Twenty-five years ago we were the songwriters of a new cult movement in the UK. Each movement has a musical soundtrack and gives birth to songs. Those to which Martin Saunders’ recent article refers were forged within the theological framework of this period.
Charismatic / Evangelical churches were at the forefront of worship at this time. Most of the songwriters were involved in, or at least influenced by, these new churches.
The cult took to the streets with Marche pour JÃ©sus (MFJ). In 1988, 60,000 people gathered for the second MFJ event in London. In 1994, the MFJ was a global movement with simultaneous events organized around the world in a single day. On this occasion 80,000 people gathered in Hyde Park, London. I remember taking the stage and thinking we could easily fill Wembley Stadium with worship. Already the worship / prayer events were filling up
national arenas in the UK on a regular basis.
So it was no surprise that our songs were anthemic and contained gloriously optimistic lyrics. We believed that the events of worship and prayer would help break through the darkness of our towns and villages. Spiritual warfare and victory was a recurring theme in our conferences and events.
When we hosted the event at Wembley Stadium in 1997, our aim was to proclaim Jesus Christ as the true champion of the world, where the âgods of sport and musicâ had been worshiped. Very triumphant!
The 1990s saw a generation of pioneering anthem writers such as Chris Bowater, Graham Kendrick, Dave Fellingham, Dave Bilbrough, Martin Smith, and many more. Their ceiling has become the floor of this current generation of writers – Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, to name a few, whose music has globalized in a way that far surpasses what the class of the 1990s achieved.
Today’s songs reflect what we think God is doing in this generation. As if we really knew! The church and world of 2014 is very different from that of the 90s. Inspirational songs that lifted the roof, spoke of our victory in spiritual warfare, and reaffirmed our identity in Christ were badly needed then. This need remains, but there is a greater need nowadays for the Church to find a place of commitment within our society, for bridges to be built in our communities, for our faith to be lived in a different way. from that of previous years. generations.
My own thinking has changed over the years. While in the 90s I would have been comfortable with the expression “we are going to take the nation for Jesus”, I would not use that language today. Why? How would we feel if a group of people walked the streets of the UK singing about taking the nation for Allah? We would be extremely unhappy to hear this proclamation. Most of us don’t want to live in a theocracy of any form.
Likewise, how do people of other faiths and without faith feel when they hear our militant statements of Christian domination? We need to see our gospel language through the eyes of those we are trying to reach. We no longer use the word âcrusadeâ for outreach events, for obvious reasons. What was acceptable in previous generations will not serve us well today. This current generation of songwriters has not lost the sense of victory. It’s always present in new songs. For example, “Our God” by Matt Redman says:
Our God is greater, our God is stronger,
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is a healer, awesome in power,
Our God! Our God!
However, we songwriters realized many years ago that our modern hymnology is very two-dimensional – songs of praise / celebration followed by songs of intimacy. Where, for example, were the songs that opened our hearts to the needs of the poor or addressed the issues of injustice and consumerism? If the role of our hymns is to teach the church – we are what we sing – then we need songs that address the real issues facing our society and the church today.
The world of 2014 is very different from the world of 1994 and our hymns and songs should reflect that. Otherwise, we will live in the safety of our Christian ghettos and not engage with our communities. A nostalgic rather than a prophetic cult. Yeah, we had some really great songs in the 90s and we occasionally release them, dust them, and play them. But we must also continue to move forward. There are great songs being written and even better ones to come. But let’s not limit our vision to simply filling churches with new and better songs, creating an alternative and comfortable world to the one we live in. It makes us narcissistic.
Worship without mission is complacent. There is a whole world we can engage in and music is a wonderful way to transmit eternal values. Music is the art of the prophets and connects with people on a spiritual level.
The other day I watched the video of Robbie Williams singing “Angels” at Knebworth Park in 2003. Over a three day period, it drew crowds of over 375,000 people and an additional 3.5 million people. who watched live on TV and online. It was the greatest British pop concert of all time. It gave me goosebumps to hear the crowd singing. It was a cult
event (although Robbie is not God) and touched people’s minds.
So I end by raising a few questions:
Could we see an even greater number of Christian songwriters and artists choosing to focus their careers in the traditional music business, writing and performing songs rooted in the moral values ââof the Kingdom of God?
Will we see them fill bars, clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums with music that transports people to a place where they can hear the sound of heaven?
Noel Richards has been a singer-songwriter and worship leader for more than four decades. He has released 15 albums and performed in over 30 countries.