Friday, September 25, 2009

Christian Music Principle (4).

4. Music in Christian worship has two functions.
Music needs both to serve the text, expressing its truth appropriately, and also enable corporate worship.

Words on their own can be "prosody" with intonation, rhythm and emphasis conveying emotions, by gestures and movement. But when music combines with words, its rhythm, melody and harmony powerfully reinforce their impact. Earlier we noted in Col 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 how music expresses both "gratitude in your hearts to God", but also "speaking to one another."

Steve Guthrie (in Worship Leader Jan/Feb 2009) comments how music can help "instruct one another" in three ways:
First, individual texts - words set to music convey much more expression. "As we sing Holy, holy, holy we express hushed reverence before God, but we also explain something about holiness....the music ends up being a kind of exegesis of the text."

Second, "music can provide the interpretive frame for an entire service - or an entire church. Music can help the congregation make sense of what the minister says. Or more tremblingly- it can make nonsense out of what the minister says - ( 'The pastor said that the church lives and values each of us, but the world band acted like the rest of us weren't even here')! Such 'felt elements' contribute to an understanding of what is said.

Third, music of congregational hymns and songs offer oppportunities not only to hear the Word but to do it. For example, in responding by congregational song to "A new comandment I give you: Love one another" (John 13:34), "we have the ....opportunity to do this truth - to enact it. As we sing, we don't just imagine one church composed of many individuals; we actually hear the many voices of the body of Christ, joined into one voice.

Of course music can also be abused. Dawn suggests many further question, such as: Does the chosen style disrupt worship in anyway? Does it prevent community singing or promote it? Is this piece of music characterized by excellence and greatness to a satisfactory extent? That last one is more difficult to define!

Always there's clear danger when music becomes self-indulgent. As David Fitch warns: "Music either presents God's revelation or leads the congregation into faithful response to it. Self-expression is not worship." This may seem overharsh, but the quality of words and music in congregational worship should be about God and his purpose with his community.

How much more could be added here! Of course, your comments are welcome

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Christian Music Principle (3)

Before I get too side-tracked by a new term's teaching, I must try and complete these basic principles (as I see them).

3. Words in Christian worship have two functions.
Two audiences mean that words in Christian music have two functions - they are to praise God but also teach and affirm one another. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee comments - in the early church singing was two-dimensional, offering "both praise to God and once directed toward God, and didactic for the participants." Contemporary hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty say that they write songs with a key principle in mind: "songs should teach the faith, telling truths about God and telling God's story."

First, telling truths about God needs care with words that need to be worthy of God's worthship. As Marva Dawn puts it: "is the text theologically sound? Is it true to God's it a Christian thought? Is it carefully expressed." Some have bemoaned, for example, that contemporary hymns rarely speak of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I preached on temptation last year, the worship planners had difficulty finding any recent songs on the subject. Worthy words, true to God revealed in Scripture, are essential. And when planning gathered worship, they need to confirm the testimony of the preached word.

Second, telling God's story to each other needs care with words that (again in Dawn's words): "need to be conducive to the formation of character, and inclusive for the whole community." How appropriate is the language. Does it use "we" often enough?

Keith and Kristyn Getty describe their intention:
"Take "In Christ Alone" for instance. A lot of peole are moved by the fact that through the verses, Jesus takes on flesh as a helpless babe and ends up on the cross...they've sung through half of Romans by the end of the song, but because you've taken them through a story rather than just giving them didactic truth, it really communicates to them."

Words matter enormously. Words have great responsibility to convey God's worthiness and edify others.....cue the next principle on music inself!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pages from a Preacher's Prayer Book (11)

Last Fall I began posting some devotions that I used in my preaching classes. As term begins next week I am preparing some more, and offer them more widely! This first one is interesting because I occupy a professorial "chair" named after C.W. Koller - a great preacher of the twentieth century - and this was one of his key verses!

11) Christ’s ambassadors
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

Of the many descriptions given preachers one of the boldest is ambassador. Ambassadors and embassies have a contemporary ring. They speak of dignity, courtesy, power, status and influence. But always it is delegated power and influence that is utterly dependent on the wish and authority of the sending government. Ambassadors are only powerful because they represent someone else.

