“It has always been done this way”

One of the difficulties when reading the Bible is to determine which elements are culturally conditioned from the time of writing, and which are eternal truths.  This is not an easy task.

However, the same is true of many of the things that we take for granted in our churches today.  This is the start of an occasional series looking at some church history – particularly in the area of churches and worship.

This month I shall begin with church music.

Organs did not appear in general use in churches until about the 12th Century as music was associated with heathen cults.  Prior to this the music was not sung, but chanted and consisted primarily of the Psalms.

Hymns as we would recognise them started being written in the 17th and 18th centuries, with Charles Wesley a major contributor.  Carols only started being sung in church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (having been sung outside church earlier in history).

In the 19th century the organ started to replace the Parish Band and hymns were introduced into the service – often with a robed choir.  Until then most Church of England Churches did not have music in the service; however they might have a Parish Band who would play at the end of the service.  This is because the Book of Common Prayer contains very few references to music, and where it most obviously does it referred to Cathedrals and College Chapels.

In 20th Century in some churches Parish bands started to reappear, often with electric guitars and drums, but also in a folk style.

So hymns as many would recognise them in the service have been a feature of worship for about 200 years, and modern worship songs have been around for about 50 – out of the 2,000 year life of the church.

Alan Crawley

Photo thanks to Georgie Fry

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