The afternoon of October 21, I found myself in the Biology Amphitheater in Price Hall with a small group of students and community members interested in this month’s Michiana Adventist Forum, a presentation given by Adriana Perera, the Chair of the Department of Music at Andrews University. She spoke on the relevant topic of “Adventist Music: The Contemporary Challenge,” which she is qualified to address as she has lectured and taught in several European, South American and Caribbean countries, and has written more than 200 sacred pieces.
Perera began her talk by discussing the massive impact Martin Luther had on worship in music, noting that the Reformation necessitated not only a change in theology but a change in worship through music, as the two are intertwined. She expressed that worship should be an outward communication of Christian theology. While theology is very factual and concrete, music appeals to the emotions and should be an expression of adoration towards Christ in an intelligent, pedagogical way. Luther recognized this and wrote many new hymns, including songs for the purpose of teaching children—a stark contrast to the views of the church at the time as the priests believed that worshipping in music should only be reserved for the most skilled musicians. She also noted that more modern hymn writers, such as Isaac Watts, also received pushback for their then-progressive musical works.
After describing Luther’s reformative work, Perera emphasized the personal nature of worship, saying that mixing one’s culture with worship isn’t sinful, as different styles of worship might resonate with one person, lifting their mind to Christ, while another person won’t be as emotionally affected simply because they have not been exposed to the same musical styles. As music can take on deep emotional meaning that words can’t accurately convey, it is important to support the music and worship that resonates with people from every culture. Perera pointed out that the SDA guidelines for worship music published in 1972 as an example of a poor philosophy of worship. These guidelines excluded the worship of many cultures as a result of European dominance in early SDA church governance. This document has been revised to include diverse forms of worship, but similar issues still fester in our church today.
Perera ended her presentation by outlining how the modern church should approach musical worship. She stated that the purpose of music is to worship, reflect Jesus’s character, and praise God with all that we are, rather than entertain. She gave an example of a girl at one of her churches raising her hands in worship, only to be scolded by a deacon, in contrast with an incident where an audience member at a church service began spontaneously singing, and instead of telling her to be quiet, the pastor joined in, along with the entire audience and worship band. Perera also asserted that our churches need stronger, more concrete plans to create effective, quality worship that resonates with youth today.
Perera made her presentation exciting and engaging, playing selections of relevant songs on a keyboard she had set up on stage. Her statements refreshed rather than judged, as they did not specifically attack any practices such as the use of drums or repeated lyrics, but laid down guidelines for what true worship should accomplish. Her presentation left me determined to worship not to entertain myself or impress people around me, but to express my theology and adoration for Christ.