Worship Wars: Theological Perspectives On Hymnody Among Early Evangelical Christians -- By: Steve Lemke

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 27:52 (Spring 2014)
Article: Worship Wars: Theological Perspectives On Hymnody Among Early Evangelical Christians
Author: Steve Lemke


Worship Wars: Theological Perspectives On Hymnody Among Early Evangelical Christians

Steve Lemke

Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

I. Introduction

The evangelical church has suffered from the “Worship Wars” over the last few decades, causing untold conflict in some churches, and leading to some painful church splits. Theologically, this battle usually concerns, on the one hand, the concern to be relevant to contemporary culture so that more people can be reached for Christ (i.e., to be all things to all people so that by all means we may win some, 1 Cor 9:22). On the other side, there are concerns to maintain fidelity to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), and to practice separation from the world (2 Cor 6:17) by avoiding bringing worldly practices into the church (John 17:11-18; Jas 1:27; 1 John 2:15-17).

Is this the first time the church has confronted these issues? No. In fact, church history is replete with worship wars. As we reflect on the worship wars of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, perhaps we can gain perspective and guidance on the worship wars of the present-day church.

II. Worship Wars I: Changes In The Worship Of The Early Reformers In The Sixteenth Century

Early evangelical hymnody and worship underwent a slow but constant evolution, with two key stages—first, as the Reformers reacted against the Roman Catholic worship traditions (especially its heavily artistic elements) in establishing a new pattern for Reformation worship; and second, within the Reformation tradition itself as evangelical worship traditions evolved from the time of the Reformation to the Great Awakenings. The change from the Roman Catholic patterns, which took place rather quickly in the first decades of the Reformation in the early to mid-sixteenth century, involved changes in the architecture of worship spaces, the use of musical instruments in worship, the language of the hymnody, and the tunes utilized in hymnody.

A. Changes In The Architecture Of Worship Spaces

In most cases, the Reformers simply took over the cathedrals that had been utilized by the Catholics. For example, Zwingli centered his part of the Reformation at the Grossmünster Church in Zurich, which had previously been a Catholic cathedral. The different vision that the Protestants had for worship informed how they radically reoriented the shape of the sacred spaces th...

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