Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hymns vs. Praise Choruses

In my "Music and Christian Faith" class, we are having a lot of discussion about the value/importance/use of hymns and praise choruses. We discuss the content of the two forms, which has more intrinsic value, what worldviews they might promote, what purpose they might fulfill and if the musical setting is even important at all, but while we think about these two forms, I think we take a very narrow view of the options for musical worship. We start to think "Hymns or praise choruses," but I suggest that these are not the only options out there!

The Psalms seemed to be ignored in this debate over hymns and praise choruses, and this puzzles me a little. The Psalms have been the primary source of songs for worship for thousands of years, but they have been largely abandoned in the Evangelical Church today. Complete Psalms have not been set to "chorus" music yet, but they can be sung in metrical styles (like hymns), and plainchant, in monotone chant, or in Anglican chant, all of which are possible for a congregation with a knowledgeable leader and a little practice.

Second, I think we can expand the definition of "hymn." In my class, I think most people are unconsciously defining "hymn" as 18th and 19th century devotional poetry set to 19th century music. Augustine defines "hymn" as "a song in praise of God," which covers a lot more than the common definition above (praise choruses would actually be under Augustine's definition as well). We should expand our thinking about hymns to cover the songs written by men from the Early Church and the Medieval Church. Why limit ourselves to the past 300 years?

It is easy in America today to forget that we, as the people of God, are part of a family that includes Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Job, David, Jehoshaphat, Isaiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Peter, James, John, Paul, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Anselm, Bonaventure, Josquin, Luther, Calvin, Schutz, Richard Cameron, Bach, John Bradford, George Washington, Haydn, R.E. Lee, Mendelssohn, Jonathon Edwards, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Van Til, Rushdoony, Jim Jordan, and Dennis Tuuri. When we sing the songs the saints have used throughout the centuries, we remember that we as Christians are here for the long-haul. We can learn from these saints who have gone before. Try to sing songs from across the breadth of Christian history. It will bring that "cloud of witnesses" one step closer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Joseph Funk Research Project

I'm in the process of putting together a research proposal through the Richter Scholars program at George Fox. I think I want to do some research on Joseph Funk, the "Father of Sacred Music" in Virginia. He published a good and early hymnal (1832) called the Harmonia Sacra, taught singing schools, and printed and sold thousands of copies of his hymnals and other musical materials. I only have a couple weeks to put the proposal together at this point, but I think it's possible. There doesn't seem to be much written about him, but he seems to be an important figure in American sacred music. The Richter Scholars program grants funding for research, pays for some travel, and even pays students a stipend!
If I get the proposal together and they accept it, it might fill up my summer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CREC Memorial on Worship

The Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches has a number of "Memorials" that outline the official position of the the denomination on different issues (abortion, homosexuality, terrorism and other current topics). My pastor (Dennis Tuuri) wrote the majority of the memorial on worship. We have been talking through it the last couple weeks on Sundays. The whole memorial is a little over two pages long, but here is paragraph eight, which is specifically on music:

8. We believe that these portions of the Bible also teach us that each of these glorious aspects of worship are to be set in the context of beautiful music that is maturing in both voice and instrument, to the praise of Christ the King.

Supporting Scripture passages include I Chron. 15:16, 25:6, 7; Ps. 98:4-6; 144:9; 150; Rev. 5:8; 14:2,3; 15:2, 3.

This single sentance covers a lot of ground. 1. What we do in worship is done through music (not all, but most). 2. We aren't making this up. The Bible teaches us to use music, and it has been practiced by the Church through most of history. 3. The music is to be "beautiful," which is hard to define, but it suggests there is some sort of objective standard for beauty that we can work towards. 4. We are to keep maturing. We are to move from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18) moving towards Christian maturity. God is pleased with simple music if it is the best that can be offered, but you shouldn't stay there. 5. We are to use instruments as well as voices. This is clearly stated throughout the Bible, but especially in the Psalms and in Revelation. If David, a man after God's own heart used instruments (and even invented new instruments!) and instruments are used in heaven, I think we can safely say God is pleased when we use instruments for His praise. 6. Our music is to be made in worship to God. It's primary purpose is not to make us feel good or worshipful, or to make the visitor feel comfortable or good about themselves. Its first purpose is to glorify God through reflecting the Beauty, Goodness and Truth of His character. If it does this properly, it will result in the maturation of the Saints.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Singing as a Part of the Christian Life

(This was a response to a post by another student that claimed that Christians don't need to sing, but can just praise God is whatever way they feel comfortable with.)

I have been reading the Psalms a lot for the past two or three years and I think it can at least be said that God wants us to sing to Him. A brief search on the word "sing" in the Psalms came up with around 26 commands/encouragements to sing to Him. We can allegorize this and apply this to other ways of praising God, but don't think we should ignore the simple meaning of the text. If it says to sing to God that many times, He probably means it!

We can praise the Lord in many other ways, but I think that singing His praises should receive special attention and time. We can praise Him in other ways besides singing (the Psalms are filled with exhortations to praise Him as well), but with this many imperatives, I think we can safely say singing is something that pleases God, and he expects it from His people. I believe that it should be part of the Christian life.

There are at least 26 exhortations to sing to God in the Psalms, but there are as many as 50 places in the Psalms where is says something to the effect of "I will sing to God." So everyone should sing to God because He commands it. Just because that is true doesn't mean you alone are responsible to make that happen. We don't have to "judge" everyone that isn't fulfilling that responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves and those God has put under our care. We can encourage others to sing, and train them to do it better, and try to show them that God loves it when we sing to Him, but we start with ourselves. "I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me." Psalm 13:6.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame

I'm looking at different graduate schools right now and one of the five schools offering a Master of Sacred Music is Notre Dame in Indiana. I don't know much about their program yet, but a couple of things attract me, including their chapel. I wonder how it is to sing in. The Catholics still have retained some of the sense of beauty and glory of God and worship of Him that much of Christianity has lost.

RCC "Top Ten Hits"

A couple weeks ago I was given the "RCC Top Ten List" of songs we use in worship. This is a list compiled by one of the long time members of Reformation Covenant Church.

1. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
2. Psalm 98
3. O Sing a New Song to the Lord (This is the same song as above...?)
4. From Heaven O Praise the Lord (Ps. 148)
5. Now Shall My Inward Joy Arise (Africa)
6. Lorica (St. Patrick's Breastplate)
7. I To the Hills Will Lift My Eyes (Ps. 121)
8. Before Thee Let My Cry Come Near (Ps. 119-Russia)
9. Holy, Holy, Holy
10. TBA

I don't believe that what the congregation "likes" is what is always absolutely best, or even best for them, but I find this list helpful in understanding what resonates with the congregation (one member at least). I found it interesting that nearly all of these Psalms and hymns are set to American music (with the exception of the Lorica, and possibly Ps. 121). The music is mostly 18th and 19th century hymn and Psalm tunes with a couple of good fuging tunes thrown in. I was happy with the high percentage of Psalms! 5 out of 9, if you count Psalm 98 twice.
I should ask more people in my church for their list of favorites and see how they compare.