When I say provocative, I'm talking about two passages in particular. First, a description of how and why formal liturgy took hold:
Most of the liturgical change in the fourth century [coinciding with the rule of Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion] resulted from pagan influences on the church, both secular and religious. Pagan society had less impact on Christian worship and practice prior to the fourth century, owing to the resolve of the early Christians to mark themselves off as distinct from the pagan world around them.And second, from the back end of the story of the Church:
Calvin R. Stapert shows, for example, how the church fathers uniformly opposed most pagan music in both form and content. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, eschewed pagan music, the "old song," which he described as "licentious, voluptuous, frenzied, frantic, inebriating, titillating, scurrilous, turbulent, immodest, and meretricious" (A New Song for an Old World, 54). Instead, he argued, the church should set itself apart from the world's music, singing the "new song," which Clement believed reflects the "melodious order" and "harmonious arrangement" of the universe and is "sober, pure, decorous, modest, temperate, grave, and soothing. Clement wished to "banish [pagan music] far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. . . . For temperate harmonies are to be admitted" (3-4).
Contemporary evangelical worship emerged from the Pentecostal-charismatic end of the post-Reformation worship spectrum. For example, the vast majority of publishers of the contemporary praise-and-worship genre from the last two decades of the twentieth century had charismatic roots. . . . Thus, the radical end of the spectrum, embodied in the Pentecostal-charismatic strain of evangelicalism, became mainstream in the contemporary worship movement, influencing large segments of evangelicalism beyond Pentecostals and charismatics (12).These two nuggets from history strike at the heart of the questions Christian leaders are wrestling with (or aren't but should be) today:
- How do we communicate the gospel to people in contemporary culture in terms they can understand without polluting the gospel by importing the pagan affections that are intrinsic to contemporary culture?
- To what degree (even assuming sound lyrics) can we employ musical forms that emerge from a theological tradition that identifies the presence of the Spirit with a subjective experience, and attempts to create forms which conjure that experience. (For that matter, how do we know when a particular form makes that attempt?)