Long-playing worship music is ideal as background music while you work or pray.
You can listen to background worship music as you worship, work and pray – in your chair or even in bed, with CDs and YouTube and Spotify on your phone. YouTube video “Mix” gives you a run of similar recordings – often a surprise.
You could set aside an hour a week – or a day – to worship and pray. I use these YouTube songs as background worship for that, even in bed!
Here are some inspiring recordings you could play while you worship, work and pray. Scroll down to see more.
Whispering Hope – includes the 3rd verse:
Hope, as an anchor so steadfast, Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered, Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come, glad fruition, Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory, Never, O never depart.
‘How Great Thou Art’ is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940) in Mönsterås, Sweden in 1885. It was translated into German and then into Russian and became a hymn.
It was translated into English from the Russian by English missionary Stuart K. Hine, who added two original verses of his own. The composition was set to a Russian melody. It was popularised by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades.
Messiah, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) Words compiled from the Holy Scriptures by Charles Jennens (1700-1773)
Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Friedrich Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible (1611), and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. His servants would often find him in tears as he composed. When he completed “Hallelujah,” he reportedly told his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.” At the end of his manuscript, Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”.
In Part I the text begins with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.
When King George II attended a royal performance of Messiah he stood up for the Hallelujah Chorus in honour of the King of kings. When the king stood everyone in his presence had to stand. So it became the tradition for the audience to stand up when the Hallelujah Chorus is sung, as millions of us have done in honour of the King of kings.
Chorus — Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16 Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings, and Lord of lords
and He shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah!
While writing the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus Handel’s servant discovered him with tears in his eyes, and he exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”
1. Sinfonia (Overture)
2. Tenor Recitative. — Isaiah 40:1-3
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
3. Tenor Air — Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.
4. Chorus — Isaiah 40:5
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
5. Bass Recitative — Haggai 2:6,7; Malachi 3:1
Thus saith the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.
6. Bass Air — Malachi 3:2
But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.
7. Chorus — Malachi 3:3
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
8. Alto Recitative — Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.
9. Alto Air and Chorus — Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 60:1
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
10. Bass Recitative — Isaiah 60:2,3
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
11. Bass Air — Isaiah 9:2
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
12. Chorus — Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
13. Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)
14. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:8,9
There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
15. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:10,11
And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
16. Soprano Recitative — Luke 2:13
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
17. Chorus — Luke 2:14
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.
18. Soprano Air — Zechariah 9:9,10
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Savior. And he shall speak peace unto the heathen.
19. Alto Recitative — Isaiah 35:5,6
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.
20. Alto Air — Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28, 29
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Come unto Him, all ye that labour, that are heavy laden, and He shall give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
21. Chorus — Matthew 11:30
His yoke is easy, and His burthen is light.
22. Chorus — John 1:29
Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
23. Alto Air — Isaiah 53:3; Isaiah 50:6
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.
24. Chorus — Isaiah 53:4,5
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.
25. Chorus — Isaiah 53:5
And with His stripes we are healed.
26. Chorus — Isaiah 53:6
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
27. Tenor Recitative — Psalm 22:7
All they that see Him laugh him to scorn: they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying:
28. Chorus — Psalm 22:8
He trusted in God that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, if he delight in Him.
29. Soprano Recitative — Psalm 69:20
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart; He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him but there was no man; neither found He any to comfort Him.
30. Soprano Air — Lamentations 1:12
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow!
31. Tenor Recitative — Isaiah 53:8
He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken.
32. Tenor Air — Psalm 16:10
But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.
33. Chorus — Psalm 24:7-10
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
34. Tenor Recitative — Hebrews 1:5
For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten hee?
35. Chorus — Hebrews 1:6
Let all the angels of God worship Him.
36. Bass Air — Psalm 68:18
Thou art gone up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even for Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
37. Chorus — Psalm 68:11
The Lord gave the word: great was the company of the preachers.
38. Duetto for 2 Alto Solos and Chorus — Romans 10:15
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
[39. Chorus — Romans 10:18
Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world. Not sung in the original performance.]
40. Bass Air — Psalm 2:1,2
Why do the nations so furiously rage together: why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsels together against the Lord and His anointed.
41. Chorus — Psalm 2:3
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
42. Tenor Recitative — Psalm 2:4
He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.
43. Tenor Air — Psalm 2:9
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. 44. Chorus — Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16 Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings, Lord of lords.
45. Soprano Air — Job 19:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 15:20
I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep.
46. Chorus — 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
47. Bass Recitative — 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
48. Bass Air — 1 Corinthians 15:52, 53
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
49. Alto Air — 1 Corinthians 15:54b
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
50. Duetto for Alto and Tenor — 1 Corinthians 15:55, 56
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
51. Chorus — 1 Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
52. Alto Air — Romans 8:31, 33, 34
If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.
53. Chorus — Revelation 5:12, 13
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power to be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.
Part I 0:00:06 Sinfony. Grave; Allegro moderato 0:02:58 Comfort ye (Accompagnato, Tenoro). Larghetto e piano 0:05:43 Ev`ry valley shall be exalted (Aria, Tenoro). Andante 0:08:49 And the glory of the Lord (Chorus). Allegro; Adagio 0:11:10 Thus saith the Lord (Accompagnato, Basso). Recitativo 0:12:18 But who may abide (Aria, Alto). Larghetto; Prestissimo; Adagio 0:16:03 And He shall purify (Chorus). Allegro 0:18:12 Behold, a virgin shall conceive (Recitativo, Alto). 0:18:36 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Aria, Alto). Andante 0:21:51 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Chorus). 0:23:31 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth (Accompagnato, Basso). Andante larghetto 0:25:39 The people that walked in darkness (Aria, Basso). Larghetto 0:29:25 For unto us a child is born (Chorus). Andante allegro 0:33:26 Pifa. Larghetto e mezzo piano 0:35:36 There where shepherds (Recitativo, Accompagnato; Soprano). Andante; Allegro 0:36:58 Glory to god in the highest (Chorus). Allegro 0:39:00 Rejoice greatly (Aria, Soprano). Allegro 0:43:00 Then shall the eyes of the blind (Recitativo, Alto). [latter version] 0:43:24 He shall feed his flock (Aria, Alto). Larghetto e piano [latter version] 0:47:26 His yoke is easy (Chorus). Allegro
Part II 0:49:35 Behold the Lamb of God (Chorus). Largo 0:52:04 He was despised (Aria, Alto). Largo 1:00:40 Surely (Chorus). Largo e staccato 1:02:18 And with his stripes we are healed (Chorus). Alla breve, Moderato 1:03:48 All we like sheep have gone astray (Chorus). Allegro moderato; Adagio 1:07:37 All they that see Him (Accompagnato, Tenore). Larghetto 1:08:17 He trusted in God (Chorus). Allegro; Adagio 1:10:25 Thy rebuke hath broken His Heart (Accompagnato, Tenore). Largo 1:12:15 Behold, and see (Arioso, Tenore). Largo e piano 1:13:26 He was cut off (Accompagnato, Tenore). Recitativo 1:13:44 But Thou didst not leave His soul in Hell (Aria, Tenore). Andante larghetto 1:15:47 Lift up your heads (Chorus). A tempo ordinario 1:19:10 Unto which of the angels (Recitativo, Tenore). 1:19:28 Let all the angels of God worship Him (Chorus). Allegro 1:20:48 Thou art gone up high (Aria, Alto). Allegro larghetto 1:23:45 The Lord gave the word (Chorus). Andante allegro 1:24:50 How beautiful are the feet of them (Aria, Soprano). Larghetto :__:_ Their sound is gone out (Chorus). A tempo ordinario [missing] 1:29:20 Why do the nations rage (Aria, Basso). Allegro 1:31:57 Let us break their bonds (Chorus). Allegro e staccato 1:33:34 He that dwelleth in heaven (Recitativo, Tenore). 1:33:46 Thou shall break them (Aria, Tenore). Andante 1:35:57 Hallelujah (Chorus). Allegro
Part III 1:39:46 I know that my redeemer liveth (Aria, Soprano). Larghetto 1:45:10 Since by man came death (Chorus). Grave; Allegro 1:47:13 Behold, I tell you (Accompagnato, Basso). 1:47:12 The trumpet shall sound (Aria, Basso). Pomposo, ma non allegro; Adagio 1:55:30 Then shall be brought to pass (Recitativo, Alto). 1:44:45 O death, where is thy sting (Duetto; Alto, Tenore). Andante 1:57:17 But thanks be to God (Chorus). Andante; Adagio 1:59:13 If God is for us (Aria, Soprano). Larghetto; Adagio 2:03:25 Worthy is the Lamb (Chorus). Largo; Andante 2:04:43 Blessing and honour (Chorus). Larghetto; Adagio 2:06:38 Amen (Chorus). Allegro moderato; Adagio
In January 1989 I began as minister of a thirty-five year old church at Beaumont in Adelaide that had suffered numerical decline. It had followed the typical pattern of an inner suburban church with its complex of buildings, a Sunday School of 350 children, and two packed morning services in its heyday of the boom years of Methodism in the fifties and sixties.
