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Roots of Evangelical Worship: The Oxford Movement

Over the past month I have been exploring the various historical roots that created what we might call “evangelical worship” today, including German Pietism, American Revival, the Wesleys, American Democracy and Camp Meetings, and Charles Finney. Today, I’d like to look at one reaction to some of these developments, that I would suggest also had somewhat of an impact on how evangelical worship developed.

In England, as evangelical revivalism similar to that of America spread, a strong Anglo-Catholic contingent within the Anglican Church opposed what they considered to be the extreme emotionalism of the evangelical revivals but also sought to correct what they considered stagnation in the Church of England.

Come to be known as the “Oxford Movement,” due to its beginnings at Oxford University, theologians such as John Keble (1792–1866), John Henry Newman (1801–1890), John Mason Neale (1818–1866), and Frederich Faber (1814–1863) sought to forge a middle way between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. The movement had such a significant effect upon Anglicanism that many late medieval Roman Catholic practices were reintroduced into worship, including emphasis on weekly celebration of the eucharist, vestments, observation of the church year, and other liturgical rituals. Sacramental theology likewise shifted to stress Christ’s real presence in the eucharist and the necessity of confession to a priest. The movement also impacted the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Musically, the Oxford Movement produced three primary contributions. First, they encouraged translations of Latin, Greek, and German hymns into English. Neale produced several important translations of Latin hymns, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” Second, they composed original hymns such as “Sun of My Soul” (John Keble), “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (Matthew Bridges), and “Faith of our Fathers” (Frederick Faber). Finally, in 1860–1861 they published Hymns Ancient and Modern, one of the most significant and influential hymnals of the century, and organ and choral music flourished as well.

It is this latter contribution that had some positive, restraining influence on the growing evangelical worship movement. The publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern helped to both preserve traditional hymnody while at the same time encouraging the best of the Victorian and revival hymns. Many of the “standard” traditional hymns still sung in many evangelical churches today became “standard” due to the influence of HAM.

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.