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The History of “Christian Music” – by Worship Leader Magazine

This is an interesting article from the folks at Worship Leader Magazine. It tracks “Christian Music “all the way back to the Old Testament era. It’s fascinating to follow the timeline all the way up to the use of music by The Church today.

Old Testament Era

  • “The morning stars sang together” to herald creation (Job 38:7).
  • Jubal is appointed “the father of all such as handle the harp and pipe” (Genesis 4:21).
  • David’s harp refreshes and restores Saul, so that “the evil spirit would depart from him” (1 Samuel 16:32).
  • King David forms a large choir with orchestra for the tabernacle worship (1 Chronicles 15:16).
  • A minstrel plays as Elisha delivers God’s Word (2 Kings 3:15-16).
  • Music fills the house of God with Glory (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).
  • Singers go out before the army of the Israelites, and the Ammonites and Moabites are destroyed (2 Chronicles 20:21, 22).
  • “A song of praise” will cause many to see, fear and trust the Lord (Psalm 40:1-3).
  • The Lord is praised with trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, stringed instruments, pipe, cymbals, and dancing (Psalm 150:3-6).
  • Musicians are rejected by God for lack of righteousness (Amos 5:23).

New Testament Era

  • Mary sings the Magnificat: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46-55).
  • Jesus sings a hymn with His disciples (Matthew 26:30).
  • Believers are exhorted to speak to one another in “hymns and spiritual songs … to make melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
  • Paul and Silas sing in jail, the prison is destroyed and many are saved (Acts 16:25-31).

Early Christian Era

  • 90 – The Odes of Solomon are written and sung by the early church becoming Christianity’s oldest surviving hymnbook, other than the Book of Psalms.
  • 112 – Pliny writes of Christians gathering at dawn to sing hymns.
  • 300 – Hilary of Poitiers, inspired by Greek hymns, begins writing hymns in Latin which utilize marching rhythms of Roman Legionnaires.
  • 313 – Constantine the Great is converted. Christian worship develops liturgies and rituals.
  • 320 – Ephriam writes hymns for the liturgy.
  • 385 – John Chrysostom warns of pernicious influence of secular music, declaring it “at the root of acts of violence and dishonor, wars and daily deaths.”
  • 388 – The Laodecian Council bans extra-biblical lyrics from congregational singing and deplores handclapping and the use of instruments in worship.

The Middle Ages

  • 578 – Women are banned from church choirs.
  • 590 – Gregory the Great established ritual church music, resulting in Gregorian chants and plainsong.
  • 1100 – Hildegard of Bingen gives concerts in the Spirit which are attended by thousands.
  • 1100 – Popular “Singing Guilds” are formed and hymns are sung in the common language.
  • 1325 – Pope John XX2 forbids extravagances in church music and orders plainsong restored. The Church condemns singing in harmony, saying ‘it almost deprives the ears of the power to distinguish.”
  • 1360 – Reformer John Wycliff declares that sincerity in worship is of more value than form. He declares, “Formalism and elaborate services might hinder true worship.”
  • 1360 – Lollard Movement is established by John Wycliff. They go forth singing and preaching the Word to the common people.
  • 1409 – John Huss declares, “Church music should be by the people and for the people.” He writes hymns and translates other from Latin. Huss’ followers become known has “The Singing Church” and publish the first protestant Hymnal in 1501.

The Reformation

  • 1523 – Luther stresses the importance of congregational singing. He issues a hymnal and composes hymns himself, often taking tunes from secular sources. Luther said, “The devil had no right to all the good tunes.”
  • 1540 – Anabaptists (radical reformers who stress the importance of music in worship and who actively write hymns) are persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants.
  • 1549 – John Calvin warns against ornamental aids to worship and stresses simplicity. He suggests that songs have only one note per syllable. As a result instruments are banned from churches.
  • 1560 – The popularity of Scottish psalters brings psalm singing into homes, to parties, to dinners and onto the streets.
  • 1600 – Puritans, prompted by Calvin, accept only metrical psalms sung in unison by the congregation. Choirs and church organs are condemned and many instruments are destroyed.

The Great Awakening

  • 1701 – Isaac Watts publishes Hymns and Spiritual Songs. He is greatly criticized by the religious establishment for “worldliness.”
  • 1725 – A major revival in Europe and America is marked by an emphasis on singing and praying.
  • 1746 – J.S. Bach, writing music for the “glory of God,” collides with church authorities and is reproved for making “curious variation in the chorale” and “mingling strange tones.” Bach goes over the heads of church superiors by appealing directly to secular authorities so he may continue composing.
  • 1788 – Charles Wesley publishes more than 4,000 hymns. “Why should the devil have all the good music?” he asks.
  • 1792-1857 – Major revivals sweep the U.S. and British Isles. Charles Finney and others use music as part of a broad, national evangelical movement.

Evangelical Era

  • 1863 – William Booth uses drums and brass bands in his ministry in London slums. The Salvation Army is formed and members are arrested for disturbing the peace. Their activities in England, America and India are met with ridicule and violent opposition.
  • 1870 – D.L. Moody becomes the first world evangelist and places great emphasis on music at revival meetings. Ira Sankey becomes Moody’s musical minister and popularizes the gospel song.
  • 1904 – A worldwide awakening occurs at the end of nearly forty years of evangelical advance. It was sparked by the Welsh Revival in which over 100,000 outsiders are converted and added to the churches.
  • 1910-1935 – Evangelist Billy Sunday and song leader Home Rodeheaver use gospel music form in tabernacles across the U.S.
  • 1920 – Charles Fuller pioneers radio evangelism with Rudi Atwood and the Old Fashioned Gospel Hour Quartet.
  • 1923 – Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple begins holding extravagant musical attractions to “get the sinners off the streets.”
  • 1945 – Earl Williams forms the first Christian record label called Sacred Heart Records.
  • 1949 – Evangelist Billy Graham, with the musical team of Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, hold the first citywide campaign in Los Angeles. It receives worldwide attention.
  • 1956 – Geoffrey Beaumont writes folk mass in pop style for the Church of England.
  • 1960s – Several entertaining Christian travel groups form to witness through the pop music sound. The most notable of these was the Spurlows, sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation.
  • 1963 – Vatican II permits vernacular instead of Latin in the mass and encourages participation in singing.
  • 1968 – The Jesus Movement captures international attention. There is a spiritual awakening among the rock generation and thousands are baptized in one summer. The music of the drug culture is appropriated by young Christians for witness, instruction and worship. Jesus rock bands are formed.
  • 1970 – Jesus rock groups begin national and international tours. Meanwhile, evangelical leaders denounce the music of the Jesus Movement. Drumbeat is labeled as “satanic” and a bad moral influence. Jesus rock records are burned.
  • 1971 – New Christian companies begin and products are marketed.
  • 1972 – Various Jesus Movement festivals are held beginning with campus crusade’s Cotton Bowl gathering of 180,000. These festivals spotlight the Jesus rock sound.
  • 1975 – There is a rise of competitive Christian record labels and a growth of conventional entertainment apparatus to produce and promote Christian music (i.e., managers, promoters, agents, etc.).
  • 1977 – National Christian T.V. networks are formed: PTL, TBN, CBN, etc.
  • 1979 – The conversion of Bob Dylan prefigures the widespread avowals of faith by major music figures, most of whom remain in the secular music mainstream.

By Worship Leader January 3, 2012 | 12:01 am

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Art #

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but great topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding
    more. Thanks for magnificent information I was looking for this info for my mission.

    May 4, 2013
  2. Don D #

    excellent summary … would be nice to know what recorded music/CDs exist that best represent these major periods

    February 13, 2015

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