Monday, May 07, 2007

So What's "Traditional" Anyway?

In researching texts of ancient literature, going back to the source (or as close to it as we can get) is crucial in validating the text. Everything used to be copied by hand, and logic dictates that the closer a copy is to the original both in date and generation, the more accurately it will represent the original. In other words, a copy of a copy of an original is significantly more likely to be accurate than a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an original.
There is a lot of talk about “traditional” and “contemporary” worship discussions nowadays, but conflict over worship practice is anything but new. I suspect that the term “traditional” carries with it an underlying assumption of “this is the way it has always been.” In fact, much of what we Baptists consider “traditional” only goes back some 75 to 150 years (if that far). Let’s go closer to the beginning. What do the earlier sources teach us about “traditions” in Baptist worship? When I read about the history of Baptist worship, I learn that conflict over worship – especially music – seems to be as much a part of our Baptist “tradition” as anything. Consider the following facts (from an article by Baptist church historian Pamela R. Durso):

· In the 17th century, Baptists in England opposed singing in worship and developed intricate arguments against what they called a “carnal exercise.”
· Thomas Grantham, an English Baptist pastor, fiercely opposed the singing of hymns in worship, calling them ‘human innovations’ and calling on Baptists not to use these questionable innovations in worship.
· Grantham did allow the singing of the Psalms, but only by a solo male voice, and never with instrumental accompaniment.
· Grantham also opposed the use of “mixed voices” or “promiscuous singing” in worship … for fear that a non-Christian who happened to be in church might pollute the worship by their non-Christian singing of Christian songs.
· In 1673, Benjamin Keach persuaded his church to begin the practice of singing a hymn at the close of the Lord’s Supper, but allowed those who opposed to leave before the singing began. Six years later they added a hymn on public days of thanksgiving, and 14 years after that the church agreed to sing a hymn as part of worship every Sunday … but 22 members left the church over it.

[NOTE: Article can be found online at I'll modify this blog with a link as soon as I have time.]

Reading historical information like that helps me understand that conflict about worship is nothing new. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy, or that it should continue; but it has been around for a long, long time. That’s enough to think about for now.


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