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Winning the Worship Wars (Conclusion)
By André Reis

En Español

In the first part of this series on the place of music in Adventist worship, I proposed the reductionist approach to church music. This novel idea removes music from an improper, overly important place in worship and considers it as a language we use to communicate in worship. It is a form of communication that can be effective or ineffective to communicate a particular message during worship. As language, it can be accepted or rejected, understood or not.

In the second part of this series I proposed that music as language offers distinctive advantages in worship. Music does not possess magical or supernatural powers to overpower the worshipper and bring about questionable responses at the hand of shady musicians. Music simply speaks to the emotions of the individual helping pave the way to a conscious, cognitive response to the message being conveyed. For this reason, I concluded that "we worship best when we sing sacred songs we like” because those are the songs that will best achieve the listener response we aim at in worship. "Effective worship music invites participation; and to reach this goal, it must be attractive to the listener in his or her own religious-cultural milieu.”

In the third part of this series I proposed that, although music is a language, there may be preferable styles of music in certain contexts and communities that will communicate better than others. I proposed a differentiation between soft and hard musical associations. Soft associations are not strong enough to interrupt worship while hard musical associations may be too jarring and can create noise in the communication. Contemporary Christian music that uses guitars, drums and electronic instruments is an example of soft musical association and can be safely incorporated in current Adventist worship. Choosing which type is best in worship is a decision that needs to be taken on a case by case basis. "The effectiveness of new music in Adventist worship should be judged by its fruits, whether or not it engages the congregation in the act of worship. It is hard to argue against any style of music that elicits vibrant congregational singing."

I invite you to reread those three short essays for a full treatment on those concepts.

In conclusion, I’d like to briefly revisit the events of the Indiana camp meeting of 1900. You may remember that this was where the infamous “holy flesh movement” was at its height. That perfectionist sect concocted an emotional style of worship to advance their theological errors. The movement soon petered out, but the attempt to introduce new music and instruments in Adventist worship was an epochal event which impacted the last one hundred years of our history. Some have even gone so far as considering the use of drums in the church as the dawn of the “omega apostasy.” 

But as we look back to the events in Indiana and the ensuing negative expectations about music in Adventism, we conclude that the introduction of contemporary music with drums, guitars and bass guitars in Adventist worship has failed to bring about the often-presaged anarchy, emotionalism and apostasy. Adventist worship music has moved up the ladder of artistic and cultural relevance. Traditional hymns have graciously given room to praise and worship songs; guitars and drums are played alongside the organ in many churches, and a new generation of worshippers finds an eclectic worship style artistically appealing.

It is refreshing to see young Adventist musicians securing a place at the leadership table by displaying spiritual maturity and musical skill. Churches with a calling to engage post-modern culture have started to pay closer attention to the needs of their younger congregations. Some have hired part-time and full-time ministers of music, and stronger musical programs have increased the engagement of volunteers. Worship committees exist in many churches to effectively plan worship in a way that facilitates a creative, engaging experience.

We cannot assume a position of "business as usual" in matters of worship music; nor will it be constructive to bring in the new for the sake of the new without regard to broader questions of worship theology and ecclesiology. Both reactions to change have resulted in alienation and division in our churches.

As we look to the future, the issues facing Adventist worship music need to be taken seriously by all who have a vested interest in the subject. Church musicians need a deeper understanding of church history and theology. Conversely, ministers need a deeper understanding of church music from a theoretical, historical and theological point of view.

A theology of Adventist music that takes into consideration the realities of a world church is long overdue. Until then, the ideas presented in this series may help musicians, pastors and church leaders to implement artistically meaningful, transformative worship music without fueling worship wars in their churches. 
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