The Sunday Morning Pop Show


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The Sunday Morning Pop Show

Copyright © 2013 Douglas W Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

Sunday morning is a time for singing God’s praise through psalms and hymns in most Christian traditions. Those praise-songs are formulations of faith, joy and courage; the products of mammoth struggles establishing the principles of the Kingdom of God in an ungodly and ruthless world. Day to day conflict inspired the citizens of heaven to gather regularly to celebrate the ultimate triumph of His Kingdom. Worship in its largest sense, is that whole process of Christian living, not just our community patterns of praise. (That is more accurately called liturgy – a word of which many Christians are wary). In this article I am using the term worship in the more limited sense of our patterns, or styles of praise. But it is important to realize that those patterns are the direct result of the Christian life and struggle that is now 2000 years old.

Worship was the result of the church's victories and defeats, and the consolations of God; the product of her active engagement of the powers of darkness by every person from the pew to the pulpit. Worship in the New Testament sense, was never really intended to be a spectator sport. There was nothing passive about it, and if entertainment had any part to play in worship, it was so small as to be of no lasting consequence. The worship experience instead, was a challenge to the believer to go out the next day, or week and fight again. It was, and is still, consolation, confrontation, challenge, and continuity, always calling us to go further in the future based upon the grace we have experienced yesterday and today.

Psalmody typically has followed liturgical patterns based on the Old Testament which was the Scripture and prayer book of the apostolic church. The book of Psalms, the songs and prayers of Moses, Miriam, the judges and prophets have all been traditionally used in Christian worship. Christian liturgy also has included the prayers, praises and creeds found in the New Testament. This includes many Christological “hymns” (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Tit 3:4-7; 1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Eph 1:3ff, 2:14-16, 5:14; 1 Pet 2:21-25, 3:18-21) and other forms of hymn. A fairly exhaustive compendium of New Testament psalms and hymns has been compiled by John Mark Hicks which I have taken the liberty of quoting below. 1. Hymnic praises in the form of doxologies are another important genre of early Christian liturgy. Doxologies are found in the epistles (Rom 11:36, 16:27; Gal 1:5; Eph 3:20-21; Phil 4:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 13:21; 1 Pet 4:11, 5:11; 2 Pet 3:18; Jude 25) and the book of Revelation (Rev 1:5, 4:11, 5:13, 7:12). 2. Praise-prayers found in the Gospels take on the qualities of both hymn and doxology at times. 3.

Interestingly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word we translate most often as “hymn” is the same word that is used for “psalm” (psalmos). The psalm and hymn are really one and the same. In the New Testament sense hymnody is based in worship and displays doctrinal and ethical standards for the church through that worship. The psalms and hymns are the earliest forms of creeds within Christendom. Therefore they set forth the standard by which we may measure all Christian music. The greatest Christian hymns that have come down to us from the past remain strong affirmations of faith, endurance through tribulation, and doctrinal formulations set forth in liturgical form. The most powerful theology of the church in every generation has always been its worship. The test of a believing community’s seriousness in faith has always been its liturgy (the worship life it maintains) and not merely its theological/ethical pronouncements.

After the Reformation the hymn became a separate genre within Christian music. It retained much of its classic power to confront and encourage the church in her mission, as is witnessed particularly in Martin Luther’s “A mighty Fortress is Our God”. The style and structure of religious music was changing, but the powerful theme remained the same. As the hymn developed more and more away from the psalmody of the early church, its themes as well began to evolve. Many “high” church leaders rejected the move towards hymns as undignified and badly written ditties. Their stuffy rejection of what God was using to reach the masses of the un-churched was unfortunate. Paradoxically, often they were correct, particularly after the Wesleys took the Christian mission back to the highways and byways where it started. Many of the early Methodist hymns were adapted on purpose from older saloon rags, anticipating their appeal to the peasant, the farmer, and the laborer, who would have nothing of the lofty drones from the Church of England. The Methodist hymn had an emotional appeal to the masses that simply could not be found in the Anglican and Catholic forms of worship. It also had a modernity that appealed to the early industrialized society, and which seemed to be missing from the psalmody preferred by the Calvinist Puritans.

