The watering down of doctrine in evangelicalism, evidenced perhaps most acutely in the minimizing of important denominational distinctives and the growth of the “Nones,” is problematic to be sure. The question is, what has caused this?
Over the next several weeks I plan to show the role worship philosophy and practice has had in both dividing and unifying Protestant denominations. I am using the term “denomination” in its more broad sense of an informal collection of common beliefs and/or practices rather than a structural entity.1 With this in mind, I will focus my attention primarily upon groups in the United States categorized by similar theological and practical distinctives, which I will suggest center at least in part on matters related to worship.
First, I will demonstrate how worship philosophy and practice is a central denominational divider. Second, I will evaluate the role traditional psalmody, hymnody, and liturgy have played in providing appropriate unity across denominational lines. Finally, I will reveal two recent developments in evangelical worship that blurred doctrinal distinctives: the Praise and Worship Movement and the Church Growth Movement. I will show that traditional hymnody and liturgy unifies Christians while preserving appropriate denominational distinctiveness, but Praise and Worship theology and seeker-sensitive worship philosophy contribute to denominational decline at least in part due to their elevation of musical style as central to church identity.
Church historians have suggested different ways of understanding denominations. I will suggest here that one plausible way to understand them is, in the words of David Dockery, “through the window of liturgy and worship.”2 Indeed, a brief examination of how denominations developed during the Reformation reveals that worship theology and practice played a much more significant role in denominational divisions among emerging Protestant groups than other core theological beliefs. While the Reformers agreed concerning central doctrines of justification and biblical authority, their disagreements about worship issues such as the Lord’s Table, baptism, and how Scripture regulated worship practice were what led to irreconcilable divisions, resulting in the development of denominations.
Come back next week as I begin to show how these important denominational distinctives were inherently tied to worship theology.
- For example, both a Southern Baptist and an Independent Baptist are part of the same denomination in the informal sense (because of shared distinctives) but are not part of the same organizational entity. In this paper I will use the term primarily in its more broad sense, but its more narrowed structural sense will also be in view. [↩]
- David S. Dockery, “So Many Denominations: The Rise, Decline, and Future of Denominationalism,” in Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 10–11. [↩]