Cultural and Charismatic Influence

The 1960’s in America hosted a revolution like no generation had seen before. With the rise of feminism and free sex there began a major breakdown of the family and morality. That which traditional parents had esteemed as the ideal standard of living, their youth reacted against with great vigor. The lost young were driven by an urge from deep within to find peace and love and to experience it in the most authentic and fantastic ways imaginable. Bob Dylan and other singer/songwriters of the day led the way with their provocative and perhaps prophetic songs of politics, war, and the ever-inspirational topic of love. At the tail end of this era a pastor with a heart for the pot-smoking hippies on the beaches of Southern California opened the doors of his church to welcome those who were searching for a true spirituality. From Chuck Smith’s little church a move of the Holy Spirit swept across the region as thousands of wanderers flocked toward the Good Shepherd. The migration became known as the Jesus Movement.(1)

These new believers didn’t simply throw aside their disillusionments and pick up where their parents would have had them in the first place. They continued meeting with Jesus on the same level He first met them, with their acoustic guitars in their hands, strumming love songs, hoping for a truly divine experience. The object of their affection, however, was no longer the product of some rare and exotic moment, but Jesus the Son of God. Naturally, the old hymns were a less than fitting means of expressing their feelings to their newfound peace, not to mention the fact that they didn’t know any of them. They needed something more tangible, more interactive. They wanted something more familiar to which they could relate, musically and emotionally, so they began writing choruses of their own, only theirs were in the first-person singular instead of the third-person. They used the Bible as their source for lyrics. “Create in me a clean heart,” they sang with David.

It is no surprise the Jesus Movement was largely a charismatic one. Whenever experience is sought with such fervent expectation, emotions can reach beyond limits. As the actions of worshippers, such as prophesying and speaking in tongues, began stretching the boundaries of the Bible, experienced-based lyrics gradually replaced Scripture-based ones. “The focus shifted from knowing God through His Word to knowing God through experience. This in turn shifted the focus from thinking to feeling.”(2) Indeed, as other charismatic movements tapped into this new chorus-driven style of worship music, more and more new compositions were without Biblical grounding or theological depth. Worship was turning into a time for individual worshippers to receive from the “presence of God” more so than a time for God to receive collective praise from his people.

Pentecostalism was largely responsible for the spread and popularizing of this new kind of musical worship and experience. The Association of Vineyard Churches was one of the better known organizations stemming from the grassroots genuineness of the Jesus Movement. The worship music of the Vineyard was stylistically in line with the music from outside the church. The themes of their choruses focused mainly on love, intimacy, and simply dwelling in the presence of God. Another Pentecostal organization, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, TX, began pumping out choruses in the 70’s that influenced churches around the world and are still sung today. “As the Deer” and “More Precious Than Silver” are a couple of the better known ones. In addition to Vineyard Music and CFN Music, a number of record production companies began springing up and spreading the good news of this new kind of worship music. Among them were Hosanna Integrity and Maranatha Praise. Chorus-driven worship was mainly experienced within the confines of the Charismatic Movement and Pentecostalism until the 80’s, when the Megachurch Movement and Contemporary Church entered the scene. (next post)

(1) Much of the historical content in this paper is drawn from the lectures and notes of three Robert Webber courses I took at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary: NBTS 301 Theology of Worship and Spirituality, NBTS 302 History of Worship and Spirituality, and NBTS 303 Current Practices in Worship and Spirituality.

(2) Peacock, Charlie. At the Cross Roads: An Insider’s Look at the Past Present, and Future of Contemporary Christian Music. Broadman & Holman: Nashville. 1999. 44.

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