Baptists > Issues > The Music Controversy
 Traditional Gospel Music
     or Contemporary Gospel Music?

"I don't know how many notes I've got left in my pencil, but I know I want them used to glorify God and present His message to the world."   ~ Ralph Carmichael

  Those who recall the 1950s are more than familiar with something called a "hymn book."  They could be found in pew pockets in every Baptist church no matter where you might be attending a service.
   On any given Sunday, you might sing Fanny Cosby's "Blessed Assurance or Ira Sanky's "The Ninety and Nine."  Few services ever concluded without an altar call accompanied by the great invitation hymn, "Just As I Am, I Come."  In fact, this writer publically declared Christ as his personal Saviour in such a setting somewhere around the second or third verse of that great old song.  It was 1965.
   Up to that time, worship services included music that was both inspiring and theological.  Baptists love to sing in their services and the songs of that day told of redemption by the blood, the wonder of the atonement, and the great doctrinal truths that we all hold dear.
   Then the 1960s happened.
   Not only did the American 60s usher in tremendous political and social change, but the "Baby Boomer" generation changed the way we hear music and did so with almost revolutionary abandon.  Popular music went from what is now called Classic Rock 'n Roll to Heavy Metal and even the drug culture produced it's own brand of music called "Acid Rock."
   Meanwhile, back in our Baptist churches, a similar new movement in gospel music was occurring.  Composer Ralph Carmichael is attributed to having influenced what is to date one of the most radical shifts in gospel music in all the history of that genre.
   Carmichael, a pastor's son, grew up in Southern California where he spent his teen years.  His father encouraged his musical talents including paying for private lessons.  In 1944 Carmichale was born again and also enrolled in the Southern California Bible College.  While there, he organized a big band to play gospel music.  After winning an Emmy in 1949, he went to work as a musical director in an LosAngeles Baptist church.  While there, he became associated with motion picture arm of the Billy Graham evangelistic organization.  By the late 70s, he had scored 20 feature films for World Wide Pictures.
   However, it was during the 50s that Carmichal became associated with many of the well known secular recording artists of that day.  He wrote and arranged pop tunes for Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and even served as a musical director for the still popular "I Love Lucy" television series.
   By the 60s, Carmichal was known as one of the most talented music directors in the American pop music industry.  Yet, all of his credits in that field are dwarfed in contrast to his gospel music accomplishments.  His folk-rock church musicals of the late 60s served as the inspiration to blend pop music styles into Christian music and worship services.  He even formed his ownrecording company, Light Records, which produced several albums of what 
has become known as contemporary gospel.  From employing large choirs to using a Moog synthesizer, his original compositions became the template from which the vast range of modern gospel music.  His music has now become woven into the fabric of Baptist worship.
   Therein lies the crux of what has become a major issue amongst Baptists.
   There are those churches who have gone on to incorporate contemporary gospel music into their worship.  Where the piano and organ once ruled the platform, it is no longer uncommon to see band instruments in a Baptist church.  Furthermore, the organ has been replaced by a digital keyboard that can produce all kinds of nice string and horn affects.  Hymn singing has been replaced by "Worship and Praise" songs and lost souls are now being saved while the congregation sings a praise chorus.
   Then, again, there are those churches who refuse to allow any form of contemporary music.  The old hymn books are still firmly planted in their pew pockets.  An acoustical guitar might be allowed but it will not be an electric version nor will there ever be a set of drums or electronic keyboard.  Fanny Cosby and Ira Sanky are still alive and well in these churches and people are still being saved while the second verse of "Just As I Am, I Come" is being sung.
   Thus, the use or non-use of contemporary music has become an issue; not so much with those who employ it but with those who stand in opposition to it.  The more conservative of our brethren believe that this is just one more example of the church allowing the influences of the world to water down the gospel message.  Even the most amiable amongst those who hold this view consider contemporary music as having watered down the great theological themes that was characteristic of gospel music written prior to the 1960s.  In other words, the emphasis on worship and praise music no longer allows for using lyrics that contain words like atonement and propitiation.
   Again, Baptists are reminded that we hold the doctrine of the independency of the local church to be essential.  Therefore, regardless of the musical styles used in our churches, we hold that every congregation has the freedom to make that choice.  If God be in it, then it will be blessed.  If not, then how we use music in worship must be reconsidered if it does not lend itself to preparing the heart to receive the preaching and teaching of God's Word.
 

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