In those years the church was a buzz of activity. Its youth group grew as children entered their teens. Membership figures increased as the teenagers took confirmation classes. Church growth was natural and expected. It required no specific strategies. People looked for a neighbourhood church which provided worship, a Sunday School, youth program, and the accepted activities associated with church life at the time.
Gradually the neighbourhood became prime real estate. When the young people married they had to move out to newer suburban areas where land was cheaper. Predicably the congregation declined and grew older. By 1989 an average of 85 people attended the one service on Sunday and a handful of children attended the Sunday School. Many were concerned about the future of this single congregation parish, and the parish leaders had begun discussions with nearby congregations regarding amalgamation.
Regreening in the Spirit’s power
This became for me an experiment in turning a church around. Was it possible to arrest the decline and begin to build again? Would the church have a significant and effective future as well as a dynamic ministry in the name of Jesus Christ?
Early in my first year at this church I found I was also involved emotionally and could not separate my personal feelings from what I discovered and what I believed God had in store for us. Could I lead this church to new life and growth? I personally was most aware of my own need of God’s help and of my need to grow spiritually as the leader of this church.
I was fortunate to be nearing the end of doctoral studies in church growth and renewal. I had also been a consultant in the related area of evangelism for eight years. Hence I came with some knowledge and experience that I believed would help my leadership of this church. However, my experience of working at length with a declining congregation was minimal. I knew that I and they would be very dependent upon the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the interview before my appointment the nominating committee indicated they were seeking someone of my age and experience. They also emphasized their desire to be more effective evangelistically and to reach the neighbourhood for Christ. I intimated my bias for evangelism and sought to know whether they would be open to change and to embrace new directions I might initiate. They agreed, not knowing exactly what would occur in the years to follow.
New goals and direction
I began by getting to know the people and by learning their corporate history. Some had been in the church since its inception. Most had been there for ten or twenty years or more. Very few, if any, were new to the church in recent years. They considered themselves a friendly church but did not have in place ways of welcoming and assimilating new people.
Obviously pastoral work was important. I was led by the Spirit to visit people in their homes. In the first year I listened considerably. I also realized that the people were ready for change and much could happen in the first year. Indeed, some significant developments needed to occur as symbols of hope and as signs of God doing a new thing.
We were to engage in a stewardship program in June of my first year. Planning for this two year stewardship cycle had to begin early. So I talked with my parish council and elders about their aspirations and yearnings for the church. It was obvious there were no common goals, no specific direction, no vision to fire the imagination and to prompt people to give freely. Therefore in the April of 1989 we gathered forty people, key leaders and interested people for a seven hour session of reflection, evaluation, waiting on the Lord and goal setting.
We met on a Sunday afternoon and evening with a shared tea. At the end of the time we had established ten specific goals that we could work towards in 1989-1990. These became strategic in the life of the church and did much to harmonize people around a common direction. It gave purpose to the stewardship program which was successful and assured the church of financial resources for the ensuing years.
In the weeks preceding the goal setting I preached on the nature of the church using New Testament imagery such as the Body of Christ, the vine and the branches, and the picture of living stones given in 1 Peter 2:410. This supported the truth that theology is the basis of renewal.
Although there are simple practical strategies that are easily overlooked, true growth is biblically and theologically founded. It occurs through the Spirit of God renewing both people’s lives and the structures that enable us to live in community.
Theology of renewal
Theology became for us the very essence of renewal. How we understood and experienced God and the covenant determined our attitudes, expectations and actions. The term ‘the body of Christ’ became important as a description of who we were. It affirmed three main truths about the church:
1. There is to be corporate growth in unity and maturity.
2. Growth occurs as the variety of gifts of the people, given by the Spirit, are used in complementary fashion.
3. The church is a living organism with Jesus Christ in authority as the supreme head of the body.
Emphasizing a gift theology, inherent in the Uniting Church Basis of Union, we held a gift workshop in the spring of my first year. This examined the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians
4. It had practical application and included a process by which the participants could begin to identify their special gifts for ministry.
In Ephesians, Paul describes a church in which all the members are to be equipped for the work of ministry. He does not envisage a church where only a few are engaged in ministry or where most are consumers rather than participants. Ministry is done by the whole church, by Christians working in concert. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Harmonious cooperation and the complementary use of gifts far surpasses the results of individual Christians working alone and independently. One of the priority tasks of church leaders is to help the members discover their gifts for ministry, to develop such gifts, and to channel them into effective areas of service.
Equipping people for ministry
To enhance the pastoral ministry of the congregation a Caring Committee was appointed by the elders council. This group believed that the ministry should be according to one’s spiritual gifts and not by virtue of the office one might hold.
We identified over thirty people gifted in pastoral ministry and called them together to discuss the ministry model we had in mind and to provide instruction on how to make effective pastoral visits. An eight week care workers course followed in the next year. The result is that we now have a team of people who visit members and others associated with the church. This provides a network of care in which no one need be overlooked. The visitors meet about three times a year to discuss their ministry and to review their list of people.
Another person, gifted in administration and with deep compassion, coordinates a special caring program whereby practical help is given to those with special needs.
In our church we no longer allocate each elder to a group of members. Some elders are not gifted pastorally but have other excellent gifts. Any elder is available to anyone according to need and relationships that are established. We work on the principle that the elders are responsible to see that visiting occurs and are there to release the gifts of those who can do it well.
Other gifts have emerged under this theology. We appointed an honorary administrator who retired from the business world but who obviously brought a wonderful gift in administration. His work of about ten hours a week has involved two mornings a week at the church office. I arranged to be at the office on those mornings as that increased efficiency and communication. Opening the church office on these two days improved the church’s profile and made its leaders more accessible.
Many music gifts lay dormant in our worship. We had a very good choir and a couple of proficient organists. The piano in the sanctuary, however, was rarely used. To cater for increasing numbers at worship we added an additional morning service in August 1989. This provided more options. The 9 am service became family oriented and only on occasions is the pipe organ used at this service. Instead, an orchestra sometimes numbering seven or eight has provided the music.
Introducing new songs and installing a screen for use with overheads enlivened the worship and provided greater variety. Our work with musicians includes workshops for worship leaders. We have many unused gifts in this area that we wish to employ. The commencement of a regular 7 pm service has created other opportunities for lay leadership, especially by youth. By 1992 the aggregate number at worship had grown to about 200 and the average age is much less than it was in 1989.
We had demographic data available to us on that first planning day and we discovered that the surrounding community contained more younger people than was reflected in the church. Fifty per cent of the population in the parish area is under forty years of age. With this in mind, and trusting in God, we set about embracing the future with confidence. Now our Sunday School is growing, we operate a creche, and we have a growing youth movement.
Believing prayer is central to the renewal that is occurring. A prayer chain has operated in the church for many years. Its members, all ladies, meet over lunch once a month. Here prayer needs are shared. Another early morning prayer group has begun as a spin off from 7 am services on Wednesdays during Lent. A number decided to meet every Wednesday at that time and so a group of ten, including men, have gathered faithfully to pray for people and for the church. A focus of our prayer is the renewal of the church and for effective evangelistic ministry. Our church also offers prayer for healing, primarily during ministry time following services of worship.
Group life has also received attention. New home groups and Bible study groups have commenced to provide opportunities for people to engage in study, to offer and receive ministry, and to enhance fellowship. These meet according to needs and availability. They very from weekly to monthly gatherings.
At the heart of what is occurring in our church is our belief that God is continuing the renew us and, while giving ministry in the present, is preparing us to embrace God’s unfolding future. We understand that renewal is the ongoing renewing by God of the church. It is dynamic, never static. It is not an achieved state. It is not the end but the way. To be in renewal is to be journeying with God in the presence of believers.
The primary theological ground for renewal is the kingdom of God. Renewal is not the result of human effort although we are able to respond to God’s renewing activity in ways which appropriate such activity. Renewal is the work of God that points to the coming reign of God in the lives of persons and community.
