Theology and Worship

Good church musicians constantly ask whether the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” of the church’s worship are sung “so that the Word of God may dwell in us richly” (the forgotten purpose clause of Col. 3:16). Good liturgical musicians worry about the link between theology and worship:  whether worship in their church depicts God as only indifferent and far removed; whether it gives the impression that prayer is simply an act of cognition, or conversely, an act of pure emotion; whether worship in their congregation makes it clear that the Bible is central to the life and faith of the church. The good ones, as I describe more fully elsewhere, know that worship expresses the deepest theological convictions of the community and that it reveals as much about the belief of the community as do catechisms and confessions.

–John D. Witvliet,  “Training Church Musicians as Pastoral Liturgists,” Musicians for the Churches: Reflections on Vocation and Formation (2001, Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University, New Haven CT), p.18.

Holiness and Beauty

[Walter] Bruggemann has helped me to understand why so much detail is rehearsed in the text on the tabernacle [in Exodus]:

The [writer] knows that hosting the Holy One is no small, trivial, or casual undertaking. And therefore the practice of symmetry, order, discipline, and beauty is essential to the reality of God’s presence in Israel. This corpus of text on presence requires that interpretation not neglect the demanding reality of YHWH’s holiness, a neglect to which a technological, pragmatic society is immensely open. (in An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination)

Once I read this passage, I started to ask myself the kind of questions that easily upset the fragile ecclesiology of Evangelicals. Do our churches show that “hosting the Holy One is no small, trivial, or casual undertaking”? Where, if at all, do our churches show “the practice of symmetry, order, discipline, and beauty is essential to the reality of God’s presence”? If such practice is absent, why? Have our churches neglected “the demanding reality of YHWH’s holiness” because they conform to “a technological, pragmatic society” rather than challenge it with the superfluities of beauty? . . .

Far too often beauty is sacrificed on the altar of efficiency. Was it efficient for Bishop Fulbert to direct the building of Chartres Cathedral in France? No, but he and others recognized the human need for beauty – a need as profound as the need for truth because both are attributes of God.

–Christopher Benson,, Friday, February 5, 2010