Ambassadors for Christ are powerful people. Too often we belittle the task. We forget that it is world wide in scope – that God is about reconciling the world to himself (verse 19). In a mean and petty world where hate and spite threaten to destroy relationships there is a greater power - God’s healing reconciliation. When I take the human point of view (v 16) and feel like giving up because a task is beyond me, I must know the task is never beyond Christ. Authorizing me is a Big God for Big purposes. He makes his appeal through us. People may think that I am about a little organization and petty detail but my life is part of God’s world master plan.

As an ambassadors for Christ I represent the King of Kings, constrained by his love (verse 14) to overcome division by his “meekness and gentleness” (1 Cor. 10:1). This day, as I walk among others, I represent him. My lifestyle, actions and words are for him.

A Prayer Help me to grow in stature as an ambassador of Christ. Help me realize that nothing I face is beyond your scope; that hate and division do not have the last work in your kingdom. Grant me dignity and courtesy to represent your power today as Lord of Lords and King of Kings and that I may do it by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Christian Music - Principle 2

2) Christian Music has two audiences
It’s no surprise that God, in Three Persons, is the most important audience. Music should please God. Psalm 96:1: “Sing to the Lord a new song” commands singing that is directed “to the Lord” - an offering for God’s sake. Harold Best notes that while “a new song” speaks of a newness arising out of vital faith , it also suggests that we should sing newly. “We can sing a truly new song only once , and thereafter we repeat it….singing a song newly means that we must sing the thousandth repetition as if for the first time.”[i] Pleasing God is primary. Worship celebrates who he is and his deeds of salvation. His attributes and story alone deserve worthship.

However, perhaps it is a surprise that there is a second audience. Christian music is for one another. Eph. 5: 19 emphasizes that music in worship has another audience while addressing God. “Speak to one another with psalms , hymns and spiritual songs’ emphasizes how worshipers testify to one another. This speaking to others is a vital aspect of music’s community building. Singing together enables each person to sound out faith in God , reinforced by the group’s unity. Many of us have known affirmation of faith when sounding out praises to God. Music in worship enables community togetherness like nothing else. As someone has said: "The human voice is the only musical instrument that God has directly created with equal access to music and singing for everyone.” The Reformers preferred congregational singing in unison , without instruments , so as to emphasize both the human voices and unity of the whole.

Perhaps you can recall your first experience of singing with a larger group. I remember belonging to a small youth group that was fairly self-conscious about singing , but going away to the missionary summer school where several hundred young people enthusiastically sang. The thrill of joining in that first hymn , (actually “How Great Thou Art”), certainly focused upon God's greatness, but it was partly about finding how much I belonged with others in Christ. Have you experienced anything like that?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music: Principle (1)

I asked last time: " What are the prime principles regarding music in worship and how we do put them into practice?" So what is the first principle?

1) Music is God's great gift to humankind
Let's state the obvious. Music is God's great gift. He built musicality into creation so that words have even more power through voices and instruments! His story with us in Scripture is full of music. "The morning stars sang together" to herald creation (Job 38:7); Jubal is "the father of who play the harp and the flute" (Gen 4:21); Moses, with Miriam, lead singing at exodus (Exodus 15). David's harp refreshes King Saul (1 Sam 16:32), and King David organizes temple worship (1 Chron 15:16). The psalms are a hymn-book, packed with lyrics from praise to lament, with choirs and instruments of every kind gloriously joining in (Ps 150:3-6). Music accompanies the beginning of Christ's story in Mary's magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and over the Bethlehem fields (Luke 2:14,15 ), and near the end (Matthew 26:30). The early church is exhorted to make melody (Eph 5:19); Paul and Silas sing in prison (Acts 16:25), and multitudes fill the heavens (Revelation 4: 8-11).

