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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Why do we sing?

iServe Africa apprentice Getrude Namapii (serving at Fountain of Life Church, Nairobi) is writing a research paper on Building Effective ‘Worship Teams’ and this is a really helpful section from her work so far (shared with permission).

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Music and church is inseparable in our context. Singing is evident in every church service. This could be singing songs from hymn books, singing choruses with or without instruments either slowly or faster depending on the tempo of choice. However, several questions about who, why, when, where and how is the singing done tend to arise:

  • Are singers the few people who feel gifted, and can stand before a mass of people and lead them in singing?
  • Does singing only happen to attract masses of people to church in order that the preacher can minister to them?
  • Do singers comprise the few energetic youths who can manipulate the congregation into action?

I realize that this list could become long. However, these issues can be corrected in the light of a clear understanding of why we sing.

Gospel reasons for worship

It is important to understand the purpose of singing in order to sing more effectively. Following the words of Jesus in Jn. 4:24, “God is spirit and His worshippers must worship Him in truth and spirit”, it is very important for us to recognize that not all worship is in truth and Spirit. We must have good reasons to worship and a good understanding of who God is in our singing. When we sing to worship the true God, we shall accord Him the reverence He deserves, from deep within our heart in truth and in the Spirit. We will sing to God because:

  1. He is our God and savior for ever. Worship starts in the light of Rom. 12:1-2, that we shall first of all in view of God’s mercy, offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-as our spiritual act of worship. We shall not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is a pointer to our practice of living in view of having a relationship with God through the knowledge of His saving grace expressed though His son Jesus Christ. In Rom. 5:8, God demonstrates His love to us that while we were yet sinners; that He send His only son to die for us, to save us. Jesus has reconciled us back to God, justifying us by His own blood. Though we once were enemies of God, unable to worship him, we have been brought back to Him through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Not only is this so, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation. We worship because we can.
  2. The great commission unto which our savior has called us. In Matt. 28:18-20, Jesus has empowered us to go out as His faithful witnesses, making disciples…and teaching them to obey all things…and He shall be with us to the very end. Singing is one means of witnessing, proclaiming Jesus through music. This brings to our attention the great importance of the authenticity of the Word sung in the song; the content must be faithful to the Word of God. And to be evangelistic it must include the gospel. Jesus said in Jn. 12:32; But I when I am lifted up fro the earth, will draw men to myself. These words are key in our ministration as servants of Jesus Christ. Jesus pointed to the nature of death He was to go through, to give Himself as a ransom for the whole world that He loved so much Jn. 3:16. It is not the music that draws men to Jesus, not the good instrumentalism but Jesus Himself saves men. Our role is thus to proclaim the Name of Jesus, by preaching and even by song, to all nations that the whole world may know Him and come to believe in Him.
  3. We sing to God to offer Him praises and thanks. As we come together as the body of Christ, saved by the grace of Jesus, we are all the same (1 Cor.12:12-13). We all deserved to face the wrath of God, but His mercies spared us. Paul remind us of this in Ephesians 2:8-10, that it is by grace we have been saved, through faith-and this not ourselves , it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one may boast…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do…elected!! We never deserved it, but by His mercies we have it. We deserved the wrath of God, when we were separated from Him by our sins, but through His kindness we have been engrafted into Him, the true vine (Rom. 11:22). This is a humbling truth that calls for us to respond to God with praises and thanks. This will guard us from being proud of self (proud even in our singing) in the understanding that we are beneficiaries of the grace of God.

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African beats

We’ve said before that musicians and singers should be just as much servants of the Word as preachers. And on the last ministry training week we talked about how we’ve got to be careful about lyrics in just the same way as the words we preach – not just being careful whether they are true or heretical but thinking about how they are heard (e.g. what are people thinking when they hear “There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb” especially when the chorus is sung without the verses). But what about tunes and beats? Do they matter? A brother I was talking to recently expressed concern about the influence of ‘secular’ music (e.g. from the nightclub) on Christian music and expressed the idea that certain beats are secular (even demonic) and putting Christian words to ‘secular’ tunes can lead to the singers being drawn back into the World. I put the issue to Wes on the blog ‘a mission-driven life’. This was his very insightful response:

From a trinitarian gospel-centered perspective, responding to the issue of secular vs sacred music is an interesting prospect.

So, first we recognize that all of reality is sustained by God who created all things. Jesus assumed humanity (100%) to redeem and restore God’s good creational order. The Holy Spirit acts to reveal the Father and the Son and to sanctify. Culture exists in relationship to the triune God. If there was no sin in the world, all human culture would be good, beautiful, and revealing of God’s grand and diverse majesty. However, because of sin and the fall, all of culture is tainted. However, no human system is completely evil, nor, until Christ returns are they completely restored. Music is no different.

