Friday, October 19, 2007

My Statement of Music in Worship

As I promised a couple of weeks ago, here are the ideas I hold to about music in worship. Well, these are them as they stood when I wrote this at Westminster about four years ago, before I actually took many courses and read many things about worship itself. I was going to rework them because I think some of these points definitely should be, but I decided to present them and see what comments you might have. For one thing, as I read this I see that my writing style has slowly been changing, but that's another topic. More importantly—no, never mind. As I said, I'm going to post them without more comment.

  1. As God showed His creativity in the act of Creation, and humanity is created in His image (Genesis 1), we should use our creativity to fashion good music and other forms of art (e.g. drama, painting, sculpture, sermons, responsive readings, etc.) for His worship. This is also embodied in the statement that we are to sing a new song unto God (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10).
  2. The act of worship is one of the most important activities in which the church as a community participates. This is also true on a personal level—the act of worship, both communally and personally, gives a greater depth to the spiritual life and the fellowship which one enjoys with God. The focus of worship is God—not our own emotions or desires. It is not something to be merely observed or attended, but is something in which to actively participate. This is one way among many that we can “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice unto God, [as] our spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Participation is not limited to the music leaders (organist, choir members, music director, etc.), but the congregation's voice should be the main instrument of praise. All are commanded to sing (I Chronicles 16:23-25; Psalm 66:1-2; 96:1,2; 98:1; 147:7; 149:1; Isa. 42:10).
  3. The time that is set aside for the community of believers to come together to worship Him is not the time for evangelism to be emphasized. Although evangelism is also one of the highest callings of the people of God, it has its own time and place. The worship service is just that—a time when the worship of God is the main focus. It is good to be reminded of the gift outlined in the Gospel and have opportunity for those who feel the urging of the Holy Spirit to follow His call; however, the purpose of the music of the service is to glorify God and turn our minds towards Him.
  4. What we offer to God in worship should be to Him as the fragrant incense that was burned on the Altar of Incense in the Tabernacle and the Temple. In describing the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, Aaron is commanded to offer two goats, a ram, and incense, the cloud of which will cover the Mercy Seat so that he will not die. For Christians, the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest, through whose eternal sacrifice we are able to enter the presence of God and also into the rest He grants us. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were always accompanied by music (I Chronicles 16; I Chronicles 25; II Chronicles 5:11-14; 23:18). David, in Psalm 69:30-31, even states that praising God pleases Him even more than sacrifice. Our eternal sacrifice, Jesus, also sang a hymn to conclude the Passover meal that we celebrate as the Lord's Supper just before He sacrificed Himself on the cross.
  5. The music that is used should be the very best that can be done. As we are bringing our gifts before God, they should be of the first fruit, as Abel did in Genesis 4:4. This implies that it is the most excellent, not merely something that everyone likes. The priests in the Temple also used the best in music of their time. This is shown in I Kings 5-7—as everything that was done for the Temple was done with great skill, the music must also have been performed as such. II Chronicles 5:11-14 describes the dedication of the Temple, and the priests played instruments and sang praise to God, and His glory came down so greatly that they could not enter the Temple.
  6. The texts of the music in the worship service should be consistent with Scripture, doctrinally sound, and meaningful to the Christian experience. We are told in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (see also Ephesians 5:19). Jesus commanded us to worship God both in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says to pray and sing with both the spirit and the mind (I Corinthians 14:15). Therefore, our music and the texts that are used with it should not just give a nice feeling nor just make good theological sense, but should do a combination of both. Also, just because a particular piece is popular or is known by many people does not make it fitting for true worship. The music is there to glorify God, not for our entertainment.
  7. The ceremony of the church (and the music that's included), whether the celebration of the Lord's Supper or a Good Friday service, must not become so familiar as to become empty ritual. All should be mindful of the significance of everything that is done in the worship service. The service should also be both free and orderly—without the leadership of the Holy Spirit it is dead, but, without order there is chaos.

So, what thoughts might you have? I am definitely open to suggestions. What should be changed? What should be added/omitted? I have some ideas...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall has finally come

Now that there's not a 70 to be found in the ten day forecast, I think I'm safe in saying that Fall has finally arrived in New Jersey. It is the best season of the year, for not only is it time for school (yes, I'm a nerd), it's cool out, and that brings out the beautiful leaves, as well as good, warm things to eat and drink. That's probably the greatest reason I like Fall—because it's time to drag out the good spices, like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc., with which I love to bake things.

