December 14, 2017

What We Could Have Heard on Sunday

Lamentations of Jeremiah, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

Instead of worship songs like the one we talked about this morning, how appropriate would the following Bach cantata have been in worship last Sunday, as Hurricane Irene was cutting her path of devastation up the east coast of the U.S.? As we remembered our brothers and sisters in the world’s troubled spots, like Syria and Libya? As we petitioned God on behalf of the starving and the refugees in the horn of Africa? As we thought about the wilderness places in our own lives and the personal griefs, sorrows, and fears we bear, along with our sins and idol-corrupted hearts?

How much richer and profound might our thoughts and meditations have been if we had been urged to contemplate these words? How much bigger our view of God? How much deeper our sense of need? How much more realistic our view of a world groaning in travail, longing for God to put it right?

These are the lyrics to Bach’s Cantata, ‘Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott’ (BWV 101), for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (which was this past Sunday, Aug. 28). If you would like to listen to a full recording as you read the words you can hear this version from the Bach Harmony channel on YouTube.

As you meditate on these profound words, note especially how, in part six, Bach turns our eyes to Christ and the Cross.

• • •

1. Chorale
Take away from us, Lord, faithful God,
the heavy punishment and great suffering,
which we, with countless sins
have too much deserved.
Protect us against war and precarious times,
against siege, fire, and great sorrow.

Jerusalem Taken by Nebuchadnezzar, Chagall

2. Aria (Tenor)
Do not deal with us wicked servants of sin
according to your justice;
let the sword of the enemy rest!
Highest, hear our pleading,
so that, through sinful acts,
we might not be destroyed like Jerusalem!

3. Chorale and Recitative (Soprano)
Ah! Lord God, through your love
our country shall enjoy peace and quiet.
If an unlucky storm threatens,
then shall we call,
merciful God, on You
in such necessity:
appear to us with comfort and rescue!
You can turn aside the inimical destruction
through your power and aid.
Reveal to us your great mercy
and do not punish us in the very act,
when our feet want to wander
and we are apt to stumble out of weakness.
Dwell among us with Your goodness
and grant that we
strive only after goodness,
so that here
and also in the other life
may your anger and wrath be far from us.

4. Aria (with instrumental Chorale) (Bass)
Why are you so angry?
The flames of Your vengeance
strike down already upon our heads.
Ah, put punishment aside
and with fatherly indulgence
harbor mercy for our weak flesh!

5. Chorale and Recitative (Tenor)
Sin has corrupted us greatly.
Thus must even the most virtuous say
and with tear-stained eyes lament:
The devil plagues us even more.
Yes, this evil spirit,
who even from the beginning was called a murderer,
seeks to cheat us from our salvation
and like a lion to devour us.
The world, and even our flesh and blood,
constantly betray us.
We encounter here upon this narrow path
many obstacles to goodness.
Such misery You alone, Lord, know:
Help, Helper, help us weak ones,
You can strengthen us!
Ah, let us be obedient to you.

6. Aria (Duet: Soprano, Alto)
Think on Jesus’ bitter death!
Take, Father, Your Son’s pain
and the ache of His wounds to heart,
They are indeed, for the whole world,
the payment and ransom;
show to me as well, at all times,
merciful God, mercy!
I sob constantly in my anguish:
think on Jesus’ bitter death!

7. Chorale
Lead us with Your right hand
and bless our city and land;
give us Your holy word always,
guard against the devil’s deceit and harm;
grant a blessed little hour to us,
in which we shall be eternally with You!

Comments

  1. Is there not a middle ground? One thing about devotions from history is they all seem like they’re pleading for their lives. “Please God don’t kill me, even though I be wicked” etc., etc. One thing modern worship songs have that beats this is the “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine…” (if I may steal from the hymnal to make a point about modern music). Ancient Church tradition doesn’t just fear the Lord, it seems like they’re genuinely afraid of God.

    Simul Justus Et Peccator. Must we dwell only on our sinful nature and not on the fact that his love (o how he loves us) makes us holy objects of divine affection.

    • *last sentence is suppose to be a question, albeit rhetorical.

    • I realize I have gone to another extreme here. I was just so struck by how appropriate this cantata was on its intended date last Sunday. I do not not expect churches to revive the Bach cantata! There is plenty of middle ground and we will certainly talk about it.

      Anyway, I hope these magnificent words encourage someone today.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        No need to revive the Bach cantata: at least not for our generation. Bach fell out of the repertoire following his death in the mid-18th century, but was brought back in the early 19th century, under the influence of Mendelssohn and like-minded musicians. He has been firmly established ever since. Not many churches will do a full cantata, much less do this regularly. This is beyond the resources of most, and frankly would be a bit distracting, blurring the line between worship service and performance. But various pieces from cantatas (especially choruses, if you have a choir up to it) are common in Lutheran churches, especially those with a strong German heritage. (Of course you can also find Lutheran churches doing praise choruses, too. On rare occasions a church will do both, but most go one way or the other. Look for the power point screen. If there is none, then you odds of hearing some Bach are much higher.)

