This conversation about contextualizing worship got my attention, especially as our church is booking the group Aradhna for a missions festival in March, aimed at reaching the Indian community.
Aradhna sings Christian bhajans which, if you did not know the Hindi language (and that too very intimately and often scholarly), would strike you as being no different than any other bhajan sung at a Hindu temple. I'm excited about the group, having listened to fusion music composed by friends as well as famous bands like Mahavishnu, and discontent that much Christian music seems to be content just following well-trodden musical paths. Beyond this fact, I'm truly unable to actually worship God using bhajans for personal devotions. The best way a person like me, used to Western hymns, choruses and instruments (with some Indian instrumentation thrown in, as Caedmon's Call does), could engage Aradhna's music is to listen and enjoy for the music itself.
I can certainly envision a group of people raised in the Hindu tradition, say in Varanasi, who should be able to enjoy and worship Christ with Christian bhajan-singing. Similarly, Christian Carnatic music should appeal to those raised to appreciate its beauty and who are intimately familiar with the language the hymn is sung in. For reasons historical and contemporary (such as the conducive nature of Western hymns for congregational involvement), urban Indian Christians like me cannot be easily reached by sich indegenization, especially in a rapidly changing culture.
How well will Aradhna be received in Chicago? They will surely praise Aradhna as a talented and musically sensitive group. I also hope that people will be drawn to the lyrics by the Spirit of God. In an urban community raised on Bollywood and pop music, I'm not sure if they will be able to worship in that style. It's time we re-thought the meaning of 'culture', and adapted ourselves more naturally to the zeitgeist.
In any case I think music has dominated worship so much we have begun to forget that it is only one of the aspects of worship. At Wheaton College Church the service sheet urges the congregation not to applaud the musicians as all the glory needs to go to God. Besides the music is structured so that it doesn't take up the time required for other aspects of the service. I have been part of churches in India though, in which the vast majority of the services was singing choruses, repeated for maximum effect, that the term 'worship' itself actually meant the music! Surely an unfortunate development. But that is fodder for another, later post!