Christianity 201

October 1, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together. – Isaiah 52:18a, NASB

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. – I Corinthians 12:12 NIV

As someone who has been part of music ministry in many different churches, I don’t know how I missed today’s analogy before. (I’ve added italics and bold type for emphasis!) We begin with a return visit to Christward Collective and a piece by author Gary Wilbur. Click the title below to read the article in full at source.

Singing in Parts

I love plainsong chant and the power of unison singing. This type of singing fulfills particular roles in worship that part-singing cannot. However, I would suggest that the current status of congregational singing is not lacking in unison options but is in fact neglecting the benefits of singing in parts.

One reason that people do not sing in church is the lack of opportunities to do so with a voice part or a melody that fits into their vocal range. Altos and basses were not physically made to sing in the same range as sopranos and tenors. When faced with a high melody line and no opportunity (or training) to sing anything else, basses and altos either stop singing or strain their voices. If they are able to hit the higher notes, they do so in a different part of their voice that makes them stick out of the blend.

Singing in parts allows for different voice ranges to have vocal parts that fit their voice. This allows them the opportunity to participate more fully in congregational singing—which is, of course, a significant reason for singing together in the first place.

In addition, when people sing in harmony the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Literally. Notes sung together cause sound frequencies to resonate together in such a way that “sounds” other notes that are not physically being sung. The combination of voices creates the opportunity for additional notes and harmonies to fill out the music with greater richness.

Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions. The melody is supported by the harmony, the inner voices contribute tension and release, color, and enriched harmonic textures. The sopranos need the basses who need the altos and tenors…

He then moves on to talk about some of the practicalities of music ministry that aren’t applicable to all readers here.

It’s import to note that the idea of the capital “C” Church as a body is itself an analogy; so that when we noted that part singing is analogous to the notion of that body, we’re actually proposing an analogy to an analogy. We can get quite carried away doing this.

But we wouldn’t be the first to propose that the music of the church can be a microcosm of something taking place on a larger scale. For example, most of the basic chords in music are comprised of three notes, and writers in past centuries saw this as analogous to The Trinity.

Augustine wrote, “In that supreme triad is the source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and wholly blissful delight.”

That quotation was sourced at the article “A Perfect Chord: Trinity in Music, Music in the Trinity” by Chiara Bertoglio (link here; opens as a .pdf) where we also see this:

In Greek theory and philosophy, since music is an expression of order and harmony, it is analogous with the harmony of nature, and is sympathetic with it. For Christians, the harmony of creation mirrors the Creator.  (p488)

But music can be highly complex. How far do we take such analogies?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer significantly used the musical image of the counterpoint between cantus firmus and higher parts as a metaphor of our love for creation and Creator: our love for God is the basic melody, ‘to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.’ (p491)

And what do we say of polyphony? Or poly-tonality? Or the place of unresolved chords or even discords? It gets complicated when we try to impose too much on an analogy or metaphor; when we run too far down the rabbit trail!

So let’s leave it where we started, namely that Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions.

That’s an image I believe we all can embrace, and can remember the next time we hear four-part harmony sung in worship to God.

 

 

May 9, 2016

Psalms: The Missing Jewel in the Modern Church

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

While certain types of prayer and praise rate high with some, I believe that God is happy just to have us commune with him. That includes expressing our angst, our frustrations, our deep longings.

Today’s post includes some excerpts from an article by worship songwriter Graham Kendrick. For a better experience of these thoughts, you are encouraged to click the title below. The site is also a wealth of songs Graham has written.

Psalms – The missing Jewel of the Worshipping Church?

graham kendrickIt was several decades ago that A. W. Tozer described worship as the ‘missing jewel of the evangelical church’. It was one of the messages that helped to fuel an embryonic worship movement that has since transformed the way millions worship across the world. I hope the late great man will forgive me for adapting his words for today to read: Psalms – the missing jewel of the worshipping church.

I have read them regularly, composed songs from them, and spontaneously sung them straight from the page for many years, but even so I think I am only just beginning to wake up to their immense power and significance. I love to open up a good commentary and learn about them from a scholar, but something remarkable starts to happen when I open up my mouth and wrap my lips, tongue and heart around the words and pray them aloud…

…One of the strongest arguments for using the Psalms is both simple and profound – it was what Jesus did. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, songbook and meditation manual, and if he needed them how much more do we? …

Kendrick then explains the absence of The Psalms as owing to the current state of worship:

The vital place of the psalms to our spiritual ancestors is beyond question, so why are they sidelined today? There are many historical reasons I am sure, but one very contemporary one is that our media-intensive culture moulds us as spectators rather than participants, looking to screens, stages and platforms to be ‘done to’ and spoon-fed experience rather than learning how to nourish our own spiritual lives. In this atmosphere many Christians have become ‘event-dependant’ and have little idea how to sustain themselves between ‘fixes’. Those who have the job of providing the ‘spectacle’ week by week become exhausted under the demands.

