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The Judeo-Christian Worship Tradition

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series

"Preserving the Truth in our Worship"

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I argued in the last essay that if we intend to preserve the truth handed down to us, we must never reject tradition outright. Instead, if we are intent upon preserving the truth handed down to us from Scripture, both its doctrinal content and the way the truth is imagined, we must continue to preserve and cultivate what we might call the Judeo-Christian tradition.1 We have at our fingertips a rich heritage of cultural forms that have grown within the biblical value systems of Judaism and the historic Christian Church—forms that were cultivated with the goal of expressing transcendent biblical values. This tradition perpetuated and cultivated worship forms of the same character as the biblical forms. The forms up until the early 19th century were text-driven, modest, and distinct from the pagan culture; those with Bible-informed imaginations nurtured them in order to communicate that imagination to others.

This cultivation of the Judeo-Christian worship tradition continued until Revivalists in the early 19th century rejected the tradition in favor of the novelty and “excitement” of pop culture. William McLoughlin observes that “Finney’s revivalism broke the dam maintained by ‘The Tradition of the Elders’ (the title of one of his most pungent sermons) and transformed ‘the new system’ from a minority to a majority religion.”2 From that point on, most of the evangelical/fundamentalist movement has failed to cultivate this tradition, but has instead favored more novel and “stimulating” cultural forms nurtured by secular culture. The Church is now ruled by what Loren Mead called the “Tyranny of the New”—a complete rejection of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Mead explains the problem with this rejection: “When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine.’”3 Quentin Faulkner devastatingly summarizes the effect of this rejection of tradition upon the worship of the Christian Church:

Music (for that matter, all the arts) had become a theological orphan. In fact, no important theological movement, either in the nineteenth or twentieth century, has concerned itself in any profound way with the significance of harmony, order, or beauty in Christian life or [worship].4

Tradition is neither infallible nor authoritative in itself; but I would strongly suggest that failure to preserve the truth, in both its doctrinal and aesthetic faithfulness to the revelation of God’s Word, is due in large part to a failure to preserve the Judeo-Christian worship tradition. In our desire to preserve the truth, we must realize that we cannot start out of nothing; since fully-orbed truth is preserved in large part through our worship forms, we must be committed to preserving those forms that have been cultivated within the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Space does not allow the full explanation of the development of the Judeo-Christian worship tradition. For a more thorough exploration, see my paper, “The Hymnody of the Christian Church: Two Roads Diverged.” []
  2. William G. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press, 1958), 66. []
  3. Loren B. Mead, The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Mission Frontier (Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute, 1991), 11. []
  4. Quentin Faulkner, Wiser Than Despair: the Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of Music and the Christian Church (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 190. []