Pastor, Why? #10: Why Aren't We "Contemporary"?

This question is often voiced in various ways, such as, “Why do we still sing the old songs?, or “Why not more drama and music and shorten the sermons? The “Contemporary Church Movement” blossomed in the 1980's from a desire to make church appealing to unchurched people. Crosses came down, hymns were replaced with catchy choruses, organs and pianos moved over (or out) for the band, song leaders were replaced with worship teams, jeans replaced suits, pulpits were out and lecterns in, and the mention of “hell” and “sin” became taboo. There is nothing intrinsically Biblical about displaying crosses or singing from hymnals, and we are certainly in favor of reaching lost people. Before making any decision however, we should ask, “What Bible principles are involved?” and, “Where does this path ultimately lead us?”

What Bible principles might be violated?

The contemporary church movement seeks to conform the church to the world rather than to Christ. When the Bible speaks of “the world” it is referring to the lifestyles, priorities, attitudes and appetites that are characteristic of unsaved people, and should not characterize the children of God. The Bible has nothing positive to say about the “world” to which many churches and Christians are seeking to appeal and appease.

  • Romans 12:2   “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
  • 1 John 2:15-17  “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him....”
  • James 4:4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 3:19   “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (See also John 15:19, Galatians 6:14 and Titus 2:12.)

According to contemporary church leader, Rick Warren, the first step to starting a new church is to survey the community to find out what people want in a church--then give it to them [The Purpose Driven Church, ch. 8]. Appeasing the world has never been Christ’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” for His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Peter 2:9). It is insulting to Christ for His bride to strive to become like and to be loved by Christ’s enemy, the very world system that crucified Him. James calls it “adultery”. The core premise of the contemporary church and music movement is unbiblical, because it promotes conformity of the church and Christians to the world rather than to the holy image of Christ.

Where does this path lead us?

The contemporary church movement is producing shallow, worldly Christians and churches. Bill Hybels, the father of the seeker sensitive movement, prominently confessed, “We made a mistake.... Our churches are a mile wide and an inch deep” [2007 Leadership Summit, Willow Creek Community Church]. If the movement’s own leaders do not like where their path has led, why should we choose to travel it?

Attracting the lost to our church is not our Biblical purpose. The church is primarily for the building up of believers to go out into the world and reach lost people who are then brought in to be discipled and in turn sent out to win others (Ephesians 4). We certainly have no objection to inviting unbelievers to church, but we must not change the message or the music in order to be “liked” by lost people, or to appeal to their lost nature.

The styles of music widely enjoyed by the world were never intended to move our church (or children) toward godliness, but to appeal to the flesh of the ungodly. Rick Warren wrote, “Once you have decided the style of music for your worship you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize” [The Purpose Driven Church, p. 280-281]. This striking statement by the world’s foremost contemporary leader is absolutely true and should prompt us to consider very carefully before changing our music. Do we want to direct our church toward the world, or away from it? Warren is right. The style of music we choose helps set the course.

Much of the world’s modern music is a counterfeit of the beautiful music God created, and it cannot be used to worship and honor Him (i.e. “Christian rock”). “Our music cannot be like the music of the world, because our God is not like their gods. Most of the world's music reflects the world's ways, the world's standards, the world's attitudes, the world's gods.... The popular music of the western world is the music of seduction and suggestiveness, a musical counterpart of the immoral, lustful society that produces, sings, and enjoys it.”                                  [- J. MacArthur, Commentary on Ephesians]

 We must not dilute our message, ignore Bible principles, employ worship music that is dissonant, harsh, sensual and suggestive, or seek to make the church appealing to the appetites of ungodly people, even to reach them. The true gospel will never be attractive to the unsaved in general, nor will it ever make them feel comfortable. Paul declared, “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness....”  (1 Corinthians 1:18) We must remember that ultimately it is the power of God that reaches and changes people, not our human efforts to make the gospel more palatable. (Romans 1:16)