Charles Wesley and my Mom
(Pinckneyville, Illinois circa 1972)
The most important thing a church does is engage people in the worship of God, so it does not surprise me that conflict in churches historically centers upon the way we worship. Satan knows that if he can get churches expending energy debating worship styles, they will be all the less likely to actually worship. In our own Methodist tradition, Charles Wesley was hotly criticized for bringing tavern music into the church as many of his hymns used popular English bar-hall melodies. Never mind they allowed non-church people to feel at home in the church because they knew the tunes and never mind the lyrics formed much of their initial theology. Never mind the Methodist movement transformed both England and America. Charles Wesley’s methods were simply more than a good Anglican could stand and that these tavern tunes would be played with so vulgar an instrument as a piano only have exacerbated the tension. Good Anglican Christians asked, “What is this world coming to?” Charles Wesley answered, “This world is coming to Christ!”
I remember the first time we did a chorus at the Oak Grove Baptist church when I was a kid; I think it was the renegade song, “His Banner over Me is Love.” I remember watching people cringe. After all were we not singing a song accompanied by a guitar, the same instrument played by known drug user Jimmy Hendrix? Were we not participating blindly in what were quite possibly hand motions that may have been used in satanic rituals and other secret societies? Could anyone argue this song was to be found nowhere in the Broadman Hymnal and thus was not cleared by God for use in church services? Then I remember when my mom’s high school all-girl singing group Joy covered Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” in church before dad preached. Troubled water indeed! Forget that the young people saw a connection between church, culture and everyday life for the first time. Forget that the lyrics had strong Christian implications and illustrated the text perfectly. Forget that our church was filling up with young people. The guardians of tradition were sure Joy would break into the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” the next week if something were not done and done right now. Wesley was singing in 1772 freaking out the Anglicans and my mom was singing in 1972 freaking out the Baptists; so it certainly appears that whatever controversy you may think is happening in the wide, wide world of church music, it is not new.
True movements of God occur historically when the Holy Spirit temporarily breaks loose from legalistic religious traditions and continues until a new set of legalistic religious traditions are constructed. Revival happens in the spaces between the way we have always done it and the way we will soon be doing it. Revival happens in the moments just after we lose control and just before we regain control again. Revival happens in short windows of opportunity when God raises up courageous leaders to move us from what has always been to what soon will be. It takes courage to try new things and experiment with new expressions of worship; all the while holding fast to the unchanging Gospel message of Christ. To step out like that you need leaders. Thanks Charles Wesley and thanks Jan Bishop for risking everything to connect people with Jesus Christ.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop from “Re:member” (2013)