Category Archives: Church History

Worthy are You to receive Glory

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:
the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.”

(Revelation 4:1-11 ESV)

Some things never change

“There exists a vast mass of love songs of the poets, written in a fashion entirely foreign to the profession and name of Christians.They are the songs of men ruled by passion, and a great number of musicians, corrupters of youth, make them the concern of their art and their industry; in proportion as they flourish through praise of their skill, so do they offend good and serious-minded men by the depraved taste of their work. I blush and grieve to think that once I was of their number. But while I cannot change the past, nor undo what is done, I have mended my ways. Therefore, I have labored on songs which have been written in praise of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
(c. 1525-1594)


And He shall be called Emmanuel; God with Us

In honor of the Christmas celebratory events that are so soon to come upon us, I have decided to give this post an advent theme!  That, and I was inspired by the rendition of the hymn “O come o come Emmanuel,” we sang in Church on Sunday as they attempted to squish the 12th century carol into three chords and a march like rhythm driven by boom chucks on the trap set. This replete with three women singing into microphones and bopping around like they were singing “Here comes the sun doot do do do,” with egg shakers and an occasional brush of the wind chimes.  Between that and the rewritten gender-inclusive, non- militaristic lyrics, I was so distracted I had absolutely no idea what we were singing about.

For clarification, I have nothing inherently against trap sets, egg shakers or wind chimes, or even bopping women with microphones.  But seriously, stop for a minute and read these words.  What are we singing about? Who are we singing to?

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As I was ranting in the car on the way home to my husband, he pointed out (and I believe he was right) that I can’t really hold the musicians at fault- they are not trained musically, and they are just doing with they have always done.  No song would be complete without an egg shaker. =)  But here’s the thing, whether the musicians were “at fault” or not – I still think what they were doing was inappropriate.  We were singing about the incarnation of Almighty God in human flesh come to earth to ransom His people from death and Hell.  How does boom chuck and egg shaker add to or uphold that message? Someone with a great amount of skill and musical intuition could probably make it work- but it wasn’t happening on Sunday.

I think one of the things I have been most struck with lately is that if the intention of our music is to express some truth about God and His work in the world, we must express it in a way that neither dilutes or distracts from that message.   When Christ was preaching He often said things that his “audience” did not find immediately understandable or even gratifying,  some of which we still struggle with today- “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Whoa.  Yet, He didn’t seem trouble Himself saying, “oh, you’re right, that’s way too complicated, let me simplify, let me make that more ‘culturally relevant’ or let me make that ‘less offensive’.” He spoke what was true.  As servants of Christ, the music we make should be appropriate to the message we wish to send, music that is true.  It should be true to the message of Christ.

Inspired by my husband’s message to his youth group later that night, the next morning I read the book of Matthew, one of the places where we find that beloved quotation from the book of Isaiah, “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel (which means, God with us).”  If you keep reading through to the end of the book, Matthew concludes with Jesus saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Sometimes when you read only sections, this ending can seem kind of abrupt, but read as a whole- the book is meticulously crafted- ending where it began like perfect bookends.  God with us.  I feel like this might be an important concept, and probably not a real simplistic one. One that may not find itself well expressed with three chords, boom chucks or shoo-bop-sha-doobidoos.

Emmanuel, God is with us.  This is what Christmas is all about.  Almighty God has come to earth in human flesh to save us, to reconcile us to Himself, so that He may be with us even to the end of the age.  He wants you to know. He wants you to hear.  Don’t let the egg shakers distract you from the truth of the message.

What does that mean anyway?

So this Sunday as we were driving into church I happened to glance over at one of the church signs we passed.  Usually these signs contain what the sermon topic of the week is going to be or some ridiculous quote that makes me slightly queasy.  For example, one week this sign proudly pronounced: “Scooby dooby doo, God loves you.” Seriously, that’s what it said. Proceed with heavy groaning.

Anyway, this Sunday’s epithet was an advertisement for a service that would utilize Christian pop rock.  I don’t get it. What does that mean anyway?

First, a disclaimer- I personally enjoy listening to varieties of both popular and rock music.  I also like cotton candy, but I don’t eat it for breakfast, that would be neither appropriate nor healthy.

Okay, back to Christian pop rock.  It seems like this term is an oxymoron, or it should be.  First, the term pop: popular, was Christianity ever meant to be popular?  In our society, popular also means secular, what is accepted by society at large.  Popular music is born of a worldview that holds up the pillars of “instant gratification,” and “give the people what they want.” What do these things have to do with Christianity?  In my mind: nothing.  In fact, these ideals are downright anti- Christian.

