If I could nominate one phrase to be left in the dust of the 20th century, it would be the one that launched a thousand committee meetings: contemporary worship. The truth is that any worship practiced by contemporary people, no matter how ancient its form, is contemporary. And any worship, no matter how simple its structure, draws on tradition, such as the American tradition of prayer-and-song services that goes back to the revivals of the early 19th century.
No, the real distinction between "contemporary" and "traditional" worship comes down to music and a power plug. The genres of music that we now call "contemporary" are dependent on amplification for their very existence. Neither bone-crushing electric guitar solos nor intimately breathy love songs could exist without electrically powered support systems. While Pavarotti sometimes uses a discreet microphone, and pop stars sometimes go "unplugged," the essence of contemporary music is electric.
A vocal minority of North American Christians is fiercely opposed to amplified music in worship. I am not one of them, even as a musician trained in the Western classical tradition. After all, I studied Latin and Greek in college, too, but they are not my native language. Amplified music is the mother tongue of our day, and I'm never quite as at home as when I'm immersed in its cornucopia of rhythmic and melodic delights. And if amplified worship conjures up painful memories of amateur, three-chord guitarists banging out repetitive choruses, unamplified worship has caused plenty of pain itself. Shaky amateur choirs, repetitive anthems, musically numb organists—need I go on?
The truth is that amplified worship's most celebrated practitioners bring an astonishing level of excellence ...1
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