  2. There is no middle ground. There is only both at the same time.

  3. I suspect that if we could see things as they really are, we’d do a lot more pleading to God for our lives and less regarding ourselves as holy objects of divine affection.

    This is not to detract from the reality of God’s affection – in a way I think it amplifies it.

  4. This is a bit of a hard line for me.

    Here’s where I’m coming from:

    I’ve served as a ‘worship leader’ in an emerging congregation.
    I have an education in classical music and own many of Bach’s cantatas, passions and chorals. I love them.

    I think that the attack on ‘how he loves us’ was unnecessary and short on substance (long on grumpiness.)

    I agree with most of what’s posted here about the dismal state of worship, but I don’t think that song is even close to being symbolic of the problem. I also don’t think that Bach Cantatas are the solution to the problem. (Wonderful though they are.)

    As a student, I spent hours upon hours in the basement of the library listening to great classical music. I know Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion and Mass in C minor, Faure’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Brahms German Requiem… among others… Very well. I love this music, and I’ve shared quite a bit with others, but it’s never connected with them the way it does for me. Also, the amount of wealth and educated musicians that it takes to perform these works place them beyond the reach of most congregations, especially the small, local ones that IM so often romanticizes.

    The hymns of the west are amazing, and I hate to think that we’re losing much of that, but I do see signs of hope. There are many more hymn-like songs emerging in contemporary worship. I love hymns, and I’ve forced them on the youth in my church and have been surprised at how quickly they adopt them as their own.

    However, I have to say that I think the theologically dense language of the hymns often has less in common with the language of the psalms than much contemporary worship. I think that the heavy focus on self that’s been criticized is just as present in the psalms as in contemporary worship.

    • Thanks so much for your input. I think you and I could have some great discussions, muka. Let me try to answer a few of your concerns.

      1. If my post came across as “grumpy” and not substantive, that is a failure of communication on my part. I tried to deal with substance in this case. My true concerns are: (1) the integrity of the corporate worship service, (2) that pastors take leadership in maintaining that integrity, and (3) that worshipers be brought to maturity by learning to “sing with the mind as well as the spirit” (1Cor 14). My experience with this song in the worship service last Sunday caused me to think that we are failing at all three concerns. The song was a perfect example of something being sung only because people like it and it “lifts them up emotionally.” It had nothing to do with the service whatsoever.

      2. I do not think Bach cantatas are the answer to the problem either. I hope that is clear. But I was so struck by the contrast when I realized that this was the Bach cantata scheduled for last Sunday, the same Sunday I was introduced to “How He Loves.” Of course, it is an extreme contrast. We’re not going to see a revival of Bach cantatas, especially in evangelicalism. That’s not my point. Is it too much to hope for some artistic integrity and theological depth?

      3. I heartily disagree with what you say about the psalms. A friend of mine recently told me he really doesn’t like the Book of Psalms. When I asked him why, he said most people have a few favorites they remember because they are simple, beautiful, and comforting. But if you actually look at the whole book, there are relatively few of those. Most are long, difficult laments, reflections on the history of Israel, and profound theological meditations. Most of the psalms are “theologically dense,” not simple, and people tend to pick and choose a line or stanza here or there rather than read them in their full form.

      Furthermore, they do not have a “heavy focus on self” that in any way resembles contemporary American narcissism. First of all the “I” in the Psalms is usually the king, and I endorse the interpretation that says these words point to the ideal King, Jesus himself. So the psalms are not about me, they are about the sufferings and triumph of the Messiah. Secondly, personal experience reflected in the psalms is always expressed in relation to the context of Israel’s history and religion: creation, the patriarchs, the law, the temple, and the kingdom. The liturgical setting and forms of the psalms place my story into the bigger story of God and the worship of his people.

      The evangelical problem is that their worship does not honor this context.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        One of the best bits of advice I ever got on praying/singing the psalms is that you’ve got to learn how to say “I” and mean “we” and how to say “we” and mean “I.” Coming from a tradition that is heavy in psalm recitation, that meant a LOT to me (thanks, Steve Brown).

      • Hello, Chaplain Mike.

        RE: “My experience with this song in the worship service last Sunday caused me to think that we are failing at all three concerns. The song was a perfect example of something being sung only because people like it and it “lifts them up emotionally.” It had nothing to do with the service whatsoever.”

        I think it’s much more than “only because they like it and it lifts them up emotionally”. (1) even if it was chosen for the sole reason that it lifts people up, it is reasonable to conclude that God liked it if it was sung with sincerity.

