Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Contemporary Worship Is In Decline

"Contemporary worship is in decline. Some months ago T. David Gordon wrote a post entitled “The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons” that continues to be widely read and shared. While I don’t agree with Gordon on every point, what he says gives us hope for the future of the worshiping church. Alongside his reasons, here are the three main reasons I see for the decline (if not demise) of the contemporary worship movement.
Baby boomers are losing their influence. Or, as Gordon more bluntly put it, “my own generation is beginning to die.” Your parents, not your kids, are the biggest proponents of contemporary worship. I’ve seen this in my own ministry. The most committed (and often the most obstinate) defenders of contemporary worship is rapidly becoming the older generation. While their influence remains in many places, it is waning. Within a few short years, contemporary worship will have lost its original impetus and driving force."


Stephen K said...

I have to reject your not-so-subtle criticism of modern Christianity, Pastor Mark. Let me propose an alternative thesis: “worship itself is in decline”. Forget “contemporary” – by which is clearly meant anything from the 1960s onwards – think ‘nature of faith’. I want to suggest that if all it took for people to flock back to churches on Sunday – and other days – was the best of Luther, Wesley, Palestrina or plainchant, i.e. independently of any other factor, then replicating older socio-religious behaviours would be relatively simple.

The fact of the matter seems to be that most people in the West at least just don’t see any form of liturgical worship as a viable or relevant exercise. Full stop. There has been a seismic shift in the way people think about God. They do not think of God, like traditionalists, as a vengeful or majestic king – or a cool dude brother like the superstar generation. Whether they think of God much at all is an interesting question, but if they do, many seem to think in Deistic, domestic or even panentheistic terms. Even I, who feel very comfortable in my native and traditional musical and pietistic vocabulary, often try to do so too. The old snake’s theological skin has been shed and can’t be slipped back into.

No, the cultural shift has not occurred in a zonal divide between cool dudes and fuddy-duddies, between high art and low art, but between a time when people deferred by social habit to religious authorities as if on some pedestal or quarantine, and a time when such authorities have been exposed, pretty well across the board, as just as fallible, peccable, or plain right corruptible as the rest of us. If traditionalists and progressives, however conceived, continue to cannibalise each other, all they will do is hasten the death of – perhaps not the ideal of Christianity – but the institutions that purport to embody it.

However, whilesoever people feel touched, in their own lives, by unconditional love, forgiveness, understanding, compassion from their neighbour, and experience the resurrection and see Jesus free of dominion but full of proximate love, Christianity will continue to inspire people to burst out in spontaneous praise and joy: “Yahweh is the God of my salvation, I trust in Him and have no fear! I sing of the joy which His love gives to me, and I draw deeply from the springs of His great kindness!”

Or whilesoever they face honestly their failings, the hurts they have done, through love – though perhaps uncomprehending - of their neighbour, and of the God they sense, they will continue to plead: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide; When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”

Acroamaticus said...

V. interesting comments, Stephen.

The subject of worship style and content is really an intra-Christian topic, to be decided primarily by doctrinal considerations, rather than by attempting to appeal to the extra-Christian world. In short, in so far as worship is a human activity, it is not primarily evangelistic but doxological. This was partly why I posted to the linked article.

But let me just say specifically in response to your counter-proposal, though, that worship is, of course, not in decline. Each and every person worships something. As Luther said, "...it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God."

The question, then, is not whether we shall worship, but whether our worship shall be true or false?

Blessings to you and thanks, as always, for your engaging comments.

Stephen K said...

Yes, Pastor Mark, I understood very well the in-house nature/scope of your remarks, and I was indeed responding on that level - I was talking about specifically "religious worship" when I said it was in decline. Yes, it might indeed be said that some people "worship" money, riches, status or power or pop stars, and in that sense, the "worship" disposition has not gone away. But I was talking about "religious" worship: the worship of a personal God. Look around us: vast numbers of nominal Christians just don't go to Church anymore, don't say prayers. Of the remainders who do, how many do so out of custom and vague instinct, and how many in full ritual or communal consciousness?
I maintain it is in decline because the sense of the personal God is less sharp or seen as irrelevant.

Not saying it ought to be that way, mind you, just that that seems to be the case.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks, Stephen.

Apologies for taking a while to get your comment up but I've been away at our synod.

Now, in regard to your comment, I think you'll find that attendance at Christian Divine Service is only down in highly secularised, Western countries. As you know, there are several explanations put forth for that by theologians and sociologists. I certainly don't deny that it presents a challenge to the churches, but in the end theological analysis leads us to idolatry as the base cause, although there are many issues to be addressed apologetically along the way.

Btw, I don't think you completely grasped my point - the worship of money, status, etc, *is* religious worship.

Thanks again for your comments, Stephen.