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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

29 October, 2010

Christian Music Elsewhere: My observations

The function of music in denominations other than Seventh-day Adventism varies greatly depending on the denomination. I have made observations in non-denominational churches, one Mass, and one Episcopalian Morning Song, and I have seen video footage of some of the music in the Pentecostal Hillsong megachurch in Australia. This article will go into a bit of detail about my observations on how music functions in those denominations.

Starting with the two denominations that predate Seventh-day Adventism by centuries, I will say that music functions both very similarly and very differently in liturgical churches. The role of music is much the same in the Catholic and Anglican (Episcopal) denominations; it is "one of the most effective ways of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (White, Education, pp. 167, 168). St. Basil is recorded as saying the following:
When the Holy Spirit saw that mankind was ill-inclined toward virtue and that we were heedless of the righteous life because of our inclination to pleasure, what did he do? He blended the delight of melody with doctrine in order that through the pleasantness and softness of the sound we might unawares receive what was useful in the words, according to the practice of wise physicians, who, when they give the more bitter draughts to the sick, often smear the rim of the cup with honey. -St. Basil, Homily on the first Psalm
The Mass Ordinary is one of the staples of classical literature; hundreds of composers from the pre-Renaissance Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) to Franz Schubert have set the text that makes up the Mass Ordinary to music. And even still, modern songs make use of the text of such elements as the Credo (cf. Creed by Rich Mullins and, later, Third Day). The use of music in the liturgical churches is, however, varied from the Seventh-day Adventist church in that it follows a liturgical calendar. The Adventists have no set "liturgy" except for the order of the program and the regularity of Communion Sabbath's occurrence. The songs for the Mass Proper change at every service, but the Mass Ordinary--Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Ite missa est--remains the same. The Adventist service changes content weekly, from music to sermon.

In non-denominational churches, the function of music tends to be a little bit different. I have attended services at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, CA as well as The Ridge Church in Rocklin, CA, both of which are non-denominational. Bayside is much better known between the two of them; it has a much larger membership and a worship leader that has gained somewhat of a following. Perhaps you've heard of Lincoln Brewster? None other.

Now, given the nature of the worship service in non-denominational churches, it's safe to say that music functions slightly differently. While in Adventism and the older liturgical denominations, music's role is to impress spiritual wisdom and guidance upon the heart, these non-denominational churches tend to focus on the worship itself rather than the ins and outs, the philosophy, if you will. Music is there to unite the congregation in raising their hands to the Lord. That's it. In some ways, it's an outlet for the congregation to participate in the service other than listening to the message.

This unity is usually a lot more fueled by emotion than congregational unity in the Adventist church. In fact, why should we be emotional in our praises when Ellen White specifically guards against it in her admonishment of the Holy Flesh Movement at the Indiana camp meeting? (Sarcasm obvious, no?) For centuries, music philosophers have warned against the stirring of emotions when it comes to music, for music has been since the days of Greek philosophy a tribute to the gods, or in our case Jehovah. Yet countless times in Scripture, we see jubilant praising of the Lord. We see celebrations of victory in both the Old and New Testaments. David danced before the Lord--in his UNDERWEAR--with all his might. And when Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, the people cried, "Hosanna!" and waved palm fronds. It was a celebration for the King had come.

It is often such in non-denominational churches. Unfettered by the conventions of a strict, conservative structure, they release their praises to God. After all, they are following the instructions given in Psalm 150. We are to praise the Lord in His sanctuary, not mumble words to convoluted hymns we don't know! As a result of this modern "Ars nova", however, many precious praise songs have become tropes. I've sung How Great is Our God hundreds of times since the first time I heard it. And frankly, it's gotten old. I long for songs like Near the Cross again.

As I conclude this article, I will say one thing: music always has and always will evoke emotion. It is a method for conveying thoughts and feelings that language cannot express. It adds to a simple text such as, "Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper et in saecula saeculorum," a meaning that cannot be conveyed by simply reading. It unifies people in their praises of the Lord, and it is promised that when we are unified in the Lord, He will be right there in our midst.

In the next three or so weeks I'm going to conclude this series by explaining more about music and the little cogs, springs and doodads that make it work; I'm going to present many problems in regards to music in the Seventh-day Adventist church, and I'm going to present a solution so that we may once again unify under one banner, the irrefutable truths that Jesus loves you, He died for you, and He's coming to take you home.

Your Brother in Christ,

*This is the third of a series of articles about music in the SDA Church and other denominations. Next Friday: The Ins and Outs of Music*

All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version, © Thomas Nelson, Inc. 

08 October, 2010

WoW, what a week!

Those of you who attend Walla Walla University know that this week was Week of Worship with pastor Murray Hunter all the way from Down Undah. And naturally, the fact that it is Week of Worship means the schedule was thrown into a Blendtec blender and totally screwed up. (What's red and green and goes 120 mph? MY SCHEDULE!) Because of this totally foreseen setback, I haven't had any time to work on this week's entry. So expect my observations on music in the "mainstream" Christian world next Friday.

