(Excerpt­ed from A His­to­ry of Wor­ship” by George Skramstad)

The Sto­ry of Worship…

Ear­ly in Gen­e­sis we find men­tion of the first musi­cian. His name is Jubal and con­sid­ered the father of all who play the harp and flute.” We can­not find record that he led wor­ship, but his music was an indi­ca­tion that music was an inte­gral part of Israel life.

Syn­a­gogue Worship

This expand­ed and devel­oped the use of the voice. With the fall of the tem­ple, instru­ments fell into dis­use, which meant the syn­a­gogues were for wor­ship using singers only. Into­na­tion or can­til­lat­ing of the Psalms and the Pen­ta­teuch and per­haps the recita­tion of prayers were all a part of this process.

In the first cen­tu­ry, records show that each book of the Bible had its own mode or for­mu­lae when it was read. How­ev­er, there became a tran­si­tion from declar­a­tive read­ing into musi­cal read­ing. The chant­i­ng of scrip­ture goes back as far as Ezra in the 5th cen­tu­ry B.C. We know that the Psalms were sung in the Temple.

Israelite music was modal. It had much orna­men­ta­tion or embell­ish­ment (depend­ing upon the skill of the singer), it was very rhyth­mic with­out reg­u­lar recur­ring meters. Its scale includ­ed quar­ter tones that are very for­eign to west­ern music. Also, Israelite music was mono­phon­ic music … music that has a melody line only.

Music In the Ear­ly Church

The Jew­ish con­verts car­ried over the musi­cal cul­ture of Jew­ish wor­ship into the church and Chris­tian­i­ty. In this regard, there was no rad­i­cal break from Judaism in new forms of Chris­t­ian music. Musi­col­o­gists doing research have found the sim­i­lar­i­ty of ear­ly Gre­go­ri­an chant and Jew­ish music. Even the way scrip­tures were read and prayers were giv­en had many similarities.

Very lit­tle can be said about the music of the first three cen­turies of the church beyond texts used and litur­gi­cal forms fol­lowed. We know that it was modal and sung with­out instru­ments. There are evi­dences from the his­to­ri­an Bliny in the first cen­tu­ry, Justin Mar­tyr in the sec­ond cen­tu­ry, and Ter­tul­lian in the third cen­tu­ry of record­ed wor­ship prac­tice that impli­cat­ed chant and use of singing.

In the fourth cen­tu­ry Chris­tians were able to wor­ship open­ly, with Con­stan­tine estab­lish­ing Chris­tian­i­ty as a law­ful and respect­ed faith. It was then that build­ings began to be con­struct­ed to house the grow­ing con­gre­ga­tions and forms of wor­ship began to be for­mu­lat­ed. A mis­sion­ary to Yugoslavia by the name of Nic­eta from the Syr­i­an Anti­ochi­an church is cred­it­ed with using hymnody to spread the gospel. Jerome wrote that Nic­eta spread the gospel among Euro­pean pagans chiefly by singing sweet songs of the cross.”

By the end of the fourth cen­tu­ry the Roman Empire was per­ma­nent­ly divid­ed into East­ern and West­ern Empires. By the sev­enth cen­tu­ry the East­ern Ortho­dox church­es rec­og­nized two Byzan­tine litur­gies that are the same today: the Litur­gy of St. Basil and the Litur­gy of St. Chrysos­tom. In the sixth cen­tu­ry St. Gre­go­ry the Great of the West­ern Church found­ed the Schola Can­to­rum to stan­dard­ize and teach the offi­cial chant with­in the church. Music nota­tion was begun and his­to­ry was made. All litur­gy and music was done in Latin for the pur­pose of bring­ing uni­for­mi­ty to the West­ern church so that the same mass and music would be heard in every church. The ear­ly church fathers did not like the use of instru­men­tal music in wor­ship because of their asso­ci­a­tion with mys­tery cults, the Greek the­ater, and pagan rituals.

From Luther to the Wesleys

The Ref­or­ma­tion Move­ment, how­ev­er, saw the return of the Bible and the hymn book to the peo­ple in their own lan­guage through the influ­ence of Mar­tin Luther. He saw that the peo­ple were not relat­ing to the for­mu­la­ries of the tra­di­tion­al church. In 1523 he pre­sent­ed his first reformed litur­gy. In 1526 the Ger­man Mass replaced the his­toric Latin songs with ver­nac­u­lar hymn ver­sions set to Ger­man folk song melodies. The major mode/​keys became accept­able and we find a new relax­ation of the once pre­scribed reg­u­la­tions. An exam­ple of this is Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

With Luther’s ref­or­ma­tion move­ment came new free­dom in wor­ship. Instru­ments were allowed and the peo­ple began to sing their faith once again. A new strength and pur­pose was expe­ri­enced in wor­ship ser­vices. The for­ma­tion of the protes­tant hymn came into being.

The Ref­or­ma­tion was not only evi­dent in Ger­many and main­land Europe, but also in Eng­land. After Hen­ry VIII broke with the Pope in 1534 and assumed lead­er­ship of the Angli­can Church, the Latin Roman Mass con­tin­ued to be used with­out change. After the death of Hen­ry VIII, Arch­bish­op Cran­mer set about to devise a tru­ly reformed Eng­lish litur­gy that became a real­i­ty with the Book of Com­mon Prayer, released in 1549. It was anoth­er attempt to bring wor­ship back into the hands of the people.

