The Influence Of Contemporary Christian Music On Fundamentalism: Part 1

The Influence Of Contemporary Christian Music On Fundamentalism: Part 1

The Culture Of Contemporary Christian Music

Contemporary Christian Music, known as CCM,  is “a genre of modern popular music”…referring “to pop, rock, or praise & worship styles” focused on Christian themes. There is a distinct arm of this music which has become known as “Christian Worship Music” or simply “Praise and Worship” or “Worship Music”. In Dr. H. T. Spence’s book Confronting Contemporary Christian Music, he clarifies “We must understand that “CCM is not just ‘rock’ music. Its elastic, existential nature produces a multicolored facet of the contemporary.” 

The culture that CCM and Christian Worship Music is a subtle power that has had an influence on Fundamentalist Music. This cultural influence has contributed to the crossing over of many Fundamental pulpits into Neo-Evangelicalism. What is the enticement of CCM for so many Fundamental churches today? How has such an unbiblical culture of music come to be accepted? To answer these and other concerns for Fundamentalist music, we must first look at the rise of CCM and the philosophy behind it. 

In this series of articles, we will look at the culture of Contemporary Christian Music, the rise of what they call “Ancient and Modern” music, CCM’s influence on Fundamentalists music and where Fundamentalist music is today.

An Unholy Alliance

CCM is the illegitimate child of an unholy alliance of the ‘contemporary style’ of music and the terminology, syntax and vocalised dogmas of Christianity. Whilst I term this as an illegitimate child, on the one hand it is the offspring of a recognized marriage, the marriage of the holy and the profane, but this marriage is not a marriage sanctioned by God or His Word. So, I use the term illegitimate, because it is an unholy marriage. Whilst this may be a simplistic view of the whole issue, it truly is the present position of CCM. We cannot miss the vital truth that this did not happen overnight, neither the unholy marriage or the birth of this offspring. 

There was a considerable process of time and of compromise that brought about what we now consider to be CCM. This seemingly all powerful, all conquering juggernaut that has swept through Christendom and hastened the sealing of the apostasy of the Church initially began its encroachment on the church as the church surrendered ground to it with small movements and concessions. It has now become the overwhelming ‘norm’ of the visible church and to be against CCM is an extremely rare position of a very small remnant.

Just as CCM overtook the visible institutional church in a gradual process, it has now made a vast impact on Fundamentalist Music and ultimately within a short period of time this too will be absorbed by the mass of the ‘way of all flesh’. The difference with Fundamentalist Music is that the way it has been destroyed and absorbed into the apostasy was through a more finessed deceit than that of the openness of the conquering of the neo-evangelical / charismatic crowd by CCM.

CCM Culture: In Their Own Words

We can look to a number of CCM authors and academic liberals to gain insight into their view of the CCM movement. From their own statements we can gain certain insights as to the clear and stated culture and philosophy of CCM in its various diversities.

Contemporary Christian music (or CCM—and occasionally “inspirational music”) is a genre of modern popular music which is lyrically focused on matters concerned with the Christian faith. It formed as those affected by the 1960s Jesus movement revival began to express themselves in a more contemporary style of music than the hymns, Gospel and Southern gospel music that was prevalent in the church at the time. Today, the term is typically used to refer to pop, rock, or praise & worship styles.” (Wikipedia)

The term “contemporary” in contemporary worship music implies an opposition, in this case, to the “traditional” hymn repertory and its associated performance style used in congregational singing in the majority of North American evangelical and mainline Protestant congregations in the decades leading up to the 1980s and 1990s. The word “contemporary” invokes a history of a widespread conflict over worship style, a conflict that has become known as the “worship wars.” (Ingalls, 2016)

The clear and distinct recognition in its simplest and most basic form concerning CCM is that it has become a “pop, rock or praise and worship style of music”. Those of the world and of the CCM movement acknowledge the fact that the music as far back as the 1960s was a style that had moved beyond that of even Southern Gospel music, which was already a style of music that mimicked the world’s music and moved into a compromised realm.

Yet it is also significant that this most basic of descriptions in a forum as broad and liberal as Wikipedia also acknowledges that CCM is a term used to describe a ‘pop’ or ‘rock’ or ‘praise & worship style’. So broad now has CCM become in its mutations that it has moved out of the church into a separate music genre that is commercialized and it is a stream of ‘pop’ music, as well as a stream of ‘rock’ music in its own right. Then there is the stream of CCM that has continued to be “in the church” (whatever that means today in its mutated modern context) which has become known as “Praise & Worship”.

