The guitar is the new organ and rap is the new guitar: The idolatry of the worship instrument

Would you go to a church if there wasn’t a guitarist ?

Probably not.  If I’m brutally honest with myself, I probably would not.  Why? Because I, like many if not most of us, have an idolatry problem when it comes to worship music.  But I’m not altogether different from previous generations. Would my grandparents have gone to a church without an organ?  Probably not.  Why?


Organs & guitars are both now “sacred”, but rap is not.

There was a time when both the organ and the guitar were “secular” and “worldly”.  That is, both these instruments had a season where the only music that was played on them was not christian.  They both started outside the church, and have gradually been integrated into the definition of “worship music”.

We might say that the organ is much further along in its life cycle.  Many, (and in my generation I’d say most), would say that the organ is at the end of its life as an instrument of worship.  But it didn’t go down without a fight.  And neither will the guitar.

When the guitar came into worship music, rhythms had to change, chords had to be simplified and eventually new songs had to be written, much to the dismay of many at the time.  Whole churches split because of instrument preferences, many arguing that the guitar was not a worshipful instrument, that its rhythms were too worldly (don’t even get them started on the drums!), too sensual, too (anything).  In the debate over worship style preferences, everyone tried to play the biblical trump card and come up with some theological reason why the organ should stay.  And in some churches it stayed.  In some churches different congregations were established.  And still others completely broke away and started new churches.

Now, thanks largely to Lecrae, the new target for debate is rap & hip hop.  Check out this debate here.  Just like the guitar would have been condemned years ago, the arguments are almost identical:

  • “Reformed rap is the cowardly following of the world instead of confronting and changing it.” Geoff Botkin
  • “But I think what we are all saying is that some forms of music cannot be separated from the culture out of which they come.” Joe Morecraft

Rap is not yet “sacred” enough to enter the mainstream church, but it is starting out its church life just like the guitar did- in your local church youth group.

So, when the time comes and the next generation doesn’t want a guitarist, but wants a beatboxer and a rapper or a synth or whatever other instrument to lead worship, are we willing to give up the guitar?

The guitar: as indispensable as the organ

But the guitar is here to stay…at least for a while  And thanks to Hillsong, Vineyard and numerous others, the guitar is the indispensable staple for a worship team:

Now when we want to start a church, we think we “need” a guitarist, even before we have a worship leader.  We don’t necessarily need to start with a pastor/minister (we can run the church as a team) and we don’t need a worship leader (we can all fumble our way through a few songs together).  But start a church without a guitar?  That’s like building a church 150 years ago and not budgeting for an organ!

When “indispensable” becomes idolatry

It was 3am on a Sunday morning.  I was on the floor in my lounge room in France with my dear friend and fellow worship leader discussing our journey as a worship team over the past year.  What was once a full blown “church band”: drum kit, acoustic guitar, electric, keys, male & female vocalists and occasionally a bass, had become one keyboard and a couple of voices.  And it was hard.  And at 3am that Sunday morning, we were genuinely grieving the loss of our guitarists.  It wasn’t our fault, but circumstances had come in and pruned our worship team.

As the pianist I tried to replace the guitar.  Oh boy did I try!  I tried to keep using the “guitar” songs and battled unsuccessfully to play bass, rhythm on the keys, everything that I thought was indispensable to solid, soulful, God-glorifying worship.  And then, 3am on a Sunday morning, I came to a realisation that brought me to tears and brought me to my knees: I am not a guitarist and that is OK.

Was our church to be deprived of life-changing, heart-filled, God-glorifying worship because there was no guitar?  I had thought so, and I was probably feeling what churches felt like back in the day when they were left without an organist.  Every Sunday I thought I was letting people down, never being adequate enough on the piano to fill the void left by the guitar.

That “void” reveals the idol.  So many times I’ve suggested that we idolize the guitar, the response has been “there’s just something about the guitar that just elevates the congregation in worship”, “there’s something spiritual about guitar-led worship that connects people with the God”.  This is WRONG THEOLOGY.

No matter the instrument.  No matter the quality.  It is the HOLY SPIRIT by the redemptive work of CHRIST that connects us with the FATHER.  And whilst we all know this theology in THEORY, the reality is that we do not live it out in PRACTICE.  To start a worship band we still tend to seek out first and foremost a guitarist.  We almost always expect the role of worship leader to be the guitarist, which means that we are likely missing out on some of the most powerful, SPIRIT-driven times of worship because we insist on it being GUITAR-driven.

What do you think?  Would you go to a guitar-less church?

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