The kingdom of God is neither entirely present nor entirely future. It is here now, is coming, and will come. This gives perspective to renewal. It enables the church to be a community of hope. This orientation points to what is to be as a reality greater than what has been. As such it is a very powerful motivator for Christian living and ministry. It creates vision which fosters hope and incentive.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we have been led to preach that the church is a community premised on the promise of what is to be. We are not simply to adjust to present reality, nor only to patch up here and there or even seek to recover what was. Renewal points to transformation, embracing the new. Hence we pray ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10).
We believe that the ultimate purpose of the church is to glorify God and to be an agent of God in establishing the unity and wholeness of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:910). The church is a servant of the kingdom of God.
In witnessing to the wholeness of God’s kingdom we seek to demonstrate unity, forgiveness, reconciliation and new relationships. One of the most important factors in our witness is the quality of our corporate life in Christ lest our words be empty and our theology barren. We endeavour to be spiritually renewed, our motivation enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We seek a genuine growth in holiness that releases the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our church is on the way. In some quarters we struggle with conservatism but we endeavour to listen to one another, recognizing the Spirit of Christ in us all. We also use appropriate practical strategies that can be learned from church analysis and church growth. We are down-to-earth and pragmatic. But we endeavour to place God at the centre knowing that unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain. Renewed in the power of the Spirit we wish to be living stones, built into a spiritual house of God (1 Peter 2:5).
(c) Renewal Journal 2: Church Growth (1993, 2011), pages 35-42.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright intact with the text.
Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
The phone rang as I sat to type this page. A man from Norfolk Island who had attended a ‘Catch the Fire’ renewal service held at Tingalpa Uniting Church in Brisbane phoned me to say how he was delighted with the meeting. He said “The worship at that meeting rode the wind like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
I had the privilege of speaking there, and found (as seems common now) that stories today of God’s current acts continually illustrate comments from Acts 3:19-21 where Peter called for repentance so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. They still do.
The church was full at that meeting, so after extended times of worship and teaching we stacked the chairs at the sides, leaving room for our prayer team from the Renewal Fellowship to pray for all who desired it. Many did. I prayed for minsters and their wives. The Lord seemed to touch many deeply, as he is doing all over the world. The host minister said later that he could not rise from the floor. While there the Lord spoke clearly into his heart, telling him he was loved just as he was, not for what he did, for he is a child of God.
We continued to worship late into the night with songs of love and compassion, including some spontaneous love songs. The pianist played harmonies as I read from Daniel 7 and Revelation 7 about the majesty and glory of the Lord. That prophetic music not only magnified the reading and exalted the Lord, but ministered powerfully into people’s lives.
The man from Norfolk Island attends the Uniting Church there, where this kind of worship and ministry has been happening recently this year. They had not seen that since the days the island was founded by the Pitcairn people. The church on Norfolk Island began in such revival. People were regularly overwhelmed by the Spirit then as they cried out to God in their need.
Increasing numbers of people now report on these fresh touches of God and the deep refreshing from the Spirit of the Lord.
Is it revival? Most say, not yet. But it may be the beginnings of revival. Church leaders in Argentina now see revival with thousands upon thousands being saved and filled with the Spirit. They say that many churches had these times of renewal and refreshing for five years with increasing intensity until revival broke upon them.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist prince of preachers who lived through revival in London in the late 1850s, called it a time of ‘glorious disorder’. Revival is unpredictable. Often disturbing. Like Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6) we find ourselves overwhelmed, convicted, aware we are unclean, undone, and needing to be made right with God. Just a small touch of the glory of God is unnerving, and obviously beyond anything we can comprehend or control.
However, we can respond. With repentance. With humility. With unity. With prayer. With love for God and one another. With worship.
New dimensions of worship
Many of us are living through further dimensions of worship now. Some of us began experiencing corporate worship in a structured one hour church service. Sometimes the Spirit seemed to move upon us and the singing would take off, the preaching was inspired, and people responded at the altar call for prayer and counselling. That still happens.
Then we began experiencing more of the Lord’s grace (charisma) and power. We longed for fuller, freer worship. People began composing new songs of worship, praise and response, including Scripture in song. Those songs quickly spread worldwide. As with hymns of earlier revivals, the best remain in widespread use. Others fade away. Only a few of Charles Wesley’s 6,000 hymns still remain, but they are great!
Now in further touches of the Spirit we find some of the new songs and old hymns helpful, but limiting. Increasingly we worship with spontaneity. Harmonies and melodies and spontaneous songs blend with the best of the new songs and old hymns in creative expressions of worship.
This year I was able to worship in many places including the Philippines, Ghana, Toronto, Anaheim, and in meetings in Australia from Perth to Brisbane. Often powerful spontaneity found expression in extended worship. Many times we worship in harmonies and Spirit songs for extended periods.
All the revivals I’ve read about experienced this. We will see much more yet.
This issue of the Renewal Journal explores many dimensions of worship. John & Carol Wimber describe intimacy with God. Geoff Bullock reminds us of our mission. Dorothy Mathieson gives prophetic challenge. Robert Tann and Robert Colman explore healing in worship. Lucinda Coleman surveys the history of dance in worship. Stephen Bryar and Stan Everitt comment on the significance of renewal. I reflect on worship in revival.
Worship God (Revelation 22:9). That command in the last chapter of the Bible points the way ahead for us now, and forever.
Blacker, John. 1995.Healing in the Now. Melbourne: Australian Renewal Ministries.
John Blacker has authored this book bringing together his observations and experience from 25 years of ministering in renewal and healing across the body of Christ in Australia. John has served the church as a Methodist and Uniting Church minister and with his wife Val and son Paul has been active in the work of the Australian Renewal Ministries.
The privately published book gives a solid biblical and practical basis for the healing ministry in the church, and is the kind of manual many church groups find useful for training their people in prayer and counselling ministries.
In addition to John’s valuable insights, the Appendix offers useful articles by others. Paul Blacker writes on ‘Healing Pain and Grief’. Dan Armstrong writes on ‘Healing and Evangelism’. Owen Salter’s positive reflections on ‘The Toronto Blessing’ style of ministries is reproduced from On Being. The articles on worship and healing by Robert Tann and Robert Colman, reproduced in this issue of the Renewal Journal are from that Appendix.
This is a significant Australian book on the practical application of the healing ministry in the life of the church. It is available from Australian Renewal ministries, 1 Maxwell Court, Blackburn South, Victoria 3130. Ph. (03) 9877 0103; Fax: (03) 9877 0106 (G.W.)
Kaldor, Peter, et.al. eds. 1994. Winds of Change: the experience of church in a changing Australia. Sydney: Lancer.
Reporting on the National Church Life Survey of Protestant churches in Australia, this book provides a wealth of valuable insights on the significant trends changing the church in our lifetime.
They survey was completed by over 300,000 church attenders in around 8,000 congregations in August 1991.
Some of its quotable quotes:
‘Around 20% of all attenders at church have spoken in tongues, including 30% of 20 to 30 year olds. Nearly half of those speaking in tongues attend nonPentecostal churches. …
‘One in every eight attenders has switched denominations in the past five years. Around 23% of all switching has been from nonPentecostal to Pentecostal denominations, with 9% switching in the opposite direction. …
‘Australia is a nation of small congregations. More than half have fewer than 50 people. At the same time, most growth is occurring in larger congregations. These are particularly attractive to the post World War II generations’ (pp. viiix).
Chapter 6 ‘A Wind Shift Rocking the Churches: The charismatic movement in Australia’ has special interest for those involved in renewal. Some quotes from that chapter:
‘The charismatic movement knows no bounds. It has had an impact in all denominations, all socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and all age groups especially the young.
‘The charismatic movement has been the impetus for some of the most significant and profound changes in church life in recent times. It has gained increasing importance in a range of churches across Australia.
‘One of its key characteristics is that it is in flux: small meetings grow to mega churches, others flourish for a period and then disappear. Change is rapid, even unpredictable; the movement shows no respect for institutional boundaries. Denominations of all shapes and sizes, and waving a wide variety of theological banners, are having to respond in some way. … ‘NonPentecostal tongues speakers are not just concentrated in a few charismatic congregations but spread widely. …
‘There is a relationship between attitudes to speaking in tongues and involvement in congregational life. Those who speak in tongues are more involved, tend to feel a greater sense of belonging or have roles in the congregation. They are also much more likely to feel they are growing in their faith. … ‘Likewise those who speak in tongues are more likely to be involved in evangelistic activities, feel they exert a Christian influence, be happy to talk about their faith or invite others to church. In contrast, they are less likely to be involved in community groups. …
‘It is important to recognise the scale of its impact beyond the Pentecostal churches. Even allowing for Pentecostal groups not involved in the survey, nonPentecostal tongues speakers account for a third of all attenders. Nearly all denominations contain a significant procharismatic sector’ (pp. 7489).