Monique M. Ingalls in her 2016 book Singing The Congregation – How CCM Forms a Congregation, sets about to look at how the definition of a congregation and how the very understanding of what constitutes the church has been changed by CCM. She carries out her thesis on this topic by looking at the use of CCM in distinct geographies and contexts (1. In a megachurch 2. In a street parade 3. In a personal online streaming context). She begins her thesis by first describing CCM and its distinct mutation into two streams, that of “Christian Pop Music for personal listening” and that of a music that she terms as “simultaneously a popular music, a vernacular music and a sacred music”. Ingalls separates these two streams by terming the first as CCM and the second as CWM or simply “Praise & Worship”. It is interesting to note that early on in the book she terms CCM as the musical “lingua franca” for evangelical churches in North America and beyond, that is it has become the common language, the universal language if you will.

Another popular name for the repertory within some circles is “modern worship music.” Nashville-based Christian music industry executives originally devised this category in the late 1990s as a marketing term for a new style of contemporary worship music that musically paralleled the “modern” or “mainstream rock” radio format. The genre label modern worship separated this newer style from older contemporary worship songs that no longer sounded “contemporary” and eventually came into common usage, particularly among younger generations of evangelicals. Finally, for the increasing number of younger evangelical worshipers with either limited memory or no firsthand experience of the conflicts between “traditional” and “contemporary” styles, this body of songs is often simply designated “worship music.” The “contemporary” prefix is unnecessary when this musical repertory is normative for congregational singing rather than a “new” repertory defined in opposition to an older one. (Ingalls, 2016)

Ingalls brings out the point that what she deems as “worship” or what the participants in CCM or CWM deem as worship has now caused a redefinition of the very description of what Christianity is. I would make the point that Ingalls does not directly state this, and I believe that this is because it is given. But I also believe that she does not look at this truth of the change of what is publicly viewed or accepted as Christianity because it is not a concern to her, as she is viewing the whole matter through a post-modern lens. In spite of this is very clear from the evidence that she puts up that this is the case. She speaks of the change in congregation and what constitutes a congregation, and how the music has come to define and unite the congregation. It is a very pertinent point that she has stated.  A congregation is not formed because of a foundation of truth, a foundation of a commonality of belief in a set dogma or defined set of beliefs, rather the congregation is formed on the basis of the experiences it gains from a common form of music.

Since the late 1960s, there has been a revolution in the music of evangelical Protestantism: a new musical pop—rock style repertory for congregational singing—known variously as “contemporary worship music,” “praise and worship music,” or simply “worship music”—has made its way into evangelical churches across denominations and regions. It has become the musical lingua franca for evangelical churches in North America and beyond. Simultaneously a popular music, a vernacular music, and a sacred music, contemporary worship music is distinct from traditional hymns, on the one hand, and Christian pop music for personal listening, on the other. It engages worshipers in a variety of performance spaces that were once distinct, bridging public and private devotional practices, connecting online and offline communities, and bringing competing personal, institutional, and commercial interests into the same domains. As a result, the religious activity that participants understand as “worship” takes on new attributes as it becomes embedded within a range of other activities. The adoption of this mass—mediated body of song for worship has inaugurated widespread changes not only in the sounds of congregational singing, but also in how evangelicals socially structure their music—making, experience worship, and, ultimately, understand themselves as a religious group. Because of its widespread reach, pervasive influence, and central place within the community’s discourse, contemporary worship music can tell us much about the concerns, convictions, and commitments of evangelical congregations at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The contemporary worship music repertory is meaningful and affective because it spills over the bounds of church services, thoroughly pervading evangelical public ritual and the devotional practices of everyday life. The following ethnographic vignettes highlight three of the many social contexts in which this music is collectively performed outside local church worship and suggest the extent to which this music has become a touchstone of evangelical religious life.” (Ingalls, 2016)

The introduction’s title “Music Making Congregations” points to both a social process and to its resulting product: it refers to the process whereby participatory musical performances shape evangelical social groupings (music making congregations) and to the communities that are formed through participants’ embodied musical practices (music—making congregations). In exploring both the overlapping elements and the distinctions between these modes of congregating, Singing the Congregation demonstrates the extent to which the activity of worship and the social constellation of the congregation are musically constituted within contemporary evangelical  Christianity.  (Ingalls, 2016).

