Thinking Out Loud

April 28, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part Two

Guest post by Lorne Anderson 

This is a response to an article we posted yesterday.

Songs of mission? Certainly, you can’t be suggesting that we should be looking beyond our navels? Perish the thought!

If you are want you eat, as the saying goes, are you also what you sing? If so, what do modern worship choruses have to say about English-language Christianity? As music goes, so goes the church in many ways, so if our songs are not missionary, the church probably won’t be either.

I’m old enough to remember the Jesus movement of the early 1970s, when young people caught the vision of the need to spread the gospel, especially given the expected immanence of the return of Christ. That movement was in many ways driven by its music, which was a blend of evangelism and a call to personal holiness.

The late Larry Norman set the tone with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a lament that there would be some not prepared for Christ’s return – which was also a call to go out and tell your friends about Jesus. Others followed. The church as a whole may not have understood, but the youth did.

The songs sung in small group meetings may have been worshipful (“Father I Adore You”) but the need to reach the lost was never far from front of consciousness. Young Christians were excited to have discovered Truth; sharing it was an imperative. The spokes-musicians for what would eventually become an industry felt an urgency to share their faith. Worship music as a genre did not yet exist.

Today it seems worship music has become the dominant Christian musical expression, stifling all other forms of musical creativity. A lot of “worship” music isn’t truly about praising God but more expressing our feelings about praising God. Believe me, there is a big difference. We have become inner-directed to the point that we forget the reason for the church’s existence isn’t just to praise God, but to bring others into a relationship where they want to do the same.

But how do we inspire people to care about the spiritual well-being of others when our songs are all about ourselves? We’re so busy contemplating our navels, and how God loves us, right down to our belly button lint, that we’ve missed the point that we are supposed to be passing God’s love on to others. (“It only takes a spark…”

‘Jesus Music’ inspired my generation. We went out into the highways and byways looking for people who hadn’t heard the good news that is Jesus Christ. Our songwriters led the way, framing our zeal for evangelism in music.

We are supposed to praise God. But if that is all we do, if we lose that missionary vision, our praise in many ways become just resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

It was easier when the mission field was so far away. In my area of a large Canadian city, there are now more mosques than churches – the mission field has come to us. That makes it everyone’s responsibility, not just those who feel an overseas call. That also makes it harder — we have to show love to our neighbor, on a daily basis, and put that love into action.

We no longer need to go to “Greenland’s icy mountains” to reach the lost. They have moved into your neighborhood, into my neighborhood. On the city bus I hear a myriad of tongues and see a variety of skins tones.

Where though are the songs about the spiritual needs of those people on the bus? Who is inspiring the church to leave the comfort of its walls and take the gospel to the nations that have arrived on our doorstep. Who is writing the soundtrack for missionary activity in the 21st century?

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” We’re just not singing it right now.


To learn more about Lorne, follow his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne. We occasionally steal articles from each other but this one was initially written for readers here.

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April 27, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part One

Wall maps like this one at Wolverine Baptist Church in Michigan adorned many a church bulletin board with push pins and string highlighting the church’s mission outreach around the world.

We’ve written before about the shift to vertical worship means there are no longer songs of testimony. But also missing are songs of mission, as well as other categories. I realize that it is no longer politically correct to talk about evangelistic crusades and that songs like Onward Christian Soldiers sound different to 2018 ears than it did when the 1865 lyrics were combined with music in 1871. But I thought we’d collect some stanzas from these classics today perhaps for a last look before they disappear into obscurity.

These are hymns, but you could include some 1980s fare like “Shine Jesus Shine” and “We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High” in this list.


We’ve a story to tell to the nations
That shall turn their hearts to the right
A story of truth and mercy
A story of peace and light

For the darkness shall turn to dawning
And the dawning to noon-day bright
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth
The kingdom of love and light


From Greenland’s icy mountains
From India’s coral strand
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;

From many an ancient river
From many a palmy plain
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain


Far, far away in heathen darkness dwelling
Millions of souls forever may be lost
Who, who will go, salvation’s story telling
Looking to Jesus minding not the cost?

“All power is given unto Me
All power is given unto Me
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel
And lo, I am with you always.”


There’s a call ringing o’er the restless waves
Send the light! Send the light!
There’s are souls to rescue, there are souls to save
Send the light! Send the light!

Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine from shore to shore.
Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine forever more.


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.


O, Zion haste! Thy mission high fulfilling
To tell to all the world that God is light
That He who made all nations is not willing
One soul should perish, lost in shades of night

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace
Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.


Out in the highways and byways of life
Many are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
Making the sorrowing glad

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing
Out of my life may Jesus shine
Make me a blessing, oh Savior, I pray
Make me a blessing to someone today.


A charge to keep have I
A God to glorify
A never-dying soul to save
And fit it for the sky


To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
Where the story has never been told
To the millions that never have heard of his love
I must tell the sweet story of old

To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
‘Til the world, all the world His salvation shall know


Hear the Lord of harvest sweetly calling,
“Who will go and work for me today?
Who will bring to Me the lost and dying?
Who will point them to the narrow way?”

Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I’ll be quick to answer thee
Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I will answer, “Lord send me.”


Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does His successive journey run
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
‘Til moons shall wax and wane no more


Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?

By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior we are thine.


So what’s the point of all this? Just a trip down memory lane for some older readers?

No, the issue is that we don’t have anything today — with the exception of the Getty’s revival of Facing a Task Unfinished, which wasn’t entirely new lyrics — that is thematically equivalent. Our songs are all introspective. We don’t challenge each other.

This was the music of the church, until recently. This is the content that Christians sang on Sunday morning. This was the power of music being used to inspire us to think beyond our church walls, beyond our city, beyond our state, beyond our country and to consider our response to the Great Commission. 

We ought to lament this loss.

 

 

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

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.

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