        (2) We have emotions, they are a fact of us (not necessarily the most important fact, but as valid as any other fact). I’d say singing a song to God and about God and the resulting emotional lift is a good thing. It’s like a hug — we give a hug to someone, but we get nourishment out of it, too. Or when a parent comforts their child — it is something given out, out of love for the child, but oh how the parent gets comfort in return as well in the process.

        (3) it’s neat to plan a very purposeful, cohesive service where every aspect works together toward communication and action on something important and deep. But perhaps not every service need be so fine-tuned — or dare I say tightly tuned (?). There is value in simply celebrating something as wondrous as the fact of God, Son, & Holy Spirit — in enjoying God’s presence.

        I”m enjoying the conversation.

        • I appreciate your thoughtful and helpful comments, Pam. And I hear what you are saying. There is a place for the spontaneity you urge here. And though I think worship should follow a proven liturgical form, there is room for freer expressions as well. I still think there should be more discernment about and pastoral leadership regarding our worship music and forms of worship. Christians are formed by their worship habits, among other practices, and I fear for what habits our contemporary “concert” style services are creating in people. We have swung so far to seeking hugs from God that we have forgotten many fundamentals in this area.

          • I suspect we come from very different backgrounds. I’m currently re-evaluating everything to find the true “heart of the matter”. I’d truly like to know your thoughts on

            -how christians are formed by their worship habits

            -what is the contemporary concert style services creating in people

            -and what are some of the many fundamentals that you see as being forgotten.

            You’ve probably already written about these things. I’m not a regular reader, so I’m sorry if I’m asking you to repeat yourself.

      • wow. Thanks for a thoughtful response and for being more gracious than I was. I want to write now, but have some other obligations. Hopefully I’ll be able to make time tomorrow!

      • David Cornwell says:

        ” (1) the integrity of the corporate worship service, (2) that pastors take leadership in maintaining that integrity, and (3) that worshipers be brought to maturity by learning to “sing with the mind as well as the spirit”

        The responsibility for worship starts and stops with the pastor. It not just to be a cheer leader and preacher, then sit down. The pastor needs to really learn about worship, admitting what he/she does not know, learning it, and gradually, with gentleness and craft teach the congregation. This isn’t a sideline for the pastor, this is it.

  5. Seems to me that the power of music is not a cerebral thing but more about emotion. And how our feelings and mood affect our mind, thoughts, and even body. I mean this is ever positive sense. I think if the Nutcracker Suite, and how beautiful and interesting and exciting and inspiring it is to listen to. I get carried away by the emotional power of it, and I am better for it.

    Hate how the word “worship” is thrown around these days, reducing it to some perfunctory activity on a to do list. The word or concept of worship is highly emotional (or at least involving deliberate dedication if the one can’t can’t tap in to the emotional component).

    I love the lyrics you presented in your post. But I would argue that its power lies in the cerebral whereas music that is perhaps less lyric-rich can have its power in the emotion. Both are equally important and relevant.

    • I think that it is precisely the centrality of worship in the Christian life that generates these controversies over worship. Anyone who truly regarded worship as “perfunctory” wouldn’t care at all about the quality of the music presented.

      And for me, it is the prevalence of what I consider to be poor worship music that actually detracts from the experience and emotional involvement of worship. 8 minutes of singing a bad worship chorus is not a transporting emotional experience.

      By contrast, I’ll never forget the very moment I, as a new Christian at 25 years of age at a Christmas service, sang these words:

      “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
      Hail th’incarnate Deity
      Pleased as man with men to dwell,
      Jesus our Immanuel!”

      It’s not as though I’d never heard the song before, but what once had been a meaningless holiday jingle transformed into a glorious expression of both poetic and literal truth. It was expansive on both the emotional and intellectual level. It is that sort of experience I wish to recover, wherever and whenever it may be found.

      • Well, music is surely a very subjective thing. What moves one person simply will not move another person. However, I think most people can identify great music over mediocre music.

        Aside from how well music is crafted, music can have power simply through “association”. I’m sure explanations aren’t necessary, but, for example, even songs that appear to be haphazardly put together can mean a lot to a person. It is not necessarily because of the depth of the lyrics but because of how the person associates the song with God’s goodness and greatness in their life — it could stem from experiencing the song previously during a powerful moment with God.

  6. Sure didn’t proof-read what I wrote. I hope you can read between the lines and around my goofed up prepositions.

    (“in every” positive sense / I think “of” the Nutcracker… / dedication “if one” can’t tap in… /

  7. Bach is the undisputed master of sacred music. He completely exemplifies everything that a musician working in the service of the church ought to be and do. As a Lutheran musician, he is my role model, and I will spend the rest of my life discovering the treasures of riches contained in his life’s work.

