Traditional, Contemporary, or…

Dictionary dot com defines the word contemporary thus:

1. existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time:
2. of about the same age or date
3. of the present time; modern

The sayings, fashions in clothing, and cars of fifty years ago can no longer be called contemporary. Once upon a time, a good dog was called a rum buffer. In the mid-twentieth century, fedoras were contemporary head wear for men. Before the advent of Rock N Roll, swing bands provided popular music for young America.

Especially in the eyes of us of mature years, how quickly does the contemporary become passé! In fact strictly and literally speaking, what was contemporary last week is contemporary no longer!

The same dictionary defines tradition as:

1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice
2.something that is handed down
3.a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting

For illustrative purposes, let’s consider the following statement. It might have been quite contemporary in the 19th century: “Every Lord’s day Pa hitches up the team, then we all go for a ride.”

What once was a contemporary activity would now be a very old tradition. To keep it going would require a lot of time and energy related to horses and wooden carriages. There are some, but few who would be willing or able to incur the expenses required to keep up with that tradition now.

The aim of this article is to bring these two ideas – contemporary and traditional – to bear upon Christian worship. Many churches today have two “styles” of worship service, designated by those two terms. Demonstrating how this helps all the members of one congregation to live in unity will be left to those who practice it, while this challenge is offered to all.

If we seek to be contemporary for contemporaneity’s sake, we are like a dog chasing its tail. That which is contemporary cannot be stopped from its fading into history. On the other hand, if we seek to be traditional for tradition’s sake, we are denying the spirit of “semper reformanda” – always reforming. We are doggedly clinging to our horse and buggy ways in the days of Interstate highways with speed limits of 70 MPH.

And if we address this issue in terms of what we glibly accept as an uncross-able generation gap among the people of God, is it possible that we are already defeated, and that in more ways than one? Does the Bible direct us to be contemporary in worship, traditional in worship, or does it lead us in another way?

Here are three precepts derived from the whole counsel of God in Scripture to guide us in answering that question:

1. God has given us 150 Holy Spirit inspired songs to use in our worship. They are called Psalms. In them the vast range of emotions, aspirations, fears, and joys (and more) experienced by a worshiper of God is expressed. Their words are infallibly orthodox in doctrine.

And according to Christ Himself and His apostles (cf. Luke 24, Acts 2:25-31 et. al.) they speak of Him! Let’s ask ourselves why there is so little use of this divinely appointed worship resource in many churches today? Many condemn the minority doctrinal position of exclusive psalmody (ONLY the psalms are to be sung in Christian worship). Has the majority, rejecting that viewpoint, become practitioners of exclusive hymnody or exclusive chorus singing?

2. The New Testament directs us to sing to one another in worship (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:15). Three reasons this is thwarted in some circles will be offered. First, the amplification of vocal and/or instrumental accompaniment drowns out the voices of the other worshipers. Second, the lyrics used in some songs employ archaic language (can you say update?) or profound theology (can you say educate?) Third, worshipers are persuaded that having a good singing voice is requisite, and are ashamed to make a joyful noise to the LORD.

3. This last precept is offered in the form of another question. In our worship shall we do only those things God has mandated (such as the public reading and exposition of the Scriptures, prayers, singing, giving of tithes and offerings, the two sacraments), or are we free to do in worship anything that is not expressly forbidden (interpretive dance, dramatic presentations, light shows)?

For example, we know that God required many animal sacrifices under the old covenant. Under the new covenant in Jesus’ blood we have His once for all sacrifice of Himself which has fulfilled the purpose of all those animal sacrifices.

The Lord’s supper (a.k.a. the Lord’s table, communion, the eucharist – one of those two sacraments with baptism being the other) is commanded by Christ. We are to observe it in remembrance of Him. Are we also free to bring back animal sacrifices, not as denying Christ’s final sacrifice of Himself, but maintaining – no doubt with pious sincerity – that they are only memorials, aids like the divinely instituted communion elements themselves, which help us focus on Christ Who was typified by all those animal sacrifices?

What structure is best for our worship: contemporary, traditional, or Biblical?

“…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24)


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