The Power of Music 3

Wisdom will be needed to encourage a congregation to be united over the music it uses. One result of the power of music is that people become deeply wedded to their personal preferences and find it difficult to recognize that the style of music is almost always a matter of no intrinsic theological importance. Training the congregation to recognize the difference between what is theological and what is cultural, and between where the Bible speaks clearly and where it does not, is an important part of training the congregation to be balanced in their biblical understanding. It has been wisely pointed out that many tussles over words and books are basically disputes about power in the life of a local church. Selfishness loves to dress itself in cultural clothes. Musical taste seems a lot more godly than self-interest, but all too often that is all a preference for one style of music over another amounts to!

—Mark Ashton, “Following in Cranmer’s Footsteps,” in Worship by the Book, 91

Not So Fast!

There is a need to explore a given culture in depth before elements from it are imported into worship. Christians need to understand, for example, the cultural meanings of an African tribal king’s hut before they use it as the model for a Christian church, or the Buddhist meaning of a pagoda before they use it as a Christian baptismal font. Christians need to understand the dynamics of the entertainment culture before they use a theater or an opera house as the model for a worship space. One of the leading proponents of contextualization in Africa says that “syncretism occurs when enthusiastic missionaries conduct a superficial adaptation in ignorance of the true meaning of cultural symbols.”

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Worship: Ecumencial Core and Cultural Context,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 205

Not Just for Lutherans!

Lathrop suggests that Lutheran liturgical hermeneutics offers two guiding principles for decisions about the relationship between worship and culture. The first is that “in worship, the center must be clear: the assembly gathers around the gift of Christ in Word and sacrament.” The second guiding principle is that the gifts of diverse cultures are to be welcomed and honored, but “these cultural patterns must not become their own new law or usurp the place of the center…They must be broken to the purpose of Christ.”

—Margaret Mary Kelleher, “Vatican II and the LWF Project: Points of Convergence,” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, 64