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Monday, November 12, 2012

Armistice in the Worship War: Learning from Conflict and Controversy

    What can be done? Is there any relief in sight, or must the divisions continue until one side reaches a definitive victory? The present controversy does not seem to be as great of an issue as it was ten years ago. Does this mean that the fighting is coming to an end, or does it just mean that because it is largely generationally sided, one group is just out-living the other? In the past no doubt, some conflicts were never resolved, but literally “died,” yet others lasted over 100 years. Worship is much more than music but a study done in 2003 by George Barna revealed
    "Many church people fight about music because they have yet to understand the purpose of music in the worship process. That lack of insight causes them to focus on and fight for their preferred sound, instruments, presentation techniques, or their desired order of service. Too often, church leaders get caught up in the fuss. These battles are inappropriate distractions from meaningful ministry and fruitful discipleship. Christians need to be more zealous about, and devoted to worshiping God. The Church needs to move on and focus on the One worthy of worship and the desire of His heart - which is to be worshiped with intensity and passion by His people - rather than to focus on the tools used to facilitate our expressions of love and gratitude."[George Barna, accessed.]

When in a stalemate, a positive resolution in conflict can often come as a result of an agreement to halt the fighting and actively seek mutual agreement, a truce. Understanding previous worship conflicts and how they were resolved might be one way to lay the foundation is discovering a positive outcome.
     The following is a summary listing of the controversies covered, how they were resolved and how the understanding might apply to the present circumstance:


1. Conflict:         Use of instruments in worship
    Resolution:     Instruments banned in worship for nearly 700 years  
    Analysis:         Symbolic theological interpretation resulted in restriction of their use, and the strength of those who supported it
    Comment:      Eventually instruments were accepted and used in worship. Extreme responses seem to have been an over reaction to an issue that was not a heresy. 
2. Conflict:        Songs used in promoting heretical views of Christ’s deity
    Resolution:    Congregational singing restricted until Vatican II [except Luther, etc.]
    Analysis:       Theological heresy resulted in restriction of congregational singing
    Comment:     Restricting singing to a small group of singers eliminated congregational participation. The establishment of a process to filter theological heresy from the congregational singing and training in biblical truth might have been a more equitable solution.

3. Conflict:        Icons interpreted as providing an image of the unseen God
    Resolution:    Though temporarily banned, eventually accepted
    Analysis:       Religious leadership favorable to icons pushed support
    Comment:     The use of art to aid in worship was substantiated.

4. Conflict:        Need for vernacular worship and revisions in the mass
    Resolution:    Division into various groups: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin. Three views on Lord’s Supper, Open congregational singing {Luther} restricted congregational singing {Zwingli} and Limited  congregational singing {Calvin}
    Analysis:        Differing theological positions about the reform needed resulted in factions.
    Comment:     After nearly 500 years, though distinctions still exists in views and practices of Lord’s   Supper, congregational singing has become more homogenous among the groups, with a limited common canon of hymnody.

5. Conflict:        Musical counterpoint made text unintelligible, use of secular melodies in mass  music
    Resolution:    Palestrina’s more refined counterpoint, use of secular melodies continued
    Analysis:       Composers had placed musical elements of their compositions above the priority of textual  interpretation and understanding. Contrafactum continued despite papal bans.
    Comment:     Compositional guidelines seemed to be more effective in dealing with musical issues than outright restrictions. The danger lies in the association of the secular melody and how powerful the association remains in a new musical context with biblical or Christianized texts.

6. Conflict:        Limiting the texts to biblical ones only seemed to be restriction that went further than the
 biblical record
    Resolution:    Initially, hymns were added during Lord’s Supper, then the quality of the text was greatly
 improved through authors such as Watts.  Watts was able to show that a Christian perspective on the psalms was necessary and that believers needed to be able to express personal experience. By the early part of the 1700s the inclusion of hymn singing was standard practice.
    Analysis:       Though opposition was initially strong, worthy expressions of praise were composed and used help break down the resistance. The idea was not to replace Scripture, but to help interpret it.
    Comment:     Hymn singing was not without precedent, Luther had promoted it years before, but fear of presenting an unworthy sacrifice, that is, one of “human composure” slowed the progress of personal expressions, especially in England.

7. Conflict:        The Reformation and Evangelical revival had produced a enormous amount hymnody, but had completely rejected anything from the past, because of its catholic roots. There was a need to reconnect with the early church worship and reclaim worthy expressions of praise and worship from the past.
    Resolution:    Texts from Greek and Latin sources were translated and set to music.
    Analysis:        Rejection of catholic doctrines had resulted in the rejection of anything related to the catholic church. Previous over correction of the Reformation  led others to see the need to restore the good that was in the past.
    Comment:         The development of Hymns Ancient and Modern, that included old and new, set a new standard for what a hymnal as a worship tool could do.

8. Conflict:        Congregational song had deteriorated to chaos and mumbled praise from lining out.
    Resolution:    Rise of singing schools in local churches to aid in teaching individuals to sing and lead song.
     Analysis:       Lack of training left many with a desire to help, but little enough training for both leader and congregations.
    Comment:     Training leadership and congregations in worship was basic to teaching and discipleship.

