A Break from the Worship Wars

Last post I quoted a missionary to the Middle East who was having good ministry in spite of the social distancing restrictions.  In a place like that, not being able to gather en masse isn’t as big of a change as it is here.  But not having live services has spared me a conflict that I was stuck in going into this lockdown: the “worship wars” that have engulfed our churches for a long time.  It’s easier to handle from a distance, and easier since I don’t have to interact with my church people on the subject.

So, you ask, where do I stand in the worship wars?  I feel like I’m in “No Man’s Land” on the Western Front during World War I.  On either side are two implacable foes which shell and/or gas attack each other.  Occasionally one goes over the top, but no matter how many people do that or get themselves killed in the process, neither side makes a lot of progress.  All the while I’m hunkered down hoping that we can have a Christmas Truce or something like it, or that someday someone will actually have a victory before there’s no one left to fight.

So how did I get caught in the middle?  That is the result of the way I got to this place.

As many of you know, I was raised in the High Episcopal Church.  We used the 1940 Hymnal, the hymnal that didn’t have “Amazing Grace” in it.  (It’s a great hymn, but I find its endless repetition tiresome.)  Unless they brought a rock band in (which they did once) the pipe organ was the only instrument used in church.  I actually liked the hymnody I sang in the paid youth choir.  That would mark me as a traditionalist in most places but the Anglican tradition isn’t really the same as in other Protestant churches.  For example, we sang different hymns on Palm Sunday and Easter than, say, the Baptists did, and our hymns were far superior to theirs.

When I swam the Tiber and went to Texas A&M, I was introduced to Catholic folk music.  I didn’t like Catholic folk music to start with because a) it was American (and I preferred what came from the UK) and b) it was folk music, and I was a progressive rocker.  Eventually I came around, although I’ve discovered that the folk music we did wasn’t all there was or even the best.  From there I moved to Dallas and was introduced to the Ann Arbor/South Bend worship style, which is very worshipful but also has its own musical limitations.

After a few more peregrinations I ended up in the Church of God.  Worship in the Church of God in the early to mid-1980’s was the end result of many years of Southern Gospel built up by campmeeting songbooks and a lively musical tradition that is different from “nominal” Protestant churches, to say nothing of the Anglican/Episcopal world.  In the hands of the gifted, it is a great worship style.  I thought, “this is where I’m at, I’ve arrived, it’s not what I’m used to, but I expected that.”

Silly me: late in that decade the “praise and worship” music from Integrity came bubbling up and the split in what music to do at our church began in earnest.  Praise and worship music is a moving target, both with the sources and to a lesser extent the style.  The problem is that it is always at any given moment presented as what’s being done in the “throne room,” which means that those who don’t like it are not in the throne room and possibly never will be.  It also means that those who don’t like it (or at least the way it’s presented at any given moment) get “aged out,” and for someone who teaches college students for a living, that’s galling.

At this point we are split into two camps.  The traditionalists (and keep in mind it’s not my tradition, but theirs) have retreated into the “Red Back Hymnal” version of Verdun, that being the Church of God’s Church Hymnal, produced in the early 1950’s and the most successful gospel hymnal ever published.  (One retired Church of God State Overseer refers to it as the “Red Neck Hymnal.”)  On the other side are those who lead worship with basically what’s going on in the vast majority of megachurches in the Anglophone world.

I really don’t have a dog in this hunt.  One of my responses is to create the “Music Pages” on this site, so I can propagate (and enjoy) music from the “Jesus Music” era.  This music was a stylistic step forward from any Protestant or Catholic music of the era, and joining a Church of God was a step backward in many ways.  It was also produced before the excessive commercialisation that has plagued CCM and praise and worship music ever since.

But now, with the break we’re having in physical corporate worship, it’s worth nothing that there’s a lot out there in terms of worship and music style.  Don’t like what’s going on at your church?  Check it out.  Many of you already have been doing this.  It beats complaining, and it gets better results.  And it certainly makes life in “no man’s land” a lot easier.

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