Music in the Divine Service as the Work of the People — CT Book Review


Christianity Today reviews a new book by sociologist, Gerardo Marti, examining the musical preferences in successful, multiracial congregations.  You can read the whole article here In Worship Across the Racial Divide, Marti found that the style or musical preferences of individual ethnic groups within the congregation did not matter.  In fact employing a buffet style approach to music to be inclusive of the musical tastes of various groups within the congregation was not conducive to unity in the congregation :

The end result? Instead of bringing people together and transcending racial boundaries, this approach reinforces boundaries—boundaries built on gross,oversimplified stereotypes.It unwittingly even assumes that somehow we have inborn preferences for certain styles of music, rather than tendencies to prefer the type of music we most often hear those around us enjoying. Fact is, musical preferences are learned.

And the musical-buffet approach can rarely succeed, says Marti. People simply are not trained or skilled in the abilities to perform such a wide range of musical styles. Even if a church finds an incredibly gifted worship leader who can do so, the worship leader will not be able to find enough volunteer choir members who can do so.

Marti found that what worked for successful congregations was the participation of the people — the congregation has the opportunity to sing the hymns/songs, be a part of the choir, or play an instrument during the course of the service.

What “succeeds” musically in multiracial churchesisnota certaintypeofmusic or how well it is performed. Rather, it is: (a) people of various backgrounds all practicing together, spendingtimetogether, singing together, worshiping together; and (b) the fact that it is “our choir, our people.”

To get downright sociological, it is the transcendent experience in which worship becomes at the same time a celebration of the group itself and of Godwhohas brought the group together. At its essence, then, what matters is the network of relationships of the people in the congregation,not the type or even the quality of the music.

This conclusion runs counter to the trend of contemporary worship that takes the people’s work of praise and puts it into the hands of a few musicians and singers in a band singing songs that most people cannot and relegating congregational participation to a bar or two of a refrain.  It also runs counter to our politically correct sensibilities that elevates the celebration of diversity to an idol even in our churches.  CT reviewer, Michael O. Emerson, professor of sociology and co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, observes:

I must admit, when I first read this book, the conclusion did not seem right to me. I had previously been in a multiethnic congregation that played only what is stereotypically white music. While the congregation was diverse, with people from several dozen nations, the music was not. I felt distressed by what I thought was insensitivity, and even—to use a fancy term—the musical imperialism of this church.

It proclaimed itself diverse, and it wanted to be a place for all people, but anyone who came had to conform to only one musical style. Sometimes I became so upset by this, and by my participation in it, that I had to leave the service. But what truly confused me is that, as I talked to people in the congregation, almost no one seemed bothered by the one-dimensional musical style. I could not understand it.

The church is the gathering of the people around Word and Sacrament, the ekklesia.  When this people gathers together in a local congregation for the divine service, it gathers to receive Christ ‘s gifts.  While the reception of gifts is a passive activity, there is action required of the people in this gathering in the confession of sin, confessing the faith once delivered, and returning thanks to the Lord.  This returning of thanks is done in our songs of worship and praise.  This praise is the work of the people,  their leitourgia.  It is the exercise of fellowship and community,  the koininia that binds the people together.  That joyful noise we hear in church sounds much better when the entire congregation joins with the faithful company if heaven.  The music in the church of yesterday and today is the work of all gathered.  It is ironic that we need a study and a sociologist to draw this conclusion for us.

Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston

Is the ancient is the new modern?  Can what is old be new?  The cult of fad teaches us to chase after the wind for the newest, latest, and greatest trends in leadership, missional discipleship, and so called incarnational communities.  And yet this wind chasing is driving people from the emptiness of the ever changing landscape that seems to be our post modern church into the arms of the ancient church.   An article in the Houston Chronicle highlights this “trend:”  New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston – Houston Chronicle.

So what gives?  Why are new converts flocking to the stuffy old church of the past?  Why the church of the Eastern traditions of christendom?  Two words:  Stability and Tradition.  The Chronicle observes:

“Most people come for the stability,” he (Father Richard Petranek) said. “The same thing that is taught today in the Orthodox church was taught 500 years ago, was taught 1,000 years ago, was taught 1,500 years ago.”

At a time when most mainline Christian churches are losing members, Eastern Orthodox churches — which trace their beliefs to the church described in the New Testament – are growing, both in Houston and across the United States.

The numbers are still small: the 2010 U.S. Orthodox census estimates there are about 32,000 active Orthodox churchgoers in Texas and just more than 1 million nationally, although other estimates are higher. But the number of U.S. Orthodox parishes grew 16 percent over the past decade.


To outsiders, the first hint of what lies within is often the architecture; many of the churches are built in a neo-Byzantine style, capped by gold domes and other flourishes, standing out in a city of sleek skyscrapers, strip shopping centers and ranch houses.