Before we look at this, we must define this understanding of experiences. Again, I want to take from Ingalls’ book to see what they would now define as ‘worship”. As detailed in the following excerpt the “experience of the participation in the music” has now become synonymous with “worship”. (The first question that we would ask, is what is this worship and most importantly “who” is it worshipping). The music has now become an experience and this visceral experience has now become worship and this worship experience has now become the identifying distinctive of who is or isn’t in a congregation (notice how the word ‘church’ has been removed in place of congregation to broaden the definition to include social gathering). It isn’t really stated as identifying who is a Christian, a ‘Christ one’ it is merely that the experience becomes a commonality that joins people together and this now can be done outside any sort of context of a church. So now a person can worship without having to have any of the ‘inconvenience’ of church or preaching, or commitment to Christ or to religion or to a church. This has always been the end goal of CCM, to destroy the truth of God and bring Him to nought and to replace the true God with a god of the imagination and true worship with a visceral experience of the flesh.

 Within charismatic circles, “worship” came to refer to a twenty— to forty—minute segment during which a worship band leads the congregation in singing a continuous string of songs (the “worship set”). During this time, members of the worshiping community express their praise and devotion through singing combined with other characteristic Pentecostal devotional practices, including hand raising, expressive prayer postures, and ecstatic utterances such as tongues speech and prophecy. One of the primary goals of Pentecostal-charismatic worship is a personal encounter with God, and consequently Pentecostal—charismatic worship is not a directionless sing—along. Rather, it is characterized by a goal—oriented progression involving the separate but related actions of “praise” and “worship.” (Ingalls, 2016)

Evangelical commentators are often at pains to insist that congregational music—making and worship are not synonymous; the felt need of so many leaders to insist continually that “worship is more than singing” evidences how widespread the conflation is. This evangelical “mantra” has even been incorporated into worship song lyrics.17 In describing what he refers to as the evangelical “sonicization of worship,” Joshua Busman writes that, beginning in the 1970s as an outgrowth of practices within evangelical youth movements, “worship became a category of experience that was increasingly indistinguishable from music. Even more specifically, worship became equivalent to singing along with pop-styled songs that featured acoustic guitar accompaniment”. As evangelicals accepted the practices and associated beliefs grounded in Pentecostal—charismatic theologies of worship as divine encounter, their own understanding of worship shifted in the process. According to Busman, “the category of worship within evangelical Christianity was reconfigured to focus more explicitly on cultivating and sustaining an individual experience of the divine rather than the execution of identical, discreet, liturgical elements each week”, and, as a result, became a highly portable practice that could happen anywhere.“

The effective, collective practice of singing contemporary worship songs, then, has become for many contemporary evangelicals the sum total of worship. Musically centered worship is not limited to performance within local church congregations. The previous section demonstrated that, as a mass-mediated popular music, contemporary worship music engenders multiple modes of encounter. If worship equals assembling to sing contemporary worship songs, then this music can transform nearly any space or gathering in which it is performed into a place of worship. Individuals have numerous opportunities in a typical day to engage in the musical activity defined as worship: contemporary worship music has saturated many domains beyond church worship, including concert and conference circuits, radio airwaves, the commodity marketplace, and social media, as well as informal music—making. The evangelical concert and conference circuits run through metropolitan areas small and large; live-streamed events and prerecorded devotional worship videos are always on offer via social media; and smaller affinity groups—whether Bible studies affiliated with churches or with parachurch organizations—offer individuals a chance to engage in worship, as it is defined and mediated by contemporary worship music, on a frequent basis.

The rise of contemporary worship music, and with it the proliferation of opportunities to engage in participatory musical worship, has challenged the local congregation’s authority within evangelical religious life. (Ingalls, 2016)

Matt Merker, (a pastor in Capitol Hill, Washington DC, who writes modern congregational hymns,) in an article written in “The Gospel Coalition” February 2019 makes the following statements.

