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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. 

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