July 20, 2024



Christian Rock, Worship, and the Church

Church kids had been singing “camp songs” since the 1940s, either acapella or accompanied by acoustic guitar. With the rise of new folk music in the early 1960s, leaders of church youth and camp programs capitalized on this cultural phenomenon by structuring youth programs that included 20-30 minutes of singing of who is jesus choruses. The most effective youth ministers started services with fast songs and gradually slowed down the rhythm as the song lyrics moved, in relationship to Christ, from praise to devotion and holy living. But what went on in the youth services was not typical of the “adult” worship services. At successful churches, the adult service began with an organ prelude, continued with a 40-60 voice choir singing a hymnal “praise” composition, continued with 20 minutes of congregational singing of doctrinally-rich Christian hymns from the 1700-1800s, and ended with a stirring Bible message preached by a good pulpiteer. The doxology was often sung and usually some song of recession was played after the pastor pronounced the benediction and dismissed the adult congregation.

The Cultural Position of the Evangelical Church in 1970

At a typical evangelical mid-western church in the late 1960s, if a kid with long-hair responded to the message invitation, the first thing the deacons did was cut off his offending locks. What was it about long hair on a man which so offended? The church and conservative American politics were blended together in a cultural message that equated Christian holiness in dress and culture with early 1950’s American clothing and grooming style. Furthermore, I Corinthians 11:14 stated, “Doth not even nature itself teach you that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him.?” Seizing on apparent New Testament support for conservative American dress, church leaders initially denounced hippie dress, style, and music, even that of the sincere, but un-churched, Jesus people.

But this backfired. By 1969 evangelical church pastors realized that the youth ministries of their churches had been impacted by the Jesus movement outside the church. Church teenagers saw what appeared to be more love and acceptance among long-haired iconoclasts outside the church than among staid congregants within the church. Church emphasis on maintaining the superficial values of dress, style, and traditional Christian hymnal music seemed at odds with the emphasis of Jesus people on sincerity and devotion of the heart as the primary Christian concern.

The Evangelical Solution

The most thoughtful pastors and Christian leaders knew something had to be done. The static Christian church was in crisis. The less thoughtful pounded the pulpit and shouted, “‘As for me and my house…’ we will remain where Jesus stood,” confusing status quo American culture with Biblical principles.

What did the evangelical church do to stop the flight of Christian youth and evangelize the un-churched in the early 1970’s? They took the historic Christian youth program and moved it from the church camp and an audience of teenagers to the 11:00 am Sunday adult worship service. The choir was disbanded, vocal soloists were condemned as self-glorifying, the organ and grand piano were pushed to the side and teenage musical guitar players replaced the classically trained pianist. The adult congregation began singing youth choruses all the time! The 11:00 am Sunday adult worship service began to resemble a service at a teenage Christian youth camp in the early 1960s. That’s what happened!