Over the past several weeks, I have been demonstrating how the theology and practice of worship has historically divided Christians into various denominations, provided the means for appropriate unity across denomination lines, and more recently blurred important doctrinal distinctions.
What I have shown is that worship theology and practice has always been central to denominational distinctiveness. Yet psalmody, hymnody, and liturgy has traditionally provided a means for appropriate unity across denominational lines without diminishing the importance of theological matters. Contemporary worship trends, however, have raised musical style to a place of prominence that tends to make style more important for a church’s identity than denominational issues.
What distinguishes traditional psalmody and hymnody from contemporary Praise and Worship songs in this study is not the transdenominational character of their lyrics or tunes; this is a characteristic feature of most successful congregational songs throughout history. What distinguishes them is the importance placed upon the contemporaneity of musical style in each category. In other words, traditional hymns were both transdenominational and transcultural. Paul Westermeyer describes this characteristic after noting the traditional hymns that have been used in multiple denominations:
That song, from Baptists to Roman Catholics, relies on a common core that has not been coopted by cultural fads, but sings out the subversive message of liberation in Christ in spite of all the forces—no matter how large—that are arrayed against it.1
Contemporary worship songs and structure, however, reflect current culture rather than transcend it, and thus “relevant” stylistic matters and appealing to particular cultural demographics have become central to a church’s identity rather than important theological matters that have historically defined denominations.
- Westermeyer, Let the People Sing, 8. [↩]