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

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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

The People’s Song (4)

One of your great objects should be to induce all the congregation to join in the singing. Your minister should help you in this, and his exhortations and example will be a great assistance to you; but still as the Lord’s servant in the department of sacred song you must not rely on others, but put forth your own exertions. Not only ought all the worshippers to sing, but each one should sing praises with understanding, and as David says, “play skilfully” unto the Lord. This cannot be effected except by instructing the people in public psalmody. Is it not your duty to institute classes for young and old? Might you not thus most effectually serve the church, and please the Lord? The method of Mr. Curwen, and the use of his Sol-fa Notation, will much aid you in breaking ground, and you can in after years either keep to the new method, or turn to the old notation as may seem best to you. Thousands have learned to sing who were hopelessly silent until the sol-fa system was set on foot. The institution of singers, as a separate order, is an evil, a growing evil, and ought to be abated and abolished; and the instruction of the entire congregation is the readiest, surest, and most scriptural mode of curing it. A band of godless men and women will often instal themselves in a conspicuous part of the chapel, and monopolise the singing to the grief of the pastor, the injury of the church, and the scandal of public worship; or else one man, with a miserable voice, will drag a miserable few after him in a successful attempt to make psalms and hymns hideous, or dolorous. Teach the lads and lasses, and their seniors, to run up and down the Sol-fa Modulator, and drill them in a few good, solid, thoroughly musical tunes, and you, O sons of Asaph, shall earn to yourself a good degree.

Charles Spurgeon. The Sword and The Trowel, June 1, 1870. 276-277