Friday, June 14, 2013


Sing, Sing a Song

First, off, let’s be clear. Singing is mentioned in Paul’s instructions about worship in a descriptive way and in a prescriptive way, so it’s part of worship. Second, that doesn’t mean from that point on, we can do whatever we want because it’s mentioned in the Bible.

Music is dominating most evangelical worship these days and I, for one, am ready to have less of it in most instances. There’s a serious need for regulation and moderation of music in an atmosphere where many “churches” are becoming more like entertainment venues than any previous conception of worship.


The Lutherans have a solid and reasonable approach to congregational singing. Read what Pr. William Cwirla said in the recent Liturgical Gangsta discussion of the hymnal.

Traditionally, the Lutheran hymnal is the “third book” of Lutheran piety and devotion, next to the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Concord (the Lutheran confessions) which together comprise Lutheran tradition. The hymnal puts into practice what is believed, taught, and confessed from the Holy Scriptures. It is the worship that corresponds our doctrine, the lex orandi of our lex credendi, though not to the same extent as the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church.

In Lutheran churches, hymnals have a quasi-official status and are approved for use by our body of churches. You can see this practice already in the 17th century Lutheran church orders which spelled out in considerable detail what hymns and liturgical materials were to be used in the territorial churches. …I must note by way of “truth in advertising” that the concept of a normative “hymnal” seems to be waning in some Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran understanding of “adiaphora” (that is, those things neither commanded nor forbidden in the Scriptures) lends to freedom in matters of worship. The influence of American Evangelicalism on Lutheran worship has also been considerable, introducing revival forms of worship not indigenous to Lutheranism. Rare is the Lutheran congregation today that does not offer some kind of non-hymnal based “contemporary service.” This is the on-going tension and struggle in the Lutheran version of the “worship wars.” To what extent are we willing to forego outward unity in worship for the sake of what we perceive to be relevant, contextual, or meaningful to the unchurched? The debate continues.

In my grandparents’ generation, everyone had their own copy of the hymnal which they brought to church with them as dutifully as Baptists bring their Bibles. The hymnal resided in the home. In my parents’ generation, the hymnal moved to the pew rack in the church. Tomorrow’s hymnal will likely reside on a computer disk, if it indeed exists at all. What effect this will have on Lutheran piety and practice remains to be seen.
I have serious doubts that if this age of "feeling good about oneself" people can even get their heads around what is being said here. In a sentence, singing matters too much to be treated like the pop culture treats it. Singing, like iconography, has its roots in memory and illiteracy. It is a way of remembering and story telling that was extraordinarily important when not everyone could read. You might not be able to read scripture, but you could remember lyrics because beat and melody aid memory. It made things real! Hence you see the Hasidim swaying and singing prayers at the Western Wall. Singing makes something a part of you that mere reading and reasoning cannot.

Hence it must be done with care and not merely in pursuit of full pews or passing emotion. Fi the sermon is the proclamation of the Word, and requires so much of the pastors time and energy - how can the choice of music that prepares us to receive that Word, and traditionally helps us remember that Word be undertaken with any less care?


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