed into rock concert venues. We’re all little people, savoring spiritual riches in abundance every Sunday morning, happening on videos from time to time of contemporary worship and shaking our heads in amazement. Why are these people turning up their noses at fine wine, well-aged wine, and juicy joints full of savory marrow, to gorge themselves instead on gas-station food?