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Music is of prime importance in giving voice to people's beliefs, and Gospel Music has caught the imagination of millions of people as their chosen means of expression in worship.
Gospel music and Gospel hymns are used as an aid to evangelisation. They're an accepted feature of revivalist meetings and an important method of praising God.
Music has always been a powerful tool in human affairs. Think of the use that has been made of it in battle – bands, bugles, drums and bagpipes all strike fear into the heart of the enemy; background music in shops is carefully chosen to entice customers to stay longer and spend more; even the Nazis used orchestral music to "anaesthetise" their victims before gassing them.
Music is used extensively in therapy, and in our most fundamental spiritual activity - in worship. Music can act as an anaesthetic or a powerful stimulant. When was the last time you went for a day without hearing any?
How did Gospel Music begin?
The eighteenth-century English brothers John and Charles Wesley were deeply influential in the development of evangelical or gospel hymns. Their type of Gospel music - which was known as Evangelical music - was in complete contrast to the metrical psalms which were prevalent in the Church of England at the time.
The Wesleys wanted to stir the emotions and feelings of the congregation and this was directly contrary to the intentions of those who perpetuated metrical psalms - who wished to make scripture available in a language which could be easily "understanded of the people". The Established Church was deeply suspicious of evangelical hymns and many people felt that Gospel music was "beneath them" ... this snobbishness still dogs the development of church music.
Three other nineteenth-century Gospel music influences should be mentioned: The Salvation Army, Moody and Sankey, and the seminal effect of Negro Spirituals on Gospel Music.
The Worship War!
Today, worship has reached a situation in which individuals have become strongly partisan about the church music they like – some prefer traditional music and others will only attend services which are based on Folk and Gospel.
In America this has become known as the "Worship War". In a strange way it mirrors the Nineteenth Century where some people only used Evangelical hymns and others stuck – limpet-like – to their metrical psalms.
Of one thing we can be certain: there has been an explosion in contemporary hymnody – a great renaissance. Ideally all styles and traditions should be used in the praise and worship of Almighty God. Tolerance is essential for successful worship.
There's more about Gospel music in The History of Hymns Catholic Hymns and our Hymn Top Twenty!
These articles may also be of interest to you:
The Salvation Army - The Salvation Army - marching to a Gospel beat
Moody and Sankey - Moody and Sankey - early Gospel Music hymn-writers
Negro Spirituals - Negro Spirituals and Gospel Music
Choir Development Skills - Forming a choir - the skills you need
The Psychology of Choir Practice - The Psychology of Choir Practice - getting the best from your Choir