Rock: the term in itself implies the heavy rhythmic force that drives this style of music.  In the days of the Patriarchs, pagan music was vehemently spoken against and mainly on these grounds: the music of pagan worship used extremely loud instrumentation, which rendered the words used superfluous, and the rhythms were meant to encourage frenzied and sexual dancing.  Sound familiar?

Another disclaimer: I was a drummer in high school; I love driving rhythms.  I also love to dance.  I am not saying Christian music should have no rhythmic interest or that Christians shouldn’t dance, but how should these gifts be implemented in the church?  The medium you use to get your message across becomes part of that message.  What is the message of Christian pop rock?  Is it one we wish to propagate in the sanctuary?

Pious doggerel

“One hundred and twenty-one years ago, Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney voiced concern over the fact that the popular gospel music of Dwight L. Moody’s cohort, Ira Sankey, was finding its way out of the revival tent and into the sanctuary of many a Reformed congregation.

The most that can be said of Mr. Sankey’s [songs] is that they do not appear to have introduced positive error as yet, and that they exhibit no worse traits than a marked inferiority of matter and style to the established hymnals of the leading churches. The most danger thus far apparent is that of habituating the taste of Christians to a very vapid species of pious doggerel, containing the most diluted possible traces of saving truth, in portions suitable to the most infantile faculties supplemented by a jingle of “vain repetitions.” ”

This is taken from an article on the Reformed Worship website- for the full article click on the link below.

Just any song won’t do

“Holy Holy Holy” or “Nice nice nice” ?

I have trouble praying sometimes . . .

Not that I have trouble coming up with things I think I should tell God, but sometimes I find myself again and again just coming to God with my little list of things I would like Him to do for me today.  In the words of my mother, “God probably laughs when I continue to bring Him all of my ideas about how His world ought to be run- but He lets me ask anyway, so I do.”  I know that requesting things of God is something allowed- even highly encouraged in several places in scripture. In fact, more of the Psalms found in the Bible spend their time petitioning God (or even vehemently complaining) than anything else.  But the Psalms do something I do fairly seldom- more than thanking God for what He has done, they praise Him for who He is.  Sometimes I need to use the words of others to help me to do this.  What words do I use to praise God for who He is?  I seem to run out- my heart can feel them, but my head and my mouth at times have a hard time articulating.  So, last week I decided to start by simply praying my way through a hymnal I have sitting on my bookshelf.  Sunday evening I opened up to the first page- and there was “Holy Holy Holy.”  Now, there are some words.

Lately I have been reading from a book by Frank Burch Brown called Good Taste, Bad Taste and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life.  In chapter eight, Brown quotes Edward Farely saying,

“To attend a typical Protestant Sunday morning worship service is to experience something odd, something like a charade . . . Lacking is a sense of the terrible mystery of God, which sets language atremble and silences facile chattiness . . . If the seraphim assumed this Sunday morning mood,  they would be addressing God not as ‘holy holy holy’ but as ‘nice nice nice.'”

Granted, I think this is a slight exaggeration, but only slight.  I have been in many churches where this seems to be the general feel- it comes across in the posture we take during our worship, and especially in the words we speak and sing.  We are not being trained to think of and speak of God as a Holy God we should prostrate ourselves before, but as a pretty nice guy who is willing to fix your problems so say thank you.

I have been mulling over this idea of the Hebrew verb “prostrate yourselves” and how it is often translated “worship” in our English Bibles.  It seems we have lost much of this sense in our musical worship as a Church today.  During my undergrad I often stumbled upon advertisements for churches that promoted themselves as having “really great worship.”  This generally implied a well-rehearsed band that played lively music in a dimly lit auditorium.  What any of this had to do with prostrating ourselves before the creator of the universe, I have no idea.

Here are the words to the hymn- many of you probably already know the tune (NICAEA) that generally accompanies it. The lyrics were written by Reginald Heber in 1826 paraphrasing texts describing the throne room of God found in Isaiah and Revelation.  Maybe you are at a loss for words as well when it comes to praising the God of the Universe- maybe words like these will help.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

“Holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Revelation 4:8

Whatever is true… whatever is lovely

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

The Medievals, or rather- the premoderns, thought of beauty, goodness and truth to be inescapably tied to each other.  By definition, if something was beautiful, it must necessarily be also true and good.  If something is to be called good, it must be both beautiful and true, and lastly, if something is true, it is therefore both good and beautiful.  Today, however, we say, “Well, the truth can be ugly,” as well as holding both beauty and goodness to be subjective properties- subject to how each person “feels” about it.  Yet centuries of Saints (that is, our brothers and sisters in Christ) counter this thought.  They hold that our human vision of what is beautiful and what is ugly is distorted due to our inability to see as God sees.

