A Three-Part Blog Series on Decolonizing the Worship Movement
Join us in a blog series called “The Next Worship Movement.” This three-part series delves into the current state of the worship movement. Originally entitled “Decolonizing the Worship Movement,” each blog petitions God’s worshippers to take a look at the whys behind our worship and challenges us to think of worship music beyond what is globally accepted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malcolm Du Plessis
In order to fully grasp the validity and necessity of this blog series you must understand the passion and experience of the author. Malcolm Du Plessis has straddled the worlds of prophetic Christianity and showbiz for over thirty years — ranging from church planter to record company exec; from songwriter to song publisher; from pioneer of multicultural, multilingual worship music that fused praise and protest in the apartheid era of his native South Africa to artist manager in that same context; from consulting ministries, movements, artists, songwriters, record labels, and publishing companies in the Christian arena to helping develop top 40 songwriters in the mainstream. He continues to consult for a range of organizations, yet identifies primarily as an underground activist and as a father figure to a growing number of young leaders. One of his priorities is his relentless call for the decolonization of the worship movement and for doors of dignity to be unlocked for more communities and ethnicities to contribute toward the “common” hymnal.
PART 1: The Current State of Worship Music
WHAT IS BIBLICAL WORSHIP?
I. Worship is contextual as Jesus incarnates himself in us and therefore in our cultures. When the Israelites sang that the power of their God had resulted in the Egyptian cavalry being thrown into the Red Sea — after God had helped them pass through safely — it intensified their worship experience. Likewise today, it is powerful when we sing songs that are born out of God’s interventions in our current circumstances.
II. Worship is trans-cultural as Jesus transcends our cultures. (A heads up, as will be explained in the paragraphs ahead, “trans-cultural” does not mean “western” or “Anglo.”)
III. Worship is counter-cultural as Jesus challenges our cultures.
IV. Worship is cross-cultural as the gospel is relevant to all cultures. Even before the death of Jesus technically opened the way for every nation to participate in God’s redemptive plan, Isaiah prophesied as follows:
“Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ … foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, … these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
WHAT IS WORSHIP TODAY?
Sadly, the current trend is for worship songs to be exported from Anglo cultures to the rest of world. Globalization has infiltrated the church, and wherever you go in the world you are mostly going to hear adaptations of Anglo songs.
Sometimes worship songs are altered and sections are replaced or modified, not too dissimilar from how international food franchises adapt their core items from country to country.
Mostly songs are being imitated. When new songs are written in non-western contexts, they are being written in the prevailing western idiom, often performed with an uncomfortably forced American or British accent.
The net result of all of this is that worship songs are hardly ever indigenized anymore. There are less and less songs written in the style of a local culture. Therefore, there is not much opportunity for the genre to be internationalized.
In the Old Testament, worship was rooted in one culture and place and the operative word was “come.” In the New Testament, worship straddles many cultures and places, and the operative word should be “go.” Accordingly, I would like to build a case for the internationalization and the decolonization of worship music.
In order to do so, I will need to review the realities of spiritual colonization, spiritual imperialism, globalization, westernization, Anglicization and isomorphism. *Remember, I said that I was a prophetic processor, and that two thirds of my activity would be devoted to uprooting before building and planting. This is purposeful and pivotal to catalyzing new vision and, more importantly, new courage to fight for a new day.
APPEAL TO WORSHIPPERS
Not much lasts forever. The Bible tells us that there will be no more tears, pain, death, or mourning in heaven. Spiritual gifts will no longer be necessary. Neither will be ministry pursuits. Even marriage does not make it into the afterlife.
But the Bible lists a few things that will last into eternity: faith, hope, love, God’s kingdom rule, and God’s words. One of the surprises is language, national, cultural, and tribal identity are retained as per Revelation 7: “I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there – all nations and tribes, all races and languages.” The reason: the eternal retention of cultural identity testifies forever to the reach of the gospel into all nations and the faithfulness of God to give his son the nations as his inheritance.
What more appropriate way to celebrate the completed mission of Christ than an eternal worship mash-up that fuses every culture, tribe, and language in a worship expression that celebrates the reach of the gospel into every nook and cranny of this world!
Therefore, what more appropriate medium to express our worship on earth, to intercede for the completion of the mission of Christ and to prophesy the ultimate proliferation of the gospel into every unreached people group, than a worship idiom that coalesces the sounds of believers from every culture, tribe, and language that this gospel has penetrated.
How wonderful if more of us could find a new resolve to fight for a place of dignity for the worship expressions of our respective cultures in the worldwide worship movement!