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Dec 23 2009

Who Owns Your Christmas Carols? Worship Relevance versus Cultural Relevance

Christianity Today Online looks at the massive number of classic Christmas carols that are copyrighted by contemporary musicians who have published arrangements more conducive to today's preferred instrumentation.

Aside from church music's corporate influences through radio and the Internet, another factor shapes church musical tastes: As churches shift away from identifying themselves by denomination toward identifying themselves by style, churches communicate their theological identity through their music, says Scheer. Musical style and theological identity hang together, he says, so a church's musical repertoire is becoming more and more important.

Rachinski hopes that the predominant style of worship music may be moving away from the entertainment format, pointing to the popularity of "Mighty to Save." "It's not that our worship needs to be culturally relevant. It's that our congregational culture needs to be worship-relevant," he said. "That's exactly what happened in the Reformation. It was a platform thing [that] became a people thing."

Even if worship style turns in a different direction, the content of hymnody may still be lost. Unless the hymns written over the last millennium are reinterpreted for guitars and praise bands, they may exit the repertoire of evangelical congregations altogether. But detailed information about how churches use public domain tunes and lyrics isn't available. "I'm not aware of any good social scientific research being done on this," said Lynerd. "There's a minefield of information out there [waiting to be explored]."

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