Summary: CCM is bashed for repetition and length, but are the critics right?
Mat 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
When it comes to prayer, Christ is not into vain or useless repetitions. That kind of puts a damper or things like rosaries and the Jabez prayer. Not sure where it came from but “feeling a little prayer wheel turning” sound more like Tibetan monks spinning a wheel rather than an urge to prayer, Even the prayer we call the Lord’s prayer, which is really a Disciple’s prayer, He said in like manner not repetition. It is more like an outline of what to pray rather than an exhortation to do what He had just said not to do. By the way, the Lord’s prayer is in John 17 where the Lord is praying for His disciples and us.
That aside, we do use repetition to teach the alphabet, times tables and so on. So repetition is not always bad. It can be quite useful. In fact making a song out of what we are trying to learn by repetition makes the learning even better. That is why we have the alphabet song and other songs to instill character traits. All of this has been going on for a long time. Indeed, all the way back to King David.
Contemporary Christian Music gets a great deal of flack for its repetition and there are some that are a bit too long. One evening I was visiting a church and a fellow told us to close our eyes and mediate while he sang one of his own songs. Well, it did rival “In-A-Gada-Da-Vida” and “Voodoo Chile” for length and I nearly fell asleep. Length rather than repetition may have been more of an issue and it is for some CCM. Indeed, the joke is that at least in the old hymns you knew when the song was going to end. Worship leaders and writers might want to reevaluate the length issue.
Of course, if we sang all the verses of some old Hymns we might be right up there. The original version of Amazing Grace had eighteen verses. We usually only sing three of the four verses printed in the hymnal. To sing all four will cause raised eyebrows in some places. And if we sang the refrain or chorus twice after two verses and twice after the third we would be no different than many CCM songs. Traditional hymns have repetition just in a different way.
King David was the king of repetition as well as king of Israel. Just check out Psalms 136. Twenty-six times he said, “for His mercy endureth forever.” A psalm is a song so before CCM David was the king of long songs and repetition. How long would it take to sing Psalm 119? Depends on the beat, I reckon. David was a dancer so it might have been a bit peppy unless he was going for a more somber tone. It might have been a more intense tone and one group doing Beth and another Gimel and so on. Since we do not have a recording we can only speculate based on what some Hebrew music scholars may have determined from their study.
Do you think David was trying to drive home to the people God’s mercy? After singing it twenty-six times they should have gotten it. The tune may have been catchy enough for them to sing it outside of the temple. Did they sing it every other Sabbath like some of the songs we sing every other Sunday or even every Sunday? Don’t know, but they knew God’s mercy endureth forever.
Being a poet and a lyricist of sorts, I am more concerned with what the songs says than its length or repetition. Sometimes it does take me awhile to dump the cares of this world and get into the song and its lyrics so if it were very short I might not get as much out of it. As my memory is not what it used to be back in the day, some repetition does help me plant that song or at least some of its teaching into my brain so I find myself singing it at varying times in my day. Indeed, are we not commanded to do that?
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Rather than fuss if it is two minutes longer than you like or it repeats the refrain four times rather than once after every verse for three verses latch on to the lyrics allowing them to speak to your soul. I am not into crossover music because a Christian song should be clearly Christian not something that might be a love song on a secular station. I can see how that helps marketing and profit, but I do not think that is what a Christian song should be. Nevertheless, if in the service if you can determine the singer is singing about Christ and not a boyfriend then allow it you bless you by the ideas expressed in it be it faithfulness, love, grace or whatever.