    …not to the neglect of the latest John Mark McMillan hits, of course. 😛

  8. There’s an element of irony in these discussion that I just can’t help but notice. To me, hearing a Bach piece in a church service comes off as pretentious, showy, detached, and I would think it would actually encourage people to become spectators rather than participants. It seems to me that there are a lot of people here who make that same sort of claim when it comes to the more modern songs.

    Does a lot of this simply come down to the whole “high church”, “low church” divide? I think the thing that makes modern worship music ubiquitous is that almost anybody can play a lot of these songs. If you know 4 chords or so on the guitar, you’re good to go. That’s just not the case with something like Bach.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think we can totally disconnect the message from the medium. And for a lot of people today singing a Bach cantata is much different than hearing a mass in Latin. It’s something that’s totally disconnected from them.

    • In past generations more people had some sort of musical training as a matter of course, so something like a Bach chamber group would not have been at all unthinkable or out of the reach of a local congregation. If we are now limited to what can be done with four chords and a rousing chorus lest we be pretentious and detached, then we are the poorer for it.

      • It’s not really just a matter of training, I think. It’s simply a matter of the music of the culture. Like it or not, music of this type just doesn’t hold the same place it did before. That may be a net negative thing from an artistic perspective, but I don’t know that it is a negative for the life of the church. I have a hard time believing that there’s a correlation between the complexity of the music a church uses and the quality of disciples it produces.

        • Well, since the discussion is about church music, I will stick to discussing music and not try to postulate which creates the better disciples. Four chord wonders aren’t any more guaranteed to produce quality disciples than a chamber group, but the chamber group can play either a cantata or a hootenanny.

          • Given the choice, I’ll take the hootenanny myself, but that’s just me. I guess I’ve spent too much time around people who could die while sitting in the pew and no one would no until after the service.

            To a huge population on the planet (like the majority) Bach means nothing. Of course it’s beautiful music, and it speaks to some people – I get that. But what gives those people the right to dictate that it must speak to everyone in the same way?

          • I guess what I’m getting at is that I’ve given up trying to figure out why the Lord speaks to some people in some ways that simply don’t communicate to others. I could take the cynical route and simply say that the people who have these experience are simply lying or under a delusion. But because these people are people I know and love, I simply can’t do that.

            I just don’t think there’s any formula, liturgy, song, or whatever that can be made a rule. If something is annointed by God for a certain time and place, then so be it. Where we get into trouble is when we try to manufacture new experiences based on our past ones or other people. That is what bugs me about modern worship music – the copycat nature of it. But I have to say, I don’t see that Bach cantatas are any sort of remedy.

          • It seems to me that the “Contemporary Worship” four chord wonders are more likely to be dictating their preference to the congregation than lovers of Bach, hymns or anything else. My in-laws moved church four times in the last ten years because every darn one changed from choirs to amateur rock’n’roll bands. Never fear, no chamber orchestra will come to pull the plug on your happy-clappy.

        • We may be missing the point here. I intentionally did not put up any music with this post. I only put up the words. My point is to show the possibility of magnificent poetry that actually fits within the context of worship and the things we face in life and that reflects God, the story of Scripture, profound thoughtfulness and emotion, and one’s place within a community of believers in the midst of a life that can be difficult.

          It’s an extreme contrast, I know. I’m not recommending Bach cantatas here. Only that we begin to move toward the artistic and theological integrity they represent.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Can it be pretentious? Absolutely. Can it lead to the congregation being a passive audience? Certainly. But these aren’t necessarily the case.

      Taking pretentiousness first, there is a cultural aspect here. What place does classical music have in our culture? For some people it is a chance to dress up and preen at intermission while sipping overpriced white wine. Others have a deep love of an ancient musical tradition. I used to have the opportunity to attend weekly free student performances at a very very good conservatory. One of the guys who regularly attended was homeless, and looked like it. They put him off in the corner because, frankly, he didn’t smell very good. But no one questioned his motives or his right to attend. This was about as far from pretentious as you can get. If a church treats Bach as an opportunity to show off, flaunting how sophisticated they are, then yes, this is pretentious. If a church does Bach (and Byrd and Palestrina and so on…) because this is how they worship, then no, it is not pretentious.

      As for being a passive audience, this is a danger in nearly all forms of worship. I can speak to how I respond. A typical situation might be following the scripture reading. The choir will sing an anthem of perhaps four to eight lines from that text. They will often be singing in Latin or German. I will have both the Latin or German text and an English translation in the bulletin in my hand. (Yes, an actual paper bulletin, just like back in Gutenberg’s day…) I will follow along. By the nature of the music, they go through the text far more slowly than one would read, or even speak, the same text. They also will often go through it two or more times in various iterations. This practically forces me to reflect upon the words far more than merely reading or hearing them would. Even if I am distracted the first time through critiquing in my mind the translation, the second go-around will fix that. The music is a wonderful inducement to contemplation. I find myself focused on the words far more than when singing a hymn, where I may be steeling myself for that high E I know is coming while the words I am singing never quite make it to my frontal lobe.

