Music in Twentieth-Century Worship

The trend toward a return to primal traditions in theology and worship practice was intensified in the mid-twentieth century, partly due to the influence of the “New Reformation.” Along with a return to biblical authority, we have seen a revival of Reformation worship forms and practice, including even neo-baroque organ design. The total result is a blend that includes three traditions: the apostolic heritage, historic medieval contributions, and Reformation distinctives.

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Music in Traditional Churches During the Modern Era

Through much of the nineteenth century, worship in liturgical churches followed largely low-church convictions. In the mid-nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth, many of these churches began recovering ancient patterns of worship. In music, this meant the recovery of Gregorian chant in the Catholic church, the return of Lutherans to sixteenth-century liturgy forms, a movement in some Anglican churches away from Puritan-influenced worship to the recovery of catholic forms, and the trend in some free churches from revival-style worship to quasi-liturgical practices.

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Music in the Modern Revivalist Tradition

The revivalist tradition is rooted in pietist hymnody. It is characterized by an emphasis on the relationship of Christ (the bridegroom) to the church and to the individual believer (the bride). It is commonly held that Isaac Watts combined most successfully the expression of worship with that of human devotional experience. The Wesleys developed what we know today as “invitation” songs. When transported to America, this tradition gave rise to the modern revival movement.

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Music of the Reformation

The reforms in music which attended the reform of worship in the Reformation ranged widely from the rejection of all instruments and the restriction of singing solely to the Psalms to the choral Eucharists of the Anglicans.

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Music of the Medieval Era in the Western Church

The Middle Ages in the West saw the gradual dominance of the Roman rite over the local rites that had developed before the ninth and tenth centuries. Musically this entailed the spread of Gregorian chant. Later centuries saw the development of polyphony. In the late Middle Ages, the preaching service of Prone became the model for Reformed worship.

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Music in the Worship of the Early Church

Very little can be said with certainty about the music of the first three centuries of the church beyond texts used and liturgical forms followed. Judging from later music in the Eastern churches and in Gregorian chant in the West, the musical settings of these texts probably shared characteristics with much Eastern music, including tunes in various modes. Ecstatic song continued in the practice of the thanksgiving of the “prophets” in some early liturgies.

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Music in the Worship of the New Testament

From the beginning of the New Testament experience, the believer’s response to Jesus Christ has included song. Most of the New Testament songs or hymns have found their way into the enduring liturgy of the church, including the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria, and the Nunc Dimittis. New Testament music in worship included psalmody, hymns composed in the church, and spiritual songs—alleluias and songs of jubilation or ecstatic nature. Further, many of the elements characteristic of later liturgical practice are rooted in New Testament actions and elements of worship.

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Music in the Worship of the Old Testament

Music was an important element of both temple and synagogue worship. Undoubtedly this music and its forms influenced the form and use of music in the early Christian church. Both Jews and Christians revere a transcendent God and both give honor to Scripture. For these reasons and others, Jewish synagogue worship and modern Christian services are similar in content and spirit.

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