In his book, Who Stole My Church? pastor and author Gordon MacDonald gives a helpful discussion on the history of church music. These are my wife, Carol’s, note from that section.
Virtually every generation produces some kind of music that reflects its own view of reality. Both the notes and the words of their music will tell you how they see life and what’s most important to them.
Today’s music reflects the following:
- feel fatherless
- overwhelmed by the moral and spiritual challenges of the times
- feel impotent
History—4 times in American church life when people went to war over music
1. 1674–Issac Watts, Wesley’s–from singing only psalms with no instruments…to songs that reflected the challenges of their time. More theology based.
2. 1859—Civil War time
Music became more personal, testimonial, more about one’s personal experience with Christ. The focus was on the individual.
Fanny Crosby–reflected the individual conversion experience that happens when people come to Jesus. (She wrote 8,000 pieces of music under at least 200 names.)
- Blessed Assurance
- Redeemed, How I love to proclaim it!
- Rescue the Perishing
- To God Be the Glory
Wesley tended to write about his relationship with God, Crosby talked more about her walk with Jesus. Ira Sankey (D.L. Moody’s song leader) said people called the new music (Crosby) “human hymns”… it was a critical comment…they didn’t think the new music measured up to Watts’ and Wesley’s songs.
3. 1920’s–Choruses were introduced–a quick perky tune that drives one basic theme or idea deep into the heart.
- Zacchaeus was a wee little man
- When we all get to heaven
Gospel music came from the south–it had a beat–the story of the gospel in graphic word pictures that common people could relate to. Critics said it was too worldly.
- Precious Lord Take My Hand
- We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
- Open My Eyes that I May See
- New popular instrument–guitar
- Music has great passion and feeling
- Generation thinks personal experience is everything “Genuineness & Authenticity”
- Don’t need perfection or slickness
- Want to reflect the moment and its ethos