Hymn Sing

One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is a congregation lifting their voices together in song. We recently had a hymn-sing at my church, where people yelled out numbers from the hymnal and we lifted our voices together. I was able to get some audio of some of those songs. I hope you enjoy: 

Guidelines for Congregational Singing

 

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. -Colossians 3:16

There is much discussion about what music in the church should look like. It seems that there are as many different opinion as there are churches, and while I do think there is plenty of room for various viewpoints, Colossians 3:16 gives a wonderful outline for some basic principles for church music. While there is certainly much more to church music than what we’ll look at here, I firmly believe that there should not be less. This verse is written as a command, and should be treated as such, and responded to with obedience. So, let’s look at the various parts of the verse to see what it teaches us.

The word of Christ” – The music of the church should be scriptural. If our music is ever in contradiction to the Bible there is a severe problem, however what is more common is when music is simply ignorant of the Bible. When the lyrics bear no imprint of scriptural references and ideas, they become indistinguishable from the secular music around us. It is my goal that the music of this church will always be rooted in scripture.

“Teaching and Admonishing” – Here we see, quite plainly, that the purpose of church music is not emotional or experiential, but rather educational. Paul is clear that our music is used for teaching. It is for this reason that we strive to make the music a further exposition of the sermon text. We do not want the music time and the sermon time to be two separate elements, but rather it our goal that the music will be teaching the same ideas and themes as the sermon. This helps to combat the issues of emotionalism and entertainment in our singing. It ensures that the basis for all we do is not within ourselves, but always in response to scripture. It also ensures that our attention is drawn to the aspect of God we are learning about, and not to anyone who is on the platform. Paul does not simply say music is for teaching, but also for admonishing. This means that the songs we sing should also be working with the sermon to convict us, and to encourage us towards righteous living. It is my goal that after we leave the sanctuary, if you find yourself humming any of the songs we sang that day, that they will remind you of the sermon, and that they will continue to teach you.

“One Another” – The New Testament is filled with commands to live with ‘one another’ in view. This requires participation. We cannot love one another if we are cloistered away by ourselves. In the same way, we cannot sing with one another if we keep our mouths closed. Again, this fights against the culture of entertainment that can creep into church music. We are not gathered together to listen to someone else sing, but rather to join our voices together.  There are some practical implications to this as well. If we are to be singing together, then the songs must be singable. There are many popular songs on the radio that have ranges well beyond what the untrained voice can handle. This keeps the average singer silent while only the talented continue singing.

“With Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” – Here Paul takes a stance on the issue of genre in church music, and his instruction is to have diversity. We are not just to sing Psalms, or just hymns, or just spiritual songs, but a mix of all of them together. Here at Forest, we have such a wide range of ages in our membership, and there is an equally wide range of opinion on worship styles. My goal is to follow Paul’s instruction and to keep things diverse. One week there is a brass ensemble, another week a band with guitar, bass and drums, another with violin, flute, and hammered dulcimer, and yet another a men’s quartet. We have been blessed with many talented musicians, and I am thankful for the ability to have such diversity in our music.

“Singing with thankfulness”- Overall, however, we music remember that singing in church is not a duty to be endured, but rather a joy to be participated in with gratitude. We get the chance to gather together and lift our voices in praise and adoration of our Creator who loves us and has redeemed us. I hope that we will keep these things in mind while we sing and they will enhance our participation in worshiping Christ together. 

Acts of Good and Evil

 

You may have noticed by now, and if you haven’t I apologize for the spoiler, that this world is a very strange place. We talk of the Creator who made all things good, who gives all good things. And yet. You don’t have to look around for very long to notice that not all things are good. A mind can bend and a heart can break under the weighty presence of darkness in this world. We have a problem. We profess the goodness of the Creator, and yet all around us is the evil of his supposedly good creation.

          Act I: Consider the Toxoplasma Gondii. T. Gondii is a parasite, which for some particular reason, is only capable of reproducing in the guts of cats. So, picture this scenario: The parasite is in a cat’s gut, and it lays its eggs. However the gut of the cat is part of a larger digestive system whose end result is a pile of droppings in a discreet location. Oftentimes, a few days later, this same pile of droppings becomes lunch for a rat. So now our friend T. Gondii has a problem. For the sake of reproduction, it desperately wants to be in the gut of a cat, and yet that is the absolute last place its new host wants to be. So, this little parasite travels from the gut of the rat up into the brain, specifically the section of the brain that controls such things as fear, anxiety, and terror, and once there is able to “switch the commands” of this section of the brain with the part of the brain that controls attraction. T. Gondii, a microscopic parasite, is able to make rats find cats to be attractive, thus causing the prey to desire to be near the predator, often allowing the T. Gondii to find itself back in the gut of the cat. Where did this diabolical parasite come from? Did God look down upon Toxoplasma Gondii and say, “It is good?” Was the death of prey by predator created into the fabric of the universe? Does this mean that God is the author of death? How then can he be Good? And if he is not Good, how can he be God?

 Ergo.

 God must not exist. We must be the product of the random throws of the dark and uncaring universe. There is no meaning, there is no purpose, all that is, is all there is, and anything more is the projection of fanciful human wistfulness. It is only thus that the world can make sense. Take away the divine and you can easily make sense of pain, famine, death, Sandy Hook, Toxoplasma Gondii.

However.

Act II: Consider the vampire bat. An animal that lives and travels in packs, vampire bats have been a source of much curiosity among evolutionary scientists. The logic of the world without God is that only the strong survive. The weak were meant to die off, and are only a hindrance to the pack. When scientists first began to study vampire bats they were shocked to find that these blood sucking creatures engaged in surprisingly altruistic actions. While observing a pack that had come back from a feeding, scientists noticed one of the bats going around the pack, cuddling up to other members of the pack. In response to this cuddling, the other bats would regurgitate some of their own meal into the mouth of the beggar. Scientists tested this, by holding back one of the members of the pack while the others were fed, and then watched as the hungry bat made rounds around the pack and others in the pack gave up a portion of their own hard won meal to feed this ‘weaker’ bat. So. It seems that even though this world is dark and evil, there is a capacity for goodness sewn into the fabric of nature. How, in a world without God, can we account for this goodness? If there is no meaning, then where did our capacity for understanding come from? Why are we so susceptible to beauty? How do we make sense of the man who jumps onto the subway tracks to hold the stranger who is having a seizure in the path of an oncoming train?

Act III: So what are we to do with this strange world? There is darkness, there is light. We have the capacity to view a sunset and to have our breath be taken out of our lungs in amazement, to have tears come to our eyes as we take in the display of color, and yet that same sun can give you skin cancer. Around the world, countless people are killed when the earth heaves and quakes, causing fissure and cracks that destroy cities. And yet, without the movement of earth’s plates that cause earthquakes, the mountains that we lift our eyes to would not exist. The same ocean that we find great pleasure and enjoyment in can be whipped into the fury of a destructive flood. How do we make sense of a world where those who selfishly take lives live among those who selflessly give theirs? A world with both Toxoplasma Gondii and vampire bats?

Act IV: There was a tree in a garden. We know it as the tree of the knowledge of both good and evil. When Eve took a bite of that apple, she gave us the strange juxtaposition of being aware of, susceptible to, capable of, both good and evil. Humanity still bears the image of God, and yet we bear the blight of original sin. Nature, likewise, was created good, and yet is under the cruel weight of the curse. The optimistically spiritual person struggles with the darkness in this world. The atheist desperately tries to explain away the good. It is only with a true Biblical understanding can we make sense of this strange world.