Praise him with fanfares on the trumpet, praise him upon lute and harp; praise him with tambourines and dancing, praise him with flute and strings; praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with truimphant cymbals; let everything that has breath the praise Lord!
(The New English Bible)
Many a Christian musician has suddenly decided to take the psalmist’s inspired imperatives very literally. Strange new sounds—most of them very loud—will emanate from sanctuaries around the world this Easter Sunday. They add up to the first significantly new movement in church music in more than a century.
Evangelical churches have taken the lead in introducing a new kind of sacred music patterned after the popular folk rock. Country or Western music is also being appropriated by evangelical churches more than ever. Theologically liberal churches have been more reticent about such musical inroads, but in those congregations that allow it, these types of music as well as straight jazz are now heard. Most common are the folk and jazz “masses.”
Interestingly, the new movement is being welcomed by many respected church musicians, even those who have until now insisted upon classical forms. Others are critical. Church-music journals have generally been sympathetic, though they are publishing hot dialogues on the pros and cons.
“The Church is groping now for a new musical language,” says Dr. Donald Hustad, professor of church music at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “At the moment we go with the latest fad.” Hustad regards the current trend as secular music’s biggest invasion of the Church since about 1850.
As might be expected, the new sounds in church music are seen as symbols of liberation and are used enthusiastically by young people. They are sung at youth meetings in the church, at outings, retreats, and rallies. But soloists and instrumentalists are also being heard exercising the fresh idiom in worship services—sometimes with amplifiers perched on the altars.
Folk rock has caused a boom in so-called all-night sings, which have been popular for many years, especially in the Southern United States. These programs normally feature several quartets. Admission is charged, and the musicians bring along a supply of records to sell, too.
One such sing brought people flocking to Toronto’s Massey Hall last month and enabled a local reporter to twit fundamentalists. He recalled their aversion to nightclubs, then noted the atmosphere at the sing: “The darkened house with the sweeping spotlight, electronic sound equipment that blasted the music out into the auditorium until it bounced off the walls, and men and women in the audience wearing the latest styles. All that was missing were the scantily dressed showgirls and fast-talking MC with his blue jokes.”
Among Southern Baptists and Methodists, this phenomenon has thwarted the efforts of the musical elite to get local choirs and congregations to use more sophisticated music (represented in the older tradition by Bach and in modern style by such contemporary composers as the late Leo Sowerby of Washington Cathedral). Efforts to bring about such a switch are being temporarily abandoned as folk rock makes headway in the churches.
Says one authority: “Current religious music in folk rock style is generally superior to the cheap nineteenth-century gospel songs that were inspired by the sentimental ballads of that day.” The comparison comes from Dr. Paul E. Elbin, a United Presbyterian minister who is president of West Liberty State College in Wheeling, West Virginia. Elbin, writing in the Hymn, adds that “the simplicity and honesty of many folk-derived religious compositions surely make them more acceptable to men of good taste and religious devotion than the erotic ‘In the Garden’ and similar musical aberrations of the past.”
Another expert, writing from the Roman Catholic perspective in Music, took an opposite tack: “Historians and sociologists cannot but be aware that the worst kind of pseudo-popular ‘commercial’ music is threatening to invade the Mass. Guitar, rock ’n roll, and jazz Masses do not represent the actuosa participatio envisaged by the [Vatican] Council. The music not only lacks the devotional quality but also the particular grace of art, because it gives us in the raw those cultural traits that were not influenced by Christian ethics.”
Austin Lovelace, writing in the Journal of Church Music, declared that “as an organist I find it hard to get excited about giving up the glorious sound of a good pipe organ for the strumming of guitars. I believe every instrument has its usefulness, but the guitar (limited mostly to rhythm and harmony) seriously limits music possibilities.” He thinks many of the new songs have a message but are so commercial in both text and music “that they are bound to be ephemeral.”
Tedd Smith, veteran pianist for Billy Graham crusades, is a conscientious promoter of sacred rock. “It is not just noise, as so many people think,” he says. “It is a difficult, extremely complicated kind of music.” Not everything that is labeled rock has musical integrity, and Smith suggests that the best is that which comes out of Christian experience. This, he contends, is deeply meaningful for many of today’s young people and is not mere entertainment.
Jazz in the churches goes back a decade or more. It has come on slowly, but with the encouragement of such renowned figures as Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, both of whom have been composing sacred music in recent years.
Sample of new sacred song.
Composer Ralph Carmichael says,
“I want neither credit
nor blame for creating today’s
musical forms. I ask only for
guidance to know how to use them
in good taste to reach
‘now’ people with a message
that never changes.”
“The Singing Nun” introduced the folk element into sacred music several years ago. Touring college groupsBreakthroughs have been encouraged through wide popular acceptance of groups such as those from Oral Roberts University and Campus Crusade, as well as Moral Rearmament’s “Up with People” performers. Some of these have drawn criticism from fundamentalists for their choreography. have done much to help religious folk music catch on. Actually, however, folk tunes have been giving way to so-called hard or acid rock, or to combinations of folk and rock.
The use of instruments is not new to many evangelical churches. Many have always had an assortment playing along with the singing congregations.
A few evangelicals consider rock demonically inspired. Professional musicians tend to agree, however, that music cannot be intrinsically good or evil. Yet they concede that various types of music have different effects on the listener. Says Dr. Lee Olson of Nyack Missionary College, “The sensual pleasure derived from listening to music and the physiological effect of rhythms upon the listener can instill a variety of moods.” He feels that rhythm probably has done more for secularization of church music than anything else.
