Friday, November 11, 2005

Heart of worship.

It is often said that music is the greatest expression of Man’s emotions. Out of the abundance of gladness, a man sings. Out of the great depths in the valley of shadows and despair too, a man sings.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote of how Life was sprung forth by the sounds of Aslan’s singing voice. J.R.R. Tolkien too, wrote of a similar outburst of Life from Ainur’s song; in the Silmarillon. Puritan John Bunyan wrote of Christian, as often singing, on his journey to the Heavenly City in Pilgrim’s Progress. It is amazing how these great Christian writers were of one heart in agreement with the marvel and beauty of singing.

If Christians could be boastful in the Lord for anything, it would be the joys He has given us in praising Him with singing. A careful reading of psalms and hymns would help us to understand that worship to Him in singing is never separated from worship to Him in hearing of His Word. For a treasured hymn is sung over and over again, even until today because of its rich theology embedded in every verse sung.

I agree with Piper on why certain books are ‘classical works’ while other are not, simply because those books are read by generations after generations for the understanding of good theology. It is when a book is not remembered for its clarity in delivering theological truths, that it is deemed as ‘inaccessible’ and forgettable. The same principles would therefore, apply to some of the wonderful hymns we sing today.

Often, we compromise the quality of our worship to God, when we do not concern ourselves with the theological truths of a song. If we have forgotten our essence of praise to God in singing, I pray we re-evaluate some of the songs our generation sings today; in parallel with the hymns and choruses that Christians of the previous generation have sung.

Let us not be mistaken by the reasons of appreciating hymns such as ‘Blessed Assurance’ or ‘Amazing Grace’ due to their aged value per se- rather, we are to be reminded by these hymns, that our praises must reflect the object of our praise, which is God alone. While I have no qualms listening to contemporary Christian music, I find that most have now diluted their theology truths to accommodate secular taste.

If a song that we sing to worship God today were to end with a mere pleasant tune, we are indeed missing the whole point of worship. If we were writing a song to worship God today, with only a memorable tune in mind, we cheapens the meaning of worship with empty praises; for our understanding of God, our adoration to Him and our doxology; were never reflected in our worship to Him. It is not our highest expressions of emotions to Him for our hearts are not in it- they are somewhere else, yearning for praises to themselves.

Lastly, consider William Cowper’s words as we reflect on our previous attitudes in rendering appraisal to Him by way of singing - the very reason why we should give Him nothing less than all our hearts, minds and souls in worship.

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.


Blogger jacksons said...

Amen Sister! Amen!

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well honestly bohtea, have you seen any contemporary 'secular' singer write hymn like stuff?


So is it fair to subject christian contemporary writers to the same rigid requirements?

For this one, I have to remain anonymous, lest you whack me on the head ;-)

9:38 PM  
Blogger jacksons said...

Well, there are many types of music, and we have to be careful not to let our preference and temperament dictate our Theology of worship.

Let me agree with the last comment and also defend bohtea by first prefacing my comment with the fact that I am a very big lover of music. I have one of the widest ranges of musical preference in anyone I have ever met, I listen to everything from classical to heavy metal, from jazz to rave, etc. I say this not to boast, but hopefully, to win some credibility when commenting on this super sensitive issue.

I have learnt that there is 3 roles music plays in the Christian's life;

1. Music communicates theology to God’s people (Exo 15) . This is a very important role, and the hymns tend to win on this area. The hymns are weak though for the next area, no. 2. So I think to be fair to Bohtea, she was lamenting the need and loss of this category of music.
2. Music is a means for us to express our emotions to God. This is where the popularity of modern choruses, and emotional hillsongs, etc. etc, come in. Now an intelligent person may be able to use a complex hymn for this purpose as well, but the mainstream of Christianity is not interested in complexity at these moments, just like a husband whispers “I love you” to his wife in an intimate moment, rather than give her a dissertation on the types of loves, and the meaning of love. Now, this is still no excuse for stupid meaningless songs like “I can sing of your love forever”, and some hymns have been designed simple for this purpose, like “sweet hour of prayer”. Some Christians today reject the idea of emotional worship, but these same people, stoic in church, show great emotions at a sporting event or at work, and such a Christianity is not an admirable sobriety, but a hypocrisy of emotions not used in loving God.
3. Music as an art form to express our Christian life. The psalms have many instances of this form, and so does contemporary Christian music. From songs that speak of avoiding temptation, to songs of regret for having succumbed, these songs give expression to our humanity and Christianity. Many people have soundtracks to their lives, the more reflective have lyrics from a song that relate to them, and others have tunes that really hit a spot at different times in life. Music is a grace from God, that adds another dimension to this life. A song of this genre does not need to be Christian in the sense of explicit lyrics, but as long as its an honest communication of reality, its validly Christian.