“I’ve reflected on how the notion of experience has become a crucial expectation in contemporary worship. In a similar vein, some Christians use the language of “worship fix” or “worship junkie” to describe their craving for contemporary worship music. The language of addiction [seen in such terms] evidences the overwhelming success of the major worship brands in not just responding to felt needs, but also actively producing desire” (Merker)

On the matter of CCM concerts Merker says:

“Due to the professional production quality and an environment more conducive to bodily interaction, one young woman concluded that the singing she heard at a concert promoted more authentic self-expression than the singing at her church (53). Others viewed the worship at a conference as “more sacred than church” because of the excitement of worshiping with thousands of anonymous fellow “pilgrims” who have all gathered for a special purpose” (Merker)

The connotation of what the philosophy and culture of CCM is desiring to bring about was clearly set out by Pete Ward, a “British Practical Theologian” in his book “Liquid Church”: 

“Rather than redefine or rehabilitate the term congregation, other ecclesiologists have sought to decenter it by advocating the importance of other social spaces for forming Christian community.” In Liquid Church ,Pete Ward states “ that there is a fundamental disconnection in how ecclesiologists understand traditional church institutions, on the one hand, and more loosely organized Christian gatherings and communication networks occurring largely outside this domain, on the other. Ward goes on to ‘pose a question that he “believes scholars have not adequately addressed: What is the place of various productive and creative processes that characterize contemporary Christian culture? By this I mean festivals, worship music, evangelism courses, and other processes. At present the institution of the church, local or national, seems to be largely irrelevant to these creative and productive activities. . . . Liquid Church attempts to address this issue by saying that as these individuals, organizations, and groups carry out their activities, they are being or doing church. Moreover, as we participate in and use these groups’ events and products, we are also being or making church. (Ward, 2001)

Ward proposes the concept of “liquid church” to describe the ecclesial result of the ongoing transformation of religious social forms by new media and communications technologies. Ward lays out three characteristics of this so called “liquid church”. First, these Christian gatherings are frequently informal, taking place outside the purview of traditional religious authority. Second the liquid church is constituted by practice rather than structure: the basis of the liquid church “lies in people’s spiritual activity rather than in organizations patterns or buildings”. (Ward later gives an example of these spiritual activities by describing the participatory singing of a contemporary worship song at a popular British Christian music festival.) Third, the liquid church “does not need or require a weekly congregational meeting”; rather, it often comprises a far-flung network of people who sometimes meet in person but more often experience connection through shared consumptive and media practices.

According to Pete Ward, the church and all that it is, is now largely defunct having been replaced by Music and Media. This has removed the necessity of all the gifts that God had placed in the church and has opened Christendom to anyone who happens to stream music and come into an experience that brings a unification with all others who have done likewise. 

Even amidst a defined ‘church’, that is a church which is a defined body of people, overseen by some sort of spiritual offices, that meets in the some semblance of a traditional church, CCM has become a broad all encompassing entrance into Christianity and church liturgy. It has become the pre-eminent church liturgy for a majority of public Christianity, the other forms of liturgy such as prayer, preaching and sacraments have all become secondary acts in the ‘experience of church’. In their book “Lovin on Jesus – A concise history on Contemporary Christian Music” Dr.s Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth propose the following:

There are several common features of contemporary worship in US context (with “contemporary worship” conceived broadly to include all practices within a church worship service, including preaching, prayers, and sacraments in addition to music).Lim and Ruth also state that contemporary worship is a “multifaceted worship style . . . that within the last several decades has come to be an identifiable, widespread liturgical phenomenon”. Lim and Ruth write “ that three fundamental presumptions undergird the practice of contemporary worship: “using contemporary, nonarchaic English, a dedication to relevance regarding contemporary concerns and issues in the lives of worshippers, and a commitment to adapt worship to match contemporary people, sometimes to the level of strategic targeting”. (Him, 2017)

Again, we see here the deliberate move of CCM to bring the concept of worship down to the base level of the feelings of man, unregenerate man in the rawness of the flesh and desires of the heart which as described by Jeremiah is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”. Even the removal of nobility of language is part of this move. Finally, we see that they state the obvious, that the aim of CCM is to adapt worship to match contemporary people. In other words, the aim is to change Christ to fit sinful man, rather than give the truth that sinful man needs to be redeemed and changed by the grace of God into the image of Christ.

The Rise Of "Ancient / Modern" Music

Yet it is also significant that this most basic of descriptions in a forum as broad and liberal as Wikipedia also acknowledges that CCM is a term used to describe a ‘pop’ or ‘rock’ or ‘praise & worship style’. So broad now has CCM become in its mutations that it has moved out of the church into a separate music genre that is commercialized and it is a stream of ‘pop’ music, as well as a stream of ‘rock’ music in its own right. Then there is the stream of CCM that has continued to be “in the church” (whatever that means today in its mutated modern context) which has become known as “Praise & Worship”.