There are many songs today that give us an excellent language for expressing our personal love and thanks to God but the Psalms also give us a language for anger, for frustration that the world is not as it should be, for protesting against injustice and for lamenting the tragedies that we see around us, and a language of hope for the future. We need to rediscover some of this language in our worship today – that allows the Christian community to grieve, protest, lament, and anticipate God’s final victory…

But then he suggests one practical way we can experience the Psalms. In this section he quotes Eugene Peterson who references Isaiah 31; the word usage in the first section is important here:

This is what the Lord says to me:

“As a lion growls,
    a great lion over its prey—
and though a whole band of shepherds
    is called together against it,
it is not frightened by their shouts
    or disturbed by their clamor—
so the Lord Almighty will come down
    to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.

Kendrick writes:

How do we pray the psalms? One of the best ways is simply to read them out loud, but not in a detached, cerebral way. The book of Psalms begins with a promise that the person who meditates in the law of the Lord is like ‘a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.’ That is quite a promise. Meditation sounds like a purely mental activity, but according to Eugene Peterson:

“Meditate [hagah] is a bodily action; it involves murmuring and mumbling words, taking a kind of physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips. Isaiah uses this word ‘meditate‘ for the sounds that a lion makes over its prey [Isaiah 31:4].” [Eugene Peterson, Answering God]

The Psalms spring to life when we engage with them physically – try it!

Again this is about half of the article; click the title to see it all.

Something more to think about:

Graham Kendrick concludes the full article with this observation:

Jonah’s Psalm-like prayer in the belly of the whale [Jonah 2:2-9] was not original, its component parts can be traced back to at least 10 sources in the Psalms. He had been to ‘Psalm-school’, worked out at ‘Psalm-gym’ and so in a moment of desperation, he had a vocabulary of prayer to draw upon.

 

July 18, 2012

Why Modern Worship Music is Praise, Not Worship

I know you guys like to go deep, so today’s post is no exception, but unfortunately the writer delves deeply into this topic, but leaves us without a key scripture verse today, so just to frame it up, we’ll begin with a brief repeat item.


The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (NASB)

Christianity is a singing faith. No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.

Why?

The verses give us the answer, we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course, we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text. Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence. Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.


…That brings us back to today’s item with the provocative headline!  The writer is Father Christopher Smith, writing at the Catholic Education Center Resources blog.  You MUST click through to read this, I am simply reiterating his points without the supporting paragraph that goes with each one. If you leave a comment, please identify which item number you are responding to.  And please don’t leave a comment if you didn’t read the supporting paragraph for that item.

Father Christopher Smith, PhD, STD is administrator of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Taylors, South Carolina.  He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. Father Smith speaks Spanish, Italian, French and some German. He enjoys reading, kickboxing, and music.

I’ve changed his title in the headline above, because I believe he is mostly addressing the modern worship movement as practiced in most Evangelical churches and blended with hymns and liturgical music in more traditional churches. I address that more at the end of this first section.

Here’s the link: Why Praise and Worship is Praise but Not Worship.

Outline of points:

  1.  P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2.  P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence

Let me again state that where he is using the phrase P&W music, I believe it is more correct to say “Modern Worship.” The reasons he gives are rooted in a deep understanding of Roman Catholic spirituality, but are overshadowed with the assumption that only certain styles or genres of music are an appropriate part of a liturgy, i.e. a worship service. This assumes that would be impossible to make the mass (or an Protestant worship service) more culturally relevant to people overseas, or that an encounter with God through worship is not going to have a deep emotional element. (If the end result is rooted in, for example, Gregorian chant; to impose this on people in other countries is not unlike the fringe groups who insist that only the King James Bible saves, and therefore, they must first be taught King James English.)

I also think it is important to remember that today’s modern worship is an outgrowth of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, and today’s CCM has its earliest roots in the Catholic folk masses of the early 1960s. (See this video as an example.)

But I also believe it not wise to be too dismissive of the writer’s passion about the qualities of worship music we aim for; and I have reproduced this here because I believe there is application here for Christians of all stripes. This is, I believe, the type of thinking more of us need to be exposed to, even if we ultimately disagree.

He ends with a more positive restatement of the same eleven points:


  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

~Father Christopher Smith

September 29, 2011

Worship Consists of a Life Well-Lived

Jim at Not For Itching Ears recently posted this as a question… Worship: Is it a Life Well-Lived or a Chorus Well-Sung?  I think you already know the answer, but…

We love to discuss those things we are passionate about, don’t we?  Be it our favorite football team (THE Washington Redskins), politics, sports, movies, cultural issues.  Heck we even argue about beer!   Remember the Miller Lite commercials?  For years, Miller Lite drinkers, including the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and John Madden, bickered back and forth on our TV sets.  The argument?  What made Miller Lite such a great beer.   Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling.  Though they were very entertaining commercials, it makes one wonder:  Don’t we have anything better to discuss than beer?