Sadly, most of the old hymns and psalms have had little staying power in our own times. We view them as products of dead old and cold Christian traditions that are now as far removed from our upbeat Christian experience as the high church music was from the early Methodists. Now we sing songs from rock bands that are associated with Christianity because Jesus has become the equivalent of our current love interest, or the supporter of our failed attempts at self-redemption. Maybe our attitude is equivalent to the Methodist employment of tavern tunes, but I suspect it is really a fair bit shallower. Still, it occurs to me that the motive is the same: to bring the masses to God by entertaining them.

I do not disparage the modern verses sung in church today as completely ineffectual in leading God’s people into the presence of the Lord. God has powerfully used some of the music of our time to reach both young and old with a fervent love for Jesus. And entertainment is not a completely failed method of promoting the Kingdom of God, so long as it does not stop there. After all the entertainment was over, the Methodists did get around to discipleship. Hopefully, future historians can look back at us and say the same thing.

Still, the "worship" service has taken on the aura of a Sunday morning mini rock concert in many churches. Most of the Christian pop and rock groups, however much they love God, are committed to the entertainment industry ahead of the church community they say they serve. I include in that charge the whole lot of them, from Gospel quartet groups, to black Gospel; from pop Christian song-birds to heavy Christian metal and punk bands. Their goals are to succeed in the music industry first and hopefully that success will somehow transmigrate to the worship experience in the church. At that point, intentional or not, they become change-agents who inculcate the church with the values of the entertainment industry, promoting their own “ministry” rather than the Kingdom of God. And those of us in the pew are left with a Sunday morning rock concert where the extent of our participation is waving our hands, singing and dancing to rock anthems rather than a worship service where we participate in the challenge to be changed.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love most of this music. I have a huge music collection, including all kinds of Christian music, from Gospel quartet to hard rock. But I enjoy it because it is entertaining. Its ability to lead me or anyone else for that matter into the presence of the Lord is dubious to say the least. Its ability to challenge anyone to the deeper life is frail, since it has none of the qualities mentioned at the very beginning of this article; those of consolation, confrontation, challenge and continuity.

I remember the 1980’s, when Petra did a cover of Mott the Hoople’s “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” converting it into a Christian anthem. Mott the Hoople was the same band that took David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” and turned it into the first national anthem of the homosexual community, even before Queen’s more aggressive screed with the same theme “We Are the Champions” was released. Then, Queen’s founder Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, proving the failure of their challenge to society.

Petra certainly never intended to use MTH’s song to undermine Christian worship. They were sincere Christians who sincerely believed rock music was no different from any other form of musical expression, and that every generation has its own genres which often are not appreciated by the previous one. Petra was not rebelling against the church or Christianity. They reacted instead against what was obviously a wrong headed approach to the music of the church that insisted on maintaining old staid patterns that had no relevance to the younger generation they were attempting to reach. God is bigger than the temples we build to contain Him; and old forms of worship that have become dead rituals are temples for destruction just as readily as was the Jewish temple in 70 AD.

The problem in most “seeker friendly” churches is not the musical genre; specifically not the rock/pop oriented music. God has used the music to acquaint Himself with a generation that was both disenchanted with and disenfranchised by the church as they knew it. I am a part of that generation; as were my parents. Many people still hate and criticize the genre of rock/pop music. But let’s be honest: Rock music, electric guitars and keyboards, are simply a part of the evolution of music in general. If that is not true, then we may as well go back to Gregorian Chants, because we will have to continually regress to a time when the music was no longer a scandal. But even that ancient music was scandalous to some body in it’s time. If we could go back to the earliest Christian music, most of us would be praying for the Lord to deliver us because it was so radically different from what we think of as music nowadays. The Western development of the tone row, octaves, and so on, came far later in musical history. Petra, and rock/pop music are radical in the same sense that the early chants were radical.

