Since 1950, there has been more music published for congregational singing than at any other time in the history of the church. Nearly every major denominational body, as well as many independent congregations and publishing companies, have produced official and supplementary hymnals and related collections of songs. In almost every case, these collections evidence a recovery of traditions once lost and relentless pursuit of contemporary music that is both faithful to the gospel and representative of the languages—both verbal and musical—of modern culture.
The three hundred year span of time from 1640 to 1940 saw the development of great variety in congregational singing throughout America. Beginning with the Psalters of the first colonists, Americans contributed widely varying styles of songs and hymns, culminating with the popular and influential gospel song.
In his book The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England, John Cotton, a leading Congregational pastor of the first generation of American colonists, provided a detailed description of worship practices in New England. Although conclusive evidence is lacking, it appears that English Congregationalists used the same basic order.
Congregational worship was influenced by the radical wing of Puritanism, which stressed worship shaped by biblical teaching alone. Worship was stripped to its New Testament essentials, centering on the exposition of the Word and the observance of the sacraments. Customs and features of worship not expressed in Scripture were dropped.
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.
As time went by sectarian differences became less important and denominations cooperated for such causes as evangelism, social action, and missionary activities.
The opportunity for social gatherings had a powerful appeal to people who were starving for companionship. They were stirred by the evangelistic drive of the preachers, who encouraged emotional expression. The same exhibitions of tearful remorse and exuberant joy that appeared in England under Wesley’s preaching and in the Great Awakening in America appeared on the frontier. Out of the conversions of the camp meetings, the churches gathered recruits and the morals of the region showed dramatic improvement.
The English Government compelled the colonial Government to be more hospitable to persons who did not conform to colonial Congregationalism. In 1691 the original charter of the colony was taken away and a substitute provided. By that time Baptist and Episcopal churches had been founded in Boston.
The most famous document from the Assembly was the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was strictly Calvinistic and as such not only met the needs of English Presbyterians, but it was adopted by the Church of Scotland to take the place of the Scottish creed of 1560. It became the basis of Congregationalist creeds, and it was the model for statements of doctrine by English and American Baptists.
William Brigham Tappan, an influential leader in Sunday school work in the Congregational Church, was born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1794. As a young man he taught school in Philadelphia. From 1826 until his death he worked for the American Sunday School Union as a manager and superintendent.