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Roots of Evangelical Worship: Two Worship Philosophies

In the wake of eighteenth-century Enlightenment and nineteenth-century revivalism, evangelical Christianity evidenced two distinct philosophies of worship. The first was the conservative philosophy that generally characterized each of the post-Reformation groups despite their idiosyncratic differences.

This conservative philosophy desired to preserve the theology and practices of biblical worship, mediated through the tradition of the church to various degrees. Both those who followed a more normative principle of worship and those who affirmed a regulative principle nevertheless desired that their worship take the shape of whatever preserves biblical tradition.

Following revivalist movements, this philosophy continued to characterize what are sometimes called “Reformed” traditions, referring to these groups’ continued adherence to post-Reformation confessions, liturgies, and hymnody.

The second philosophy, newly formed by revivalist theology and becoming the more significant to characterize evangelical churches, was a more progressive philosophy. Instead of employing a regulative principle, restricting its worship to explicit biblical prescription, or even a normative principle, where church traditions not necessarily prescribed in Scripture carry more weight, this progressive philosophy employs an “effective principle of worship,” where worship takes the shape of whatever accomplishes the church’s objectives.

The driving impulse of such a philosophy is the means of accomplishing the objective of evangelism or the spiritual grown of Christians, and often both in combination. While churches following such a philosophy certain desire to be biblical in their doctrine and practice, they consider contextualization of methods into newer, more relevant forms to be the necessary means by which both unbelievers are brought to faith and Christians are spiritual stimulated.

This legacy of evangelical revivalism has come to characterize what are sometimes called “Free church” traditions.

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.