Now perhaps one would ask me, which of the three above, should we permit in church? I would answer all 3, here is how I would work it out. Sing hymns and good meaningful songs, and expound their meaning and history. Then, at a certain time in a worship service, break out into the emotional and melodic expressions of affection for God. Then at certain times in a month, or once a week, let Christian musicians perform their works to the church, or listen, enjoy and analyze a song together, in a church setting. This would make our music God’s and God, a part of our music.

2:37 AM  
Blogger tehtarik said...

Thanks, for your feedback. I must say, I have much to learn from both of you.

Perhaps, there ought to be allowance for more precision in what I think about this. I am certainly not against people who enjoys worshipping God with contemporary music- be it rock, alternative or pop. In fact, I have learnt that music reflects the culture and the times we are living in. If Strauss were to the people in the 17th century as to what Simple Plan is to now, by no means, it is just as wonderful to see Christians writing songs using contemporary beat and contemporary words to write a beautiful song that expresses our praise and worship to God.

Yet, my concern is for some of the songs we sing today in churches that reflect more on how we worship God rather than Who this Person is, that we are worshipping. So, the praises flow from our intended Person, to ourselves. Also, some songs I find, are so universal that it can be sung just to anybody- not necessarily to God, and in this area I find, Christian music appeals to secularism to reach to a wider audience. Yes, a wider audience is good, but a wider audience that cannot tell the difference between a song written for a loved one and a song written to express love for God from that song, seems rather odd for that same song to be classified as'Christian music'.

I must learn not to be dogmatic about this, yet, I also believe that even in music-making, we must convey a very special message about this God we are believing in. And again, it doesn't have to be written ala Cowper nor should I believe that only thinkers have the exclusive rights to write a 'theologically-correct' song.

I am reminded by how simple the words of 'Jesus loves me this I know', yet; the reflection of the songs brings such great impact to us Christians..."for the Bible tells me so".

Isn't it marvellous when Jacksons put it, "make our music God’s and God, a part of our music."

Thanks, Jacksons and anonymous, though I find it odd that your anonimity is not functioning properly, hehe. Both of you have given me more meat to chew and definitely more room to grow.:)

11:24 AM  
Blogger jacksons said...

:) Well, I agree, but like I told you, our music is shallow and man centered, because our theology has become like that. Reform ou minds and hearts, and our music will show it.

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly I must say that I'm glad bohtea's finally studying and is not online at the moment hahahaha.

I suppose having been in the two extremes of christian worship (multi-denominational, post-denominational background), worship to me, in whatever sense, no matter the form, it is still worship to God as long as one worships "in Spirit and in Truth," for that's what the Father's looking for.

Whether hymns, rap, hip-hop, pop, MOR, rock, alternative etc, it really does not matter as long as we fulfill His criteria.

Now no one knows the heart of man expect God so I believe I should not judge whether one is truly worshipping or not.

Having said that, I believe that there's room for some 'quality' lyrics and music.

I wholeheartedly agree that some contemporary christian songs can be dubious (without clear reference to God) or even heretical (Jesus = Father). In this area, I agree that there is a need to improve although not necessarily retaining the hymn-like structure for contemporary writers. After all, our music reflects our culture.

Back to lyrics, some words are so watered down that a supposedly love song to a Saviour, could be passed of as a love song to a lover.

Especially harder to deal with are those pesky ones who claim that they have been given a song by God and since it's from God, everyone must sing it... so how does one argue with a "prophet"?

No way out even if it's very suspect both theologically and harmonically! And poor pastor and leadership who are not careful may be blamed for stifling God's work!

So for damage control, let the church leadership have the ultimate decision on what can be admitted or not in the local church.

Let's move on to music. I think the average person ears are trained enough to differentiate between music that is coherent (I'll come to that) and that which is not.

The typical, coherent song should have a key center, proper chord progression that resolutes, and regular meter. Even hip-hop or rap has a fix rhythm. Moving key centers is the exception if one's into modern jazz with no real center, as long as they adhere to certain rules.

Imagine having to explain this to self-styled "writers" who lack musical skills and especially those suffering from "lead-poisoning"...

Even King David ensured that the musicians of his court were trained.

So the church leadership, once having judged that a song has passed the lyrical content test, send it over to the music team to vet and give helpful comments....

Omigosh, I've gone off-topic, but this is a nice post by bohtea with nice responses by Jacksons!

12:32 AM  
Blogger The Hedonese said...

One of the best models of theology taking flight in song is found in the ministry of Sovereign grace ministries (used to be called PDI)

CJ McHaney was the pastor, now Joshua Harris (I kiss dating goodbye fame) is leading the group now... and Bob Kauflin is the worship leader and songwriter, check out the Hosanna! album called Chosen Treasure, a beautiful contemporary expression of reformed theology sung in quality music...

I cant recommend it too highly

10:43 PM  

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