The book, of course, ranges much wider than these issues. It is highly recommended for leaders in churches to become aware of the sweeping changes we are now living through and contributing to. [G.W.]
Kaldor, Peter, et. al. eds. 1995. Views from the Pews. Adelaide: Openbook.
Some general comments covered in this further book by the National Church Life Survey team:
Most church attenders are satisfied with the leadership in their churches, but about a quarter of them think their leaders are out of touch with people in the pew. Pentecostals generally see their minister as the one who provides the vision for the church, but this is not so in some denominational churches.
Pentecostals generally reject liturgical frameworks in worship, such as vestments, prayer books and set liturgies, and a majority of worshippers in mainline churches do not find them helpful.
Generally tongues speakers in all churches have a more literal interpretation of the Bible and hold to more traditional moral values and beliefs. Charismatics in denominational churches and Pentecostals rate highest in having an experience of God which involves healing, believing in evil spirits, and in Bible reading. Answers to prayer seem to be evenly distributed across all groups!
Again, this is a useful book for church leaders to increase awareness of the attitudes and trends in the congregations of all Protestant churches. [G.W.]
Norling, Alan. 1994. Jesus the Baptiser with the Holy Spirit. Sydney: Alken Press.
‘At last a book on the Holy Spirit that is Christ centred!’ comments Brian Willersdorf. ‘Allan Norling has made a most valuable contribution to the subject of “Being baptised in, of, by or with the Holy Spirit” … Allan talks of a “new approach” to the subject, but all he is doing is cutting through the accumulation of church cultures and attitudes to present a well written approach to what the Bible has to say about being filled with the Holy Spirit.’
Described by one writer as a multiwave approach to the subject, this book describes being baptised in or with the Spirit as on going encounters of Jesus with and in the believer.
Allan Norton, summarising his approach, says ‘The “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is shown to be a repeated experience in the life of a Christian believer. Jesus will be seen to be more personally, actively and intimately involved with us in every detailed piece of authentic ministry. We will become aware of Jesus working with us, baptising us afresh with the Holy Spirit, each time He uses us in ministry.’
The book provides an evangelical approach to the mystery and majesty of Jesus’ impact in our lives through his Spirit.
Available from the author, PO Box 219, Beecroft, NSW 2119, Australia (G.W.).
Worship in revival is awe-inspiring. The Holy Spirit moves powerfully upon us. The worship is Spirit-led. Spontaneous. Unpredictable.
Its local forms vary. The essence of revival worship, however, is the same everywhere. It involves a growing awareness of and response to the glory and sovereignty of God. The Lord moves upon his people, touching lives deeply.
Revival worship always brings repentance. Often in tears. Sometimes with joy. We grow more sensitive and responsive to the Lord’s leading. We stay longer in his presence. Prayer abounds in song, word and silence. Musicians may play inspired music as David did, and darkness flees. Songs blend and flow in creative harmonies, no longer tied to books or overheads. Sung melodies lead into solos, singing in the Spirit, prophetic songs and words, Scriptures sung and said.
Sometimes stillness reigns in holy awe and silence. Sometimes worship swells in a crescendo of exultation. Sometimes tears blend with wondering joy and repentance. Sometimes a wave of spontaneous clapping expresses worship in wordless adoration, acknowledging the great glory of our God.
Some people may be standing, some sitting, some kneeling, some lying prostrate on the floor, some dancing. Many raise their arms in adoration. Many open their hands in submission. Many have their eyes closed as they focus on the Lord in love, adoration, gratitude, surrender.
How can we enter this dimension of worship more fully?
We don’t need to wait until we are perfect. We’ll be in heaven then!
We come in our weakness. As we become more aware of God’s glory and presence we also become more aware of our sin and utter dependence on God for cleansing and forgiveness. So did Isaiah in his worship in the Temple (Isaiah 6).
We repent. There’s no end to that one! Mostly we repent before God as his Spirit convicts us. We repent of so much. Hard hearts. Unbelief. Pride. Envy. Jealousy and competition. Status seeking. Unloving thoughts, words and deeds. Self-interest. Blindness to others’ needs. Materialism. Individualism. Disobedience. Fear, especially fear of people’s opinions.
We pray. And pray. And pray. Especially personally, and also together. We seek the Lord. We wait on God. We listen for his word, his leading. We open our hearts to intimacy with our loving, holy Lord. We meditate on Scripture, communing with its author as we do so. The quality of our worship is related to the quality of our time alone with God, waiting on him, seeking his face, loving him. That may include hours communing with the Lord in the stillness of the night..
We begin to respond to the Spirit more fully, more freely. We find that prepared ‘orders of service’ rarely fit revival worship (unless charismatically given by the Spirit). We need to be flexible and responsive to the leading of the Spirit. Those called and anointed by God for leading in worship need to be especially sensitive to his gentle direction. They, in turn, release and encourage others to respond to the Spirit in worship.
We usually begin learning this kind of worship in small home groups. The same principles apply in large gatherings. There, the worship leaders’ anointing and gifting facilitate worship among all the others.
We sing and pray less about God and more to God. Worship is intimate. People may spontaneously change words of well-known songs to make them personal and prayerful – You are Lord; you are risen from the dead and you are Lord … You are exalted, our King you’re exalted on high … Your name is wonderful, Jesus my Lord …
We need musicians who harmonize with the worship. That often involves playing harmonies to accompany free singing or singing in the Spirit. It does not require only those who can play by ear, although that can help. Those who read the music need to know where to find it – quickly. Songs used frequently can be arranged alphabetically, for example. Anointed musicians will often play prophetically – just music, as the Spirit leads. Musicians may ‘hear’ it in the Spirit and express it (though somewhat reduced!) on their instruments.
We respond to God in many ways as we worship. The variety of response is endless! It varies from meeting to meeting. When did God decree a 20-minute sermon after half an hour of singing? His word may come in the first 10 or 15 minutes of worship and the rest of the meeting may be a response to that word. When did God decree that prayer for repentance would come at the end of the meeting? It may come early in the worship as the Spirit leads, followed by cleansed, powerful worship.
We find the Spirit leads us in harmony, but many people may be doing many different things at the same time – eyes open, and closed; standing, sitting, kneeling, dancing, and lying prostrate; weeping, and joyful; some may have visions while others intercede and others minister in love and others adore the Lord and others bring prophetic insights.
We preach differently – more like Jesus. Speaking often mingles with testimonies and shares stories of God’s mighty acts – last week or last month. Prepared outlines are often blown away in the strong wind of the Spirit. We learn to ride the wind more often.
We worship more in quantity and quality than before. An hour grows to two; two to three; three to four or more. It’s like praying. Our time with God grows in quantity and quality.
Immediately we think of obstacles. There are many.
If your congregation is not yet ready for this, begin with those who want to. Be led by the Lord. That may be in a home group. It may be a weeknight meeting. It may be Sunday night. Our Renewal Fellowship was all of those. It began as a home group. It grew into an open meeting on Friday nights. It then included Sunday nights.
As the worship time deepened and extended we began saying, ‘If you need to go, slip away anytime.’ Few did. Most wanted to stay, and the meetings gradually became half nights of prayer and worship. Many stayed after supper, or during supper, for prayer, for waiting on God, and for ministry to one another.
We began to realise the Lord was leading us to worship more fully, wait on him more fully, respond to him more fully. Our charismatic or renewal traditions are being transformed into something like revival worship.
The outward forms vary. They express the growing inner worship which involves loving God more fully, yielding more fully, repenting more fully, believing more fully, obeying more fully.
The contrast between our usual charismatic worship and revival worship is a little like the difference between the old-time church prayer meetings and renewal home prayer groups. The church prayer meetings I attended as a teenager had some hymns, a Bible study talk, and then individuals stood to pray in King James English. Not wrong. Just limited. In home groups we learned to worship more spontaneously, share ‘words’ from the Lord, discuss and respond to the Bible study, pray specifically for one another, including asking and believing to be filled with the Spirit and learning to use the gifts of the Spirit.
Now, as the same Spirit moves ever more powerfully in the earth, as revival fires are blown from scattered flickers to conflagrations, and as we learn to respond more fully to the Lord in the power of his Spirit, revival worship spreads across the land.
