Religious music always seems to have the connotation of being boring, dragging, and simply sounding like it belongs in a monastery somewhere. After all, this is the music used in old church buildings with white-haired ministers and similarly white-haired choir members, right?
In its very essence, religious music simply refers to music used to propagate or in the practice of any given religion. For some Eastern religions, these can come in the form of chants and drum beats. But for Christianity, religious music has evolved in much the same way as regular, secular music. Christian music these days have moved on to include just about any genre possible, including rock, pop, and even rap and hip-hop! Nowadays, whatever your preference of a musical genre, you can likely find religious songs to meet your interests. This is a great thing especially for the younger generation, as worship songs have started to become a normal part of life, an expression of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, rather than a rigid set of music used to “usher in” some religious practice or tradition.
How have Christian songs evolved since the time of Christ?
- Psalms and hymns – During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He is described in the Bible as singing a hymn with His disciples, especially as they are making their way to the Mount of Olives, just after the Last Supper and just before He was arrested by the soldiers. These hymns are those found in the Book of Psalms, many of which were written by David, and others by other musicians and singers in Old Testament times. While we have no idea how these hymns sounded, it is very likely that they were the more traditional, Jewish songs, given how Jesus and His disciples were Jews.
- Creeds and cadence – After Jesus’ death, the apostles and other followers held on to certain creeds that they passed on by word of mouth. Some of them have made their way into the New Testament, such as the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These passages may or may not have been put to song, but some of them are described by Bible scholars as “Christological hymns,” which give an indication that at some point in time they were actually set to music. After all, it is much easier to memorize a song compared to a series of words, right?
- Gregorian chants – During the rise of the Roman Catholic church, religious music took on the form of Gregorian chants, which are essentially that: chants with some musical inflections. These are probably the first thing that enters our mind at the thought of “religious music.”
- Hymnals – At the Reformation, songwriters started to spew out hymnals that we know even today. For example, the popular hymnal Amazing Love has even been revived by Chris Tomlin in his album, See the Morning. The beautiful thing about hymnals is their intense focus on the gospel and Biblical truth.
- Contemporary Christian music – From hymnals, Christian music moved onto the contemporary realm, with the rise of church worship teams like Hillsong, worship leaders like Matt Redman, and modern groups like MercyMe. The growth of Christian music was also spurred on by the rise of recording, and eventually, digital technology.
- Prophetic music – As we move closer to the end of the age, Christian music also continues to evolve. At present, a new movement is happening across the globe, as the Holy Spirit moves upon His people and breathes the spirit of prophecy, or what the Bible defines as the testimony of Jesus. Tied up with worship music and prayer, prophetic singers and musicians express His heart, infusing Christian songs with a fresh anointing of His presence and love.
Religious music has always been instrumental in many movements, and it is no different when it comes to Christianity. In fact, it is interesting to note that the Lord uses music in such a powerful way, which is a strong indication of the creative and musical heart that Jesus has. After all, the Bible describes Him as singing and dancing over us in pure delight. It is but natural that this will come out in Christian music, especially during these end-times!