Sadly, a few are tone-deaf (pastoral sensitivity is needed), but the great majority of us can testify that music inspires, heals and renews. Popular science suggests that music releases endorphins as pleasurable chemical brain reactions, and few doubt profound links between music and emotions. Indeed the Institute of Brain and Music Sciences (in Mass.) finds vital correlations between music and neurological conditions. Digital communication offers latest confirmation in the popularity of personal playlists. Undeniably, music is an essential part of our lives. Take away music, and life becomes immeasurably poorer.

Apparently Plato the philosopher said near the end of his life that he wished he could have written songs for people because he saw that knowledge is passed on both intellectually and emotionally, by consensus as people sing together. Music is God's powerful creation gift capable of expressing immense emotion and conviction.

All of God's gifts can be abused, and music is no exception. But let's begin with thanks for God's gift of music. Hopefully you agree? Maybe you have other Scripture choices about music? Please let me know.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bucket and Ocean

I think I have found an apt metaphor to use about my work on my next book re preaching and worship. Lytton Strachey describes the historian's task as: "He will row out over the great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen from those far depths to be examiend with a careful curiosity." An ocean and a bucket sum up the writing project so well. Partly, about its scale because worship comprises an ocean of material with the widest of perspectives, complex theological depths and a thousand different practical expresssion. And partly, because I am aware of how little bucket my bucket really is when it comes to experience, reading and thinking. There is always so much more I could plumb!

My Part 3 is proving especially difficult to write because it involves more practical application of some of the big issues. Some of these are of topical interest and I really value imput from others. For example, principles and practice regarding music, or corporate prayer need teasing out. I'm going to begin with music. I hope my bucket's worth will be amplified by your contributions. So, in the next blog I begin to ask: What are the prime principles regarding music in worship and how we do put them into practice?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Writing 13 hours a day

While in New Jersey, Rob and Lori took us to one of their favorite spots - Sunnyside - the home of Washington Irving, US's first internationally famous author. He is best remembered for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

The house and gardens are evocative of the Romantic movement in mid-19th Century America. Set in picturesque scenery, purposely designed to accentuate the beauty of natural landscape, the house almost organically grows out of the soil. A lady, dressed in 1850's costume took us around the (surprisingly) small home. and enthusiastically loaded us with more detail than we could retain.

However, the first room on the right struck me the most. It was Washington Irving's study, with 90% original fittings and fixtures. Lining two walls were books, including copies of his own. His writing desk, complete with candles, oil lamp, coffee pot and cup with saucer was placed center. Our guide explained how extraordinarily hospitable this life-long bachelor was, and how accessible he remained to anyone who would knock at his front door. Yet, she said: " He wrote at that desk 13 hours a day, especially when he was completing the biography of George Washington."

As a (very) small time writer I was staggered. 13 hours a day! Was that right? I checked with her. She seemed a little hesitant in light of my surprise, but she firmly restated: 'Yes, 13 hours a day.'

Opening my lap top to continue work on my worship manuscript this statistic troubles me. 8 hours a day of creative work on my manuscript is a very good outcome for me! Perhaps I will be motivated to yet greater discipline. Anyway, I will open up some of the areas I am presently writing on in future blogs. Looking forward to your responses, as always.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whatever Moment (10)

Everything is about to whir into action as seminary recommences shortly with faculty retreat, much doctoral grading and Masters teaching to prepare for. However, I must rejoice in one last positive moment from Summer 2009 (though, there were many more than ten!)

Last weekend we drove to New Jersey to see our two US grandchildren - Elliot (aged 3) and Sophie (10 months), with their parents Rob and Lori (of course!) It was another overwhelming time of family togetherness. Elliot has just begun at pre-school and on arrival we went to meet him. When we entered his classroom, he looked stunned and then ran full pelt with arms outstretched to where we were standing. As I reached down his momentum rocked me back up on my heels, as he wrapped himself around me. Oh, those spontaneous, unreserved, every-fiber-of-being hugs!

How such sharing of affection cements family togetherness! It echoed an earlier Summer experience with my London grandsons. Naturally there were other momemts in New Jersey. Elliot fell onto sharp wire and cut his finger badly. I burned my arm on the kitchen stove. We got lost on the journey (twice). But mutual love holds through everything. Quite wonderful.