We have seen in this series of articles that the Evangelical Church of today has fixated on sentimental, experiential, overly-romanticized worship songs, to the detriment of doctrinal and objective worship music. We have examined the historical and theological developments that has led to this imbalance in modern worship, tracing the rise of experiential emotionalism as the evidence of conversion, all tied to an escapist anti-Incarnational view which sees the spiritual and physical aspects of the world as being opposed to one another.
We’ve seen as well that the evangelistic techniques of the Second Great Awakening have largely displaced the Biblical Patterns of worship which aimed first at pleasing God, and secondarily at instructing and edifying believers, resulting in worship largely oriented around emotionally-manipulative experiential techniques, resulting in an impoverishment of content-oriented and objectively-grounded aspects of Evangelical worship experience.
This further had a deleterious effect on teaching in Sunday Schools, from the pulpits, even in seminaries, as the normativity of emotionalistic experience came to dominate Evangelical expectation and thought, resulting in theological expressions and sermons which deemphasized complex or unpopular doctrinal content (such as teaching about Hell, gender issues, maledictory prayer, etc.), all in the service of supposedly making the Gospel more attractive in evangelistic appeals and experiential worship.
In point of fact, this perspective and practice has promoted a version of Christianity which has not only deformed the worship of the Evangelical Church, but has also divested Evangelicals of a fully-orbed theology which allows them to be Biblically-informed in the full spectrum of human life, and has resulted in a presentation of the Faith which seems to non-believers to be only concerned with individualistic interior experience and eschatological escapism, with no solid answers for personal and societal problems, especially for the pressing social issues of the day.
We’ve seen as well that, in an effort to capture attendants, Evangelicals had adopted a strategy of attempting to ape the hipness of contemporary music forms and expressions to seem more relevant. We also saw, though, that lack of resources, understanding, and talent generally led to inferior and substandard versions of those contemporary musical expressions (a fact which many Evangelicals are willing to overlook and even defend, driven by their desperate urge to make the Gospel “relevant,” or , hemmed in by their Pietism from listening to “secular” music, by relief at hearing anything musical which is not completely boring and restrictive or out-of-date, or by both motives…).
Such practices have, however, generally had the opposite effect sought by their practitioners, in that non-believing attendants to these practices have considered these musical products to be inferior propaganda pieces executed by those who had no real or deep connection with the cultural forms they are aping, and thus achieve the opposite effect intended, that is, they result in conclusions of even more irrelevance by the non-Christians at whom they’re aimed (and, in point of fact, even leave the Christians in these services, who are satisfied with the efforts, under the delusion that they ARE achieving their goal of relevance of musical Gospel presentation).
In the last article, we found that Scripture (Rev. 5:9-10; 7: 9-10; Psalm 89:6; etc.) reveals that, at history’s end, the worship of God will be comprised of the languages, forms, and cultural expressions of all the nations and peoples of the Earth, sanctified over time as the Gospel converts the members of these nations and their cultural expressions to be added to the global worship of the Lord at the Eschaton.
How can this be? What is the relationship of contemporary to past cultural expressions (including those of musical worship)? To understand this, we must look at the implications of some basic Biblical truths anew.
Men are made in the Image of God (Gen. 1: 26-27), a truth which applies to humans both individually and corporately (which is a created reflection of the fact that the Triune God is both both One in His Substance and Essence, and is thus Unified, like an Individual, and is Simultaneously Many in His Three Persons, and is thus Diverse, like a Society), and God’s Image therefore is shown both in human individuality as well as in human society, since only both poles can show the Fullness of God to the extent possible on the created level.
Human artifacts (visual, musical, and literary expressions, architecture, even social structures and the like), having been made by humans, reflect the image of humanity (much as humans, having been made by God, reflect His Image, even though even non-human things mediate the Knowledge of God, cf. Rom. 1:18-20. Humans, of course, alone bear God’s Image).
Since humans, created to reflect God’s Image, do so in part by themselves creating artifacts which also reflect God’s Presence and Glory, all human expressions and artifacts exist on the scale of the Reflection of God, despite the fact that humanity and their artifacts (and the world men were created to have dominion over) are Fallen (Gen. 1: 28; 3). Humans, the things they make, and the world in which they live, still reflect God inescapably, even in their Fallenness (Rom. 1:18-20).
Of course, sin’s infection distorts the fullness of that reflection, but Christ Jesus came to redeem the world (John 3:17) and the men who inhabit it (and thus, perforce, their artifacts), sanctifying His People by conforming them to the Lord Jesus, Who is, in His Humanity, is Himself the Beginning of the New Creation (1 Cor. 15:23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:18). This Sanctification, as believers are progressively cleansed and transformed by the Spirit’s Power (2 Cor. 3:18), results in artifacts which reflect the progressive Sanctification and Cleansing of their makers, artifacts which (just as their human makers) more clearly and fully reflect the Revelation and Glory of God, and are thus more suitable for the Worship of God and the Fullfilment of His Will.
This basic realization forms the basis of beginning to answer the question of the relationship of past artifacts to contemporary (and future) ones, to be utilized in worship and elsewhere, a subject we will, Lord willing, address in the next article.