While I’m on the Reformation, I’d just like to make a comment about worship music in general.
Channeling some of what James Jordan has pointed out in the past: you can probably identify some of the most potent practices in the church by following how they get distorted or marginalized in the history of the church, repeatedly pushed aside by the devil so that God’s people are not in full strength.
One example of this is congregational singing. This is one of the hallmarks of the Reformation: the people of God singing the praises of God together loudly.
The captivity of the Roman church had included a perverse professionalism that relegated all the most important stuff to the front of the church where only the special people could handle the “holy stuff.” Thus, the liturgy was done almost entirely by the pastor and a deacon or two or maybe a highly trained choir while the congregation watched and listened. Frequently the clergy were the only ones who actually partook of the sacraments, and if anybody actually understood the Latin Mass, it would have been a few of them. The Roman church had effectively passed a weapons ban on the people of God and locked all the most effective assault weapons of the Spirit in a vault in the front of the church where they were occasionally taken out of the case and lifted up for everyone to look at and pray to.
When the Reformers busted out of the Roman prison, they ransacked the altar area of the church and gave all the weapons that the priests had been hiding up there back to the soldiers of God: normal men, women, and children. They opened the word of God by putting it back into the language of the people, they gave all professing Christians the sacraments (both bread and wine), and they put the war-psalms of David back into the mouths of the army of Jesus, His saints.
My greatest complaint with worship music on both ends of the spectrum: cathedral choirs and rock band worship teams is that they frequently threaten to lock up the weapon of singing by repeating the same gun ban of the medieval church. When I can’t sing out loud, and my congregation can’t keep up, you are disarming the army of God. There is obviously a place for teaching and raising the bar of skill and ability, and I’m all for it. But some music is just not meant for congregational singing. It’s meant for a solo voice or a choir, but it just doesn’t sing well.
I occasionally go on music jags where I’ll listen to a pile of psalms and hymns from various choirs and artists, old and new, and consistently, my favorite arrangements are hymns full of voices. When I can hear a congregation singing, when I hear the army of God singing out, I can hear my part, and I can hear my congregation. When the choir is so polyphonic or the soloist is so virtuosic (my new word), it may be really cool in concert or as a special part of a service, it may have really deep and moving melodies and words, but it ain’t the bread and butter of worship. Give me a crowd of people singing at the top of their lungs the high praises of God. That’s really potent, and that will bring down empires.
Ben Miller says
Brother Toby, just want to say a very hearty amen to this. Thanks!
Derek Hale says
Such an excellent, though-provoking post (as per usual). Just a quick question. You mentioned going on occasional music jags where you listen to a pile of psalms and hymns. Could you give some CD recommendations for going on a similar jag? I’m always on the lookout for worthwhile listening in this area. Thank you!