So what is the problem, or is there one? This is a two-sided question and the last paragraph assumes the first part of this question is true. There is a problem but it is not the music, or at least not the genre. It is too simple to say “Rock and roll is the devil’s music”. That “truism” is false for several reasons, first of which is how we define rock and roll. Rock music is to multi-facetted to be capable of an easy definition. If it is simply a 4/4 beat with a slap on the back-beat similar to African rhythms, then that fails because the counting methods are far more complex in most non-European systems and modern rock is nothing more than a simplification of those other world beats. If on the other hand rock is demonic because it incorporates pagan and sexually suggestive themes, this again fails, because the same problems have been latent in most Western and European music for centuries. You cannot confine the bawdy and licenscious to one musical genre. Lastly, rock music has incorporated quite successfully many Western and World themes and transformed itself into a highly eclectic set of genres, everything from bluegrass to the blues, and punk to progressive symphonic.

So the problem is not the genre (or genres) of rock. This brings us to the second part of the question: Is there a problem? If there is, it is not with rock per se, but rather with how we use music in the church generally. Like any other form of musical endeavor, rock and pop music, the basic 4/4 timed back-beated structure is only a musical device, and the message it carries is the real issue. As we have already implied, all music is capable for carrying a message that is either detrimental or beneficent to the community using it. Rock is no different. It can be used to glorify God or to denigrate faith in Him; to worship or to approbate.

This brings us directly to the problem of music in the church. Let me summarize what we have already learned before we move on. Biblically, and for centuries in both the Eastern and Western church traditions, psalmody (the use of Scripture as the basis of our worship) has had the preeminent place in liturgy. Psalms, creedal formulations, doxologies, and prayers, all found in the Biblical literature were the standard forms of praise. The musical format or genre that accompanied this liturgical tradition evolved through out the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods without much change at all to the content. 4. The psalm and the hymn were virtually the same until the rise of modern hymnody in the Protestant/Reformed liturgical traditions. With the Reformation came a renewed sense that God was working in history and interested in revealing His Kingdom to man in fresh and deeper ways. Christian thinkers often felt imbued with the inspiration of the Spirit, and put their experiences to verse and music. Hymnody gradually became a unique form of Christian music, distinct from the psalmody of the earlier traditions. Many of the “low” church traditions saw the ‘hymn” supplant the use of Scriptural songs and take on a life of its own. This is particularly true in early Methodism, and the missions minded groups that followed it.

There is value in both of these worship traditions and neither should be set aside as if it were the product of a lesser Christianity. The vibrancy of the modern hymn continually reminds us that God’s love is contemporary, that “His faithfulness is great and His mercies daily new”. On the other hand, the ancient tradition of singing the Scriptures instills in the believer a sense of continuity with the cloud of witnesses that have gone before him. It is a way of memorizing the Word of God and instilling its message within the people of God. It is the first form of catechism for early Christians and remained so, along with the creeds for more than 1500 years.

Nowhere did the use of the hymn take on a stronger role as the mold maker of society than in America. The Great Awakening (1730-1760) was Calvinist oriented. The Puritans gravitated to the use of psalmody and looked suspiciously on hymn use. But that first American revival, despite its Calvinist roots, used the styles of Methodism in evangelism, often incorporating hymns along with psalms. The Second Great Awakening (1790-1820) leaned much further toward Methodism and Arminianism, leaning heavily on the use of hymns, and later, on the development of “camp-meetin’” songs.

After the tent revivalists of the Second Great Awakening, hymnody developed even further, taking on, among other elements, Appalachian folk music, and southern field songs. The Abolitionist movement encouraged whites and blacks to sing and pray together; to tear down the segregationism in the church. This was the beginning of what some have dubbed the Third Great Awakening (1850 to the early 1900’s). The Azusa Street revival and early Pentecostalism were the last great flowers of that era. What later became bluegrass and the black spiritual traditions mixed with the camp-meeting hymn traditions during that time, giving rise to “Gospel” music. Gospel music has had more influence on early rock and roll than the other way around. Rock was a secularized version of the camp-meeting, with the gradual addition of electric instruments. Whether the music was camp-meeting, folk, black spirituals, jazz/blues, rock-a-billy, or rock/pop it all was a medley of Americana mixed with a strong dose of Christian fundamentalism.

