Worship Wars – part 1 of a new series

Worship Wars – part 1 of a new series

Take a look at this excerpt from an U.S newspaper objecting to the new trends in church music:

There are several reasons for opposing it.
One, it’s too new.
Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous.
The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.
Because there are so many songs, you can’t learn them all.
It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics.
This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.
The preceding generation got along without it.
It’s a money making scene and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.

Does this sound like some of the “fan” mail you receive the week after you have pushed the envelope in worship with some new worship songs?

This was written by a pastor in 1723 attacking Isaac Watts, the writer of great hymns like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World, and O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

You see, “worship wars” are nothing new to our decade. As long as we have had organized church and people with personal preferences, there has been conflict. As James 4:1 says,

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle with you?

You see, worship wars have been raging at least since around 700 a.d. Here are some highlights outlined by Steve Hamrick of the Illinois Baptist State Convention:

  • When the Gregorian Chant became the official music of the church, it was characterized by a single monophonic unaccompanied melody sung only by men.  Later young boys with unchanged voices started singing with the men but their voices were displaced by an octave.  There were many who objected.  Later harmony was added to the music of the church but many were against it.
  • When Luther started writing hymns for the church in 1517 there was a great revolt.
  • In 1540 Calvin stated that only the Old Testament Psalms sung in a metrical rhythm were appropriate for worship (The Genevan Psalter).  This caused great division among the church between Calvin’s followers and Luther’s.
  • Near 1750 the Wesley brothers wrote hymns that taught theology and doctrine.  It again caused great struggle among church leaders.
  • The music of the 1880′s Sunday School Era was looked down on by many because the hymns and testimony songs being written were subjective (personal) and not objective (directed toward God).  Many thought there was no room for music like that in the church.
  • Jazz influences of the early twentieth century brought out an edict from the Pope that the piano was forbidden in the Catholic church, because of its worldly influences.
  • Soon after came the Jesus movement with drums, bass, guitars, and other instruments. Choruses and praise songs were following close behind and all of it was hotly debated in the church.
  • Over the years, there have been church and denominational splits, personal strife, and relationships broken causing those in the church to bitterly quarrel and those outside the church to look at the church with contempt.

The list can go on and on describing conflict over the years.

In the next few posts on the topic of Worship Wars, we are going to dive head on into a discussion of styles of worship. Won’t you join me?

Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is a frequent worship conference leader with a strong focus on equipping leaders in North Carolina (USA) and Southeast Asia. His blog, Renewing Worship, features posts that explore ways to renew–impart new life and vigor to–the worship in the local church.

Other posts you might like:

Top ten do’s and don’ts – worship leaders

How to move a church from traditional to contemporary worship styles

Graham Kendrick’s guide to Psalm surfing

Ask the expert – warring musicians and choice of keys for worship songs

What on earth is contemporary worship anyway?

Has modern worship become corrupt? Guest post by Kim Gentes

A theology of worship – stumbling toward mystery

What is worship?

Bored with contemporary worship?