In his treatise on Music, De Musica, Augustine says this,

“ God made sinful man ugly; but it was not an ugly act to make him so.  Man became ugly by his own wish.  He lost the whole, which, in obedience to God’s laws, he once possessed, and was given his place in part of it, since he was unwilling to practice the law, and therefore is governed by the law instead.  Lawful acts are just, and just acts are not essentially ugly. (That is, it was just of God to curse sinful man- to make him ugly.  Yet justice is true and good, and therefore beautiful- though to our human eyes it is ugly.)  Even in our bad deeds there are good works of God.  Man, as man, is good.  Adultery is bad.  But from adultery, a bad act of man, is born a man, a good act of God.”

The reformer Martin Luther speaks of the “hidden” acts of God.  The most hideous and beautiful act in all of human history are one- the crucifixion of Christ, God in human flesh.  Humanity, in the pinnacle of depravity, took the creator of the cosmos and killed Him.  In this same moment, God, the definer and essence of all that is good, beautiful and true- became Man, and gave Himself up to be killed in order that His fallen creation could be reconciled to Him.  Here is the epitome of beauty hidden within the epitome of ugliness.

What does this have to do with music or worship (the supposed topic of this blog)?  Everything.  We think of music as something completely sensuous- that is something that appeals to our senses.  We get to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly based on our personal opinion.  But what if we do not perceive reality correctly?  What if we don’t truly know what makes something ugly or beautiful?  Are beauty, truth and goodness subjective or objective? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we do not know what truth is?

Crossover

There is this group I love to listen to called the East Village Opera Company. Basically they are a rock group who take pieces originally from opera scores and arrange them in more ‘modern’ settings. It’s a lot of fun. The most ironic thing about my liking it is probably the fact that I don’t care for opera much as a genre, nor do I listen to large amounts of rock, but the fusion of the two somehow hits me as fantastic. I stumbled across one of their albums my freshman year of college and heard Léo Delibes’ Flower Duet for the first time. I understand, for all you opera fanatics out there, that A) the fact I had never heard the flower duet until college and B) that I actually enjoyed listening to it sung in straight tone accompanied by drums and electric guitar, will be more than mildly disturbing to you. Oh well. Regardless, I ended up falling in love with the piece and ending up singing the original version as a duet with my voice teacher for my senior recital.

This idea of a crossover artist (musicians who combine different musical genres and traditions) has been gaining more and more popularity in the last few decades. Much of it has been put forth by the art-music community reaching out to the popular music community (if I may oversimplify). It could be seen as a form of musical evangelism if you will. From Josh Groban to the Three Tenors, this kind of music is popping up all over the place. It is fun, and a lot of it I find fresh- a new way to listen to things. The problem is- it isn’t really “converting” popular music lovers into giving classical music a try. What it is doing is giving people unfamiliar with art (or classical) music little snack-bites of what art music is … but it isn’t the real thing. What it is more often doing is making art music “poppy.” It is music that has been mass marketed, mass-produced, and then outsourced. Soon it will be for sale at Walmart posing as the genuine article but for half the price, half the time and half the effort. But it’s not the real thing…it just isn’t.

We in the Church often do the same thing when we “market” our faith. As is often the trend in evangelism, and especially prevalent in evangelism involving music – we attempt to reach out to those in need of Christ by putting “Christ” in their language, their style. This is not completely without precedent. In the book of Acts chapter 17, the Apostle Paul does the same thing. He appeals to Greek Gentiles through their  idea of the “unknown God,” as well as quotes from their own philosophers in a way that was both respectful and understandable to those he was witnessing to. But by the end of his testimony, Paul has distanced himself from these poets and philosophers- making his appeal only in Christ. There is validity in presenting the Gospel in a way that is comprehensible to those we are trying to reach- however caution is needed. To bring Christ into the world’s idiom dilutes His message. While a new style may bring freshness to the message, or share the old truth in a new way, it is often only a snack-bite of the whole message. It’s like Christ…not actually Christ. It’s the Walmart version- cheaper, quicker and easier. Essentially, East Village Opera Company has little to do with classical music, and Jesus Christ Super Star has little to do with the Gospel.