American music in one way or another was influenced by or was influencing the church. The American Christian music scene developed within the confines of the church, or the revival meeting but it soon began to move out of that setting, becoming the standard bearer for American music in general. Gospel quartet, bluegrass, jazz, blues and rockabilly groups of the 40’s and 50’s all are indebted one way or another to the music of the American church movement. Even up through the 70’s most rock, jazz and pop artists felt the need to pay tribute to their “Gospel” roots by doing an album of hymns, or at least, a Christmas album. Why? Their listeners still strongly identified themselves as Christians. It was a matter of good business just as much as personal faith.

The Jesus Movement was mostly young people converted from the 1960s’ culture of promiscuity and drug experimentation. The youth revival was often equivalent to the Great Awakenings in that it turned the tide of moral decline back for the next several decades, leading up to the present. (It has been referred to as the Fourth Great Awakening by some historians). Young people brought their music with them into the church. Some old line Christians despised them for it, and criticized them mercilessly, assuming that rock and roll was inherently demonic. (We have already seen how much of their own music had the same origins in American popular music). Christian rock was the music of the Jesus Movement, and as young people came back to the church, the music came with them. Like the camp-meeting styled Gospel music before it, its popularity inevitably led to its movement beyond the confines of the religious meeting hall. Like Gospel quartet, bluegrass, and other genres, the market was open because the music was positive, promising, answered psychological and economic needs, and inspired hope for a better future despite present struggles.

In the late 70’s through the 90’s young Christian converts, now marrying and having children, sensed the need for home-bases where they could grow in the faith. Many gravitated to neo-Pentecostal, charismatic and fledgling non-denominational churches. Worship services often de-emphasized the old standard hymns and instead emphasized short repetitious praise-songs, Scripture set to music and congregational singing in tongues. Soon they began to recognize the value of a few old hymns too, and began modifying versions of them as it suited their needs, most typically, “Amazing Grace”. New song and worship leaders with true anointing from God were coming to the fore-front, bringing wonderful lyrical and prophetic gifts to lead congregations into the presence of the Lord. Like their predecessors, many of them moved out of the local churches where they began, believing their “ministries” were ordained by God to expand to larger audiences. Many of them have truly blessed the Body of Christ as a whole, but often this has been at the expense of their relations to the local church, and less frequently, a tendency to compromise with worldly values. This has remained a problem, especially when believers honor musicians about whose lives they know very little, and whose ministries are beyond the purview of the church.

In fact our infatuation with entertainment over content is the problem.

A generation ago the American desire for musical entertainment was fulfilled by TV shows like American Bandstand, Soul Train, and Hee Haw. Before that we had Hullabaloo and Shindig!, Lawrence Welk, or Sing Along With Mitch Miller. The American church was often no different in its desire for entertainment at the expense of worship. (A search for the term “gospel music” on is enough evidence of that.) We forsook ancient liturgical traditions for the light and fluffy regurgitations of Gospel quartets, and then Christian rock. As young people became more serious about the foundations of their faith, the revitalization of psalm singing and praise-based hymns grew. Still many of the new leaders, no less the congregations, remained steeped in the value of entertainment as a form of worship, and began seeking new avenues of expanding their reputations. They allowed themselves to fall into the trap of entertainment based idolatry just as had the song leaders of old camp-meetin’ days.

Without realizing it we have set up idols. Idols of entertainment from the rock and pop music that is so ingrained in American society. Now we can dance and sing to our favorite bands because our worship leaders use their songs to “call” us into the presence of the Lord. If we are a prosperous enough mega-church we can invite rock stars in to “lead” our worship. If we are still a small congregation we can simulate the big pop concert, our worship team leading us in the top forty hits from the Contemporary Christian Music artists. We have our own Sunday Morning Pop Show , the equivalent of a Christian American Bandstand. Come! Spectate! Raise your hands and clap and shout. That is all the participation that is required. The band will lead you in praise.