It is not new. It has all happened before. Often.
Revival Worship in the Great Awakening
Awesome worship is common in revivals. As God’s Spirit moves on growing numbers of people their worship grows stronger, and longer. Many people have continued for hours, late into the night, or throughout the day, worshipping and responding to God.
Some revivals, at their height, saw people come and go continually as worship, conviction, repentance, confession, and testimony blended with singing, praying, weeping, exalting, and honouring God in lives transformed by his grace and glory.
Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the presence and glory of God. Many fall to the ground.
Here are examples from the first Great Awakening.
Moravians. Among the Moravian refugee colony on the estates of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf in Germany during 1727, the community of about 300 adults put aside their theological differences and prayed together in repentance, humility and unity. Revival flamed in August.
At about noon on Sunday August 10th, 1727, the preacher at the morning service felt himself overwhelmed by a wonderful and irresistible power of the Lord. He sank down in the dust before God, and the whole congregation joined him ‘in an ecstasy of feeling’. They continued until midnight engaged in prayer, singing, weeping and supplication.
On Wednesday, August 13th, the church came together for a specially called communion service. They were all dissatisfied with themselves. ‘They had quit judging each other because they had become convinced, each one, of his lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this communion to be in view of the Saviour.’
They left that communion at noon, hardly knowing whether they belonged to earth or had already gone to heaven. It was a day of outpouring of the Holy Spirit. ‘We saw the hand of God and were all baptized with his Holy Spirit … The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst. Scarcely a day passed from then on when they did not witness God’s almighty workings among them. A great hunger for God’s word took hold of them. They started meeting three times daily at 5 am, 7.30 am, and 9 pm. Selflove and selfwill and all disobedience disappeared, as everyone sought to let the Holy Spirit have full control.
Two weeks later, they entered into the twenty-four-hour prayer covenant which was to become such a feature of their life for over 100 years… ‘The spirit of prayer and supplication at that time poured out upon the children was so powerful and efficacious that it is impossible to give an adequate description of it.’
Supernatural knowledge and power was given to them. Previously timid people became flaming evangelists (Mills 1990:2045).
That revival produced 100 German missionaries within 25 years, some of whom had a strong impact on John and Charles Wesley, resulting in their conversion.
Methodists. 1739 saw astonishing expansion of revival in England. On 1st January the Wesleys and Whitefield along with 60 others including Moravians, met at Fetter Lane in London for prayer and a love feast. The Spirit of God moved powerfully on them all. Many fell to the ground, overwhelmed. The meeting went all night.
‘About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer,’ John Wesley recorded in his Journal, ‘the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’ This Pentecost on New Year’s Day confirmed that the Awakening had come and launched the campaign of extensive evangelization which sprang from it (Wood 1990:449).
American Colonies. Jonathan Edwards described the characteristics of the Great Awakening in the American colonies as, first, an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness and holiness of God, and second, a great longing for humility before God and adoration of God. He published books still being studied today to help us understand revival.
All these revivals stirred up excesses as well. Wise and firm leadership helped to keep the focus biblical and responsive to the Spirit.
Revival Worship this century
The twentieth century has seen countless local revivals with similar phenomena. They now increase worldwide.
Welsh Revival. The century began with worldwide revivals. Best known is the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. Oswald Smith described it this way:
It was 1904. All Wales was aflame. The nation had drifted far from God. The spiritual conditions were low indeed. Church attendance was poor and sin abounded on every side.
Suddenly, like an unexpected tornado, the Spirit of God swept over the land. The churches were crowded so that multitudes were unable to get in. Meetings lasted from ten in the morning until twelve at night. Three definite services were held each day. Evan Roberts was the human instrument, but there was very little preaching. Singing, testimony and prayer were the chief features. There were no hymn books, they had learned the hymns in childhood; no choir, for everybody sang; no collection, and no advertising.
Nothing had ever come over Wales with such farreaching results. Infidels were converted; drunkards, thieves and gamblers saved; and thousands reclaimed to respectability. Confessions of awful sins were heard on every side. Old debts were paid. The theatre had to leave for want of patronage. Mules in coal mines refused to work, being unused to kindness! In five weeks, twenty thousand people joined the churches (Olford 1968:67).
Azusa Street Revival. William Seymour began The Apostolic Faith Mission located at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles on Easter Saturday, 14 April 1906 with about 100 attending. Blacks and whites, poor and rich met together in this radical company which grew out of a cottage prayer meeting.
At Azusa, services were long, and on the whole they were spontaneous. In its early days music was a cappella, although one or two instruments were included at times. There were songs, testimonies given by visitors or read from those who wrote in, prayer, altar calls for salvation or sanctification or for baptism in the Holy Spirit. And there was preaching. Sermons were generally not prepared in advance but were typically spontaneous.
W. J. Seymour was clearly in charge, but much freedom was given to visiting preachers. There was also prayer for the sick. Many shouted. Others were ‘slain in the Spirit’ or fell under the power. There were periods of extended silence and of singing in tongues. No offerings were collected, but there was a receptacle near the door for gifts …
Growth was quick and substantial. Most sources indicate the presence of about 300350 worshippers inside the forty-by-sixty-foot whitewashed wood-frame structure, with others mingling outside… At times it may have been double that… The significance of Azusa was centrifugal as those who were touched by it took their experiences elsewhere and touched the lives of others. Coupled with the theological threads of personal salvation, holiness, divine healing, baptism in the Spirit with power for ministry, and an anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, ample motivation was provided to assure the revival a longterm impact (Burgess & McGee 1988:3136).
Hebrides Revival. Duncan Campbell, ministered in revival in the Hebrides Islands of the northwest coast of Scotland in 1949. At the close of his first meeting in the Presbyterian church in Barvas the travel weary preacher was invited to join an all-night prayer meeting! Thirty people gathered for prayer in a nearby cottage. Duncan Campbell described it:
God was beginning to move, the heavens were opening, we were there on our faces before God. Three o’clock in the morning came, and GOD SWEPT IN. About a dozen men and women lay prostrate on the floor, speechless. Something had happened; we knew that the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered. We left the cottage at 3 a.m. to discover men and women seeking God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy. There was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep (Whittaker 1984:159).
When Duncan and his friends arrived at the church that morning it was already crowded. People had gathered from all over the island, some coming in buses and vans. No one discovered who told them to come. God led them. Large numbers were converted as God’s Spirit convicted multitudes of sin, many lying prostrate, many weeping. After that amazing day in the church, Duncan pronounced the benediction, but then a young man began to pray aloud. He prayed for 45 minutes. Again the church filled with people repenting and the service continued till 4 a.m. the next morning before Duncan could pronounce the benediction again.
Even then he was unable to go home to bed. As he was leaving the church a messenger told him, ‘Mr. Campbell, people are gathered at the police station, from the other end of the parish; they are in great spiritual distress. Can anyone here come along and pray with them?’ Campbell went and what a sight met him. Under the still starlit sky he found men and women on the road, others by the side of a cottage, and some behind a peat stack all crying to God for mercy. The revival had come.
That went on for five weeks with services from early morning until late at night or into the early hours of the morning. Then it spread to the neighbouring parishes. What had happened in Barvas was repeated over and over again. Duncan Campbell said that a feature of the revival was the overwhelming sense of the presence of God. His sacred presence was everywhere (Whittaker 1984:160).
The seventies. We saw touches of renewal and revival in the early seventies when the charismatic renewal had spread into many churches including Catholic prayer groups and communities. A wave of independent charismatic fellowships emerged then also. Revival spread in Canada. The ‘Jesus people’ in America captured media attention. Repentance and touches of revival spread through many colleges, especially Asbury College, and students went out in powerful mission.
The nineties. Now new thrusts of the Spirit disturb us again. For over two years many people worldwide have seen increasingly powerful moves of the Spirit. These include massive crowds with Reinhard Bonnke and others in Africa, huge crusades with healing and miracles in Latin America, miraculous visitations across China, refreshing associated with many ministries which the secular media has lumped together and called the ‘Toronto Blessing’. Reports tell of over 7,000 churches in Great Britain touched by this outpouring of the Spirit. Once again, colleges and schools have experienced sweeping times of public repentance, restitution and reconciliation through 1995, especially in America. Some of it began at Howard Payne University in Brownwood in Texas and spread nationally, including all night prayer and testimony meetings such as at Wheaton College. Students and staff have witnessed publicly in churches, camps and conferences.