The Puri­tan move­ment gath­ered increas­ing momen­tum dur­ing the close of the six­teenth and the begin­ning of the sev­en­teenth cen­turies. In wor­ship, its empha­sis was on scrip­tur­al sim­plic­i­ty” — no choral or instru­men­tal music, much after John Calvin’s Gene­va. Both in Eng­land and in parts of Europe, the Anabap­tists attempt­ed to rid the church of music and the arts by the white­wash­ing of fres­coes, removal of sculp­tures, and the strip­ping of ornate altars and sym­bols from places of wor­ship so that God could be wor­shiped with­out distraction.

Wor­ship in the Eng­lish Free Church Tra­di­tion led by The Sep­a­ratists spawned the singing of unac­com­pa­nied met­ri­cal psalms. Out of this came the Pres­by­ter­ian, Inde­pen­dent Con­gre­ga­tion­al, and Bap­tist churches.

Evan­ge­lis­tic hymns in the mod­ern sense were one of the glo­ri­ous by-prod­ucts of Britain’s Great Awak­en­ing in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry. Charles and John Wes­ley are cred­it­ed with res­cu­ing hymn singing from the bondage of the two-line meters — com­mon long and short. Their sources were the new psalm tunes, opera melodies, and folk songs of Ger­man ori­gin. Charles Wes­ley wrote the texts for some 6,000 hymns; O For a Thou­sand Tongues to Sing” and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” are two examples.

The Amer­i­can Scene

The ear­ly colonies took their wor­ship and evan­gel­i­cal cues from Moth­er Eng­land. America’s first wor­ship music con­sist­ed of met­ri­cal psalms, and these were still the norm dur­ing the preach­ing of Jonathan Edwards.

In 1800 the Camp Meet­ing Move­ment began with an out­break of revival in an out­door encamp­ment in Caine Ridge, Logan Coun­ty, Ken­tucky. The music that char­ac­ter­ized the camp meet­ings was very sim­ple with much rep­e­ti­tion, very emo­tion­al, and fre­quent­ly impro­vised. The brush arbor” meet­ings con­tin­ued on and char­ac­ter­ized this free style of wor­ship expres­sion. It is said that both the African Amer­i­can and the Cau­casian wor­shiped togeth­er dur­ing this time. Ralph Hudson’s At the Cross” was one of the hymns to emerge from the camp meetings.

Begin­ning in the 1840′s, the Sun­day school hymns of William Brad­bury and oth­ers had the same musi­cal form as camp meet­ing songs and were picked up even­tu­al­ly by the adults, which gave us our first gospel hymns” such as Jesus Loves Me.”

It was the evan­ge­lis­tic mis­sions of Moody and Sankey in Great Britain and Amer­i­ca that launched the gospel song on its cen­tu­ry-long career. Many music edu­ca­tors wrote gospel songs as well for the singing schools across our land.Towner, Bliss, Root, and Fan­ny Cros­by are part of this gen­er­a­tion of con­trib­u­tors. The blind Fan­ny Cros­by, author of per­haps 9,000 gospel song texts, is a ster­ling exam­ple of faith and skill. Fan­ny wrote the words while Phoebe Palmer Knapp com­posed the music for songs like Blessed Assurance.”

Bil­ly Gra­ham began his min­istry with Youth for Christ in 1949. His approach with wor­ship leader Cliff Bar­rows was a refresh­ing one, but shunned the sen­sa­tion­al and over­e­mo­tion­al wor­ship music. They used music from Fan­ny Cros­by, Charles Gabriel, Lil­lenas, John Peter­son, and final­ly, Bill Gaither. In the 70′s and 80′s it was the Gaither’s that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion and the approval of much of the evan­gel­i­cal pub­lic. As in all expe­ri­ence songs, the new gospel music reflects the pat­terns of our day. A mod­ern person’s need of God is not well expressed in such fron­tier lan­guage as I’ve wan­dered far away from God; now I’m com­ing home.” Sin and lost­ness must be rede­fined for each suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tion. We’ve had wor­ship for cen­turies and we shall con­tin­ue wor­ship­ping. The Bible teach­es that God alone is wor­thy of our worship.

… And The Sto­ry Continues

There are so many con­tem­po­rary exam­ples of how telling God’s Sto­ry con­tin­ues on through wor­ship. John Michael Tal­bot in the Roman Catholic Tra­di­tion. Jack Hay­ford with Majesty,” Rich Mullins and Our God is an Awe­some God,” Don Moen com­pos­ing Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord,” Andre Crouch per­form­ing My Trib­ute,” Dar­lene Zschech and Hillsong’s Shout to the Lord.” Michael W. Smith. Mar­cus Dewitt and Lati­no Promise Keep­ers. The sto­ry goes on …

Keep telling the sto­ry. It is this call­ing that gives me greater pur­pose and under­stand­ing in the days ahead, as togeth­er we wor­ship a God of all nations, of all peo­ples, of all styles, of all forms, and of all creation!

(Mate­r­i­al was col­lect­ed from many sources, espe­cial­ly from The Com­plete Library of Chris­t­ian Wor­ship, edi­tor Robert Webber.)

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