When I was a young married adult, we attended churches where people sang praise songs with a smattering of hymns thrown in every once in a while. Later, we attended a church that had 50/50 hymns and praise songs. I’m a musician. I did not care for the music of hymns, but later, they grew on me. Hymns seemed to follow similar chord progressions and were originally not enjoyable to my musician’s ears at all, although the lyrics were deep and obviously took much more effort than repetitive praise songs.
It seems to me that the lyric-heavy hymns promoted focusing on doctrine; whereas, praise songs focused on certain characteristics of God, thus, the repetition. I appreciated both hymns and praise songs: hymns for the richness of faith, and praise songs for the intentional focus on the character traits of God, His holiness, His goodness, His love, etc. I think there is a place for both hymns and praise songs in worship, and question people who say either hymns or praise songs are the only way to worship. Nonsense. God has not limited us in how to worship Him – He wants us to worship Him from the heart.
However, I’m very aware that not all people agree with me. When you’ve experienced spiritual abuse and legalism and black-and-white thinking, you can spot it a mile away. Take the following conversation on Twitter I saw a while ago regarding hymns vs. praise songs, and notice how Elena uses black/white thinking. It’s her way or the highway:
Wow – that was intense – all because the dude didn’t appreciate hymns, she thinks he needs to repent and soul search? His thoughts are from the devil? Fo realz? Wowow!!! I think she forgot Jesus’ primary commandment in the New Testament is that we are to love one another. Her response was not loving at all and I’d like to give her a chill pill.
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Black and white thinking is common in high-controlling and spiritually abusive churches. You are either right or wrong, you are either sinning or you are not in sin, you made the right decision or the wrong decision. Legalistic church leaders preach that it is wrong to be lukewarm or in the gray areas. The following is a verse commonly used by pastors who preach black/white thinking:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16
If you think about it, using this verse from the pulpit about any variety of issues is a way to control. You can apply it to any topic (dating, whether one is allowed to drink alcohol, using swear words, church attendance, appropriate attire, etc.), but lets say the topic is hymns, and the pastor says only hymns are good. In black/white churches, you have two choices: follow along with the pastor, or you are immediately castigated as someone who has made the wrong choice. If people know of your “bad” choice, you may be called a sinner or rebellious. You may be told to repent as Elena tweeted above. It’s a way to divide people. In this way, a pastor can know who respects him and who does not. You may be put on the imaginary “bad” list in church leaders’ minds and the minds of congregants who know your stance.
Be aware of church leaders or congregants who use black/white thinking on issues where there is no clear position in scripture. You will typically find this kind of teaching in churches which lack grace.
Since leaving my high-controlling church, I find myself thinking of Jesus and how He would respond to specific scenarios. I do not read about Jesus being nit picky over things like music and dress in the Bible. I see Him caring about what truly matters – people, and their hearts. Let Christ be your guide. His command is to love.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1