A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON WORSHIP AND THE ARTS, PART 5
We last looked at the history of the most recent outbreak of the centuries-old conflict today usually referred to as the “worship wars”, a struggle over control of the style or form of worship to be used by the Church,
This most recent outbreak, which began during the Jesus Movement of the early 1970’s, was a conflict about musical style (instead of, as in previous outbreaks, church architecture, the forms and placement of prayers, whether and how the Lord’s Supper was to be shared with laypeople, what manner of clothing was to be worn by the ministers, etc.).
A wave of new converts from the then-burgeoning counter-culture entered the Church, bringing with them the musical styles they had adopted and inherited from the counter-culture, which they began to use to create new contemporary worship and outreach songs, because (1) they wanted to worship God in musical styles they knew and loved (and which, carrying also the artistic bias of the counter-culture against the older popular and Classically-derived music of the middle-class masses in the West, they considered to be inferior in many cases to the styles of music they had adopted), and (2) they wanted to communicate the Gospel to non-believers in the counter-culture in styles those in that culture both knew and appreciated. A number of those raised in the Church approved of these practices, adding impetus to them.
This influx of contemporary worship songs was opposed by a majority of the leaders and members of the Evangelical Church of the time, on the grounds that (1) these styles aped obviously pagan and frequently anti-Christian music of the godless counter-culture, (2) since these contemporary songs were tainted with the same styles as the pagan counter-culture, they were so evil that they were unfit expressions for Biblical worship (especially since much of Rock music is derived from the Blues, which is itself derived from pagan music of darkest Africa), and (3) the older Christians, who had little appreciation generally of contemporary music styles, especially disliked it when these songs displaced the traditional hymns they loved and associated with Christian worship.
The young converts responded to this opposition by maintaining (correctly, in this writer’s opinion) that Scripture does not commend one musical style as more inherently spiritual than another. The older traditionalists mostly maintained stoutly that it does (a fiction still promulgated by the dwindling reactionaries to this day…). The young converts pointed out that the hymns they revered were mostly based upon Country and Western music (which derived from British, Irish, and other Celtic folk music) or Classical music (which owed much of itself to Medieval polyphony and chant-form, with its early dependence upon a mixture of ancient European folk and imported Middle Eastern modalities). To this the traditionalists maintained that their hymns were hallowed by centuries of use. The converts responded by saying that they wanted to give their music the opportunity to be hallowed by more centuries of use. And so on and so on.
This most recent round of the worship wars is gradually being settled (as is usually the case) by the passage of time, as the older traditionalists die to be replaced by younger Christians who are less emotionally attached to traditional hymn-driven worship (both a good and a bad thing, as we will see…). Yet the battles continue to be fought, as congregations/denominations orient themselves as much by worship style as by fidelity to Biblical and Confessional doctrine. Why, you wonder?
As in all outbreaks of the worship wars, the heart of the matter is this: we are selfish. We want to please ourselves more than our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and even, all too frequently, than the Lord Jesus. We do this despite clear Biblical directives to “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” – Romans 12:10.
We are to esteem others as better than ourselves, looking to their interests (Philippians 2: 3-4). We are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Rom. 12:3), but are to humble ourselves before God and each other (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5), seeking to serve our fellow Christians rather than to be served by them, as Jesus Himself did(Luke 22:26-27; Phil. 2:5-11).
These directives from God Himself (2 Peter 1:20-21) are frequently taken for granted (or are considered optional, so long as our doctrine concerning Christ, tongues, baptism, or whatever doctrinal pony our congregation/denomination is currently riding is approved), and are frequently the first things jettisoned in a doctrinal/stylistic conflict among believers.
Yet we are never relieved from our obligation as Christians to obey these commands. Our interaction with others is the practical arena in which all of our doctrine is put into concrete expression. To only love God, and not our brothers, is to obey only the Greatest Commandment (Matt.22:35-38), while disobeying the Second Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:39), and it is only on both of these commandments that all other commandments depend (Matt. 22:40). It is vitally important that we humbly love and serve one another.
Had these commands been obeyed by both sides in the most recent outbreak of the worship wars, the resultant lack of heat would have led to a much greater abundance of light, which would have illumined both sides in the debate. For there is much to be gained for everyone involved contained in the positions of both the traditionalists and the innovators. There is a constructive way forward in this debate, but only if all involved will take seriously the commandments just seen above. To this, Lord willing, we will turn next time.