Monique M. Ingalls in her 2016 book Singing The Congregation – How CCM Forms a Congregation, sets about to look at how the definition of a congregation and how the very understanding of what constitutes the church has been changed by CCM. She carries out her thesis on this topic by looking at the use of CCM in distinct geographies and contexts (1. In a megachurch 2. In a street parade 3. In a personal online streaming context). She begins her thesis by first describing CCM and its distinct mutation into two streams, that of “Christian Pop Music for personal listening” and that of a music that she terms as “simultaneously a popular music, a vernacular music and a sacred music”. Ingalls separates these two streams by terming the first as CCM and the second as CWM or simply “Praise & Worship”. It is interesting to note that early on in the book she terms CCM as the musical “lingua franca” for evangelical churches in North America and beyond, that is it has become the common language, the universal language if you will.

"Music has become the most popular method to change people’s philosophy; the inner circles of compromisers know it. They are going to use it to accommodate and promote their own heart changes. A steady stream of a nebulous diet of music after a while becomes like leaven to the mind and soul."

Dr. H. T. Spence

“The influence of Christianity in the United States, based on recent surveys, appears to be on the decline. That fallout has also spread to the contemporary Christian music industry.
According to Tyler Huckabee of The Week, contemporary Christian music, or CCM for short, sold approximately 50 million albums annually in its heyday. However, that number has dropped to 17 million in 2014 in the United States.
“The descent of CCM is a reflection of America’s waning interest in Christianity as a whole,” Huckabee wrote. “The precipitous dropoff in CCM sales has left Christian labels and artists staring into the void alongside their pastors, scratching their heads, wondering where they went wrong.”
(Narciso)

“So, you’ve been standing in the pews for about 20 minutes, and the band is showing no sign of letting up. You didn’t know the last two songs, your mind starts wandering, and a dangerous question pops into your head: ‘Could a blindfolded monkey write some of our worship songs?’
It may sound like a surprising question, but it was the thought that hit Spring Harvest worship leader Vicky Beeching. On her blog last year, the PhD student bemoaned the ‘lack of freshness, creativity and effort’ in the lyrics in some contemporary worship music.

As well as the lyrics, the music itself is also under the spotlight. Worship leader Paul Oakley recently said he was ‘tired and frustrated by the serious limitations of the praise and worship genre’. He even questions the ‘genre’ bit – it was never intended to be that, he says. ‘It’s got a bit in a rut and sounds a bit samey to me now.’

It isn’t just these two well-known and respected worship leaders (who both made clear their love for the church and the joy that much Christian music has brought) who are expressing doubts. Others are beginning to question whether the ‘scene’ is in a good place. Critics are beginning to ask whether both the music itself and the lyrics have gone stale – and whether it can be blamed on the way we now ‘consume’ worship music.”
(Walton)

The fact of the matter is that this music can only destroy the fabric of a society whether that society is sacred or secular. And that is what we are witnessing in all of this. As those within the post-modern world of Christianity are pressing further and further into existential thinking there has been a notion pushed forward that the way back to relevance in the church is to bring forth this “Ancient Modern” hymnody and reclaim the music for the church. There is a push by some to bring the distinct separation between CCM and Worship Music. Then within this Worship Music is the desire to regain a relevance to the church that hymnody once had. This has led to the rise of the popularity of Stuart Townend and the Gettys amongst those of this view.

Existentialism now reigns in CCM, there are no absolutes, no foundations of truth, Jesus is whoever you conceive him to be, God is what you imagine Him to be and the Holy Spirit is some sort of force that brings these experiences about with these imagined Jesus’s and Gods through the music. This is why CCM has gone throughout all the flavours of Christendom, for there are no boundaries in existentialism.

We’ve taken time in this article to outline the philosophy and danger of Contemporary Christian Music, but how has it influenced Fundamentalism? How has CCM infiltrated the ranks of fundamentalist leaders who are now promoting the CCM philosophies within conservative churches today? We answer these questions in The Influence of Contemporary Christian Music On Fundamentalism, Part 2. 

Jeremy Searle

Jeremy Searle