Blessing and Refreshing. During the last few years, reports continue to grow of God’s blessing and the refreshing of thousands of churches in North America, England, Europe, and around the world. Some ministers are seeing more conversions than in all their previous ministry.
The worship often has touches of revival. Spontaneous moves of God’s Spirit result in extended times of singing, praying, testifying, repenting, and being anointed for service and ministry. Many are overwhelmed, resting on the floor. Some experience unusual phenomena, including spontaneous laughter and joy. Some tremble. Healings increase.
Australians continue to tell of fresh moves of the Spirit now.
Jeff Beacham (1995:32) reported on a touch of revival worship at the annual conference of the Assemblies of God in Australia attended by crowds of many thousands this year:
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced meetings so powerful as the ones that we enjoyed at our national conference. … The manifest presence of the Spirit of God in the meetings was so strong that many people could hardly stand.
In one of the morning meetings Rodney Howard-Browne exhorted the church to soar to greater heights of inspiration and to pursue the purposes of God in these end times. So strong was this exhortation that it lead into a 45 minute period of glorious praise and worship such as I’d never been in before.
Barry Chant (1995:5), described worship at the annual conference of the full Gospel Churches of Australia this year:
The gatherings were full of joy. There were positive testimonies of salvation and blessing; people often danced for joy; the fellowship was sweet. One thing that particularly impressed us was the frequent use of prophecy, tongues and interpretation. To be honest, one rarely hears these gifts being used these days in local churches. It was refreshing to see them given the attention they deserve.
Prophecies were often in song, with several people picking up the theme and continuing it, so that one prophetic message might include input from four or five people. Often the whole gathering would join in at the end with singing in the Spirit.
All around Australia – and around the world – there are signs of revival. Many good things are happening. It is exciting to be part of the Kingdom of God at such a time as this.
Sue Armstrong describes the touch of God at Nowra, N.S.W., in August 1995:
Every meeting saw people touched and changed by the power of God. However, the final night was different! From the outset there was electrical excitement in the place; the praise and worship took off and by the time it came to the message it was impossible to bring it as the church was so filled with joy we knew the Holy Spirit was doing the work and we gave up!
Dan and Sue Armstrong then visited North America. There they attended a combined churches meeting in Toronto, Canada. Sue reports,
We were blessed to be there for a special event. On the Sunday evening there was a rally called ‘Waves of Power’ in the Metro in downtown Toronto. This was a first. Around 200 churches in the Toronto area came together for this event (around 6,000 people). The praise and worship went for over an hour and it was awesome! Phil Driscoll, an anointed trumpeter, ministered powerfully, and the speaker, Pastor Bud Williams, brought a challenge to take the city of Toronto for God. Over 2,000 people responded to this challenge.
Increasingly churches are willing to come together in repentance and unity to pray, worship and minister. Often this is accompanied by powerful moves of God’s Spirit. Some ‘hot spots’ where these outpourings of the Spirit are most intense include the Airport Vineyard at Toronto in Canada, Pasadena in California, Melbourne in Florida, and Sunderland in England. All these places have churches co-operating together to worship and minister in unity.
All this drives us back to God’s Word to see what he has to say – just as the charismatic renewal drove us to rediscover similar events in the Acts and teaching in the epistles on the body of Christ and spiritual gifts as in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Now we are rediscovering the passages about the awe-inspiring majesty of God, the overwhelming authority of Jesus the risen Lord, and the invincible impact of God’s Spirit in the earth. This drives us to our knees, or we fall prostrate before our God. Unity in the Spirit is longer a nice theological discussion point, but a humbling, sacrificial reality increasingly required and blessed by God.
We need to take God’s word on revival very seriously in this day of his visitation. ‘If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Beacham, J (1995) ‘And the Heat Turns Up’, in the Australian Evangel, August.
Burgess, S M & McGee, G B eds. (1988) Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Chant, B (1995) ‘Personally Speaking’, in New Day, November.
Mills, B (1990) Preparing for Revival. Eastbourne: Kingsway.
Olford, S F (1968) Heartcry for Revival. Westwood: Revell
Pratney, W (1984, 1994) Revival. Springdale: Whitaker House.
Whittaker, C (1984) Great Revivals. Basingstoke: Marshalls.
Wood, A S (1990) in The History of Christianity. London: Lion.
Dr Lucinda Coleman is a dance educator and choreographer, formerly a dance-maker for the independent artists’ collective, ‘Remnant Dance’, based in Perth, Australia. This article, adapted from her post-graduate research on ‘Dance in the Church’, briefly traces the history of dance in worship from the Judeo-Christian tradition to the Reformation. Renewal in the church in recent decades has rediscovered dance, including liturgical, choreographed and spontaneous dance. As with all other forms of worship, it finds its excellence in giving glory to God.
To worship God in dance is biblical. The Bible commends it: “Let them praise His name in the dance”; “Praise Him with the timbrel and dance” (Psalm 149:3; 150:4). Scripture gives many references to the use of dance as a form of joyous celebration and of reverent worship.
In the Hebrew tradition, dance functioned as a medium of prayer and praise, as an expression of joy and reverence, and as a mediator between God and humanity (Taylor 1976:81). This understanding of dance permeated the faith of the early Christian church. During the Middle Ages despite increasing proscriptions against the use of dance, it continued to be utilized as a medium of prayer and praise. However, by the time of the Reformation the church, both Catholic and Protestant, had eliminated dance from worship.
The Hebrew Tradition
Dance was an integral part of the celebrations of the ancient Israelites. It was used both in worship in ordinary life and on occasions of triumphant victory and festivity.
The sacred dance mediated between God and humanity, thus bringing the Israelites into a closer relationship with their God, Jehovah.
In many Old Testament biblical allusions to, and descriptions of, dance there is no disapproval, only affirmation of this medium of worship. The people are exhorted to praise God with ‘dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre’ (Psalm 149:3), and to ‘praise him with timbrel and dance’ (Psalm 150:4). Dancing is so common that in passages alluding to rejoicing without specific mention of dancing, it can be assumed dance is implied (Gagne 1984:24).
The most frequently used root for the word ‘dance’ in the Old Testament is hul which refers to the whirl of the dance and implies highly active movement. Of the 44 words in the Hebrew language for dancing, only in one is there a possible reference to secular movement as distinct from religious dancing (Clarke and Crisp 1981:35).
The types of dance used in Israelite society included the circular or ring dance, as well as the processional dance. These were often used to celebrate specific events as when David and the people of Israel danced before the Ark of the Lord, which represented the presence of God (2 Samuel 6:14).
A third type of dance included hopping and whirling movements which were exuberant with joy. At the defeat of Pharaoh’s armies following the crossing of the Red Sea, ‘Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances’ (Exodus 15:20). When David slew Goliath, the women sang ‘to one another in dance’ (1 Samuel 29:5).
Each of these forms of dance found an expression in daily life and at festival times. At the Feast of Tabernacles, for instance, ‘pious men danced with torches in their hands and sang songs of joy and praise, while the Levites played all sorts of instruments. The dance drew crowds of spectators … It did not end until the morning at a given sign’ (Gagne 1984:30). The revered tradition of community celebration found its expression through movement.
However, dance is not mentioned formally in the Mosaic code, nor was the movement free of certain prohibitions. A distinction came to be made between the early, holy dances of a sacred nature, and those which resembled pagan ceremonies. This distinction, made by the Israelites, was to be made even more sharply by the Christians in the following centuries.
The Early Christian Church (A.D. 100-500)
In the first five centuries of the Christian church ‘dance was still acceptable because it was planted deep in the soil of the Judeo-Christian tradition’ (Gagne 1984:43). Christians were accustomed to celebrating, in dance, at worship and festivals because of the Hebrew tradition of dance.
Christianity was also subjected to the prevailing social and political influences of the Roman Empire. Changing circumstances in the 4th century thus led to changes in the importance and meaning of dance as well as in the dance material used in Christian liturgy. In the course of the history of theatre and dance, Christianity shaped and proscribed new developments. Although seemingly restrictive in these early centuries, ‘the church actually created a context for new flowerings of social, theatrical and religious dance’ (Fallon and Wolbers 1982:9).
The New Testament gives few direct references to dance. ‘But even this points to a possible parallel of the Jewish tradition of presuming the presence of dance without the need to mention it explicitly’ (Gagne 1984:35). Evidence of the use of dance as an accepted expression of joy is reflected in Jesus’ comment, ‘We piped to you but you did not dance’ (Matthew 11:17). Similarly, in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, there was dancing and rejoicing on the son’s return to his home (Luke 15:25).
