The comparison between rock concerts and church has been coming up a lot, lately, and I decided to throw in my two cents.
I’ve been to a lot of rock concerts. I’ve seen Bob Dylan, Beck, Santana, Skillet, B.B. King, and a lot more. I’ve been to a lot of different church services, too. I’ve recited the liturgies in different languages, absorbed the complex teachings of the traditional hymns, and raised my hands with the sounds of modern worship.
These two things, church services and rock concerts, can seem very similar – and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, that’s how it should be.
Recently, I sat through a sort of variety show where singers performed famous songs from the last fifty years. The crowd really got into it when someone did Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror,’ but it wasn’t just to celebrate the artist. The people around me were really getting into this idea of making themselves into better people.
Two months ago, I saw Robert Plant (he used to be the lead singer of Led Zeppelin) in Dallas, and his encore song was the old Christian spiritual ‘Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.’ (It was on a Willie Nelson album, too.) The crowd loved it. A lot of his fans are not exactly church goers, but the beautiful message of the song – fighting evil with the power of God – was not lost on the audience.
The same thing happens at church. Maybe it’s through reciting a liturgy, or maybe it’s during folk-rock versions of old hymns (like we do at my church), but, either way, we’re rallying around the things we believe in and being given an emotional reminder of our convictions, as a group.
Do you ever just sit still and think? Are you normally too busy, or distracted, to do that? Music can help. Imagine a few verses of ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,’ (“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it…here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it…”) followed by a beautiful rendition of the melody on a violin. It’s finally time to sit still and listen.
Music can encourage our minds to stop moving and settle down. The beauty of God’s redemption can be discussed through lyrics, and we can reflect on that beauty while we sit still and take in the sounds. In this way, good music is sort of like the audio version of a stained-glass window in a cathedral.
St. Augustine (who, contrary to popular belief, really loved music) said that a good voice and a good song helped him to set his mind on higher things. Concerning music, he actually said, “I do not see what could be a more excellent, useful, and holy exercise for a Christian congregation.” Augustine would rather hear music at church than do anything else while he was there.
Of course, not everyone sees it this way. Some people go to concerts to drool over pop stars, and that sort of thing doesn’t have anything in common with a good church service. It’s easy to see why someone would criticize church music if it looked like an American Idol audition, but performing music with artistic integrity has always been a meaningful Christian tradition.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)