Author: Robin Harris - Worship Leader Mag Nov/Dec 2009
Category: Reconciliation, Orality
[continued from Part 1]
We Went, We Sang, We Conquered…
During the 19th and 20th centuries, as Western and European Christians went out around the world, they were influenced by the prevalent philosophies of their home cultures, such as cultural evolutionism, which asserted that Western culture was the most highly developed and placed “tribal” cultures further down the evolutionary scale. These unchallenged ideas resulted in the musical expressions of the newly encountered cultures being labeled with such descriptors as “primitive” and “heathen” —some even tried to “help” the local music-makers by teaching them to sing in unison and by encouraging the translation of Western Christian songs into local languages. Current practice no longer includes such offensive labels, but neither does it always demonstrate a value for the God-given musical and artistic resources of the host cultures.
Because of the widely accepted view that music is a universal language, it never occurred to most Christian workers that just as they were learning new, complex, and “strange-sounding” languages in order to communicate with local people, they also needed to learn to understand the local music systems. Instead, they brought their Bible in one hand and a hymnbook in the other. Often the Bible was translated into the vernacular, but when it came to the hymnbooks, only the words changed (in translation), not the basic musical language of the songs.
Concerned by the charges of “music colonialism,” a number of missionaries over the last several decades have begun to resist this trend. As they incorporated into their thinking and practice the principles of ethnomusicology (the study of music and culture), missiology (especially biblical contextualization), and the burgeoning field of worship studies, a new breed was born—the ethnodoxologist.
In the late ’90s, profoundly influenced by John Piper’s writing on the connection of worship to missions, worship leader and missionary Dave Hall coined the term ethnodoxology. From the combination of two Greek terms, ethne (peoples) and doxos (praise/glory), Hall defined the term as “the study of the worship of God among diverse cultures” and stressed that worship was “first and foremost a life to be lived, and secondarily an event in which to participate…scripture calls us to both (cf. Ps 95 and Rom 12:1).”
How does that apply to us here at home? Forty years ago Tozer wrote a book in which he described worship as the missing jewel of the evangelical church. If he were alive today, he’d be amazed! At that time, there were no courses or conferences anywhere on the topic of worship. Now it’s a completely different story.
Unfortunately, the “music is a universal language” paradigm has infected our weekly worship gatherings. One of the causes of the worship wars is that we fail to take into account basic differences in music languages—and we don’t accept the cultural and biblical values expressed in those differences. We sometimes judge one another’s music for perceived “goodness” and “badness” on the basis of our own cultural values, not allowing room for the validity of other musical cultures. In the worship debates, ethnodoxologists are joining hands with the multiethnic worship movement to apply the principles of ethnodoxology to our churches here at home.
What’s our goal? We want to see expressions of heart worship in the worldwide global church which embrace the various ethne in their communities, not just the majority culture.
What do you think? Have you seen successful examples of churches doing this? What was the key to their success?