I had the pleasure of hearing the good Bishop N.T. Wright on tour last Monday talking about his excellent if pricey little book The Case for the Psalms.
His basic premise is that God gave us an inspired song book, the Psalms. Jesus sang them, and so should we. This need not take away from new songs being written, but the fact that what people usually sing in churches today, if they sing any Psalms at all, is a wee snippet of one here or there, is a tragic loss.
Wright told a story about a man associated with his who hadn’t become a Christian but went with him in a group to the holy land some years ago. Part of the tour included a trip to what is thought to be the high priest’s house of Jesus’ time, and beneath it was a deep and narrow vertical shaft which led to a solitary room. This is probably where Jesus spent his last night alone on earth, no doubt singing Psalms which appear on his lips all the time. The tour guide mentioned the lightless despair and the relevance of Psalm 88, the one with no resolution at the end, which we all feel at times. Wright noticed the man visibly moved by the reality of Jesus facing his death in those circumstances, and later he converted. Counted by the number of times he quotes them, Psalms are one of Jesus five favorite Old Testament books, and certainly the one he sang the most.
“What music did God reject? The very pslams that He Himself had ordained for worship. This is profound! Pleasing God with music is first and foremost a mattter of the heart. This passage [Amos 5:21-24] ends the debate about which forms of music are good and which are bad. There is no question that the music in question was of good origin. The music came from God. Yet Israel used this wonderful music for her own ends. So, instead of building a closer relationship with God, it became a tool of estrangement from Him.”
For anyone in the area, Trinity Church is sponsoring its 8th annual Summer Music Camp on Monday, June 20 through Friday, June 24 for grades 4-12.
The theme of this year’s camp is Christ the King! Students will sing several settings of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs based on this theme. The various classes relate to what the students are singing, enabling them to examine the music from multiple angles (Scriptural, musical, conceptual, etc.) as well as covering the fundamentals of singing technique and musical theory.
The camp will be held at Providence Classical Christian School in Lynnwood (21500 Cypress Way). Classes run from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. On Friday, June 24, there will be a dress rehearsal at 6:00 pm, followed by the final concert beginning at 7:30 pm at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood (6215 196th St. SW).
For registration forms and more information, please contact Jordan Doolittle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The song, a form of prayer, in the festive dress of poetry and the elevated language of inspiration, raising the congregation to the highest pitch of devotion, and giving it a part in the heavenly harmonies of the saints. This passed immediately, with the psalms of the Old Testament, those inexhaustible treasures of spiritual experience, edification, and comfort, from the temple and the synagogue into the Christian church. The Lord himself inaugurated psalmody into the new covenant at the institution of the holy Supper, and Paul expressly enjoined the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as means of social edification. But to this precious inheritance from the past, whose full value was now for the first time understood in light of the New Testament revelation, the church, in the enthusiasm of her first love, added original, specifically Christian psalms, hymns, doxologies, and benedictions, which afforded the richest material for sacred poetry and music in succeeding centuries; the song of the heavenly hosts, for example, at the birth of the Saviour; the “Nunc dimittis” of Simeon; the “Magnificat” of the Virgin Mary; the “Benedictus” of Zacharias; the thanksgiving of Peter at his miraculous deliverance; the speaking with tongues in the apostolic churches, which, whether song or prayer, was always in the elevated language of enthusiasm; the fragments of hymns scattered through the Epistles; and the lyrical and liturgical passages, the doxologies and antiphonies of the Apocalypse.” Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 463-4.
“The gospel song came into great popularity in the middle of the last century largely through the evangelistic ministry of Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) and his musical associate Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). It was an authentic expression of the highly emotional and individualistic religious experience which was typical of the American frontier of that day. Many Christians today do not realize what a comparatively recent development in religious music the gospel song actually is. Often when the great old hymns of the church, which have survived the centuries because of the magnificent depths of pure devotion expressed in them, are introduced in contemporary services the people complain. “Why don’t we sing the good old songs? Why must we sing new songs which we do not know?” The “old songs” to which they refer are the comparatively new gospel songs which have been put to highly singable melodies of the general type of the popular songs of the day.”
Thanks to Tim Bayly for posting this video. The problem with doing Scriptural content in pop culture forms is that the forms lend themselves to sinful tendencies. These are not necessary tendencies, but we should never divorce form and content since any good piece of art marries the two fluently. I’m writing from Seattle where it’s hard to find an alternative band that doesn’t whine and complain, and not just with their lyrics–postures, mopey faces and black eyeliner. Christians, largely clueless about what any of this means, think, “I know, people love this stuff, let’s take out the profanity, stick in some Bible words, and voila: gigs at the mega-church.” But pouting and whining doesn’t become disciples, much less worship leaders, of Jesus. Neither does bravado, the signature of rap and much hip hop.
Thankfully, Shai Linne is a shining exception. The lyrics are biblical, the performance isn’t self-centered, and despite the performance element (applause etc), he is aware of the temptation of the setting to forget God amidst the lights and glitter. The clear and bold preaching is consistent with his song. Praise God for this guy.
Louis Bourgeois was a composer of music in the church of Geneva during part of Calvin’s pastorate there. He was thrown in jail for messing with hymn tunes, producing what became derisively called Genevan jigs. Who got this modern worship leader out of the clink? Calvin convinced the authorities that Bourgeois was simply trying to enhance congregational singing.