Over the past several weeks I have been showing that, while differences over worship theology and practice have been one of the most significant doctrinal dividers, traditional psalmody, hymnody, and liturgy provided a means by which distinct denominations were able to enjoy an appropriate unity while at the same time maintaining necessary theological and practical boundaries.
This delicate balance between healthy unity and appropriate diversity among denominations has been diminished, however, in more recent worship trends. Indeed, as I will demonstrate over the next few weeks, contemporary worship movements have significantly contributed to the blurring of significant doctrinal distinctives, primarily due to the emergence of music style as an essential feature in church identity.
The first contemporary worship movement to contribute to blurring doctrinal distinctives is the Praise the Worship movement, which emerged out of the Charismatic movement of the 1960s.1 Whereas Pentecostalism had produced its own denominations,2 the Charismatic Movement infiltrated traditional denominations, largely due to the rising popularity of the contemporary music styles of charismatic Praise and Worship, which some saw as a force that would end denominationalism altogether in the name of ecumenical unity.3
Christopher J. Ellis observes that charismatic worship contributed to “what we may call a “pan-evangelical culture” with its contemporary expression in music and informal worship.4 Randall Bradley agrees:
In recent decades, as denominational lines have blurred, Free Churches have been most influenced by music that finds its origins in the charismatic stream, of which “Praise and Worship” is the best known.5
The importance of contemporary music styles in this movement flows directly from its theology of worship. Praise and Worship uses the typology of the Hebrew tabernacle or temple in its worship theology and design. Breaking from a more confessional liturgical structure, Praise and Worship instead aims to bring the worshiper through a series of emotional stages from rousing “praise” to intimate “worship.”6 Early Praise and Worship proponent Judson Cornwall explains this process:
Praise begins by applauding God’s power, but it often brings us close enough to God that worship can respond to God’s presence. While the energy of praise is toward what God does, the energy of worship is toward who God is. The first is concerned with God’s performance, while the second is occupied with God’s personage. The thrust of worship, therefore, is higher than the thrust of praise.7
This progression through which worshipers are helped to experience “the manifest presence of God” is engineered primarily through musical style. Worship leaders are encouraged to begin with enthusiastic songs of thanksgiving, leading the worshipers to an emotional “soulish worship,” and then bringing the mood to an intimate expression where “a gentle sustained chord on the organ and a song of the Spirit on the lips of the leaders should be more than sufficient to carry a worship response of the entire congregation for a protracted period of time.”8 As Chapell notes, “In this modern tradition, contemporary praise music has been the prime instrument to lead worshipers from celebration to contemplation to preparation for preaching. In fact, what many think of as ‘contemporary worship’ is defined only by the style of music.”9 This raised the matter of musical style to a level of significance it had never before seen.
Because of the transdenominational influence of charismatic theology and the Praise and Worship movement, this philosophy and method of worship that places a high emphasis on musical style to bring people to worship has influenced many non-charismatic churches as well. According to a 2010 study by Faith Communities Today, the percentage of Protestant churches characterized by contemporary Praise and Worship rose from 29% in 2000 to 43% in 2010. The percentage change was even higher when they factored out mainline denominations and focused exclusively on Evangelical Protestants (from 35% to 51%).10 Today, the worship in a majority of evangelical churches is more characterized by Praise and Worship philosophy and contemporary music than by traditional practices.
- Brian D. Walwrath, The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 14. [↩]
- Examples include Foursquare and Assemblies of God. [↩]
- See Margaret M Poloma, The Charismatic Movement: Is There a New Pentecost? (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982), 202. [↩]
- Christopher J. Ellis, “Duty and Delight: Baptist Worship and Identity,” Review & Expositor 100, no. 3 (June 1, 2003): 337. [↩]
- C Randall Bradley, “Congregational Song as Shaper of Theology: A Contemporary Assessment,” Review & Expositor 100, no. 3 (June 1, 2003): 353. [↩]
- See Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship, 70. “By contrast, the worship of the charismatic renewal movements lost some of its gospel shape and became more distinguished by the emotional flow of the service.” [↩]
- Judson Cornwall, Let Us Worship (Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Pub., 1983), 146. [↩]
- Ibid., 158. [↩]
- Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship, 70. [↩]
- Marjorie H. Royle, Facts on Worship: 2010 (Faith Communities Today, 2010), 12. [↩]