With One Voice

Your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ. Yes, one and all, you should form yourselves into a choir, so that, in perfect harmony and taking your pitch from God, you may sing in unison and with one voice to the Father through Jesus Christ.

—Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians (c. A.D. 100) 4:1

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

—Romans 15:5-7

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Happy Reformation Day!

It is often said that Luther restored congregational singing.  This is true, but he did more than that: Luther restored preaching to the congregation—a most appropriate activity for lay priests. “If, now, the congregation is to proclaim the divine truth, it must have a sermon worth preaching. This is the reason for the substantial…doctrinal content in many of the Reformation hymns.”

—P. J. Janson, “The Reason We Sing, Reformation and Revival 4.4 (Fall 1995), 19

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

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

Not Up to Us

In biblical teaching the initiative lies with God, not with us. We can certainly pray that He would move us to honor Him and encourage one another in our singing. But God’s ability to minister to us in a gathering of His people does not depend on the intensity of our singing, the degree of our enthusiasm or the style of our music.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 129

Music as A Means

If music is simply used to create a mood or to entertain, it can be manipulative (e.g. the excessive repetition of songs to intensify the emotions of those present). But when it is employed to highlight the meaning of words, music can plant biblical truth memorably and powerfully in our hearts. Music can help us to be involved in prayer and praise emotionally as well as intellectually. It can be a vehicle for expressing deep reflections and feelings.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 141