Throughout history, the church has related to the culture in which it exists in very different ways, choosing in some cases to oppose cultural developments and in others to adopt them to a greater or lesser extent. Such variety is certainly evident with regard to the contemporary church’s response to cultural developments in music. Understanding these relationships and the special demands of contemporary culture is essential in developing a thoughtful approach to church music.
Music in black churches an is an exuberant celebration of Jesus Christ and realization of the power of the Spirit. It is necessarily shaped by the unique experience of black Christians and emphasizes themes—such as the need for liberation in Christ—important to this experience.
Unique to music in charismatic worship is what is known as “singing in the Spirit.” This form of music is characterized by a spontaneous response to the work of the Spirit in the worship service. It is based on a theology that emphasizes the dynamic and ongoing presence of the Spirit among believers.
Music in free worship is not bound to the text of worship itself but appears here and there as separate, special, occasional, and incidental to the order of worship. This approach has led to a wide divergence of practice among churches.
Although the Reformed tradition has been more restrictive about the use of music in worship than the Lutheran tradition, it nevertheless highly values the role of music in worship. This article describes emphases important in the Reformed tradition, largely in terms of the writings of Reformer John Calvin.
Among Protestant churches, the Lutheran tradition has the richest heritage of music for worship. It is based on the assumption that music is a profound means by which we enter God’s presence and render our liturgy of thanksgiving to God. Bringing together insights first developed by Martin Luther and practices that have grown out of almost 500 years of Lutheran worship, this article describes why and how music is used in Lutheran worship.
Worship in the praise-and-worship tradition is based on the assumption that praise is not identical to worship. Praise is the prelude to worship, our entrance into God’s presence, which is the locus of true worship. This article describes this distinction.
Although the technical aspects of music are the same for concert and worship music, the function and purpose of music in these settings are different. Understanding these differences is important for church musicians, ultimately changing the criteria by which music is selected and influencing the way in which music is rehearsed and presented.
Music in worship serves many purposes and manifests itself in a variety of expressions. It is used both to praise God and to proclaim the Word; it both expresses prayer and relates the Gospel story. This article examines the various functions of music in worship and describes their implication for the church musician, who is the leader of the people’s song.
Music has great power to both reflect and shape human experience. In worship, as in other activities, music is able to express the most profound thoughts and emotions in ways that words cannot. Music in Christian worship is a powerful—even a risky—force that must be used thoughtfully, imaginatively, and prayerfully.