In the 1980s and 1990s, congregations across America were divided over how to worship. One side said that times were changing and the church should also change to become more culturally relevant. It was okay to use popular music in church, they said, because traditional organ music and hymns are passé and driving away those ubiquitous “young people”. Others said, form must follow function, and traditional music and liturgies are the best way to objectively proclaim what the Church has always proclaimed: the gospel.
In retrospect, we can see that music was the whipping boy for larger issues. It was the tangible change that was occurring in the congregation, but plenty more was changing, too. The role and authority of the pastor, the mission of the church, even the necessity of the cross were all being redefined in the contemporary movement. All of these things were silently being debated as the drummer set up his drums and the guitarist tuned his six-string. In truth, these debates continue to rage. But most of the congregation dividing and conquering has already happened. Now, congregations are either “traditional” or “contemporary” or some weird combination of the two.