Thursday, June 27, 2013
Liturgy and Song
How often do we in ministry think, “I’d be tempted to incorporate more historical Christian liturgies or more services of the Lord’s Supper in our Sunday worship, but…I don’t think the congregation would get into it, they’d think it was boring or inaccessible.” John Wesley’s eighteenth-century revival in worship and sacrament points us towards a more coherent vision, revealing that it’s not just about changing the texts of a service, finding the right music, or creating the right atmosphere. It’s all these elements, and more, working together. It’s not just the music and it’s not just the order of service—it’s both, reinforcing each other in a cycle of preparation to worship the Lord and reception of His graces in communal worship.
His hymns pertaining to the Lord’s Supper (most written by his brother, Charles) are a “blend of orthodoxy and evangelism,” says church historian John Bowmer. They were undoubtedly in the High Church tradition and “accused, very unjustly, of displaying Roman Catholic tendencies,” but written for full participation of the assembly. The hymns were not merely a way to form Methodists in orthodox doctrine, but also an instrument for connecting the assembly with the liturgical celebration, as many hymns were essentially “choral settings of parts of the Communion service.”
Hymn-singing was also a way of fostering reverence and attentiveness to prayer and sacrament during the Lord’s Supper. One of Wesley’s preachers advocated for “singing during the Communion of the people” because “as it is the fittest time to ask the most ordinary to receive grace, every moment ought to be improved to the best advantage.” He believed that “continual praying and singing would prevent the wanderings of many, who are not convinced of sin deeply enough, or influenced by grace strongly enough, to mourn and pray without interruption, if they are left to themselves.” The questions driving every reform and decision are “Does this authentically flow from and connect the assembly to the whole of the service?”
By not choosing music based on “relevance,” and instead viewing music as inseparable from the service in form and function, Wesley’s celebrations of the Lord’s Supper got noticed. They were packed and crowded with Christians, new and old. Through their hymns Wesley’s followers, as Bowmer writes, “transformed was a piece of uninspiring ritual into a lively means of grace, a ‘Gospel Feast.’” Supported by music, the Lord’s Supper did, by its own intrinsic qualities, become a very powerful agent in the revival; it was not simply attended as a duty, but as a joyful meeting with the “crucified, risen and ascended Lord, at the place where He bestowed grace and power.” What a vision! An inspiring reminder that the songs we sing in church aren’t just a decorative addition or a way to use up time. Music must flow from our form of worship, as an intrinsic outpouring of our celebrations of word and sacrament. And when it does, it has the power to inspire, revive, and call the entire assembly to a deeper encounter with the Lord.
Powerful stuff, just some points;;
- Music is not about expressing purely praise, but expressing the full message of the church
- music is not about expressing feeling, but expanding liturgy.
- Liturgy and sacrament lead, not music - it aids these things.
- While evangelism may happen in the context of the service, it s not the purpose of the service, but the by-product
- The church has been here before.