THE WORSHIP WARS
One of the basic features of church life in the U.S. today is the proliferation of worship and music forms.
This in turn has caused many severe conflicts both within individual congregations and whole
denominations. Most books and articles about recent worship trends tend to fall into one of two broad
categories.1 "Contemporary Worship" (hereafter CW) advocates often make rather sweeping statements,
such as "pipe organs and choirs will never reach people today." "Historic Worship" (hereafter HW)
advocates often speak similarly about how incorrigibly corrupt popular music and culture is, and how
they make contemporary worship completely unacceptable.2
Contemporary Worship: Plugging In?
One CW advocate writes vividly that we must ‘plug in’ our worship in to three power sources: "the sound
system, the Holy Spirit, and contemporary culture."3 But several problems attend the promotion of
strictly contemporary worship.
First, some popular music does have severe limitations for worship. Critics of popular culture argue that
much of it is the product of mass-produced commercial interests. As such, it is often marked by
sentimentality, a lack of artistry, sameness, and individualism in a way that traditional folk art was not.
Second, when we ignore historic tradition we break our solidarity with Christians of the past. Part of the
richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people. An unwillingness to
consult tradition is not in keeping with either Christian humility or Christian community. Nor is it a
thoughtful response to the post-modern rootlessness which now leads so many to seek connection to
ancient ways and peoples.
Finally, any worship that is strictly contemporary will become 'dated' very, very quickly. Also, it will
necessarily be gauged to a very narrow 'market niche.' When Peter Wagner says we should 'plug in' to
contemporary culture, which contemporary culture does he mean? Wh