Musical experts note that the Church has always borrowed from the music of the secular world. This was true in Luther’s time, and in Wesley’s, and even in the last century, when many of today’s gospel songs were inspired by the kind of music written by Stephen Foster.
So far, congregational singing has not been much affected by folk rock. It normally takes a long time for new songs to get published in the standard hymnals. A number of new hymnals and supplements are now being planned, and these probably will reflect the current trend.
The hope of the best church musicians, similar to that of other Christian artists, is that perhaps in the current changing mood a distinctively evangelical music can be developed. Olson would like to see “a sanctified church music which is not of this world and through which the Christian will sense the glory of the world to come.” He quotes Olivier Messiaen, one of France’s leading contemporary church musicians, as saying that to accomplish this the Church needs “a consummate artist … who will be both a skilled artisan and a fervent Christian. Let us hasten in our prayers for such a liberator.”
DAVID E. KUCHARSKY
Abortion Made Easier
It’s not for us to say, some state legislators seem to be saying about whether they should legalize abortions. Last month Hawaii abolished all requirements for abortions save a ninety-day residency period and fetal nonviability. Despite strong opposition from his church, Roman Catholic Governor John A. Burns indicated he would allow the bill to become law.
Meanwhile, in a Maryland House committee, Allen B. Spector was sponsoring a similar abortion bill. “Brain surgery is more dangerous,” the delegate observed. “Yet as far as this legislature is concerned, it can be performed on a kitchen table.” Religious considerations, he added, should be the concern of the individuals involved and of the religious community, not the state legislature.
A physician reminded the committee that his profession has long regulated itself and can establish guidelines for abortion.
Abortion laws also made news in:
• Virginia. A liberalized bill got a majority of votes in the lower house.
• California. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a state court’s declaration that the law allowing abortion only to preserve the woman’s life was unconstitutionally vague.
• New York. The State Council of Churches declared abortion “properly a matter of individual conscience” and called only for “medical safeguards in a hospital setting.”
• Washington. Either liberalize the present law or refer it to a popular vote, the State Council of Churches challenged legislators. A Gallup Poll last December showed that perhaps 40 per cent of the voters would favor legalized abortion.
Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, currently editor-at-large of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, has been named professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been a visiting professor there since last September.
Dr. Donald R. Heiges resigned his dual post as president of the Lutheran seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg. He announced he was leaving less than two weeks after a decision to drop plans for merging the seminaries.
Officials of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have blocked an attempt to appoint Dr. Richard Jungkuntz to the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Jungkuntz has been a visiting professor at Concordia since he lost his job as executive secretary of the synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations. Concordia’s Board of Control wanted to take him on as associate professor of exegetical-systematic theology.
Bob Wilcox, 26, who has been religion editor of the Miami News for one year, won the annual Supple Award of the Religion Newswriters Association this month for excellence in religion reporting in the secular press. Entries of Janice Law, 27, of the Houston Chronicle won the new RNA Schachern Award for the best religion section in newspapers published in 1969. Hiley Ward of the Detroit Free Press was elected president of the RNA at its annual meeting.
Dr. Mariano di Gangi was elected president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Di Gangi is a former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, where he succeeded the noted Donald Grey Barnhouse. Di Gangi is now director of the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship.
The Reverend Andrew Young, a close associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will run for the U.S. congressional seat now held by Representative Fletcher Thompson of Atlanta, a conservative Republican. Young, who said he would resign this month as executive vice-president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is also opposed by candidate Lonnie King, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP.
ALBERT BUCKNER COE, 81, retired Congregationalist leader; former chief architect of the United Church of Christ and one-time president of the Massachusetts Council of Churches; in Columbus, Ohio.
ERNEST S. REED, 61, official of the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches; Anglican bishop of Ottawa; in Ottawa, Canada.
THE RT. REV. ERNEST SAMUEL REED, 61, Anglican bishop of Ottawa and member of the World Council of Churches’ Central and Executive committees; in Ottawa.
Religion In Transit
The Department of Commerce released figures showing that church construction in the United States in 1969 was about $951 million, down from 1968’s figure of $1.3 billion.
The Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund has registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission a mutual growth fund to be known as Harvest Fund. Sale of shares will begin in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
A grant of $220,000 has been allocated to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Development (IFCO) by the United Methodist Board of Missions; one-third of this sum is undesignated, the second such undesignated allotment made by the board since October, when $300,000 was granted with no strings.
Methodist minister Phillip Lawson testified to the House Committee on Internal Security that the Methodist Innercity Parish in Kansas City had rented a building to Black Panthers for their headquarters for $1 a year.
United Methodist mission magazine World Outlook has been merged with new, the multi-media communications package of the United Presbyterian Church, to form new/World Outlook.
Capetown, South Africa, churchmen who support apartheid were disturbed when a study commission they appointed told them racially mixed marriages were not sinful, the Associated Press reported.
The Pocket Testament League plans to distribute 500,000 Gospels of John (in fifteen languages) to visitors at Expo 70, the world fair in Japan.
The United Church of Canada expects a $1 million deficit in its operating budget this year and may be forced to abandon some of its programs.
The London (England) Bible College has opened a new branch of evening classes in Madras, India.
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