12 November 2007

Music Unites, Music Divides.

A little more re church music, from the eminent church historian Mark Noll in Books & Culture:

Moviegoers who are conscious of connections between the scores they hear and what they are watching on the screen know that Martin Luther once caught it exactly: "For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate or to appease those full of hate … , what more effective means than music could you find?" We are what we sing, the music we listen to regularly, the music we instinctively like, the music that brings tears to our eyes or a charge of energy to our spirits, the music that expresses our deepest longings and strongest loyalties.

Scripture recognizes the cultural depth of music by simply accepting and recording its fundamental importance—from Genesis 4:21 (with the throwaway reference to Jubal, "the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe") to Revelation, where the living creatures surround the throne of God and sing "day and night without ceasing … 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come'" (4:8) while every creature, "myriads of myriads and thousands and thousands" sing "with full voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!'" (5:11-12). Yet in the book of Revelation it is noteworthy that when the great gathering of the redeemed is described—"from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages"—this gathering is said to "cry out" its praise ("Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" [7:9-10]), while in the same scene the angels around the throne are said to "sing" ("Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen" [7:11-12]).

Imagine a fully harmonious and spiritually edifying service of Christian worship where new Christian believers played Palestrina on the indigenous musical instruments of Burkina Faso.

Too much should not be made of the difference between "crying out" praise and "singing" praise. But it does point to the fact that singing is a special challenge when Christian believers gather from every land and tongue or, we might say, from every culture or even subculture. The new Christian music of Andean, Thai, Tanzanian, or Mongolian congregations can be jarring to most believers from the West, even as Western hymnody can be as alien to those congregations as Western individualism, Western economics, or Western clothing (culture vs. culture). Likewise the contemporary praise of Hillsong can sound like an unintelligible musical tongue to believers whose roots are deep in Charles Wesley or John Newton, and vice versa (subculture vs. subculture). In these and many other occasions of musical disharmony, we see again the countervailing realities that have long marked Christian song: music is an exceedingly powerful medium for securing Christianity in a community; different forms of music are one of the most obvious manifestations keeping worshiping communities apart. Explaining why both realities exist requires attention to several theological truths.

Here's the whole thing.


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