Throughout its history, the Christian church has used music to proclaim the gospel and to return thanks and praise to God. The history of this musical expression teaches us a great deal not only about the culture and everyday life of earlier Christians, but also about their unique experience of and insights into the Christian faith. These lessons can, in turn, enlighten, emend, and inspire our own worship of God. The history of the church’s song teaches us, for example, how embedded in…
Music In The Worship Of The Old Testament
Music was an important element of both temple and synagogue worship. Undoubtedly this music and its forms influenced the form and use of music in the early Christian church. Both Jews and Christians revere a transcendent God and both give honor to Scripture. For these reasons and others, Jewish synagogue worship and modern Christian services are similar in content and spirit.
Music In The Worship Of The New Testament
From the beginning of the New Testament experience, the believer’s response to Jesus Christ has included song. Most of the New Testament songs or hymns have found their way into the enduring liturgy of the church, including the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria, and the Nunc Dimittis. New Testament music in worship included psalmody, hymns composed in the church, and spiritual songs-alleluias and songs of jubilation or ecstatic nature.
Music In The Worship Of The Early Church
Very little can be said with certainty about the music of the first three centuries of the church beyond texts used and liturgical forms followed. Judging from later music in the Eastern churches and in Gregorian chant in the West, the musical settings of these texts probably shared characteristics with much Eastern music, including tunes in various modes. Ecstatic song continued in the practice of the thanksgiving of the “prophets” in some early liturgies.
The Orthodox Churches
Christians in North America are often unaware of one of the largest and most devoted segments of the Christian church, the Orthodox churches. During the first few centuries a. d. , the church remained largely unified. But eventually, a variety of doctrinal and political disputes led to the separation of the church into roughly two main divisions, East and West. The following article traces the history of the Eastern church.
Music In The Byzantine Tradition
Music for worship in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition is thought to be a direct descendent of the music used in the synagogues during the life of Jesus. The Orthodox have a very high, almost sacramental, view of music, believing that it is a “window to heaven. ” Music is intrinsic to the liturgy of the church, for it is frequently used to express the liturgical text.
Church Music In The Greek Orthodox Church
Almost the entire Orthodox liturgy is sung, most often to centuries-old melodic formulas. In addition to chanted liturgical texts, hymns play an important role in Greek Orthodox worship. Over 60, 000 hymns, following one of a variety of prescribed patterns, have been written for use in these churches. Though local custom may influence the way in which this music is chanted, most singing follows traditional practice.
Church Music In The Russian Orthodox Church
While small segments of the Russian Orthodox Church have continued to use only traditional Byzantine chant in their worship, the larger portions of the church have allowed music that is a hybrid between traditional liturgical chants and the popular art music of a given historical period. This music has remained distinctively liturgical and Russian, but has led many to lament the loss of traditional forms.
Church Music In The Coptic And Ethiopian Churches
Millions of Christians who live in Egypt and Ethiopia have inherited a rich tradition of worship practices. Each of these churches maintain a variety of ancient worship customs, including the use of music. In Egypt, the congregation participates in the music of worship.
Church Music In Missionary And Independent African Churches
Missionaries from Europe and North America brought to Africa many Western forms of music and worship. In the last several years, especially after Vatican II, Africans have developed more indigenous approaches to music in worship. The fascinating diversity of current musical practices is documented in this survey of independent African churches.
Music Of The Medieval Era In The Western Church
The Middle Ages in the West saw the gradual dominance of the Roman rite over the local rites that had developed before the ninth and tenth centuries. Musically this entailed the spread of Gregorian chant. Later centuries saw the development of polyphony. In the late Middle Ages, the preaching service of Prone became the model for Reformed worship.
From Gregorian Chant To Polyphony
Music in early Christian worship consisted of melody only. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, more complex music, featuring the simultaneous singing of more than one melodic line, was composed for use in worship. For several centuries, this complex-or polyphonic-music was composed by many of Europe’s most famous and skilled composers.
Music Of The Reformation
The reforms in music which attended the reform of worship in the Reformation ranged widely from the rejection of all instruments and the restriction of singing solely to the Psalms to the choral Eucharists of the Anglicans. This article traces musical developments in the Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Puritan, and early free church traditions.
Music In The Modern Revivalist Tradition
The revivalist tradition is rooted in pietest hymnody. It is characterized by an emphasis on the relationship of Christ (the bridegroom) to the church and to the individual believer (the bride). It is commonly held that Isaac Watts combined most successfully the expression of worship with that of human devotional experience. The Wesleys developed what we know today as “invitation” songs.
Church Music In The American Colonies
The preceding article traced the outlines of the revivalist music tradition in both Europe and America. The following article looks more closely at the church music in the period of American colonization and revolution. Church music during this period was based on European models, especially the Psalm singing of the Calvinists.
Church Music Of African-Americans
One of the richest contributions to church music in America has undoubtedly come from the heritage of the African-Americans who came to America as slaves. Their hymns and spirituals, which are sung today across the world, give evidence of both the extreme hardships and the fervent faith that was a part of their experience in America.
Music In Traditional Churches During The Modern Era
Through much of the nineteenth century, worship in liturgical churches followed largely low-church convictions. In the mid-nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth, many of these churches began recovering ancient patterns of worship.
Music In Twentieth-Century Worship
The trend toward a return to primal traditions in theology and worship practice was intensified in the mid-twentieth century, partly due to the influence of the “New Reformation. ” Along with a return to biblical authority, we have seen a revival of Reformation worship forms and practice, including even neobaroque organ design.
Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor
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