Worship and Controversy

August 25, 2009 — 2 Comments

Terry Davis (our Family Minister) and I are preparing a series of messages for Journey Christian Church on the subject of worship.

My prep work has reminded me of the controversy worship has spawned throughout the centuries.

In their book, Into the Future, Elmer Towns and Warren Byrd briefly and effectively outline some of the major controversies regarding worship in Church History:[1]

Most innovations in worship that are widely accepted in churches today were quite controversial when they were introduced. The following list, including imagined dialogue, recounts the various frictions that have surrounded worship practices over the centuries:

100s A.D.: Many churches had daily worship services. One early practice was for Christians to rise and pray at midnight. Morning and evening prayer in church became customary through the fourth century.

200s A.D.: Instrumental music was almost universally shunned because of its association with debauchery and immorality. Lyre playing, for example, was associated with prostitution.

300’s A.D.: Ambrose of Milan (339-397), an influential bishop often called the father of hymnody in the Western church, was the first to introduce community hymn-singing in the church. These hymns were composed in metrical stanzas, quite unlike biblical poetry. They didn’t rhyme but were sometimes sung while marching.

500s A.D.: Congregations often sang psalms in a way that everyone responds. This probably involved the traditional Jewish practice of cantor and congregation singing alternate verses.

600s A.D.: The monastery, referencing Seven times a day I praise you (Ps. 119:164), devoted a seven-times-daily order of prayer. Services varied in content, but included a certain amount of singing, mainly by a soloist, with the congregation repeating a refrain at intervals. Services were linked by the biblical psalms in such a way that the whole cycle of 150 psalms was sung every year.

800s A.D.: Almost all singing was done in chant, based on scales that used only the white keys on today’s piano. The monastery was the setting above all others where Christian music was sustained and developed through the Dark Ages.

900s A.D.: Music began to be widely notated for the first time, enabling choirs to sing from music. Thus new types of music could be created which would have been quite out of the reach of traditions in which music was passed by ear.

1100s A.D.: The perfection of new forms of Latin verse using rhyme and accent led to new mystical meditations on the joys of heaven, the vanity of life, and the suffering of Christ.

1200s A.D.: Starting in France, musicians began to discover the idea of harmony. The choir suddenly changed from the lone chant to two-, three-, or even four-part music. This did not please everyone. One critic commented how harmony sullies worship by introducing a lewdness into church.

1300s A.D.: Worship in the great gothic-era cathedrals and abbeys used choirs of professionals. Ordinary people generally had no place in the spiritual life of these great buildings, except perhaps in the giving of their finances.

1400s A.D.: Music became increasingly complex, prompting criticisms that only the choir was allowed to sing. John Wycliffe complained, No one can hear the words, and all the others are dumb and watch them like fools.

1500s A.D.: The new prayer book, pushed by King Henry VIII of England, decreed that all service would be in English, with only one syllable to each note.

1500s A.D.: Martin Luther set about reforming public worship by freeing the mass from what he believed to be rigid forms. He stressed congregational singing and modified Roman Catholic and popular tunes to fit his new theology. As a result, people recognized familiar hymns and chants and felt at home in the new church. One writer quipped, The Catholic, in church, listens without singing; the Calvinists sing without listening; the Lutheran both listens and sings – simultaneously.

1600s A.D.: The organ played an important part in Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism, while in the Reformed churches there was much opposition to it. It was not used to accompany congregational singing, but had its own voice, often substituting for a sung part of the service.

1700s A.D.: Isaac Watts gave a great boost to the controversial idea of a congregation singing man-made hymns, which he created by freely paraphrasing Scripture. Charles Wesley paraphrased the Prayer Book and versified Christian doctrine and experience.

1800s A.D.: William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, used rousing melodies with a martial flavor to set the tone for his Army. He said, Why should the devil have all the best music?

1900s A.D.: When radio was in its infancy, a handful of Christian pioneers such as Donald Grey Barnhouse and Charles E. Fuller began featuring gospel music and evangelistic teaching over the airways. Many Christians initially showed skepticism.[2]

Over the next few days, I’ll upload some more worship stuff.

[1] Elmer Towns is cofounder of Liberty University and is dean of the School of Religion there. He has lectured at more than 50 theological seminaries in North America and abroad. He has edited two encyclopedias and has written more than 70 books. Elmer and his wife reside in Virginia and have three grown children. Warren Bird, on staff with a large, cutting-edge church in Princeton, N.J., works with numerous pacesetting church leaders. He has served as researcher for Carl George, Dale Galloway, Michael Slaughter, and several other pioneering innovators. He has edited or collaboratively written seven books. Warren and his wife have two children and live in a suburb of New York City.

[2] From Into the Future by Elmer Towns and Warren Bird. Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Mich. Copyright (c) 2000 by Elmer Towns and Warren Bird. Baker Book House Company.   Found on following website: http://www.crosswalk.com/fun/books/560506.html?view=print


2 responses to Worship and Controversy


    Thanks this really helped me get started on a paper I am doing on worship at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

    Nathan Goodlet
    FCC of Lake Wales, Fl
    FCC of Boca Raton, Fl


    Good stuff! Thanks for sharing!

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