Paul reminds Christians that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that they should glorify God with their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He further indicates physical movement is an approved part of prayer-like expression when he exhorts Timothy to pray lifting up holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8). The biblical stance for most prayers included raising arms and hands above the head (1 Timothy 2:8). In prayers of confession, kneeling or prostration was common, and in thanksgiving prayers or intercession standing with arms raised was common (Adams 1975:4).
Additionally, recent studies suggest there are more references to dance in the New Testament than originally thought (Daniels 1981:11). In the Aramaic language which Jews spoke, the word for ‘rejoice’ and ‘dance’ are the same. Hence, in including ‘dance’ with ‘rejoice’ there are references to dancing and leaping for joy (Luke 6:23) as well as ‘dancing in the Spirit’ (Luke 10:21).
In the two earliest Christian liturgies recorded in detail, dance is used in the order of service. Both Justin Martyr in A.D. 150 and Hippolytus in A.D. 200 describe joyful circle dances (Daniels 1981:13). In the early church, dance was perceived as one of the ‘heavenly joys and part of the adoration of the divinity by the angels and by the saved’ (Gagne 1984:36).
This attitude to dance contrasts sharply with Roman society in which Christianity first appeared. As Shawn comments, ‘Here in Imperial Rome we find the dance first completely theatricalized – then commercialized; and as the religious life of Rome became orgiastic, so the religious dances became occasions for unbridled licentiousness and sensuality’ (Kraus and Chapman 1981:42).
In reaction to what the Christians perceived as moral decadence, the church sought to purify the dance by expunging all traces of paganism from the intention and expression of the movement. Dance, however, continued within the church itself, provided the form and intent were holy and not profane. The purpose of liturgical movement was to bring glory and honour to God, and take the focus off the self.
By the third century there is detailed evidence of dance integrated into the ritual and worship of the church in the writings of Hippolytus (A.D. 215) and Gregory the Wonder-Worker (A.D. 213-270). At the same time, there is an increasing emphasis on spiritual thanksgiving in Christian worship. Christian intellectuals sought to overcome the passion of the flesh by reason of mind, the greatest evidence of this being demonstrated through martyrdom.
During the fourth century, significant changes in and outside the church influenced attitudes towards the type of dance used in Christian worship. The major cause of change stemmed from the reign of Constantine (AD 306-337). Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312 and was instrumental in accepting and supporting the church. The Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in A.D. 378, thus ushering in a new relationship between church and state.
Many references to dance as part of worship in the fourth and fifth centuries are tempered by warnings about forms of dance which were considered sinful, dissolute and which smacked of Roman degeneracy. As membership in the Christian Church became popular, licentiousness began to characterize the sacred festivals.
In the writings of the Church Fathers of these early centuries, there is evident concern with the changing focus of Christian dances. Epiphanius (AD 315-403) sought to emphasize the spiritual element in the dance. In a sermon on Palm Sunday A.D. 367, he describes the festival’s celebration in the following way:
Rejoice in the highest, Daughter of Zion! Rejoice, be glad and leap boisterously thou all-embracing Church. For behold, once again the King approaches … once again perform the choral dances … leap wildly, ye Heavens; sing Hymns, ye Angels; ye who dwell in Zion, dance ring dances (Kraus and Chapman 1981:49).
This text describes both the literal dance and the spiritual emphasis of the ceremony, while favouring the latter as the focus of the celebration.
This was the tendency of other church leaders, who ‘attempted to turn their eyes away from the actual physical movement intrinsic to dance and regard dance from a singularly spiritualized perspective, as symbolic of spiritual motions of the soul’ (Gagne 1984:47).
In the late fourth century, Ambrose (AD 340-397), Bishop of Milan, tried to clarify the values and dangers of sacred dance by emphasizing the spiritual. ‘The Lord bids us dance, not merely with the circling movements of the body, but with the pious faith in him’ (Adams 1990:18). He saw dance as spiritual applause and did not rule it out of the church. Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-394) described Jesus as the one and only choreographer and leader of dancers on earth and in the church.
However, other leaders in the church began to voice their opposition to the use of dance. John Chrysostom (AD 345-407), in speaking of Herodias’ daughter, commented that ‘where dancing is, there is the evil one’ (Gagne 1984:50). Augustine (AD 354-430), Bishop of Hippo, warned against ‘frivolous or unseemly’ dances (Adams 1990:20) and insisted on prayer, not dance. Caesarius of Arles (AD 470-542) condemned dance at the vigils of saints, calling them a ‘most sordid and disgraceful act’ (Gagne 1984:51).
This conflict reflects the difficulties the Church Fathers were experiencing as the church grew in popularity. The increasing number of converts made attempts to retain the dances of their own pagan cults, so that by the beginning of the sixth century, dance came under severe condemnation in the church.
The fall of Rome in A.D. 476 left Europe without a centralized power. The Church stepped in as the arbitrator of morality, law, education and social structure. The conflicts between the tradition of ecclesiastical dancing and the moral reprobation of the church itself led to conflict over the use and value of dance, which continued throughout the Middle Ages.
The Early Middle Ages (AD 500-1100)
The first four centuries following the fall of Rome were characterized by warfare, invasions of Christian lands by Barbarians, or vice versa, and intense missionary activities. The church was becoming more authoritarian in its activities and the concept of the church as a judicial institution began to outweigh the concept of church as community.
As the conscious use of authority widened and deepened within the church and state systems, there were increasing numbers of edicts and considerable legislation which reformed church liturgy. The use of dance was restricted, and continually monitored as the emphasis on the mysterious ritual of the worship service superseded the emphasis on spontaneous celebration and praise to God (Fallon and Wolbers 1982:42).
Gradually a distinction between the clergy and laity was developing as a consequence of the church authorities’ regulations on the Mass. Latin was no longer the language of the people, therefore knowledge of the Mass was restricted to the educated and clergy. Choirs took over all sung parts of the Mass, thus leaving the laity to engage in private devotions during the service. Liturgically, participation in the Mass was more restricted for the lay person and spectatorship became the hallmark of this period (Taylor 1976:83).
Inevitably as the liturgy became the reserve of the clergy, two different sacred dance traditions emerged.
The first tradition centred around dance performed by the clergy as part of the Mass. This movement became ritualized and symbolic of the theology of the church (Adams 1990:30). The Mass itself was a disciplined and prescribed sacred movement with definite postures proscribed by church authorities for the moving of ritual articles such as candles, books, and censors (Taylor 1976:10). On special occasions such as Saints’ days, Christmas and Easter, the clergy performed sacred dances for the congregation who were spectators of these ritual acts. The usual forms for dance were the processional or round dances.
The second dance tradition that developed, with the approval and guidance of the church, was known as popular sacred dances. These developed in connection with church ceremonies and festivals. It was customary to celebrate these with a processional dance although round or ring dances were popular. They were performed in the church, churchyard, or surrounding countryside during religious festivals, saints’ days, weddings or funerals.
It was difficult for the church to regulate these popular dances because the very nature of the dance and its occasion often entailed spontaneous movement. The rhythmic stomping and hopping steps sometimes caused uncontrollable ecstasy. When accompanied by feasting and drinking, these excesses were frowned on by the church.
The dances were usually performed to hymns or carols. ‘To carol’ means ‘to dance’ (Adams 1975:6). ‘Carol’ is derived from the Latin corolla for ‘ring’, and ‘caroller’ is derived from the Latin choraula meaning ‘flute-player for chorus-dancing’ (Oxford Dictionary). Most carols were divided into the stanza, meaning to ‘stand’ or ‘halt’, and the chorus, which means ‘dance’. Thus, during the chorus, the people danced and unless a solo dancer performed for the stanza, there was little movement as the stanza was sung.
The most common step performed during the chorus was the tripudium, which means ‘three step’. This was danced by taking three steps forward and one backwards; then it was repeated. The timing was usually 4/4 or 2/4 and the step was popular for processional dances. Often five or ten people would link arms and then join with others to process through the streets, and around the church, symbolizing the unity and equality of the church community.
As the centuries passed during the Middle Ages, however, the ‘rising hierarchy eschewed dancing with the people – for dancing symbolizes and effected a sense of equality’ (Adams 1975:5). Generally the bishops abstained from dancing, although some joined the people dancing, a practice which threatened the developing hierarchy and so it ‘hastened church legislation against all dancing’ (Adams 1975:5).
