A Few Observations On Worship And The Arts : Part Four: Worship Wars
By Kemper Crabb
In Last issue’s installment of this article, we began to look at the historical circumstances which started the latest round of the ongoing “worship wars,” struggles primarily over thestyle orformof worship to be used in the Church.
This is not a new issue for the Church, having plagued her through the centuries since her birth. As we saw in the last issue, the most recent out break of this struggle began during the Jesus Movement of the early 1970’s, when large numbers of young converts from the counter-culture began to bring worship into the Church which was expressed in musical styles they had inherited from the counter-culture.
They naturally did this because (1) they wanted to worship God in musical styles they knew and loved, and (2) they wanted to communicate Christ to non-believers in the counter-culture in styles those in that culture both knew and appreciated. Many who had been raised in the Church also appreciated and approved of the new worship expressions, adding impetus to the practice.
The influx of worship songs in contemporary counter-cultural styles did not go unopposed, however. A majority of the leaders and members of the Evangelical Church of the time did not approve of the musical worship expressions of the young converts in their midst, for one or more of three reasons:
(1) because the styles of music being used by the converts came from the explicitly pagan- and anti-Christian-dominated counter-culture, they were viewed with great suspicion and distaste
(2) a deficient theology which led many Christians to be blind to the fact that the Gospel can and should transformallaspects of a culture (including the music of the day), cleansing and making them servants and carriers of Christ and His Gospel
(3) the older Christians, having little or no knowledge or appreciation of the newer musical styles, simply didn’tlikethem, especially when they displaced the traditional hymns they knew, loved, and associated with Christian worship. This third reason, the disturbance of the comfort zone, was easily the dominant reason of the three listed here.
The converts from the counter-culture reacted to this rejection of their expressions of worship and evangelism with initial surprise, especially since the Bible not only did not dictate one musical style as more spiritual than another, but seemed instead designed so that its content could penetrate, adapt, and transform any and all musical styles to be conduits and carriers of the Gospel.
The hymns and traditional songs of the Church did not seem to them in their style of music to be more innately spiritual than the music styles of the counter-culture from which they had come, despite the fact that this was generally claimed to be so by the proponents of traditional music in the churches the converts had entered. In fact, it seemed to the converts that the styles of music utilized in the Church were generally derived from either Classical music or Country and Western music, neither of which seemed to be more innately suited for the worship of God than the styles they knew and loved from the counter-culture. The young converts were strengthened in this conviction by many who had grown up in the Church who agreed with the converts’ assessment of Scripture’s essential openness to varied music styles.
Added to this was the all-too-frequent impatience of youth with learning or being tolerant of music thattheydon’t like (remember that the music of the counter-culture arose in reaction to what young people considered to be the soullessness of more staid forms of America/European popular music, that reaction being, at least initially, based on the Blues music of disaffected and discriminated-against Black Americans). One of the given principles of members of the counter-culture was that theyrejectedmost of the status-quo music of the larger culture of their day.
This impulse to discount and dislike what were considered to be “dead” or “empty” forms of music was still strong in the young converts, and the rejection and disparagement they received culturally from the traditionalists simply served to strengthen them in their resolve to save the worship of God from what they considered to be stodgy and irrelevant musical forms (which they didn’t like in the first place…).
This polarization led to sorrow, division, and stultification in many parts of the Church, and to an uneasy stand-off which, though somewhat better in our time, nonetheless continues to this day. We will examine results and root causes of the ongoing worship wars, Lord willing, in the next issue.