Forms, style and content of corporate worship are hardly talked about in the New Testament. Maybe it’s His plan to leave this matter to the judgment of our spiritual wisdom – as Dr. John Piper puts it:
“… not to our whim or our tradition, but no prayerful, thoughtful, culturally alert, self-critical, Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting reflection driven by a passion to be filled with all the fullness of God. I assume this will be an ongoing process, not a one-time effort.” He came up with a way to describe the differences in how people approach worship by speaking in terms of “fine culture” and “folk culture”.
“Fine culture” describes the pattern of life that focuses on intellectual and artistic expressions that requires deep understanding in order to be appreciated. “Folk culture” describes the pattern of life that focuses on expressions of the heart and mind that pleases the average people and helps them easily understand. Hopefully it makes sense, because I’m going to expand on it a bit more.
To give you a better understanding, it can be considered to be the difference between traditional hymns and contemporary music. Hymns do not necessarily attract people with one listen but the lyrical content is powerful and contains deep meaning that may speak to the heart. Contemporary Christian music however, has very catchy tunes that will attract the young and old generations but sometimes has short repeated lyrics and is built up by the instruments to give more impact to the song. No matter how vast the differences however, we shouldn’t be passing judgement on either culture.
There will obviously be advantages and disadvantages in both cultures, but it would be better to distinguish each weakness and try to improve from it. By recognising the strengths, we can build each other up through it. Fine culture and folk culture will have vulnerabilities to sin but it can also be used by God for His glory. Instead of trying to discard one or the other, they can be combined for they are both redeemable.
One weakness that can be seen in fine culture is that it can raise the pride of a person. By demanding high levels of skill and understanding, it can boost the ego of those who are used to it and they may look down to on culture with simpler achievements. Nonetheless, the positive potential of fine culture is the safeguarding of the mind. Fine culture has the potential to touch some emotions that folk culture will not touch. It emphasises on things which are rare like some emotions that belong to God; those which are profound can only be expressed and awakened by fine culture.
Folk culture’s vulnerability could be laziness to achieve more than what they are really capable of. It sometimes prevents from thinking deeper for more biblical understanding and just settles for mediocrity. However, folk culture has the potential to communicate to numerous people who may have no understanding about worship for example. It helps to appreciate the ordinary beauty.
There are a lot of things in church that we do that falls in between fine and folk culture. From the way, we worship, we dress and even preach. It is important to know both weaknesses and strengths and in doing so, we find ourselves participating in order to honour the excellence, truth and beauty of God. All the while however, this is not a one-time effort but it should be an ongoing process.