WHY INCLUDE THE CREATIVE ARTS IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP?
(A Caymanian Perspective)
1. THE ISSUE
In the Cayman Islands and, indeed, other places, the creative arts have occupied a precarious place in Christian Worship. In some denominations--apart from music-- dance and drama in their varied forms are not entertained, while others will embrace one and not the other. While music seems to be widely accepted in Christian worship, its use and various forms are subdued. In other words, only selected forms are tolerated. Throughout the ages, the relationship between the creative arts and Christian worship has ranged from outright refusal to "tokenism." Edwards (1976), reflecting on this point, stated that, while Christianity accepted various imports, it rejected ritual dance as an acceptable act of worship, although dance was quite acceptable to the Jewish tradition from which it emerged. Presently, the problem is compounded by what seems to be few explanations as to why the creative arts in their various forms should be given a place in Christian worship.
2. CHRISTIAN WORSHIP - A TAPESTRY
With this in mind I would like to propose that Christian worship is like a tapestry, constantly being added to (Edward 1987 & Johnson 1976), making it ever evolving. Therefore, the addition and use of the creative artistic ministries should be understood as another step in this evolutionary process.
3. TWO IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
In order to substantiate and support the afore mentioned proposal, there is the need to answer succinctly two broad questions:
- How has Christian worship been added to over the years?
- What factors contributed to the need for additional elements in Christian worship?
4. ADDITION TO THE CHRISTIAN WORSHIP OVER THE YEARS
We will seek to answer this question by making a brief historical overview of Christian worship. It might also be worthwhile to state that Music was the first art form to have infiltrated Christian worship and therefore, an examination of the changes in the use of music in Christian worship could be reflective of the changes that occurred and might still be occurring.
Johnson (1976) in his examination of the History of Christianity stated that the tradition of music in the church was very ancient. But later on antiphonal singing spread from the Middle East across the Mediterranean and was introduced to Rome and the Christian Church. With the rise of Rome to power, Roman chants - antiphonal singing - became the model for Western Churches. From Johnson's writings one could conclude that the embracing of antiphonal singing by the Christian Roman Church is one indication of an addition being made to Christian Worship.
Writers such as Latourette (1975) and Edwards (1987) all point to the use of music, in particularly Hymns as another addition to Christian worship when they stated that Ambrose the Elected Bishop of Milan in A.D 374 once again encouraged another change in Christian worship with the introduction of the use of metrical Hymns, many written by himself.
Johnson (1976) stated that further addition to Christian worship also came through Bishop Ambrose, who, as a means of countering the Arians in the city, dramatized worship services by introducing splendid vestments, antiphonal singing, metrical hymns, psalms, employing professional choristers and also training his congregation.
5. WHAT WERE THE ADDITIONS TO CHRISTIAN WORSHIP WE HAVE IDENTIFIED SO FAR?
- The embracing of antiphonal singing
- The introduction and use of Metrical hymns and Psalms.
- The introduction of splendid vestments.
- The use of professional choristers
- The training congregations.
From this succinct overview, it is clear that the notion of Christian worship is like a tapestry and that this feature seems to be a dominant characteristic feature. Whether this is right or wrong is not the focus of this essay. But, let us not stop there, for further additions have been made in recent times, thus making the tapestry more complex and interesting.
6. WHAT ARE THE PRESENT ADDITIONS TO CHRISTIAN WORSHIP?
In addition to these already outlined above, namely, the use of antiphonal singing, Metrical Hymns and Psalms, "Dramatized" worship services, the use of professional choristers and the training of congregations, there is the inclusion and use of 'contemporary' songs and Hymns, a variety of musical instruments. That is, in addition to the organ and piano - instruments some would refer to as standard, and therefore acceptable - there is also the guitar, keyboard, Drum kit, Bass Guitar, Trumpet, Saxophone, the use of indigenously created instrument such as the steel pans, Congo drums and maracas. Integral to the new additions are the Creative Arts, i.e., Music, Drama and Dance in their various forms, coupled with, tambourines, streamers, flags, and banners.
On the theological and behavioral side, the new additions feature the use of nuances such as clapping of hands, the prominence of speaking in tongues, and the esteemed place given to the work and functions of the Holy Spirit.
The point being made here is that, Christian worship, by it history and nature, has been open to and accepting to imports. It has ever been evolving with incremental additions. Therefore, it would seem quite attractive to those who support, plan and introduce the creative arts in worship. Having said this, the question of what factors contributed to the need for new elements to be added to Christian worship must also be considered if one is going to suggest ways to include the creative arts in Christian worship. For, it is in considering and making use of these factors which cause change that one can justify and lend support to the need for the inclusion of the creative arts.
7. FACTORS THAT HELP AND NECESSITATE ADDITIONS TO CHRISTIAN WORSHIP
Johnson (1976) and Edwards (1987) identified the main factor that contribute to change in Christian worship as Politics or the relationship of the Church with the state. Where there is a harmonious relationship between Church and state, change within the worship life of the church can take place. For, time can be allotted to researching, conceptualizing and implementing ideas regarding the worship life of the church, which would have been otherwise used to conceptualize and implement survival strategies in a hostile context.
The constant awareness that the Church is always competing for the lost souls was another factor contributing to the need for additional elements in Christian Worship. This factor, coupled with visionary leadership, is the main cause of change. Bishop Ambrose of Milan recognizing the need to compete with the Arians for souls, employed new methods and strategies in order to succeed in his endeavors. A "spin off" of this was also the need to maintain the influence of the church on the community. As we enter the Twenty First Century, could the Arts be seriously considered soul-winning tools, or better still, have they been considered serious tools for soul winning?
8. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
So, where do we go from here? If my proposition is acceptable, then it will become increasingly necessary to suggest ways how to "tastefully" introduce/re-introduce the creative arts as vital, viable elements of Christian worship into usually traditional settings. And it is to this that we now turn our attention.
9. HOW TO INTRODUCE/RE-INTRODUCE THE CREATIVE ARTS IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP?
First, the historical overview given above has shown that change comes about when an individual of influence sees the need for change, or is forced by whatever circumstance to recognize the need for change and then act upon it.
- This suggest that the introduction/ re-introduction of the Creative Arts in Christian worship will take place if an individual or a group of individuals see the need for this and are willing to invest themselves and time into making this happen.
Second, the overview also suggested that the time must be right.
- This suggests that the individual/s who see/s the need for change or additions must be sensitive to the existing political, social, and religious conditions both inside and outside the church. Inherent in this is the need for patience.
Another observation from History is the need to educate the congregation.
- This suggests that the individual/s must be able to articulate not just the vision for change but what benefits and improvement will come about as a result of the additions of new methods and material in worship.
Edwards, David L. (1987) The Futures of Christianity an analysis of historical, contemporary and future trends within the worldwide Church. London.
Gentz, William H. (1986) The Dictionary of Bible and Religion U.S.A.
Johnson, Paul A. (1976) History of Christianity London.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. (1975) A History of Christianity, Volume II: Reformation to the Present. Revised Edition. U.S.A
Nave, Orville J. (1969) The New Nave's Topical Bible. U.S.A
Taylor, Mark D. ( ) The Complete Book of Bible Literacy. U.S.A
Vine, W.E. et.al. (1996) Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and
New Testament Words. U.S.A
Mark Minott is presently the Ministry Associate of the George Town Charge of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands where he serves as Pastoral Assistant and Director of Music and Worship Arts.
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