The Day the Music Died: Why Fundamentalists Lost Their “Soul”

A truly missional Great Commission demands we Christians recognize an unreached people-group or generation will have their own arts, language/lingo, and structure… and that, as far as is morally acceptable, we Christians must adapt to it, not expect a whole culture or sub-culture to change just for us (1 Cor. 9:19-23; John S. Dickerson, Great Evangelical Recession, ch. 8).

Now, when crossing such a barrier, we know from Revelation that God means to redeem people of every tribe (lit., folk), tongue (language), people (lit., relation), nation (lit., ethnicity)–[Rev. 5:9;]. And, according to Revelation 5, when he redeems such a people, he keeps their people-group distinctions intact…the styles of their art (including music), of their lingo and phonetics of their language at the time…. Yet, admittedly, there is one difference in the event of an entire people-group’s awakening: where once the culture was godless (in part or whole) or in the name of a false god, now it is newly designated/consecrated to God.

Can you imagine a missionary pressing into the deepest parts of the Amazon or farthest islands of Indonesia, Polynesia in order to preach the gospel of Jesus? As he does, the entire folk collectively become converted by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Almost instantly, they begin to sing (in their native style) to the God who made the heavens and the earth. They no longer worship the lesser gods. The sound is similar to the old… as if it is typical to their indigenous style, yet full of the fruit of the Spirit–vibrant and ‘full of light,’ majesty, humility, happiness, reverence, glory and wonder, love, gentleness, joy, kindness, meditation, resolve, admonishment, or confidence/strength–instead the old dark and ritualistic nuances. The new believers instinctively clap and dance as they worship with all their being.

Then, the missionary does something unthinkable. He stops the music and says, “This music sounds too much like the old. You must learn the western style, because it is the style truest to musical laws. Wait to worship until I can fetch a violin and teach you. And you mustn’t clap and dance so…it isn’t dignified.” No matter that the “missionary” sounds like Michal to David at that point. Yet, please note that there and then, the new converts start to wonder why the worship made from their regenerate being isn’t good enough for God. Why must they worship in a western style? Is this a western, white man’s God only accessible through the white man’s styles and methods? That would be the day the music died.

Sad as the tale seems, fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. And if I may give an example that reaches closer to home, then I will. It is hard for the far right, conservative Christian crowd in America to see and/or admit that 92-93% of the current U.S. Population is non-Christian (see John S. Dickerson’s, Great Evangelical Recession, ch. 1). It did not reach that overnight. Since the mid 1800s (about the time of German rationalism’s invasion and Darwin’s “Origins”), Christianity in America has been openly and severely challenged by outside and inside forces. Ever since that time, whole families and communities have grown up “without” God. Those communities have turned into neighborhoods, towns, districts and regions over the past 165 years, with many varying people groups and their own respective lingo and styles of the arts. 

Thankfully, there have been a couple of notable Awakenings in this time period from the mid-1800s to present. The first would be the Prayer Revival of 1857. This spiritual high tide directly influenced the Revival of 1859 in the UK and produced works like the Salvation Army. William Booth’s (c. 1865) approach to the music and methods of evangelism was much like the great reformer, Martin Luther, who said, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” (Union University Magazine). But, in William Booth’s own words,

Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us (Christianity 201).

The second notable Awakening, since the mid 1800s to present, occurred in the mid-to-late 1960s and on into the 70s, in what was known as the Jesus movement, or the Jesus people. Yes, these were the nature-friendly, free-loving, folk-rocking philosophers of my parent’s age who had grown up with the Great Generation’s “morality minus God.” The grace and mercy found in Jesus was no where to be found, it seems–not in the universities nor the secondary schools; and, the hypocrisy and irrationality of the establishment’s godless morality, money-mania, racial bigotry and war drove them to seek answers in whatever forms possible. So, the hippies and flower children made for freer spaces to do their thing with the Beatles, Buddha, Krishna, Woodstock, and substances of the mild-altering variety. Only, they found men like Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie being rather Christ-like and rather missional, like the Apostle Paul. [By the way, kudos to Calvary Chapel for recently dropping the dubious “conservative” title which never truly describes Christianity].

From that redeemed folk culture (which had grown up largely unchurched and ‘enchanted while disenchanted’) came contemporary Christian music… which, again, the far conservative right of fundamentalist evangelical Christians could not and/or would not embrace. This was partly due to their not having recognized how small Christianity had become in American society–i.e. the need to be missional. Also, it was due to a skewed view of the “holiness” of days gone by. And, it is also due to their being slow to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in those days as genuine.

You see, No matter how “strict” you are, someone has been or will be “holier than you.” To anonymously quote another Christian leader, “Time has a way of making all things, even flawed men, holy.” That is why God commands us not to wish for “the good ole days” (Ecc. 7:10). Before trap sets, syncopation and electric guitars there were hymnals with gospel poems set to bar room tunes; before that, people thought pianos and organs were of the devil; and before shape-notes, psalters, and singing in rounds or answers, everyone loved plainsong. Before that, people thought J. S. Bach had demons; and still… before Bach, “those who knew” considered anything but Gregorian chants to be too passionate… and heaven forbid anything but Byzantine chromatic up till then.

When older Christians look to the implements, music and methods “God blessed before” as that which He approved for his Reviving/Awakening Presence, then they tend toward wanting to hold onto the “old” in face of the “new.” And so, many churches have been split apart by some who look backward, as it were, on a time when the glory had not yet departed.

Now, the whole time God was blessing, it was never the music or methods that God blessed, as if one can earn his favor. Rather, God has always poured out His Spirit on those, who from a genuine representation of their own redeemed & indigenous selves, seek Him and praise Him for His mercy and grace. In that “new song” which he puts in the mouth of believers (Ps. 40:3), many shall see it and fear and put their trust in The Lord, because he is good and because his mercy endures forever…and because The Lord inhabits not the sound but the very praises of his people (Ps. 22:3).



What is Holy / Holiness?

What Does World / Worldy Really Mean?

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