Music in the Church – Where we are now

Posted on May 24, 2012 by


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

In general there are three categories that are used when talking about Corporate Worship in today’s church.  They are; Traditional, Blended, and Contemporary. There are other stylistic/philosophical categories but they can all be boiled down into these three.

For a more in depth look we’ll take these by the two distinct labels and end with the compromise.

Traditional – at its core this way of approaching music in the church is just like it sounds, it’s based in the tradition of previous generations.  There are plenty of arguments and justifications each proponent of this method can give, for now let’s ignore all the pseudo-science and preferential ones and look at one biblical argument.  1 Corinthians 14:33a, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” In this section of first Corinthians Paul is telling the church in Corinth how to deal with the disorder that had arisen in their gatherings.  Because these models are based in history and have been around for anywhere between 60-1000+ years they have distilled their elements to what they deem essential, and there is a common knowledge amongst the people of how each service will go, and how each song is sung. Straying from that well established order of service is seen to be causing disorder and will get in the way of people truly worshiping as a congregation.

Contemporary – This label came about in the 1960’s when the Jesus Movement and its opponents split the church stylistically. You could compare it to other church dividing moments in history like the reformation in that you now had separate churches where there used to be one. The big difference is that split isn’t based on biblical interpretation where you get a pretty clear and defined separation. This was based on style of music and personal preference. And so you have two sets of churches overwhelmingly united in Doctrine and Faith but bitterly divided over musical style. The contemporary model is an attempt to contextualize the musical elements of the church to be more accessible to culture. Sticking to biblical arguments let’s look at   1 Corinthians 9:19 “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” The motivation that the proponents of the Contemporary model is to win more people to Christ by meeting them where they are musically.

Blended – As the “worship wars” waged on through the 80’s and 90’s and as Church leadership took on a more executive tone, some began to see the benefit of both contemporary and traditional music. They also saw that overwhelming the younger generation was abandoning the musically traditional churches for the contemporary ones. So a Kind of gentlemen’s compromise arose. Do both. This can take on several different models, two being the most prevalent. The first is the separate service model. In an effort to serve both the older generations preferences and to attract more youth to the church some split their services musically, having a traditional service and a contemporary service. The second is the Quota model.  In this model you have X number of hymns for the traditional crowd and X number of CCLI Top 40 for the contemporary crowd. Those who follow the blended model are trying to bridge the gap and foster unity in their churches since Christ prayed for our unity (John 17:20-21)

This is where we are now, but things are changing again. We are coming into a time where authenticity is the most important thing about everything. You can see it in the marketing that pushes products as being “natural” or more real than they competitors or predecessors. The mindset that things need to fit into a preconceived formula is being replaced by a need for things to be real and genuine. So what does this mean for music in the church? That needs to be addressed on its own.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Posted in: Music, Praxis, Theology