      It’s not for everyone, obviously, but for those to whom it speaks, nothing else is quite like it.

  9. It may only be me, but some of words in this Bach cantata sound to me like the pronouncements we’ve been hearing from people like Pat Robertson about God sending down God’s wrath through the earthquakes and other natural disasters on our country because of its sin. What is the difference?

    • Because the Bach cantata is not specifying God’s wrath as the cause of some specific event, but rather expressing what many people do feel when these kinds of disasters strike. For millennia people have cried out to God for deliverance from calamity and I suspect many will continue to. That is quite different from some preacher wagging his finger after the fact and saying that “this happened because y’all are so bad.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Because the Bach cantata is not specifying God’s wrath as the cause of some specific event, but rather expressing what many people do feel when these kinds of disasters strike.

        Don’t many of the Psalms and Lamentations say the same?

        • I’m not really sure of your point here, but I thought it better to point out how the perspective of the cantata is deeply rooted in human experience rather than just say it mimics Psalms and Lamentations.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The religion expressed in this Bach Cantata is A Serious Religion.

    In comparison, the “sloppy wet kiss” expressed in this morning’s Trendy Worship Chorus is definitely NOT.

    • The “sloppy wet kiss” and the 4 chord worship songs strike me as the general dumbing down of our culture. Of course I’m a 75 y.o. fuddy-duddy!

  11. Kelby Carlson says:

    I’d be all for this–as long as it wasn’t in German.

    What people forget is that four-chord worship songs aren’t bad in and of themselves–heck, In Christ Alone by Keith and Kristyn Getty doesn’t break the formula all that much. What we have to figure out, I think, is how to formulate worship music in such a way that we preserve musical and theological excellence without horribly diminishing accessibility. Things need to be kept in balance, which is one of the reasons I’m very much in favor of contemporizing hymns.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      I think of the tradition of Chorale music that developed in the West here. From what I understand, chorales were originally intended to be relatively simple musical pieces that were designed for congregational singing in worship settings. Bach wrote/adapted MANY chorales. Many of our hymns are in the chorale format. Heck, usually chorale writings is one of the first things students of music theory and composition are taught. These are often little more than four-chord pieces that get pretty repetitive (depending on the lyricist).

      Something that modern writers/composers of worship music need to consider is whether their works are suited for congregational participation or whether they’re performance pieces. Nothing wrong with performance pieces, per se, but they ought not to be marketed as congregational pieces.

    • Bach music is very often performed in English. Due to strong similarities between English and German (English actually developed from German), it actually works very well, much more so than trying to sing Italian in English or French in Mandarin.

      I concur about contemporizing hymns. I’m way into the hymn re-write movement. I see it as a fantastic corrective to charismatic excess. Red Mountain Music, Sovereign Grace music and Sojourn Community Church are the shining stars of worship music, imo.

  12. I have had the experience numerous times of standing through typical CCM worship music that I couldn’t relate to and/or that didn’t speak for me but meditating on God instead and as a result being overwhelmed with a deep desire to prostrate myself face first and express much of what is in this cantata. Nice to know I may not be th only one who believes that impulse wasn’t crazy, even though it would likely be viewed as such in most contemporary worship services.

  13. Here’s my question: what does it matter what kind of music is being used in a church’s worship if the center of that worship is the gospel? I have really grown to appreciate the great hymns and other non-contemporary forms of sacred music, but if that was all I was presented with when I was a new believer in my late teens, I suspect that I would have either not become that new believer or I would have stayed completely out of church. Can’t we allow Christ’s church to be diverse so that he can use it to attract all to himself? Why should we look down on another church because their music is too touchy feely, or not theologically deep, or too stuffy, or not hip enough? My advice: find a place where you can worship God and grow in your love for the gospel, and let others do the same even if you would never be caught dead in the place where they are doing likewise.

    • Because we like people who look, think, and act like us. Life is easier that way.

    • Steve, but your point is the same as mine. What I am saying is that the center of evangelical worship, as long as it is represented by songs like “How He Loves,” is NOT the Gospel! It is about “sinking an ocean of grace” or God giving me a kiss and turning my heart around in my chest and making me feel loved.

      Those two things are not the same.

      • It’s funny, though, Chaplain Mike I never took that line in that song to be a personalized, Jesus-as-my-boyfriend sort of thing. The line is “heaven meets earth in a sloppy-wet kiss”, and honestly, that’s a better articulation of the incarnational aspect of the Gospel than much of escapist, pie-in-the-sky, civil religion, old-time gospel hour hymns I grew up hearing. And also, the chorus is “He love us”, so it’s not exactly and individualized love song.

