Have you heard these terms before? It is quite common for denominational people to use them. Some religious groups advertise that they offer both “styles” of worship, while others might describe their worship as “contemporary”; yet others refer to their worship as “more traditional.”
What does the word “contemporary” mean? It is defined as “of or in the style of the present or recent times; modern” [www.yourdictionary.com]. In a non-religious setting, one might speak of a contemporary writer, contemporary literature, or contemporary art.
When applied to worship, in modern lingo “contemporary” often refers to a more laid-back, loose, unrestricted approach to worship. Coming to services in casual clothing is encouraged. Drama teams are often a part of such worship. One of the most common elements of that which is identified as “contemporary worship” is music which includes hi-tech, loud bands and praise teams. Oh, yes, and dance teams as well. One denominational group’s web site states, “The Dance Team is an auditioned dance group of various styles that choreograph and perform at BIBC’s Sunday services. Styles include ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, modern, hip-hop and more . . . the Dance Team choreographs and performs pieces that move and inspire” [http://blytheisland.net].
Not all denominational members are advocates of “contemporary worship.” Some of the more conservative ones are happy to sing spiritual songs while someone plays an organ (a more traditional instrument), but they are uncomfortable with singing those same songs if a band using guitars and drums adds the mechanical accompaniment. The noisy, lively aspects bother them. In truth, using any mechanical instruments is unauthorized in worship, period.
The craze in some religious settings is audience-oriented worship. The same denominational web site quoted above says this about its drama team: “. . . the Drama Team performs quality drama that entertains.” There you have it: they perform and entertain. Brethren, the “audience” in worship is the God of heaven, not humans. We come to worship, bow down, and kneel before Him (Psalm 95:6), not entertain people. I know. Entertainment seems more exciting to the carnal-minded masses, and, no doubt, it will bring in more young people. But nowhere does the Bible indicate that the church of the living God is required or authorized to entertain people. The divine decree is to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), which is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16) and the means by which He draws people to Jesus (John 6:44,45).
We understand that for something to be “new” does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. We might have a new P.A. system, a new screen, or new songs. For them to be less old does not make them unscriptural. I personally love some of the “new” songs whose content is almost 100% quotation of Bible verses. When it comes to songs, we need to make certain that (1) the content is in harmony with the Scriptures (because we are teaching each other as we sing, Colossians 3:16) and that (2) they can be sung “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It ought to be of no concern to us, however, whether a song was written in 1890 or 2012.
What is “traditional” worship? That may depend on whom you ask. Some describe the way that you and I honor and pour out our praise to the Creator as “old-fashioned” and “boring.” Actually, the word “tradition” can be used in more than one sense. A “tradition of men” is a man-made addition to God’s commands and causes worship to Him to be in vain (Mark 7:6-8). In that case, “tradition” is a bad thing. On the other hand, Thessalonian saints were exhorted, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Such “traditions” would be wholesome ones. Why? Because they were inspired messages from the Lord. “Tradition” could also refer to a neutral activity (one that is neither right nor wrong in and of itself), such as a local church’s practice, which they have had “forever,” of taking the communion before the sermon.
Look, brethren. Worship is either biblical, or it is unbiblical. It is God’s will for us to worship Him, worship Him in spirit, and worship Him in truth (John 4:23,24). When we do that, He is pleased. The songs might be on a screen or in a book, older or newer, with bass leads in the chorus or with every voice singing the same notes all the way through it.
Let us stay with what is authorized by the teaching of the Christ (Colossians 3:17), our number one concern being to please God, not draw a crowd. In the Lord’s church, is our worship “traditional” or “contemporary?” In one word, it is “Scriptural.”
— Roger D. Campbell