Thinking Out Loud

January 7, 2018

Worshiping a Generic ‘God’ vs. Worshiping Jesus

On Thursday we looked at the trend in vertical worship and how it has moved us away from songs of testimony and songs of proclamation. I ended with the question,

In your church, do you think there is thought given to the horizontal-vertical dichotomy? Or the distinction between “I” and “we”?

which produced a handful of responses both on and off the blog.

One of these was from Kaybee, a freelance writer herself, former missionary, longtime reader here, and personal friend of ours. (I hoped we could catch her between assignments so that she could flesh out her comment in greater detail but that will have to wait!) She wrote,

Not an answer to your question – but I have always felt it important to specify in hymns and songs just exactly which God we are worshiping. In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour. They need to know it is Jesus we are worshiping, not just any god. Out of your list of 12 hymns/songs – so inspiring for those of us who know Him and love Him – if my calculations are correct, 9 do not explicitly mention Jesus’ name.

I had not given this much thought. What distinguishes the music at our gatherings from something that could be sung at a Unitarian service? (I’ve been to one; they did sing.)

My wife Ruth responded,

I agree to a certain extent, but as a “worship leader”, I have to embrace and acknowledge the whole personhood of the Trinity. Choosing songs that only speak of or to one of the three seems lacking. This is part of the challenge we face: touching on the multi-faceted nature of individually and corporately singing to and about an ineffable and complex God. No song is ever going to be theologically complete and no Sunday service is long enough, so it falls to the “worship leader” to choose wisely and lead well.

There’s merit in that, but I think Kaybee’s comment is addressing the times when perhaps none of the Godhead are being referenced. Besides the religious pluralism now present in Western society, why is that? I have one answer.

Where the traditional hymns had an advantage it was in the multiple verses. The more words written and then sung, the more specific the God being addressed, right?

Not always. Consider this song, pretending you just walked into the “Community Church” for the first time and as a unchurched person have no idea as to their theology and values:

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

O measureless Might, unchangeable Love,
whom angels delight to worship above!
Your ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
in true adoration shall sing to your praise!

If we truly can abandon our Christian perspective for a moment, the God addressed is only clear in the context of other hymns sung at the service, and in the prayers, the scripture readings and also the sermon. By itself, it’s not entirely clear.

Even the classic How Great Thou Art is not initially clear:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul…

That second verse is immensely vague, don’t you think? But the piece is redeemed in the third verse,

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

as well as the fourth.

Think about it. I think the best way to end this for today is to repeat Kaybee’s words one more time:

…In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour… not just any god.


Somewhat related:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones


Lyrics from Hymnary.org and Sharefaith.com. Never trust the results appearing on the Google landing page for any research you’re doing; in this case O Worship The King is attributed to Chris Tomlin. (And these computers want to drive your car.)


Homework:

Make a list of your twelve to twenty favorite all time hymns and then rank them in terms of

  • vertical or horizontal
  • “I” vs. “We”
  • specificity of God worshiped
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August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

November 30, 2014

Some High Church Music

I thought the Christian internet could use a little balance today. Our regular playlist of Bethel Worship, Hillsong United, Rend Collective and All Sons and Daughters will resume momentarily. You can thank me later for this:

November 23, 2014

The one about Hymns and Choruses and Cows

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:25 pm

Okay, I know this is old, but this morning I encountered someone who had never heard it, and so I figure there’s probably more than one. (This was a popular e-mail forward about fifteen years ago.)

Praise Songs explained…

Not long ago a farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”

“Praise choruses,” said his wife, “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The farmer said, “Well it’s like this – If I were to say to you:

`Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

`Martha Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA,
the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows,
the white cows, the black and white cows,
the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn,
are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn,
the CORN, CORN, CORN,’

Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well that would be a praise chorus.”


Hymns explained…

A young, new Christian from the big city attended the small town church one weekend. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

“Well,” said the young man, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”

“Hymns,” said his wife, “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The young man said, “Well it’s like this – If I were to say to you, `Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain?
There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
Hearkenest they in God’s sun or his rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

So look to that bright shining day by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn.
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.

Then, if I were to do only verses one, three, and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”

August 27, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Wonderful the matchless

You know, that thing where you take a bucket of links and pour them over your head…

So there you have it! Not a single link about the social media story of the week, unless you count the sideways reference in that last item. To submit a link, send it by noon on Monday, except for next week, which is a holiday Monday.

 

June 5, 2013

Wednesday Link List

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

Be sure to read the post which immediately precedes this one, about Calvinist propaganda for kids… And now for another day on the links…