        I guess I can think of many, many more songs that deserve your wrath above this particular one.

        • Well, Phil, so can I, but this is the one I was encouraged to sing last Sunday.

          The confusing thing about the song is that it is a personal testimony of the songwriter’s experience about how God met him in a time of grief, but there are these swatches of plural lines in there. IMO, they don’t really connect coherently.

          But that really is not my main point. Which is still . . . it’s an OK song for a personal appearance, but not for corporate worship.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

            Bingo. That’s a difference a lot of music leaders and musicians don’t get. I think some of that is because the main “venue” for Christian bands today seems to be Sunday Morning Worship. Just because a song is Christian doesn’t mean it’s appropriate (musically, lyrically, whatever) for corporate worship. Bands don’t seem to get that these days. I don’t think that used to be the case. I remember, for example, how in the 90’s Petra put out two albums that were specifically of worship tunes rather than their usual stuff. And for the first one, in order to make it more conducive to use in a corporate worship setting, their lead vocalist had to sing in keys with which he was less comfortable, a necessity if musically untrained congregants were going to be able to comfortably participate.

          • Well, John Schlitt has an unreasonably high soprano voice. No man should be capable of the ranges he hits with fortitude. I almost hate that band sometimes because much of their music is imposible to replicate without hiring a first tenor from the opera. But then I met them once, and they were dynamic in person. They may not be the poster kids for cultural relevance, but they are definitely skilled and edifying.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

            I’m a bigger fan of their earlier work than their later work. One of my problems when I lead worship or when I compose music for congregational singing is that I’m a low baritone, and thus not well suited for most of the congregation’s voices. I’ve had to consult with more skilled composers and musicians than I to find out what’s best for the folks in the pews. That’s another reason why I’ve come to appreciate hymns and hymnals more as I’ve become a curmudgeounly 30-something: a part for my low voice is included in most hymns and I can usually follow along well enough by the third verse or so.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

            I spent a LONG time going through the motions in music ministry and just following along with what I was expected to do. I really have to say that my professor for Christian Worship at Wayland Baptist University (Dr. John Andrewartha) and his reading assignments of great books (e.g. Rbt. Webber’s Worship is a Verb and Blended Worship) really opened my eyes to how poor of a job I’d been doing and how important worship really is for the community of faith. That is, I’ve had some really good mentors as both positive and negative examples over the years.

    • Can’t we allow Christ’s church to be diverse so that he can use it to attract all to himself?

      No, no, no, Steve, not on this site you can’t. On this site, you have to narcissistically thunder on about how narcissistic the evangelical church is. We can accept and even embrace diversity in one direction but we can’t stand it in the other.

      • Then how come I’m not deleting your comment?

      • Seriously.

        1. Yes, we have a point of view.

        2. Yes, we focus on a critique of evangelicalism. Many of us left it for real reasons. However, we still have a lot of love for it. We are involved in a “lover’s quarrel.” It isn’t always pretty.

        3. Yes, we come across as more tolerant “in the other direction” (I assume you mean toward historic churches–Catholics, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, etc.). Believe it or not, there are reasons for this. Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism is historically a separatist movement. One of the things those of us who have left evangelicalism have learned is that there is much to appreciate in other traditions. We focus on those because we are learning to appreciate them, and we don’t focus on the weaknesses as much because as evangelicals we were already well familiar with those.

        Next time, why not address us directly rather than dissing the site in the comments?

        • Yes, you are right. My comments were rather snarky, weren’t they. I apologize for not addressing the issue. The really odd thing is, I agree with most of what you post and many of the comments here. I have never heard of the song you mentioned this morning and have no desire to hear it. Yet when I read these pages, I find myself getting upset with the “ain’t it awful” and “how much better we are than they are” elitism. It is not so much you, Chaplain Mike, but the defensive, over-the top, piling on that goes on the the comments. I, too, am no longer an evangelical, as serving 20 years as a relutctant evangelical pastor. But I came to realize the issue was in me-I did not fit. That was not the evangelical’s fault. I would find it troublesome not to admit my own issues but blame everyone else instead.

          • Another tendency that drives me from evangelicalism: When ever you try to offer constructive criticism, its usually rejected as being self absorbed and unspiritual. We’ve fostered a spirituality that’s dogmatically opposed to looking in the mirror, no matter how painful it is.

            Seriously, every time I express my grief about a church situation or the system at large to an evangelical, its my fault within 20 seconds. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but there actually are legitimate problems of a systemic nature besides personal sin! Its almost as if suffering, frustration, or just plain idealism is considered unspiritual. Yes, remove the plank from your own eye first, etc… But that doesn’t mean we can’t ever say, “The emperor is naked!” Helpful critiques almost always sound elitist at first. And btw, Chaplain Mike is one of the rare people who will listen to your story and not blame your difficulties on your shortcomings.

