REFORMATION 500: Good for Whom?

Our society is mixed. In almost every congregation there are folks who want to sing the “old” hymns (i.e., those of revivalism), people who want to sing the “good” hymns (i.e., those that are in good taste), and persons who want to sing “something that moves” (i.e., those songs that have a “beat”). I would submit that none of these is more Christian or more adequate than any of the others. We must learn to think of our Church music in terms of being “good for” whom, not in abstract terms of quality. 

—James F. White, “Liturgical Reformation: Sixteenth Century and Twentieth,” in Christian Worship in North America, A Retrospective: 1955-1995, 72

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REFORMATION 500: The Church

First, there was the insistence on the church as the divine community through which and in which worship is offered to God. We are still far from understanding the full significance of the doctrine of the church in the thought of the Reformers. It is sometimes held not only by the opponents but by the adherents of Protestantism that the Reformation meant the triumph of religious individualism over against the conception of a divine community, continuous and universal. Yet we may read as strong an expression of the priority and centrality of the Church in the writings of the Reformers as in any Roman or Anglican document.

—Rev. D. H. C. Read, “The Reformation of Worship,” Scottish Journal of Theology 8:1 (March 1955):72

REFORMATION 500: Hymn Debate

As much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities. In the early decades of the Reformation, Calvinists broke with Lutherans over several important matters, but one was existentially apparent at every gathering for worship: the singing. Lutherans sang hymns that with considerable freedom expressed their understanding of the gospel (like Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” or “From Heaven High I Come to You”), and they often sang them with choirs, organs, and full instrumentation. Calvinists, by contrast, sang the psalms paraphrased and with minimal or no instrumental accompaniment (like the 100th Psalm, “All people that on earth do dwell,” which was prepared by William Kethe for English and Scottish exiles who had taken refuge in Calvin’s Geneva during the persecutions of England’s Catholic Mary Tudor). However natural it may now seem for Protestant hymnals to contain both Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and Kethe’s “Old One Hundredth,” in fact it took more than two centuries of contentious Protestant history to overcome the visceral antagonism to “non-scriptural” hymns that prevailed widely in the English-speaking world. It was even longer before organs, choirs, and instrumental accompaniment were accepted.

—Mark Noll, “Praise the Lord: Song, Culture, Divine Bounty, and Issues of Harmonization” http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/novdec/9.14.html

REFORMATION 500: Adoration and Action

One of the most significant accomplishments of the Protestant Reformation was overcoming the monastic understanding of the relations between the life of contemplation (vita contemplativa) and life of action (vita activa). Almost five centuries later, some important segments of Protestant Christianity (especially of the evangelical brand) are still caught in the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular and are operating with a pre-reformation understanding of the relation between (what they term) spiritual worship and secular work. In the context of the reflection on the Christian understanding of worship, it is important therefore to recall Luther’s rediscovery of the Christian calling to active service of God in the world and to reflect on its biblical roots . . .

Christian worship consists both in obedient service to God and in the joyful praise of God. Both of these elements are brought together in Hebrews 13:15-16, a passage that comes close to giving a definition of Christian worship: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise˜the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is please.” The sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of good works are two fundamental aspects of the Christian way of being-in-the-world. They are at the same time the two constitutive elements of Christian worship: authentic Christian worship takes place in a rhythm of adoration and action.

—Miroslav Volf, “Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World” in Worship: Adoration and Action, 203, 207

REFORMATION 500: The Reformation of Worship

It was not simply because the politics of Europe were favorable to the Reformation that it succeeded. The Reformation had very capable leadership. The Reformers were great scholars and men who exercised spiritual leadership of the highest quality. At the center of their reform was a concern for the reform of worship, and they had a profound insight into the nature of worship.

—Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship That Is Reformed According to Scripture, 169