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Beyond Contemporary vs. Traditional

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Imagine a church auditorium packed with people. Their eyes are fixed on the stage where skilled musicians play and a handsome man leads the congregation in singing. He is dressed in clothing considered relevant to the congregation, and he skillfully manipulates the passions of the people with a style of music he believes adds vitality, energy, and life to the worship experience.

The lighting is perfect, the performance is slick, the people are mesmerized. There is no "dead time"—transitions between service events are seamless. The flow of the service has been meticulously engineered to bring the greatest impact and move the congregation.

"Worship" for the people of this church is dependent upon the music, the atmosphere, the experience; without these, people don't feel like they're worshiping.

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Contemporary worship at the new hip seeker church downtown?


This is First Traditional Worship Baptist Church in Suburbia, USA.

You see, slick programs, emotional manipulation, and engineered "worship" is not limited to contemporary worship. Even many "traditional" churches, dependent as they are on having a large choir and orchestra or pipe organ in order to "feel" like worship is taking place, often rely on external stimuli to create the worship experience.

The need for "emotional vitality" in worship did not start with the rise of contemporary worship; it started much earlier, first with Romanticism, and then with the theological underpinnings of Revivalism. Charismatic worship was only the next stage in a development in Western Civilization that had begun with Beethoven.

Yet true worship is never rooted in the physical, and any attempt, whether contemporary or traditional, to create an atmosphere of "worship" or otherwise "move" people to worship is a failure to worship by faith.

Problems with worship today are deeper than debates between contemporary and traditional. Post-enlightenment thinking has created cultural conditions that make us all desire physical proof of spiritual reality.

It is this mentality we must fight against in our attempt to recover biblical worship.

Scott Aniol, PhD, is an author, speaker, and teacher of culture, worship, aesthetics, and church ministry philosophy. He is chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He founded Religious Affections Ministries and has written several books, the most recent being By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture. He can be found on Twitter @ScottAniol.

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