          • Thanks, JSturty. I’m pleased that you wrote back. Things do get messy around here. I hope you’ll hang around and help keep us honest.

          • That would be great, Miguel, if the critiques were helpful and constructive. But they almost never are. The comments here almost always seem to be defensive, condescending and reeking of unresolved anger and hurt. I know people need to work through these things and perhaps one of the roles of this site is to provide a safe place for recovering evangelicals to express their stories of hurt and pain. I can accept that. There indeed need to be such places. But for the good of your relationships, your spirit and soul, you cannot stay in the place of rage. Each of us has to accept our own responsiblility in the “divorce” between ourselves and evangelicalism and say it was just not a good fit and the break-up was as much my fault as it was theirs. Perhaps my response here is autobiographical. I am a recovering evangelical. For 20 years I pastored in evangelical churches and fought it all 20 years. I finally came to realize the culture of evangelicalism didn’t fit me. It wasn’t healthy for me. But at the time I came to realize the culture did fit 80% of the people I was pastoring. They liked things I didn’t like. They didn’t like things I did. Evangelicalism was healthy for them. Why I stayed so long was a matter of stubborness and pride and frankly, cowardice as much as anything else. Now for me to proclaim the whole system is broken and dysfunctional because it didn’t fit me is the ultimate of narcissism-it is still all about me.

          • Criticism is very, very rarely received as constructive if its perceived to be coming from the outside in. Even criticism from within is very hard to offer in a positive way.

            Personally, I become very skeptical when I read things that start with “all or most evangelical churches are…”. Really? You know what all or most are like. Even if you’ve managed to attend 100 different churches over your life, that’s still a very small percentage. So you have people basing a critique off of anecdotal evidence, and that evidence feels like it’s confirmed because they’re are plenty of other people on the internet who will confirm your opinion.

            I’m not saying that I think everything is great or that there aren’t plenty of things that bother me. I do, however, how constructive it is to sit and complain about other churches I’m not part of. I have little to no influence over what they do.

    • I don’t think it should ever be the goal of a church to “attract” people, if by that we mean operating in a way that appeals to their aesthetic sensibilities (or lack thereof). The church is to be a bold witness for Christ to the world by its sacrificial love, not musical diversity. Musical diversity is great! But it isn’t the power of our artistry that purchased the redemption of souls. Do a pupet show if it gets people to listen to the gospel. But that doesn’t make the pupet show “worship.”

  14. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

    I’m probably beating a dead horse here, but it seems that it should be obvious to anyone who is actually and rationally reading Chaplain Mike’s posts that he’s not against new/contemporary music or new/contemporary music styles. Rather, he’s advocating that music planners and leaders and writers put forth the effort to produce and use songs that are appropriate for the context of congregational worship. Seriously, what’s with all the knee-jerk reaction comments? Or is CCM just too sacrosanct to look at critically?

    • My point would be this: a song that may be inappopriate for your congregation could be very appropriate for someone else’s. I’m no longer a “let’s have a big, emotional outpouring in worship time” kind of guy but I’ve been there in the past and God met me through it and helped me receive the Gospel. That’s the kind of song this is, and it has its place. Even in congregational worship, although not everywhere. Just as hymns have their place, but not everywhere. I’m much more concerned about whether the worship service, taken as a whole, is centered around the gospel. The circus can come to town singing hymns just as easily as it can singing CCM.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        You’re totally right about the MAIN issue being the Gospel and that you can have silliness no matter what style of music is being used. But I think it’s a mistake to frame the argument in a Hymn vs CCM manner. The issue isn’t style. Certainly the specific local context can affect the appropriateness. Nonetheless, music ministers, pastors, or whoever else makes these decisions ought to approach their job with a certain level of gravitas. They ought to weigh a lot of factors when determining if a particular song is appropriate for their congregation, and whether something is popular or evokes a particular emotional response shouldn’t be the top things on the list. Are they considering the theological content of the song? Are they considering how singable the song is for the untrained folks in the pews? Are they considering how the song fits into the various parts of the service? Are they considering how the song fits with the sermon or season? Are they considering how appropriate the song is for their particular band/worship team’s set up? Or are they only considering how much they like the song?