Praise! Praise! Rock stars love praise. It has great entertainment value. But if you desire to worship you are in the wrong place. Worship is intimate; even communal. It is not about entertainment, but entrainment: the embarkation upon the ancient path of holiness unto the Lord. It requires the heart and soul of a man or a woman or a community, not merely a Sunday morning pop show. It is our incense offering burned up, the libation of our lives poured out, in holy reverence to the King of Kings, our Savior, Lord and God. Worship belongs to the Lord.

End Notes:

1. From John Mark Hicks Ministries:

A. Luke’s Canticles
1. Luke 1:46-55, Hymn to God in third person, “My soul glorifies.”
2. Luke 1:68-79, Hymn to God, “Praise be to the Lord.”
3. Luke 2:14, Hymn to God, “Glory to God.”
4. Luke 2:29-32, Hymn to God, “Sovereign Lord.”

B. Christological Hymns.
1. 1 Timothy 3:16
2. Philippians 2:6-11
3. Colossians 1:15-20
3. John 1:14-18
4. 1 Peter 1:18-21
5. 1 Peter 2:21-25
6. 1 Peter 3:18-21
7. Hebrews 1:3

C. Confessional Hymns
1. 1 Timothy 6:11-16
2. 2 Timothy 2:11-13

D. Sacramental Hymns
1. Ephesians 5:14
2. Titus 3:4-7

E. Meditative Hymns
1. Ephesians 1:3-14
2. Romans 8:31-39
3. 1 Corinthians 13

F. Hymns of the Apocalypse
1. 4:8, Hymn to God, “Holy, holy, holy.”
2. 4:11, Hymn to God, “You are worthy, our Lord and God.”
3. 5:9-10, Hymn to Christ, “You are worthy.”
4. 5:12, Hymn to Christ, “Worthy is the Lamb.”
5. 5:13, Hymn to God and Christ, “Praise.”
6. 7:10, Hymn to God and Christ, “Salvation belongs to…”
7. 7:12, Hymn to God, “Praise.”
8. 7:15-17, Hymn about God’s Promises.
9. 11:15, Hymn about God’s Victory.
10. 11:17-18, Hymn to God, “We give thanks.”
11. 12:10-12, Hymn about God’s Victory and Satan’s Woes.
12. 15:3-4, The Song of the Lamb to God, “Great.”
13. 16:5-7, Hymn to God, “Your are just.”
14. 18:2-3, Hymn about the fall of Babylon.
15. 18:4-8, Hymn of Invitation, “Come out of her, my people.”
16. 18:10,16-17,19-20,21-24, Hymns of Woe on Babylon.
17. 19:1-8, Hallelujah Hymns (5 of them).

2. A very thorough study of the doxologies of the New Testament, and their Old Testament background can be found at Doxologies In The New Testament (pdf)

3. See Hicks above for references.

4. Some people are afraid of the idea that Christian music should be in process, or evolve. This is a failure to recognize the development of worship traditions in the Bible itself; for instance the introduction of choral singing to the Levitical liturgy under King David. (See Peter Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, 2003). Development in New Testament musical themes is noted by Leithart as part of the heavenly worship described by John in the book of Revelation (“Royal Liturgy” on his blog at


Recommended reading on the subject of Christian music:

Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music: From Gregorian Chant to Black Gospel. 1992, Lion Publishing. This is possibly the most thorough contemporary historical study still available.

Delton L. Alford, Music in the Pentecostal Church, 1967, Pathway Press. A small but very thorough study that begins with the Old Testament and moves through much of the history alluded to by me.

Austin C. Lovelace and William C. Rice, Music and Worship in the Church, 1984, Abingdon Press. The text is dedicated mostly to liturgical aspects of Christian music, and less on historical foundations.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the You may contact him at


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