A Prayer for the Church

“Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior.”

Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 45

No Fan of Church Music!

Music sullies the Divine Service, for in the very sight of God, in the sacred recesses of the sanctuary itself, the singers attempt, with the lewdness of a lascivious voice and a singularly foppish manner, to feminize all their spellbound little followers with the girlish way they render the notes and end their phrases. Could you but hear the effete emotings of their before-singing and their after-singing, their singing and their counter-singing, their in-between-singing and their ill-advised singing, you would think it an ensemble of sirens, not of men; and you would be astounded by the singers’ facility, with which indeed neither that of the parrot or the nightingale can compare, nor of whatever else there may be that is more remarkable in this kind, can compare. Indeed, such is their glibness in running up and down the scale, such their cutting apart or their conjoining of notes, such their repetition or their elision of single phrases of the text — to such an extent are the high or even the highest notes mixed together with the low or lowest ones — that the ears are almost completely divested of their critical power, and the intellect, which pleasurableness of so much sweetness has caressed insensate, is impotent to judge the merits of the thing heard.

–John of Salisbury (d. 1180), on early polyphony

Acceptable Worship

Every complaint about worship music, no matter which style, claims to be rooted in theological principles.  Yet in every critique, the theology aligns perfectly with the critic’s own musical taste.  What may be more helpful instead is a pragmatic test based on a bit of wisdom from the Gospels:  “The tree is known by its fruit.”  If this is so, then worship music ought to be judged not by the songs themselves but by the people who sing them. Looking at the songs themselves is rather like looking at the bark of a tree and then pronouncing the tree good or bad.  Better to look at the fruit itself – the lives of the people who are singing the songs.  The job of the local church is to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, to draw people into a living relationship with God, and to remold disciples of Jesus into a Sermon-on-the-Mount shape.  Any worship music that aids a church in these tasks is almost certainly a conduit of the Holy Spirit.  In light of this, maybe it is time to substitute charity for condescension.

–Michael S. Hamilton, “The Triumph of the Praise Songs: How guitars beat out the organ in the worship wars,” Christianity Today 43.8 (12 July 1999)

We tend to think that it’s the sacrifice that makes the person acceptable; but actually it’s the person who makes the sacrifice acceptable.

–Daniel I. Block, on the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4)

Music in Worship: Old but Timely Words

First we must take heed that in music be not put the whole sum and effect of godliness and of the worshipping of God, which among the papists they do almost everywhere think, that they have fully worshipped God when they have long and much sung and piped.

Further, we must take heed that in it be not put merit or remission of sins.

Thirdly, that singing be not so much used and occupied in the church that there be no time, in a manner, left to preach the Word of God and holy doctrine; whereby it cometh to pass that the people depart out of the church full of music and harmony, but yet hunger-baned and fasting as touching heavenly food on doctrine.

Fourthly, that rich and large stipends be not so appointed for musicians that either very little or, in a manner, nothing is provided for the ministers which labor in the word of God.

Fifthly, neither may that broken and quavering music be used wherewith the standers-by are so letted that they cannot understand the words, not though they would never so fain.

Lastly, we must take heed that in the church nothing be sung without choice, but only those things which are contained in the holy scriptures, or which are by just reason gathered out of them, and do exactly agree with the word of God.

–John Norbrooke, A Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dancing, etc. Are Reproved (quoted in Knappen, Tudor Puritanism, 432)

What if?

What if we were, in our own churches and in our own lives, to create a celebration around the table that would be similar to what is happening in that upper room, similar to what is happening in the book of Acts? So that when our children ask us, like the Bible says the children of the Israelites would ask, “Why do we observe this meal?”, we would be able to say with tears in our eyes that, “We are not orphans. And Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so.” What if when unbelievers saw what is going on in our Lord’s Supper services, they would see a banquet worth going to? What if we created in our churches the kind of joyful proclamation through the eating and drinking together, so that people weren’t trying to find that fellowship through Krispy Kreme donuts after Sunday school, but they were seeing it right there in the presence of the worship of the people of God? And what if, by recovering the Lord’s Table, scary as it is, we created the kind of kingdom community, the kind of church in which our children and their theologian dads would look in puzzlement at multinational corporate clowns, lamp heated hamburgers and soggy fries as if to say, “I was at church last night, and you call this a Happy Meal?” What if?

–Russell D. Moore, “Jesus, Take the Meal: Why We’re Afraid of the Lord’s Table (Luke 22:7-30)”, 7   (link HERE)

A Funeral for Jesus?

So often we throw together the Lord’s Supper at the last moment. We spend all of our time explaining what it does not mean. . . . And yet in so doing, we often forget to do exactly what Jesus is doing here, which is saying what this does mean and why this is significant and why this is important. Instead, we live out this dirge-like experience, usually once a quarter, almost like a funeral for someone we don’t quite know. . . .

Why is it that our Lord’s Supper services are so funereal? Why is it that even in churches that have had a very celebrating atmosphere, when it gets to that point, we roll out that table: it looks like a corpse covered in a white sheet. We stand up and believe that what we ought to do right now is to scrunch up our faces and feel sorry for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. When Jesus says, “Proclaim my death,” that is a proclamation of victory.

It is also a magnificent proclamation of the liberating power of God. . . . What we are doing in the Lord’s Table is announcing to one another with the authority of Jesus himself, “I am a sinner. I ought to be in hell right now. And yet, the blood of Jesus washes away all sin.”

–Russell D. Moore, “Jesus, Take the Meal: Why We’re Afraid of the Lord’s Table (Luke 22:7-30)”, 2,4,5,6   (link HERE)