    • Personally, I happen to think the song that started this whole thing is, for the most part, appropriate. So we’re pretty to the level of arguing over opinions here. This is why I believe in letting the issue of appropriateness be handled on a local level. If pastors, elders, worship leaders, and congregants are OK with it, who else needs to be? Obviously not everyone is going to like every song sung in a church. It’s like a mom making a meal for a large family. Not every kid is going to like everything she makes all the time. That doesn’t mean she changes the entire menu to suit the picky kid’s tastes. It just means the kid has to deal with it.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        Perhaps I’m not comparing the apples with apples anymore in the discussion, but I’m not really talking about the specific song from the earlier post; I’m talking about general principles in incorporating music into worship. I agree that there is a certain level where appropriateness is a local issue. But I think there are also some overarching principles that need to go into music selection, and I don’t think that music ministers, pastors, or whoever else makes these decisions always considers the most important criteria for appropriateness of any given song (see my response to Steve above). I don’t think it’s ultimately an issue of opinions, though opinion certainly plays a part. I mean, there are enough good, appropriate songs out there that we can legitimately differ over whether a song is likable while still having appropriate songs for worship.

        Truth be told, I’d bet that a lot of music ministers and pastors simply haven’t considered some of this stuff. I’d been leading the music at my old church for years prior to having some of these issues brought to my attention. And my pastors/elders certainly hadn’t thought about them. We need to give our music ministers better training rather than just assuming that the guy or gal who knows their way around a guitar or keyboard knows what they’re doing.

        • I understand where you’re coming from. I know I made plenty of mistakes when I was pastoring a campus church, and I know that I’ve done some things I wish I could change regarding worship decisions. I guess the one thing, though, we have to be careful is that we’re not engaging in projection. It’s very easy to project my fears and frustrations onto other people. When I do that, it’s easy for me to start judging a person’s motives, and honestly, that’s very dangerous ground. It’s very easy for to say stuff, “well that worship leader is just singing that song to manipulate people’s emotion”. That may or may not be true. I can’t probably know for sure. If I’ve engaged in that behavior myself before, though, I just assume that other people are like me, though.

          I guess I just have started to feel more of check in my spirit about my cynicism. Growing up in a pastor’s family and really not ever being away from church in one form or another, it’s very easy for me to become a constant critic. I’ve probably seen more bad than good, honestly. But I guess the fact that I’ve seen good is what prevents me from being a complete cynic. I have to believe that not everyone is simply a fake.

  15. Here’s my takeaway/comments:

    1- Music style in Worship (corporate singing) is largely dependent on taste. Since my own taste is fairly eclectic I enjoy a great variety in music.

    2- Worship music should have a message. Simply repeating a phrase over and over really doesn’t convey a message. Conversely, while many of us have been brought up in “the great hymns of the faith” some use archaic,arcane language that is hard for some contemporary people to understand. Frankly, I suspect that some of the people with a long church background may not understand the language.

    3- Some worship leaders (aka song leaders) don’t understand the difference between leading others in song and performance. They don’t understand the importance of corporate singing. This shows up in two ways in particular:

    4- Emphasis on musical selections that are not intended for group singing. Some lyrics do not work well for coporate singing.

    5- Emphasis on musical selections that are musically difficult to sing. Corporate singing involves people with different abilities. make the music too difficult and many will not sing.

    I really think we need to stop looking at worship music by age/style rather by message.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      Well said, sir.

    • Very well said. As much as I love the old hymns, some of the archaic wording occasionally makes me cringe because I know its doing our people a disservice not to update it in some cases.

  16. I’m pretty open w/ my worship music but I do hate the CCM industry invading the Chruch.
    I do believe as a worldwide faith that has more African & South American Christians than European Christians, it would be wise to add more diversity to the music. Less Euro-centric music & more Spirituals & praise songs from other countries.
    I see a benefit from the Ancient/Future movement but it can be too restrictive, formatic, & Euro-centric.

    • Sounds good to me.

      Maybe it’s an American thing. One day my mom chatted with a man from England at her job, and he made the comment that Americans are “so insular” (I figured i knew what “insular” meant well enough, but I just now looked up the dictionary def. which said “suggestive of the isolated life of an island”).

      And I agree — whenever I’ve travelled, I’ve observed that Americans tend to be less flexible with the fact that other countries/cultures don’t do things the American way (can’t say I haven’t fallen into this category as well).

      So, perhaps part of the American mindset is to see America and the way we do things as being the right way to do things, the only way to do things, the best way to do things. When, in actual fact, America is a smaller island than we realize. We’re not quite as important or special as we think we are.

  17. Worship as Spiritual Formation

    It is probably not too far fetched to think that for many people the Sunday Service (or equivalent) is the greatest exposure they get to the Christian message, and in fact is what forms their attitudes/opinions, beliefs and lifestyle.

    If this is true, than what is the message we are sending? What is the picture of God we portray? What is the concept of what it means to be a Christian? Are worshippers being formed in a way that truly is life-changing, or is it possible they are just being reinforced in the attitudes and thoughts of the surrounding culture?

    If the Christian worship service is a way that we are spiritually formed, then the questions that Chaplain Mike asks about worship are suddenly very important. It takes things beyond the level of mere preferences or musical styles to one of what leaders are actually modelling and feeding their flock.