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“Douze points” for praising God

Mark Fairweather-Tall finds that music, whilst sometimes causing controversy, will often arouse passion, and believes we should harness this passion as we use music to praise and worship God.

Will you be tuning in? Last year over 200 million people world-wide watched the Eurovision song contest, around 7 million of whom were in the UK. For some, Eurovision Finals night is a national institution and ‘not to be missed TV’. Terry Wogan’s famous commentaries of years gone by have helped to set the tone for the evening – don’t take the competition too seriously and enjoy the absurdity of some of what might take place. During the coming days, we may hear people uttering the phrase ‘nil-pwa’ to emphasise something they are particularly unimpressed by.
Over the 62 years of the competition there have been a number of controversies. The perceived political nature of the voting where some countries seem to automatically give top marks to their nearest neighbours has, for some, undermined the nature of the competition.
But there are other controversies that stand out as well: In 1969, Spain, the UK, France and Netherlands all received the same number of votes. With no protocol in place for such a situation, all four countries were declared winners. The following year, a number of countries withdrew because the procedure was seen as farcical.
A few years earlier in 1963 there was a tight race between Denmark and Switzerland. When Norway voted, the spokesperson did not use the correct procedure for announcing the results. Their votes were disallowed and then collected later in the programme. Norway then changed their vote to allow Denmark to win. Their previous voting would have led to Switzerland winning and questions remain to this day about the fairness of the incident.
More recent controversies include political issues such as Georgia not being allowed to sing their chosen entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In” in 2009. This was widely seen to be a swipe at Vladimir Putin as Georgia had been in a war with Russia the previous year. In 2005 Lebanon was thrown out of the contest after they wouldn’t guarantee broadcasting the Israeli entry. Yes, Eurovision can be controversial.
Music has long played an important part in church life and particularly corporate worship. Today there is a regular flow of new songs from sources such as Hillsong, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Rend Collective and so on.
Over the years ‘sung worship’ in the church has caused a lot of controversy too. I was intrigued looking back in some minutes from a church in the 1800s to read about the orchestra of the church going on strike for Sunday services! They were protesting at the introduction of the ‘new-fangled’ pipe organ that was spoiling ‘true’ worship.
Two letters of complaint about new songs have been published. One stated that it “sounded like a sentimental love ballad…” another complained, “the tune was unsingable and the new harmonies were quite distorting”. The first was complaining about the hymn ‘Just as I am’ in 1863, the second, ‘What a friend I have in Jesus’ in 1890.
Many a church leader will have faced questions or complaints about music being too loud or too quiet, too traditional or too modern, the quality of the lyrics, the ‘singability’ of the music and so on and so on. Why can music and by extension, sung worship in church, be so controversial?
This is too big a subject to do justice to in this article, but let me add one thought to the debate. Is it the impact that sung worship has on us the reason why it is controversial? CS Lewis, in his book ‘Reflections on the Psalms’, argues that passion for someone or something overflows into praise: “The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game”. He goes on to say: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” (Reflections on the Psalms, pp93 & 95)
Perhaps sung worship arouses passion because it is a vehicle through which our delight in God can be completed. If the sung worship hinders our ability to do this then we feel frustrated because it affects our ability to complete our delight in God. If this is so it can help us understand the passion in others whom we might disagree with, as well as helping us understand why we are reacting in a particular way.
This may enable us to engage in a fresh perspective, namely that music is a vehicle to offer praise and not the object of praise itself. We need to grow in our ability to express our joy in the Lord in corporate worship regardless of preference in style, genre and personality displayed by those leading.
I will almost certainly not be watching Eurovision this weekend, but I do expect to be at church on Sunday participating in sung worship. The music is a vehicle for me to praise God. And my aim will be to direct praises to God, so whether the music is modern or traditional, too loud or quiet for my taste, played skilfully or otherwise, containing words I like or don’t, my joy in Him will be made complete as I share in worshipping God alongside others. For me, this is an event not to be missed! It is worth a full 12 points!
The Eurovision image is courtesy of Vugar Ibadov on  https://commons.wikimedia.org

Rev Mark Fairweather Tall is the Minister of Norwich Central Baptist Church. 


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