  • “If a church tells the Scouts they are no longer welcome to use their facilities a whole bunch of kids, most of whom are not gay, are going to get one clear message: You’re not welcome at church. Fighting the culture war has already hurt the Christian image, as we are much more recognizable for the things we are against.” Before your church has a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, take 90 seconds to read this including the updates in the comments.
  • And speaking of people we make unwelcome in the church, here’s a story like no other: A particularly buxom young woman (i.e. size DD) unravels a sad tale of a lifetime of being marginalized by the local church.
  • Another great, concise (about 12 minutes, I think) sermon by Nadia at House for All Sinners and Saints on Hope. Realistic church motto: “We will disappoint you.” Click this link to the text, then click the internal link to listen, then click back to follow along as you listen. 
  • 30 Churches in Holland, Michigan are covering their individual church signs this week with burlap on which is painted “One Lord, One Church.” This is a movement designed to promote unity between the denominations.
  • The White House has issued a statement pressing the Iranian government for the release of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini, but Iran does not recognize his U.S. citizenship
  • Yesterday’s Phil Vischer Podcast was the best so far! Phil and panelists Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor are joined by anthropologist Brian Howell discussing short-term missions.
  • Teapot tempest or major issue? A Methodist pastor refuses to stand for God Bless America. Hours later, The Washington Post has to run a separate article to showcase all the responses the first article got.
  • For the pastor: A different approach to mapping out your fall (and beyond) adult Christian education program
  • Also for pastors: What to teach about tithing? Andy Stanley teaches percentage giving. But as Jeff Mikels points out, some people don’t like that concept.
  • The K-LOVE Fan Awards are out! Guess what? They like Chris Tomlin. Wow, there’s a surprise! See the winners in all nine categories.  
  • If you don’t mind wading through a lot of posts to unearth some classic wit and wisdom — and several bad worship team jokes — there’s always Church Curmudgeon’s Twitter feed.
  • Rob Bell is on the ‘cover’ of Ktizo Magazine, an e-publication built just for tablets.
  • Porn is an issue for women, too.  Maura at the blog Made in His Image shares her struggle and suggests that step one is sharing your struggle with another person.
  • Also at the same blog: Christian women, should you buy that itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polkadot bikini? Rachel says its a matter of exercising God-given responsibility.
  • We mentioned the blog Blessed Economist once at C201, but I’m not sure if we did here. It’s economics — the real thing, not personal finance — from a Christian perspective. Here’s a short piece to whet your appetite, there are some longer case studies there as well.
  • A friend of ours who graduated recently in film studies has posted a 17-minute short film about a band of orphans Fleeing through the wilderness of post-apocalyptic British Columbia in search of food and shelter who take refuge in an abandoned church and face a horrifying choice.
  • Also on video, a group of high school teens at Camp Marshall got together in 2011 to produce a rather artistic video of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing that serves as a music video and a camp promotional video
Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn't very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn’t very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

March 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Hail Mary dogs

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

Insert skillfully written intro here.

Praying Dogs

April 9, 2012

Easter Monday Meditation

Really, really looking forward to getting my computer back!  In the meantime, here’s a great song for Easter Monday. Most people know the version here by Robin Mark, but there’s also the Bethel Live version which rocks it out a bit more and adds a bridge after some of the verses.  Apparently, the song is a Welsh hymn, though most people would assume it to be part of the modern worship repertoire.

God’s grace and love… vast as the ocean.

November 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

The link you won’t see here today concerns the announcement that Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson is in the process of being acquired by HarperCollins, which already owns Zondervan.  The story bears on so many other issues in Christian publishing, that I decided an additional day’s worth of reflection would bring something substantial to say about the news.  So you’ll have to tune back in tomorrow!

  • The Genesis Code, a faith-based, creation science focused movie opens Friday in theaters in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.  More at Christian News Wire.
  • More on the Mars Hill trademark issue from David Fitch, who feels that branding is “the ultimate anti-missional act.”
  • Francis Chan tells young pastors, “You’re teaching way better than we did…;” but then gives some advice.
  • Pete Wilson wants to know what your greatest concern is about a world with a population now exceeding seven billion.
  • Video discovery of the week: Check out this contemporary version of the very old hymn, My Anchor Holds by Katie and Jacob who call themselves… wait for it… My Anchor Holds. More at their webpage.
  • Our above Venn diagram is from This Is Indexed by Jessica Hagy.
  • The picture at right is from a set taken at Occupy Wellington (New Zealand) by Penelope Lattey who went to the protest with a whiteboard, a marker and an idea.
  • If you thought Monday was merely Halloween, and don’t know why it was also Reformation Day, this short music video might teach ya a little church history.
  • What does it mean to bring a Christian vision or perspective into a public setting; into a pluralistic world? Miraslav Volf previews his new book, A Public Faith in this video preview.
  • Eric Douglas has a great set of four questions that you can use when meeting up with people of other faiths or no faith.  He calls it Talking to an Atheistic Huffalump.
  • How do you feel about the therapeutic (aka healing) power of house pets and animals?  Author Neil Abramson uses this as the topic for his recent book, Unsaid.  For Neil, the story becomes intensely personal. While not a Christian book, a handful of Christian booksellers carry this title.
  • We close with this item from Mike Gilbart-Smith: “Spurgeon came across someone who claimed to have reached sinless perfection. When Spurgeon trod heavily on his foot his perfection dissolved!”  Mike then adds this:
There once was a man from Tangiers
Who said he’d not sinned in ten years.
So I poked his right eye
And his foul mouthed reply
Shows he’s worse than he sometimes appears

June 18, 2011

Music Review: Love Divine – The Hymns of Charles Wesley

Worship leaders looking for the lyrical depth of Stuart Townend or Robin Mark or Sovereign Grace Music need look no further than the great hymn texts of Charles Wesley; but how do we bring these lyrics into the 21st century? 

The answer lies in this collection of thirteen songs. Love Divine: The Hymns of Charles Wesley (Kingsway North America) keeps or follows the original lyrics — a few with the addition of the proverbial bridges so popular today — but adds new melodies, modern chords and current arrangements performed by a number of names you’ll recognize — Brenton Brown, Tim Hughes, Chris Quilala (Jesus Culture), Leigh Nash (Sixpence), Kim Walker — and a number that will be new to you.  The first cut, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” with Tim Hughes is somewhat dominated by its bridge, but most of the rest of the songs stay closer to the hymn lyrics.

With words so familiar, it’s hard to assess the new arrangements without allowing them to grow on you over time. While there are no “conspicuous” cuts among the thirteen — with a balance of faster and slower songs — worship leaders will probably gravitate to lyrics already familiar which they want to employ in weekend worship services.  Otherwise, my only “review” comment would be to say that the musicians have managed to capture the sound of today’s modern worship and apply it to these classic texts.

It’s truly a best of both worlds.

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