In fact, this afternoon as I was heating up some apple cider, I dropped some cinnamon sticks and some whole cloves in. As I did, I was reminded, as I always am, of a conversation with millinerd about what the medieval church used to help people understand theology. In a time when reading and writing was very rare, other means were used to teach the tenets of faith. In this case, cloves are a wonderful object lesson, for whole cloves look like nails. These clove-nails were used to remind the faithful of the crucifixion. It is a wonderful object lesson, because not only is it a visual one, but the very distinctive smell and taste of clove serves as an even greater sensory experience.

It is such a great sensory experience, that now whenever I open the cloves (which is fairly often, because it is my favorite spice), I instantly think of the crucifixion. It's an experience for which I'm glad.

Here's my favorite recipe involving cloves (although, of the ground variety). It's from my grandmother's German grandmother. I like to take them out just when the tops crack, and then dip them in powdered sugar. And you can tinker around with the spices as you like—e.g., I like to add extra cloves.

Sugar & Spice Cookies


- 3/4 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger

Mix the first 4 ingredients together.
Sift other ingredients together and stir into other ingredients.
Form into walnut-sized balls. Bake 10-12 minutes at 350.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

I've mentioned before that this is my favorite hymn, but I've been reflecting on why that is. Last Sunday we sang this in church in the morning, and I got to play it again that evening in the Princeton Seminary Koinonia opening worship (that's the doctoral student fellowship). I also then, on Friday, had my class analyze it on their music theory quizzes, so I had a week to reflect.

Firstly, we should think about its text. Again, as many hymns I've discussed here, Catherine Winkworth translated it, although this time in the 1863 Chorale Book for England, on page 29-30. Its German author, Joachim Neander, wrote the text in 1679. You can read a brief bio of Neander at the cyberhymnal, but of note are that he studied with two famous pietists Philipp Jakob Spener, considered one of the fathers of pietism, and Johann Sch├╝tz; and that he is immortalized through the discovery of Neanderthal Man in the valley named after him.

Winkworth included four verses in the Chorale Book for England, and it is these four that most modern hymnals include.

Praise to the Lord! the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord! who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea so gently sustaineth;
Hast thou not seen
How thy desires have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord! who doth prosper thy work and defend thee,
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew
What the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee!

Praise to the Lord! Oh let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him!

If you look at the cyberhymnal version, you see 7 verses. I'm unsure where they've found them all. I have an 1829 Lieder-Sammlung that includes 5 verses, including the 3rd on the cyberhymnal page, but I haven't found the other verses. My other German hymnals all have the same 5 verses. However, in English-language hymnals, it seems to have only become popular in the latter half of the 20th century, and I can only find the common 4 verses. I'll have to look into that more.

Returning to the text, though, it is a wonderful call to praise. It begins by calling people to worship, moves on to praise God for creation and all that God does for us, and finally concludes with a view towards eternity. The text is the first positive to this hymn—the focus on God's greatness is exactly what should be in a song of praise (unlike some which purport to glorify God and then spend the whole time discussing humans). Further, showing God's greatness through creation is a common theme throughout history, from the Psalms on forward. But, it is the final verse that draws it together for me—for it is in the eschaton that humanity is truly redeemed, along with all creation.

The second positive to this hymn, though, is its music. The tune, which takes its name from the German title LOBE DEN HERREN, is perfectly suited to the text. The most common version, harmonized by William S. Bennett, is an excellent example of classical contrapuntal rules. Since it does follow these rules so nicely, it is exceptionally easy to play, and at the same time greatly embellish for interest on different verses.

Further, the structure of it is exactly what is needed for the text (warning—some music theory follows). Winkworth maintained the rhyming scheme from the German, AABBA. The tune, similarly, follows this scheme. The first line of music is repeated, then comes a contrasting section for the B lines, and the final line takes the second half of the first line to produce the ending—giving the musical structure aaba'. In common practice music, this is a form of what is known as a "contrasting double period," a common phrase structure. The high point of the piece, occurring in the B section, allows for the fall to the final cadence to give a good sense of completion to the hymn.

This combination of text and tune makes this hymn into what I would consider a perfect example of what should occur in worship—a well-constructed yet also spiritually and emotionally uplifting hymn of praise. It fits well into my own theology of music in worship, which I've never discussed here but obviously should. Look for it soon. But, what do you think of this hymn? I've been told by some others that it's one of their favorites—does everyone agree?