The Evolution of Charismatic and Pop Culture Christianity Vs. Punk Rock
An exploration of Order and Charism as expressions of culture and counter culture: A comparison with Pop music and the Punk Rock Movement.
The 1960s was a time of global social revolution, when counter culture became a centre point of popular culture, and tensions which had been building since the 1940s between traditional societal values and a generation who seemed to instinctively revolt against the conservatism that these values enforced, came to a head.
These tensions peaked early in the decade and saw infant movements such as the women’s rights movement, the anti-war movement, the African-American civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and the artistic and literary movements explode into the forefront of public awareness and become world changing – revolutions in their own right. The ideals of each of these revolutions seem to centre on a desire for equality and a peaceful integration of all humans, a utopia. Even the negative aspects being promoted within some these movements – such as the literary revolutionists’ affinity with free love (meaningless sex) and the encouraging of drug use – still embrace these ideals.
In this essay I will be exploring how these movements influenced two conservative institutions that were also revolutionised during this era: the traditional church and pop music. I will also draw parallels between two related counter cultures that spawned from this social climate: the Charismatic Christian movement and the punk rock movement. My objective is to demonstrate that both the modern ordered and charismatic churches are ultimately direct expressions of social culture – either mainstream or counter – and both ultimately follow the same responsive path in spite of being in tension with each other. Finally, I will discuss how these parallels eventually merge, and what the outcome of this convergence might mean for the future direction of the church.
Justice League – Justifying The Comparison.
To draw parallels between these institutions I first need to show how their histories and growth patterns relate to one another. I will do this by showing the timelines of (a) pop music VS the ordered church and (b) the punk movement VS the charismatic movement. This timeline will also highlight the similarity in causality and rapid growth pattern between the latter.
(a) Pop Music and the traditional Church.
For the purpose of my objective, I will not be exploring a complete world history of pop music or the ordered church as both these topics are of too massive a scale to be appreciated properly in this essay. I will instead primarily focus on the 1960s and 1970s and discuss what changes came into fruition for both of these institutions due to the social revolutions occurring at the time, and how these changes helped sow the seeds for their respective counter cultures in the next decade.
Pop music has origins rooted in the late 1930s (and as far back as the Victorian era when one relaxes the definition to encompass the entire concept of ‘popular music’) and, like the traditional church, largely remained bound to its roots and core structures (values and traditions) until the social revolution of the 1960s. During this time however, the influence of the surrounding social revolutions saw the inception of drastic changes to the foundations and ideals of both.
While pop music saw a shift away from the traditional content of politically correct love songs, written by professionals and performed by purposefully employed signers and classically trained musicians, to a new wave of rock ’n’ roll inspired pop musicians who wrote and performed their own compositions, the lyrical content of which began to reflect the revolutions and current events of the time with bands such as The Beatles (often considered a revolution in their own right), Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan openly expressing anti-war, pro-drug use, pro-free love and pro-peace driven sentiments in a majority of their lyrics during this era. This shift in pop music permanently redefined the genre in both a literal and conceptual sense and for a time, pop music could be viewed as less a product of and more a movement in itself.
Likewise, the church underwent significant, similar changes during this time. The ideals of peaceful integration being rallied for by the feminist, anti-gay and African American civil rights were making their way into congregations around the globe and saw many churches allowing women more authoritative involvement in the church, a relaxing of the exclusion of homosexuals and an integration of African American churches with all white churches. Most notable are the changes introduced into the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which aimed to engage the Church more closely with the present world and saw many long-upheld traditions either modified (such as a relaxing of the rules and regulations of both lifestyle and dress requirements for those in the priesthood) or completely updated (such as encouraging all people to read the bible, which had previously been an activity assigned to clergy, or at best, the faithful).
The changes seen in both examples were not only a significant diversion from tradition, but have also endured and are now mainstream ideals.
(b) The Punk Movement and The Charismatic Christian Movement.
Although both the punk rock movement and the Charismatic movement gained global recognition and momentum in the 1970s, both have roots that date back much further; roots that shaped the final product that was eventually launched on a global scale via a combination of world-wide media sensationalism and the offer of a counter culture that allowed its participants the unique experience of being completely individual within a pre-defined community.
The punk rock movement arose from the music and ideals of the underground garage musicians in the UK and North America in the 1960s. In North America, bands such as The Velvet Underground (1965) and The Stooges (1967) are considered to be two of the many bands (referred to as protopunk bands) that served as a precursor to punk rock. The same can be said of UK protopunk bands The Kinks (1964) and The Troggs (1964).
These bands paved the way for the first wave of modern punk rock bands in the 1970s, bands like The Ramones and Sex Pistols, who to this day still represent a current global image of punk rock and its philosophy.
In the mid 1970s, the punk rock movement found its way onto the fast track to global exposure with the communities in London and New York City experiencing an influx of local and international media interest. Although the media coverage usually painted a negative picture of punk musicians and their aficionados, it ultimately resulted in the growth and prosperity of the punk rock movement and by the 1980s, thanks to the media, punk rock was an established and well defined global culture.