Later Middle Ages (A.D. 1100-1400)
As the church consolidated its authority in the medieval period, the censorship of dance continued. Dance was still an accepted liturgical form and various references attest to the rise of dance in the ring and processional form (Adams 1970:22). However, gradually the sacred dance form began to shift and instead of devotional dance, the movement became more theatrical and dramatic.
As public interest in the Mass waned, the Christian authorities made a definite effort to arouse the congregations by including more choral songs, picturesque processions and even ceremonial dances performed in the choir area. John Beleth, a 12th-century rector at the University of Paris mentioned four kinds of choral dances, with tripudiam, which were customarily used at church festivals (Adams 1990:22).
The worship dance did persist as the exclusive realm of the clergy. Bonaventure (c. 1260) wrote that in the joys of paradise there will be endless circling, ‘rhythmic revolutions with the spheres’ (Adams 1990:21). Even as late as the 16th century a manuscript describes an Easter carol or ring dance which took place on Easter eve at the church in Sens. In this dance, the Archbishop is assisted by the clergy who first moved round two by two, followed in the same manner by prominent citizens, all singing songs of the resurrection. The carol moved from the cloister into the church, around the choir and into the nave, all the while singing Salvation Mundi (Taylor 1976:22).
However, evidence of worship-centred dances such as these declined in favour of dramatic dance to be used in the church as an allegorical explanation of the Mass. Short plays were introduced into the liturgy to improve its appeal to the laity. By 1100, playlets made their way into eucharistic liturgy and became the precursor to mystery plays.
Aside from the dramatic dances, the attitude of the church authorities to the sacred dance, as well as the popular dances, was restrictive. In struggling to unify and control Christian dance, the church hierarchy issued a number of edicts against the use of dance.
The most widely known of all religious dances in the 14th and 15th centuries was the Dance of Death or danse macabre. The obsession with this dance reveals the medieval people’s preoccupation with death. Although initially a spontaneous movement, eventually a set pattern evolved in a processional format. The church sought to prohibit such dances stating, ‘Whoever buries the dead should do so with fear and trembling and decency. No one shall be permitted to sing devil songs and perform games and dances which are inspired by the devil and have been invented by the heathen’ (Kraus and Chapman 1981:59).
However there was an upsurge in the popularity of the Dance of Death with its grotesque parodies of funerals and frenzied dance outbursts during the period of the Black Plague (1347-1373). The plague was a combination of the bubonic plague and pneumonia and it raged throughout Europe killing half the population of Europe by 1450 (Brooke 1971:14).
Simultaneously, there were outbreaks of dance epidemics known as Danseomania – dance mania. John Martin comments that people were so affected by a succession of calamities that they sought an outlet for emotional stress through the dancing. Other sources have maintained these epidemics were traceable to a poisoning caused by the consumption of diseased grain in rural communities. ‘Whole communities of people … were stricken with a kind of madness that sent them dancing and gyrating through the streets and from village to village for days at a time until they died in agonized exhaustion’ (Kraus and Chapman 1981:55).
The dance epidemics reached an intensity that rendered ecclesiastical councils helpless in opposition to them. Despite the church’s command to cease the dance manias, the people either wouldn’t or couldn’t. Consequently, the dancers were often accused of being possessed by the devil.
In the light of these dance manias, the sacred dance liturgies of the church receded into oblivion. Several edicts sought to restrict dance and control its excesses, both outside the church, and within. Yet the numerous proscriptions against church dance only served to push it outside to the streets. While sacred dance by the clergy was beginning to cease, the popular church dances persisted. For a time, the church remained unsuccessful in suppressing these popular dances.
With the rise of papal control of all aspects of Christian life, along with excesses of the Dance of Death and dance manias, the liturgical dance forms began to suffer. What remained of the Christian dance forms were shadows of the former worship-centred celebrations of the earlier centuries. As the focus in church dance shifted to the liturgy, the movement within the church became proscriptive and functional. As the focus in popular dance shifted to the movement of the body, rather than on the divine, it too lost the essence of the original meaning of Christian dance.
The Renaissance (1400-1700)
The Renaissance heralded the beginning of substantial changes for Christian dance. Historically, it was a period of great upheaval. In 1455 books began being printed and this encouraged an emphasis on intellect, so that the mind was perceived of greater importance than the body in religious growth. The Protestant Reformation (15171529) and the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation as evidenced by the Council of Trent (15451563) wrought enormous changes to the perceived use and value of dance in the Christian context (Adams 1990:23).
What flourished in the dance realm were processional celebrations, theatrical moral ballets and some interpretations of hymns and psalms in worship. Theatre and spectacles were on the rise, and with the emergence of the dancing master, the church’s liturgical dance faded in significance.
Prior to the Renaissance, religious dance had become severely ritualized within the church, and only in popular sacred dances did it retain the element of spontaneity. Yet within the ensuing changes brought by circumstances of the Renaissance, the church and civil authorities sought to sedate, proscribe and ritualize these dances also.
Ultimately, however, it was the Reformation, which tended, in its extreme forms to do away with Christian dance. All dances and processions, except funeral processions, were abolished (Adams 1990:25).
The Reformation (1517-1529)
The leaders of the Protestant Reformation were highly critical of traditional church customs. They sought to suppress the use of icons, the worship of saints, and pilgrimages and processions. They preached the renunciation of the world and intensified the struggle between soul and body by placing greater emphasis on the mind. The connection between the body, dance and eroticism was openly acknowledged, and Christians were taught not to glorify the body.
These ideas spread rapidly as the church utilized the printing press, spreading tracts which were highly critical of dance. The following excerpt is from a booklet printed at Utrecht:
The heathen are the inventors of dance. Those who cultivate it are generally idolaters, epicureans, good for nothings, despicable or dishonourable comedians or actors, as well as souteneurs, gigolos, and other dissolute, worthless, wanton persons. Its defenders and followers are Lucian, Caligula, Herod, and similar epicureans and atheists. With it belong gluttony, drunkenness, plays, feast days, and heathen saints’ days (Fallon & Wolbers 1982:15).
Yet the early leaders of the Protestant Reformation were not anti-dance. Martin Luther (c. 1525) wrote a carol for children entitled From Heaven High in which two stanzas support the role of song and dance in worship.
Additionally, the English Church leader, William Tyndale, in a prologue to the New Testament wrote of the roles of joyous song and dance, and was happy to use the words, daunce and leepe when he considered the joyous good news of Christianity (Adams 1990:26). It was as the teachings of the leaders were interpreted by the people that bans on sacred dance increased dramatically.
Similarly, in the Catholic Church during the meetings of the Council of Trent, the intention was less on the abolition of sacred dance, than on seeking unity in liturgical and theological matters. The Council’s decrees, however, stifled creativity and growth within the church drama scene. In 1566, statutes of the Synod of Lyons for example, threatened priests and other persons with excommunication if they led dances in churches or cemeteries.
In general, the church insisted on liturgical unity without the use of dance in worship. As increasing pressure to cease all religious dance mounted, there seemed no avenue for a possible creative revival in dance.
Consequently, religious dance disappeared or survived in only a few isolated places. Some religious denominations cultivated specific liturgical movements which harked back to the early church dance. Other Christian dance movements were changed into folk expressions, to be seen at weddings or funerals, or else remained buried in the structured movement of the Catholic Mass.
The events of the period eventually led to the eradication of liturgical dance, processions, and most visual arts, leaving only the arts of painting, preaching and music unscathed.
In the post Reformation period both the Protestant and Catholic Church ‘firmly attempted to close the door on creative expression of dance in the liturgy’ (Gagne 1984:59). The Catholics’ increasing proscriptions against dance, coupled with an increasing sense of mistrust of dance on the part of Protestants, forced dance back into the secular realm. ‘Dance was given back totally to society, with few exceptions remaining of church-related Christian dance’ (Gagne 1984: 59).
Dance within the Christian context, having sprung from the Jewish tradition, was embraced by the early church as an integral part of celebrations and of worship. During the Middle Ages various influences affected the development of Christian dance and despite increasing proscriptions concerning its value and use, it survived as a sacred dance form. However, with the commencement of the Reformation, the dance was forced out of its place in the liturgical celebrations of the Christian church, and with few exceptions flourished instead in the secular realm.
Gradually, with the renewal of the church in the twentieth century, including liturgical renewal, dance has begun to find increasing acceptance in the worship life of the church once again. It has a rich and biblical tradition. Dance offers an enormous range of forms and expressions in worship from the carefully choreographed dramatic presentation to the spontaneous worship and celebration of individuals and congregations of all ages.
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