Your Brother in Christ,

01 October, 2010

Music in the SDA Church: My observations

This article is going to be a bit different than my articles have been in the past. I will simply discuss my personal observations about music in the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, correlating them with advice from Ellen White and the Scriptures, and presenting my own philosophy related to the two.

I have been to my share of SDA churches. And in attending these churches, be they for a choral performance or by membership, I have noticed that, while the music culture is gradually aligning with contemporary Christian music, traditional sacred music is still king. This comes to light in discussions on music in which I have participated on the internet, including arguments that contemporary Christian Music, even that which takes its lyrics directly from the Bible, is of the Devil. They cite inconclusive studies, misquote Ellen White, and formulate their own dogmas based on their personal taste.

One of the biggest arguments I have ever had was on the Real Time Faith forum, which shut down in 2007. This discussion, however, spilled over into Real Time Faith's privately run successor, Real Time Believers. The now dead discussion has a total of 163 posts, spanning almost two years. Many users argued for the integrity of CCM, mostly the percussion element, while others demonized it as a feeble attempt to corrupt Godly music with demonic influences. A second topic links to an article which decries the frequently used fallacies such as the basic rock beat pattern throwing off brain wave patterns or imitating sexual intercourse.

This debate laid bare the opinions of several young people (the average age of the participants was somewhere around 15), but most of it was based on opinion in addressing the debate's sole question: "Which is more important: the music or the lyrics." I will go more into the ins and outs of music in #4 two weeks from now, but I will say that if a hymn had objectionable lyrics it would be shot down just as modern hymns with "disagreeable" music.

 The Role of Music
The role of music in the SDA church is similar to other Protestant churches in that its primary purpose is the worship of God in song. This can come about through either vocal or instrumental songs, often using instruments of the classical music world. Ellen White clarifies the role of music in worship as "one of the most effective ways of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (Education, pp. 167, 168). It is a weapon against discouragement, a way to ward off the advances of the Enemy.

It does seem, however that we, as this advice seems to, place so much stress on praising God that songs of uncertainty and turmoil get completely thrown out. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 42 are prayers for help in times of peril. Psalm 59 is a call for God to "Awake to punish all the nations; [to] not be merciful to any wicked transgressors" (v. 5).

Ecclesiastes 3:1 states plainly that "to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Yes, there is a time for praising in God, but there is also a time to be angry because of sin. There is a time to cry out to God to lift us out of this pit of despair. Many of the Psalms do this. And many of the heavier CCM songs do this as well; one of my favorite songs, Disciple's Scars Remain is like this. It would be banned from many Protestant congregations because of its musical idiom. But when you feel the emotions conveyed in the song's lyrics and music, you realize it is a song about being discouraged and then seeing that Jesus shares our suffering (cf. Gal 6:2).

The Usage of Music
This is where things become a little less of a grey area, and more black-and-white in the SDA Church. I grew up in a fairly conservative church, hearing hymns I didn't know. I always thought that choir was part of church, and I had no idea what it takes to make one sound good. In my eight year old mind, the organ was a massively complex instrument that only old people played. Guitars were never on stage, and drama of any kind was only permitted on Youth Sabbath. I just thought it was the way Christian music was until I listened to K-LOVE for the first time. But even then, I'd never imagine that kind of music in church.

But I know of one fairly small church whose musical tastes are evolving quickly. Not ten years ago they had a resident organist who played every Sabbath. Piano was the primary means of accompanying the small choir they call the Praise Team. One Sabbath, they added a bass guitar. Then, after a while, a friend of mine started playing bass on the Praise Team. One morning, while he was tuning up his bass, the organist got up, walked all the way across the stage, and accosted him. To this organist, the prelude and postlude were performances, special musics of sorts!

This young man was being as unobtrusive as he could. It was before the start of the service, and if he'd been a member of the sound crew adjusting a microphone while everybody was talking and listening to the background music, I'd bet this organist would have accosted him as well. It seemed to my friend like a set of priorities in the wrong place.

Music should be entered into with humility when praising the Lord, be it in a choir, in prayer, on a penny whistle, or singing in the shower. Ellen White says that we should conduct our services "with solemnity {not somberness} and awe, as if in the visible presence of the Master of assemblies." If this organist's heart had been on God and not on the performance as if it was a concert, he wouldn't have cared that I crept up on stage to do something that he, as a cellist in addition to an organist, should know is paramount. Wait, did I just reveal my friend's identity? Oh well.

My point is that music in the SDA denomination, in my observations, has been fairly controlled. Dissent has been quashed, be it from youth (usually youth) or other sources. The organist that yelled at me transferred to a different church, but that still doesn't change the fact that something happened that probably shouldn't have. The fact of the matter is that that while the musical attitude of the SDA denomination is evolving, there are still some issues that boil down to one thing: human nature. It is our natural inclination to want something to be orderly, and since our musical traditions are one of the only things we still seem to have from the "olden days", it is probably the hardest thing of all for us to give up.

Your Brother in Christ,

*This is the second of a series of articles about music in the SDA Church and other denominations. Next Friday: Music in other Protestant denominations*
Ellen White references taken from a compilation page on music: 
All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version, © Thomas Nelson, Inc.