Of course we do!  Over here at Not For Itching Ears, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about a topic that is higher up the food chain:  Worshipping God.  If you read these posts (millions of people do each hour)(just kidding), then you know I have been searching and studying and thinking out loud a lot lately.  I don’t know why.  Everywhere I go, every conversation I have, many of the sights I see cause me to reflect on what it means for a Christian to worship our great Redeemer.   The two facts that seem to be fueling this journey are these: 1)  Worship, generally, is not a song we sing, though we can worship God while singing.  2) The church seems to be defining worship as a song we sing.  I think that approach is crippling the church and robbing God of true worship.

Is worship a song that is well-sung or is it a life that is well-lived?

The Bible teaches us that true worship involves the laying down of our lives, and everything that entails.  In turn, we offer our lives back to God, to be lived for Him, His glory, and His alone.   Scripture is full of admonitions like the one Paul gave the church at Ephesus:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life WORTHY of the calling you have received.”  Eph 4:1 NIV

This word “worthy” literally means “to bring up the other beam of the scales” so that things are equal.   If you put a pound of tomatoes on one side of the scale and a one pound weight on the other side of the scale, the scale will be even.  If everything is working the way it was designed to work, the scale would be perfectly level.  That is the idea here.  The Ephesian believers were being exhorted to conduct their lives in a  way that matched or equaled what they professed.  They were being exhorted to live out their faith.  We might say they were being told to practice what they preached.  With our mouths we say we believe in the Gospel,  will follow Christ anywhere, and want to love Him out loud, but do our lives balance that out?  Or, is one side of the scale higher than the other?  That’s what Paul is talking about here

The more I consider worship, the more I realize that this is EXACTLY what worship looks like.  It is a life laid down.  You and I proclaim God’s worth in every choice we make.   Let’s face it, living for Christ 24/7 is no easy task.  Life is full of temptations, large and small.   Every moment of every day we are bombarded with situations that cause us to choose who we are living for:  Ourselves or our God.  When we choose to follow God and obey His word, we are declaring that what He values is what matters.  We are professing with our deeds that His way is worthy of following.   Isn’t that the essence of worship?  The overwhelming weight of scriptural testimony leads to only one conclusion:  Worship is not what my mouth says, it is what my hands do.  At least that what God likes in a worshipper.

When I put my own life on that scale to see where my life stands, I don’t like what I see.   Like the Ephesians, I need to be reminded that my life should be spent following the master.  To worship Him, we should strive to live lives that are worthy of the King and his message.

Isn’t THAT much more involved than simply singing a few songs?

Many will counter and say that worship can be both a life well-lived and a song well-sung.  Just like Miller Lite could be both great tasting and less filling.  And I agree!  However I believe the church would do well to emphasize the true character of worship:  a life laid down.  When the body of Christ becomes gripped by this understanding of worship, the Gospel will spread like wildfire.

For more on this topic see our series called: Forget About Singing, God Wants Us To Worship Him His Way

~Jim Greer

July 14, 2010

Love Unknown: This Isn’t The Answer to Prayer I Wanted

From yesterday’s modern worship song, we flash back more than a hundred years for the song “Love Unknown” (the tune name, which I chose as the blog post tile) better known as “Oft When of God We Ask.”  And yet, there’s something very contemporary about these soul-searching lyrics, and approach to its theme: Trusting God in trials.   It’s almost out-of-sync with other hymns from the same era.  (Or perhaps, with the hymns that have survived with which we are now familiar.)    The writer is Thomas Toke Lynch (1818-1871).   I tried to find a video for this, but as you can imagine, this is a very obscure hymn.

Oft when of God we ask
For fuller, happier life,
He sets us some new task
Involving care and strife ;
Is this the boon for which we sought?
Has prayer new trouble on us brought?

This is indeed the boon,
Though strange to us it seems :
We pierce the rock, and soon
The blessing on us streams ;
For when we are the most athirst,
Then the clear waters on us burst.

We toil as in a field,
Wherein, to us unknown,
A treasure lies concealed,
Which may be all our own:
And shall we of the toil complain
That speedily will bring such gain ?

We dig the wells of life,
And God the water gives ;
We win our way by strife,
Then He within us lives ;
And only war could make us meet
For peace so sacred and so sweet.

June 17, 2010

Now We Gonna Have Church…

Set aside ten minutes, kick off your shoes, turn your speakers loud, toggle full screen mode, and watch this: