Calvin College’s prolific James K. A. Smith has published an open letter to praise bands that is worth reading and pondering. Writes Smith:
In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.
I might add that this tendency is present, not just in praise bands, but also in organs and traditional church choirs, whose anthems and liturgical responses often substitute for those of the congregation. Although I cannot entirely accept the Orthodox and Reformed Presbyterian proscription of instruments in worship, I do believe there is nothing more beautiful than unaccompanied congregational part singing.