Andrew Lauder, A&R executive of 60s/70s punk record label United Artists Records, speaks bluntly of this in the 1978 documentary ‘Punk: The Early Years’ and states; “Punk has been solely a media trip for America, and the rest of the world.”
The Charismatic Christian movement follows a similar time line and pattern of causality in regards to its global growth, however, in the case of the Charismatic church, the media involvement and its part in the growth of the movement enters the picture much earlier in the piece.
The roots that shaped the image of the Charismatic church that originated in the 1970s (an image, like that of early punk rock, that is still relevant today) can be traced back to the early 1900s and, like the protopunk bands of the 1960s, the Charismatic movement had its own trail blazers during this era who trod out a path for the Charismatics known today as the Charismatic renewal.
In 1960, Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett made headlines in US publications Time Magazine (Aug 15, 1960) and Newsweek after he announced he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit and had publicly spoken in tongues. This media coverage served as catalyst for a new wave of Charismatic Christianity that focused on sensationalising the gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, faith healing and intercessory prayer.
Another media element present in roots of modern Charism was the implementation of televangelists during the early 1950s, which led to Charismatic Christian leader Pat Robertson laying the foundation of what would eventually become the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1959 and by the 1970s, numerous Charismatic Church services were being broadcast across the USA.
As with the punk rock movement, throughout the 1970s there was heavy external media coverage about the Charismatic movement that was usually negative in nature and also ultimately benefited the global growth and prosperity of the movement. Similar to the timeline of the punk rock movement, by the 1980s, Charismatic culture was also established as its own church culture with a defined global identity.
In the introduction to ‘Charismatic Christianity As A Global Culture’ (1994) Karla Poewe highlights the all around importance of role of the media in the growth of the Charismatic Christian movement; “The significant role played by the media in North America in the making of Charismatic Christian history is astonishing, and charismatic Christians learned quickly to use the media, which usually concentrated on the negative aspects of the movement, to their own advantage.”
The Clash – Tensions Between Culture & Counter Culture.
By definition a counter culture is in direct conflict with mainstream society. In this section I will explore how the tensions between the ordered church and the charismatic church communities parallel the tensions within pop music and the punk rock communities. I will focus on what I consider to be the root tension between both mainstream cultures and their respective counter cultures, which is the individuality and freedom of expression offered by the latter as opposed to the extensive history of tradition and formally structured expression of the former. I will explore this tension first on a basic aesthetic level before moving onto the core tension that comes with introducing individualism into any traditional community, the corruption of core values and ideals.
The most globally recognised recognisable feature of the punk rock movement and those who embrace its philosophy is the fashion and personal styling. The media coverage that helped propel the punk rock movement into global awareness was largely spurred by people’s fascination with the ‘punk look’.
In contrast to the pop bands of the time whose uniform was the suit and tie or, at it’s most relaxed, ‘Beach Boys-esque’ matching collared shirts, the body modifications, torn jeans and outrageous hairstyles displayed by members of the punk community became newsworthy. This fashion sense was shared not only by those who held authority within the punk scene (the bands) but was also embraced and innovated by its followers. While it might seem trivial in current society to make a connection between a music style and a specific fashion sense, in terms of the punk rock movement it’s extremely important as this fashion sense not only allowed drew attention to the movement but also allowed people to be individuals within a defined culture. The fact that the community as a whole shared this fashion statement bridged the gap between performer and audience member; it put these two usually hierarchically separated groups on the same level.
While the fashion statements in the punk rock community are extreme when put alongside those of most cultures, when it comes to the Charismatic Church, the fashion only becomes something of note when compared to that of the traditional church.
Unlike the punk rock movement, modern day Charismatic Churches haven’t so much created a fashion sense embraced by its members, as it has eliminated formal dress elements of the traditional church, from clerical clothing worn by the preacher, to the robes typically worn by a choir, and a degradation in the level of formality of the attire worn by the congregation, all are absent in most modern day Charismatic Church communities. Although the changes here are clearly not as volatile as those of the punk rock movement, the effect has been the same. This ‘dressing-down’ has allowed authority and community members within the church to become more accessible to one another, especially in regards to youth and express their individuality while still being embraced as part of a community and upholding its ideals.
While it is important to mention how these expressions of individuality through dress impacted their communities by establishing a contrast and created tension with their associated mainstream culture, the comparison is still somewhat trivial.
A more relevant tension-inducing comparison comes to light when we consider individuals’ freedom of expression when it comes to communicating the ideals and values of the community to its followers, in other words; what is being said and how are they saying it?
For punk rock this meant an extreme shift in the lyrical content of songs.
In contrast to the meek pop sensibilities, where song lyrics for the most part were always clean, savoury and expressed stories of love, heartache, woe, or other light hearted personal experience with no agenda, punk rock music is the opposite: never clean, never savoury, the stories told in punk rock music are less personal and more a commentary on the political and societal climate of the time. Punk rock music has a definite agenda and message, usually promoting rebellion against mainstream ideals and an uprising of anarchy. It was the promotion and crass communication of these messages that created the true tension between the mainstream pop music culture and those embracing the punk rock philosophy.