Traditions vary from church to church, but in many congregations, members stand for much of the service. The priest faces the altar for long stretches of time, with his back to the congregation. (All Orthodox priests are male.)

Members make the sign of the cross throughout the service, they kiss icons of Jesus and the saints and, sometimes, the Communion chalice and the priest’s robes.

“It’s pretty freaky for people from the nontraditional churches,” said Father John Salem, pastor of St. George Antiochian Christian Church in West University. “If you come from a non-liturgical background, it can be pretty overwhelming.”

But to many converts, the traditions are the main attraction.

“People are tired of the mixture of worship and celebrity culture,” said Frank Schaeffer, a writer and novelist who converted to Orthodoxy 20 years ago from the evangelical faith of his childhood.

“People are tired of these worship services that look closer to MTV or the Disney channel than something that goes back into the past,” said Schaeffer, son of Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer and the author of books includingDancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False ReligionandPatience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).“In the Orthodox church, people are not there for the priest, but for the liturgy.”

(Recent convert to orthodoxy, Lana) Jobe points to something else:

“You see churches today splitting over doctrinal issues,” she said. “In the Baptist church, there’s the Southern Baptists. There’s the Texas Baptists. There are controversies over Biblical truths or inerrancy or homosexuality; all kinds of issues come up, and the church wants to vote on it. We don’t have to vote on anything, because it was settled from the very beginning.”

Someone once said, if you want to plant a mega church, build a huge cathedral and follow the ancient liturgies of the church.   Continue reading “Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston”

Contemporary Christian Music and Worship: A Variety of Composition From Christianity Today

A Variety of Religious Composition | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

In its series on “worship music,” Christianity Today Magazine has published an article by Lawrence R. Mumford, PhD, a professor at the Biola University Conservatory of Music, looking at what Contemporary Christian Worship Music is.  Mumford spent many years playing in praise and worship bands, as a minister of music in two Los Angles churches, and writing pop music.  Mumford describes it, looking solely at the music, as a “subgenre of the American popular music that emerged in the mid-1960s and has been pervasive in society ever since…. This relatively recent pop music, with its almost infinite branches, includes soft rock, hard rock, country crossover, folk rock, punk rock, alternative, adult contemporary, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and so forth. It has always been a model for CCM, and a few creative CCM artists have been musical innovators in their own right.”  Truth be told, CCM has its origins and roots in the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s, part of the hippie counter-culture (with elements of mysticism, revivalism, and communal living), and the Charismatic Renewal Movement (with strong elements of unexplained spiritual experiences described as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, supernatural power of the Spirit and mysticism), particularly in Australia where some of the most popular praise and worship songs originate.

What are the characteristics of this music?  Rhythm with an off-beat accent, more rhythm with a rock beat, and a middle of the road vocal sound designed to appeal to a wide audience.  And do not forget the guitar solos and other improvisations that fill in some gaps in the music.  Mumford describes: Continue reading “Contemporary Christian Music and Worship: A Variety of Composition From Christianity Today”

The Action of a People — Leitourgia and the Lord’s Supper

Liturgy.  It is a word despised.  Tradition.  Your mom and dad’s Oldsmobile.  That stuffy old stodgy worship, filled with the “Thees” and “Thous” of Ye Olde Englishe, days of yore gone by and passed beyond our present contemporary expression.  Stiff and wooden, the organ plays, reminding us of the wooden teeth of old George Washington.  Days gone by, no longer relevant.  We are sleeker.  Cutting edge.  No longer do multiple melodies reign in music.  It is the thumping base…  driving rhythms of the bass guitar…  the sultry voice…  moving….  pulsing… pounding…  it is energy…

Liturgy… repetition… you speak, we respond…  ordered…  formal…  stuffy…  it does not speak to me.  it is hard to understand.  “make haste o God to deliver me.”  but, i need to experience God, feel His presence…  if i do not feel, experience for myself, it is not real…  your tradition, i cannot relate to it…. your truth does not speak to my experience… i need it to be relevant.

We fear what we do not know.  Reject what is outside of our experience.  Yet we seek connection, common understanding….  we look for points where we can come together…  do not turn me away from the table of the Lord…  we commune together, despite our differences…  Leitourgia.

“‘Liturgy’ is the name given ever since the days of the apostles to the act of taking part in the solemn corporate worship of God by the ‘priestly’ society of christians, who are ‘the Body of Christ, the church.’  The Liturgyis the term which covers generally all that worship which is officially organised by the church, and which is open to and offered by, or in the name of, all who are members of the church.”  Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy.

Continue Reading

From Heaven Above to Earth I Come — The Trajectory of Worship from Christianity Today

Christianity Today magazine has been doing a series on worship and music in the church.  This article by John Koessler, Professor of Pastoral Studies at the Moody Bible Institute was published in the March edition of the magazine:  The Trajectory of Worship | Christianity Today.

