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.
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.
|| 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.
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.
| 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
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.