Similarly, the preachers of the Charismatic church have embraced this same freedom of expression when it comes to communicating with their congregations, and this has certainly created a tension and even uproar with the traditional church and its community.
While it is uncommon in today’s churches to witness a preacher speaking in tongues, this was at one stage a common practice. Most established charismatic churches have discontinued it due to criticism. The remnants of this practice evolved into what is now known as the spirit-filled sermons.
Spirit-filled preaching sees a person (not necessarily a church authority) receiving the word of God in the moment and communicating His message to those listening. The tension/uproar arises due to the fact that the traditional church members believe spirit-filled unction is actually just the passionate expression of the person delivering the sermon, a belief that is confounded not only by bible verses that specifically state the gifts of the spirit are not applicable, but also that many of these spirit-filled messages seem to involve the changing, relaxing or updating of liturgy.
In this sense, the ordered church sees Charismatic spirit-filled preaching as an act of rebellion against church tradition and is possibly the most debated tension within the traditional church VS contemporary church discussion.
New Found Glory – The Pop punk Solution.
In this final section I will explain how both the ordered church, the charismatic church, pop music and punk music have all come to cross paths and ultimately embrace each other over the past two decades.
An important distinction to keep in mind during this comparison is that music, of any genre at any point in history, has always been driven by innovation, modernisation and a welcoming of reinterpretation, while the church has thrived through maintaining its traditions and core beliefs and purposefully avoiding secularisation. Due to these radical differences in nature, it is not surprising that while pop music and punk music came to converge into a peaceful new entity in a relatively short time after the initial rise of the punk rock counter culture, this same journey, although definitely underway, has been significantly slower for the ordered and charismatic churches. Because of this, rather than only making comparisons between the current state of the church and music, I will use the progression pop and punk have undergone and attempt to predict how this path might come to be followed by the church.
The timeline on the punk rock movement in the first section of this paper concluded at the 1980s with punk rock achieving a worldwide awareness and community. It may seem surprising that during this decade a new genre of music and subculture was being formed, influenced not only by the punk rockers of the 1970s but also the pop and power pop bands of the 1960s and 70s. By 1994, the Pop Punk movement was in full force with bands like Green Day and The Offspring finding huge commercial success in the USA and internationally.
It is interesting to see how pop punk has managed to genuinely incorporate elements of both the punk and pop ideologies into its own sub-culture, especially considering that some of the ideologies oppose each other. An example would be ‘non-straight edge pop punk’ VS ‘straight edge pop punk’, the former are likely to be the ‘drinking and partying’ type band while the latter is officially opposed to any form of drug and alcohol use – aka: ‘straight edge’.
This difference in position does not seem to affect the pop punk community as a whole; the pop punk banner is all encompassing and all-inclusive. Straight edge bands do not avoid playing shows with non-straight edge bands, and a non-straight edge pop punk band often has straight edge members. In this way the pop punk community has taken the punk ideal of being individuals within a defined community and widened the parameters of how that community looks, and what it represents by integrating contrasting pop ideologies to create a farther reaching and more accessible platform.
Far from the rosy pop/punk marriage described above, the traditional and charismatic church communities still remain mostly divided. The discussion regarding the ‘spirit-filled’ methods of the charismatic church, mentioned earlier, is constant and, more often than not, heated and fuelled by outraged traditionalists, who by the very definition of their belief system, have every right to be upset – and so there is somewhat of a standstill in moving forward.
Changes have happened though.
It is a convenient irony, in the context of this essay, that the most prevalent way in which the traditional church has begun to integrate aspects of the Charismatic Christian movement into its existence is the implementation of pop music! The use of pop music (and also pop punk music) as a form of worship in the charismatic church community has been gaining momentum in traditional churches over the last decade, it is not unusual to encounter contemporary worship styles in Protestant, Anglican and Presbyterian churches in the USA and we see more of these denominations adopting this worship style in Australia every year.
For the church, it seems finding a balance that suits everyone is proving difficult. Spirit filled churches can begin to become ordered in their methods and have come under scrutiny for this, as is seen in the short parody film ‘Sunday Morning’ (2010). Likewise, traditional churches can go overboard in their attempts to implement contemporary elements and upset their members by losing sight of their own traditions. For example, A NSW Salvation Army Church (Presbyterian) recently launched their new youth group program with a launch event that promised music, dancing, pancakes, cool people, lollies, a paparazzi photo station … and God.
It may often be this initial lack of balance and resulting negative reception that deters Churches from continuing to explore innovation.
At this point in time it might be difficult to envision a genuine and wide-spread merging of order and charism, but this does appear to be the direction the church is headed. If the similarities in the progressions of the church and music cultures and counter cultures are anything to go by, I would hope we would see the embracing of a new church culture that unites and balances ideals from both the traditional and contemporary formats.
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