CT has looked at the worship wars affecting the wider evangelical church, and music has been on the radar screen of late.  Koessler notes that a lot of the music in the church today annoys him.  He suggests that, based on his experience as a youth singing campfire round songs during the week and hymns during the day, that the music being pushed and played in many congregations really is not appropriate for worship.  Koessler notes that our conception of worship generally focuses on man — what I am doing in worship.  And so it becomes an earth to heaven action rather than a heaven to earth action.  Koessler observes that Scripture paints a different portrait of worship:  Worship always begins with God and comes to earth.   Continue reading “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come — The Trajectory of Worship from Christianity Today”

Do We Miss the Point of Worship? Is it for Seekers and Evangelism?

A blog post at New Reformation Press asks the question:  Is the Primary Purpose of Worship Evangelism?  This is a timely question, and a question congregations and church bodies must ask themselves in this day and time.  We are so worried about appearances, having a nice building, the latest technology, slick production videos, worship experiences, rockin’ worship bands, and being relevant, to name a few.  We just want people to like us and, well, if we are being honest (and calling a thing what it is), we want them to covet what we have so that they will join our church!!  We want them to feel “comfortable,” cozy, and at home.  We want to be “welcoming,” to the extent that we will remove the cross from the focal point in the church and hide it so as not to offend visitors (see PT McCain’s latest post over at Communion Without Baptism for more)! Isn’t worship about receiving forgiveness of sins and the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection?  Isn’t it about being fed with both Word and Sacrament?  Isn’t it about entering into the presence of the Triune God through the risen Christ who is present with us in Word and Sacrament?  Do we not really enter into heaven on earth when we enter into the sanctuary to sit at the foot of the Cross?  Shouldn’t we at least try to be stewards of the mysteries of Christ and teach unbelievers about them rather than changing our worship to fit the “felt needs” of unbelievers?  Isn’t this idolatry?   Do we have a FUNDAMENTAL misunderstanding of the purpose of worship???

New Reformation Press » Blog Archive » Is the Primary Purpose of Worship Evangelism?.

Monday, May 9th, 2011


Then why are most ‘contemporary worship’ services centered on the ‘needs’ of ‘seekers’ and non believers?

I just don’t find modern Evangelicalism’s emphasis on converting the lost in the worship service in either the Old or New Testaments.

Paul in I Corinthians 14 touches on what might happen should an unbeliever visit a worship service, but this is by no means the main thrust of his argument. Many will appeal to the Book of Acts and the outdoor preaching of the Apostles. However, this does not occur in the context of Christian worship of the Lord or in the Church. This is public proclamation on the streets. The Great Commission addresses missions, not our worship.

Why do we build our congregations and our worship around the needs of non-Christians? This is a huge distortion of the church and its worship and is the cause of many of our ills. In the ancient church, visitors and catechumens were dismissed before the Lord’s Supper and the doors were locked behind them. The purpose was to hear the Word and to commune with the Lord in the Supper, and to pray, praise, and give thanks. The whole thing was geared towards believers receiving good gifts from their Lord; not to convince non Christians that they should become Christians and join the church. Although that may have happened occasionally, the bulk of the early churches’ evangelism was done through mercy ministries and the sending of missionaries.

The great liturgies of both the East and the West are patterned after the picture of Heavenly worship we see in the book of the Revelation. How did we go from that to what is often no more than a corporate seminar, with some music, a power point presentation, and the name of Jesus (hopefully) thrown in?

Given enough credence and sway the ‘worship as evangelism’ philosophy gives rise to prostituting the whole church in pursuit of non Christians. (Yes, Paul did say he became all things to all people in order to win some, but he never said he made God’s church all things to all people.) Below is a case in point.

A relative attended a very large and famous evangelical church in the area. Their services on Saturday and Sunday were geared to ‘seekers’ and on Wednesday nights they had a time of worship and teaching for the ‘core’ members geared towards believers, many of whom worked in the services on the weekends. The church ended up canceling the Wednesday night service. My relative was really disappointed about this. When I finally got a hold of one of the Pastors to ask him why they did this, he straight up told me that it wasn’t worth it to ‘fire up the building’ and bring in the staff for a full blown service for less than ten percent of their attenders. He told me that was between 1100 and 1300 people on any given Wednesday. (Note: This was several years ago. My relative no longer attends that church, and I have no idea what that church is doing now.)

1100 people. That is larger than 95% of the congregations in the U.S. All in the name of ‘evangelism’. This church offered worship services in Country and Western, Hawaiian, and Rock and Roll musical flavors among others.

But hey, there were huge crowds.

For those who are of this persuasion, a few questions.

1. Where is the Scriptural justification for making the worship service our primary means of evangelism?

2. If the main worship services are dedicated to attracting and converting seekers, how do you feed and minister to those already in the fold? From where do you draw your scriptural support for this?

3.What are the historical precedents for the ‘worship as evangelism’ model and how do they apply today?

I am still pondering a number of issues that touch on this subject and may post more later.

By Pat K