9. Conflict:        Rapid growth and popularity of a particular style led to use of songs without theological filter.
    Resolution:    An explosion in hymnals and collections to meet demand. Only those most popular songs survived in later generations of collections.  Songs were absorbed into the musical canon of the church. With the rise of denominational hymnals doctrinal issues were addressed in a more systematic way.
    Analysis:        Popular music style took precedent over careful theological issues
    Comment:      Stylized composition can be relevant culturally, but needs theological analysis to guard against doctrinal heresy.

10. Conflict:        Gender insensitivity had alienated part of the body of Christ.
      Resolution:    Some groups addressed gender issues among the body of Christ, but extended their applications to include the Godhead.
      Analysis:       In search of new expression of the nature of God, those addressing gender issues reject biblical understanding and biblical descriptions of the Godhead.
      Comment:     There is a need to avoid alienating segments of the body of Christ, but not at the expense of biblical self-expression.


11. Conflict:        Rejection of more traditional forms of hymnody to the limitation of secular stylized music in worship. Rejection of organ and choral groups to guitar, percussion and praise band.
      Resolution:    Venue worship: developed worship services based on music styles; development of some blend between the two styles.
      Analysis:       Generational tastes drive decision making as to what worship is for the individual.
      Comment:     Failure to teach and understand biblical worship within a post modern culture has resulted in “me-driven” worship. The critical issue is the balance between being culturally relevant and spiritually reverent.


        How can our understanding of these previous conflicts inform the present controversies
of inclusive language and contemporary music? The following are some attempts toward that goal:

•    With the controversy over the use of instruments, symbolic theological understandings gave way to more literal interpretation of Scripture. Over time, the resistance resulting from negative associations was overcome, allowing the use of instruments in worship.  Time does not change the truth, but in time what is perceived as critical can change. The use of a guitar is no less holy than an organ, and over time the negative associations related to the use of the guitar and other instruments will most likely fade as their use in contemporary worship continues. At the same time, sensitivity is needed toward those for whom instruments used may or may not be perceived as more conductive to worship.

•    The Arian controversy which included the use of songs to teach heretical views of Christ’s deity highlighted the concept that there are truths that are non-negotiable. With the current practice of many worship leaders downloading their music from the internet, there is a risk of allowing songs with weak or heretical doctrine to be sung in worship, since no group provides a theological filter for the texts. Worship leadership must be trained in theology as well as music, if churches are to avoid this error of the past.

•    Iconoclasm might have eliminated much of the art that was used in worship. Key leadership in critical times meant the difference between the abolition of art in worship and its use.  Worship centers whose focus is to mirror the television or concert stage and eliminate traditional worship symbols and objects used in worship run the risk of a new wave of iconoclasm.

•    New musical developments in the Middle Ages developed slowly over time. Technology today has aided in bringing changes and information at speeds faster than they can be absorbed. When changes in musical style are attempted too quickly the resulting tension can split a congregation. How change occurs is just as critical as what changes occur. Care must be taken to balance feeding the entire flock and utilizing musical style in being relevant to culture.

•    The Reformation pushed the way for worship reform, renewed the authority of Scripture as the rule of faith and revealed that godly men can look at the same jewel and not see the same facets the same way. After a time a more unified understanding of and the acceptance of the use of hymns as well as psalms was achieved.  Differences still remain as to the interpretation of the Lord’s Supper.  Godly men and women may not always see everything exactly the same, yet care must be given not to demonize those who differ on secondary matters of the faith, as some of the Reformers demonized each other. Believers must remember that knowledge is yet not complete, and the prayer of unity by Christ in John 17.

•    Men like Palestrina were instrumental during the Counter Reformation in modeling how to respond when music becomes the goal in and of itself over the message of the text. New compositional techniques brought clarity and beauty to the singing of the text.  Care must be given that worship is about God, and that the medium must not overshadow the message.  Music and methods to deliver the music that have negative associations from secular use should be used carefully, always considering any association their use might bring to the minds of those in the congregation.

•    The Oxford movement was critical in regaining ties with the past and in the development of effective tools for use in worship. The desire to be relevant must not be at the expense of cutting all ties from past generations.  The congregation that only hears and sings the latest songs will doubtful develop a canon of songs that reflect a broad spectrum of doctrines of the faith.

•    The controversy over the “Old Way” versus the “Regular Singing” is a reminder of the importance of proper training for worship leadership and that poor leadership can be detrimental to worship. A biblical understanding of what worship is and is not, is imperative for anyone who assumes a leadership role in worship. At the same time, proper musical training can enhance and facilitate worship.

•    Issues around Gospel hymnody helped lay the foundation for theological filters in denominational hymnals and the need for worship to be relevant to the culture. Tools and resources are critical in worship, and worship planning. Balance must be maintained between being relevant to the culture and at the same time reverent in worship. The resetting of older texts to new tunes and revitalized hymns can help bridge the gap.

    The controversies over Inclusive language and Contemporary Music are still being debated. Rather than drawing lines in the sand, believers can sketch out a truce based on how the men and women of God have handled issues in the past as seen in the past controversies and conflicts.  Church leadership must learn to respond rather than react to  avoid further division in the Body of Christ.