The theology of Praise & Worship music began in the mid- to late-1940s. As a congregation obeyed the command to praise God (Heb 13:15), He would come down and inhabit their praises (Ps 22:3b), just as He inhabited the tabernacles of Moses and David. King David was often described as the prototypical worshiper. This theology was continuationist from the outset and expected sign-gifts to occur once God’s presence came down. Members might to clap, dance, shout, speak in tongues, or do whatever expression of worship one might find in the Psalms or New Testament.
Contemporary worship as a movement began around the mid-1960s, and its theology could be summed up primarily by one verse—1 Corinthians 9:22. The church as a whole should be all things to all men and thus use novel means to reach them all. As marketing developed in America along with radio and TV, so also the church was to market what all men wanted to get them to come and worship as they preferred. Successful parachurch ministries that targeted youth were the gateway to using novel forms of worship in the churches, and this novelty included dramas, movie clips, rock music, and more.
Both histories developed side-by-side, sometimes overlapped, and eventually merged in the mid-1990s. Now they share how to use technology, how worship leaders are trained, and a variety of resources (conferences, CCLI music, publications, etc.). The typical worship in churches today stems from Pentecostal and pragmatic roots. What should we think about this?
First, the hermeneutics of Praise & Worship are suspect at best. To claim that two verses (Heb 13:15 with Ps 22:3b) together give the formula whereby God will spatially (?) inhabit a congregation’s praises denies God’s omnipresence and the Christian’s ability to worship God in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:24). By making the church into a spiritualized tabernacle of Moses or David and introducing worship leaders as “priestly” mediators who help bring down the presence of God, this theology borders on taking Christians back into the Law and diminishes the glory of the one High Priest who gladly welcomes all who draw near to Him by faith.
Second, though some claim that the pragmatism of contemporary worship was theologically driven, one can also say pragmatism drove their theology. One verse (1 Cor 9:22) excused all sorts of novelty, and, when joined to the church marketing movement, ironically became the means of targeting select groups within American society instead of trying to reach every tribe and language and people and nation.
If we worship God “in truth” (John 4:24), then the truth will prescribe what and how our worship should be. May we understand it rightly and obey it by His grace.Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com