Music reflects God’s creational order and goodness in several ways. Beautiful things always reflect something of God’s ultimate beauty. Music also is structured, ordered mathematically (in various degrees) reflecting God’s order placed in the universe. Truly, in whatever context, cultural products, such as music, deserve to be studied deeply to provide what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called a “thick description”. Music, especially, reveals deep things about a people’s worldview and at the same time has the power to change it. Music is not so much listened to as performed. Musicians perform the actual production of the sounds in rhythms and harmonies, but listeners participate in the music as well. Music is always active in the heart and mind of the individual. In a perfect world, these are very good things.

But we also live in a fallen world. Albert Wolters refers to a culture’s direction. Something can either be directed towards God, or away from God in satanic rebellion. A good thing, like music, can be misdirected in idolatrous self-worship (like most Western music) or in idolatrous pagan worship. Again, even this requires deep study. Music, as a cultural performance, has worldview implications. This means that the words combined with the meaning ascribed to the melodies themselves can work to shape how a person views reality, what is ultimate. For instance, if I was listening to instrumental version of “imagine” by John Lennon, that could have as detrimental an effect on me as if I were listening to the words (well because I know the words to the song). Lennon preaches and calls us to participate in a faulty godless worldview. Music has a special power to affect us. Would putting Christian words to the song be enough to counteract the meaning? Over time, yes. For me, I would be conflicted. My children, it wouldn’t bother them since they don’t know the original.

I don’t know the African context. If certain tunes and beats are closely associated with pagan rituals that perform a demonic worldview, then it is possible that those beats would continue to preach that worldview even when applied different meanings (and by beats, I don’t just mean the use of drums, but the combination of sounds that are associated with a particular ritual). Honestly, this is not an easy question to address.

Every culture is valuable because Jesus particularized a single human culture. From this particular culture, he performed a universal redemption. Every diverse human culture in its grand diversity, then, is infinitely valuable. From Genesis to Revelation this is clear. Every culture, in so much as it is directed towards God, can be redeemed and restored, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. By redirecting the worldview of the beats and music, it may be possible to both redeem and sanctify a particular beat. Overall, it is important that African music be valued. If it is possible to worship African-ly, then that reflects God’s creational order and his redemptive and sanctifying work. This may mean, though, creating new songs and new beats, by Africans in an African way. Scripture over and over affirms the singing of new songs to the Lord. Twice in the NT are believers directed to sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs to one another and to make melodies in their hearts to God.

The danger is tackling this question from a legalistic standpoint. Is it sinful to redeem secular songs or particular beats? No. Wisdom is needed though to discern what worldview is being presented. When hymns in the Western context were put to bar tunes, they were able to transcend the worldview issues (who today even thinks of a bar when singing hymns–personally, I’m just trying to stay awake!). Others, like Bach, wrote fresh music weekly in service of the church. May God raise up a thousand African Bach’s! And may the African church find the freedom to redeem and transcend misdirected beats.

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Why do we sing when we meet together as church?

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

Singing is the way, along with teaching and admonishing, to get the Word in.  We sing the gospel of Christ to one another and in praise back to God so that those great realities penetrate deep into our spirits.  Singing glorious, deep, authentic gospel truths has immense power to lift our spirits and the eyes of our hearts to the throne of grace and so strengthen the church.  Many a saint has been kept alive in a dead church by the rich theology of the hymns of Wesley, Newton and Toplady.

So singing is just as much word ministry as faithful Bible teaching.  If we really believe that, what difference does it make?

  1. We’re seeking music ministry not music performance, edification not entertainment.
  2. Music ministry is very important – whether in Sunday school or ‘adult church’.  We don’t just use it as a ‘filler’ while people arrive or as something to do when we’ve been sitting down for too long.
  3. We want gospel music – not necessarily in the sense of a style but certainly in content.  Songs where the emphasis is on what Jesus has done and his hold of us not on our devotion and grip on him.
  4. We’re looking for music to stir us at the deepest level through the truths of the Word – exactly the same as the sermon.  It’s not that the music stirs the emotions by the Spirit and the sermon stirs the mind by the Word.  In great songs the Spirit stirs the mind, emotions and will by the Word.
  5. So it really really matters what words we sing – just as a preacher must chose his words with the utmost care.  A heresy in a song is as bad as a heresy in a sermon.  Banal, weightless or vacuous lyrics are as bad as having nothing much to say in the pulpit.  And if we don’t understand what we’re singing (it took me 30 years to get what ‘lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb’ meant) then it’s as bad as not understanding what the preacher is saying.    
  6. Which means preparation is important.  Just as preachers need ministry training and theological study, so musicians. Just as the preacher must spend hours preparing the message, so the music leader will need hours to chose songs with great tunes and great words which reinforce the message of the sermon and theme of the meeting.

Let’s be appreciating and praying for our musicians and singers in their vital work, especially at this time of year.  And why not share a carol or hymn or song that really excites you about Christ? Let me give a few of my favourites to start off…

There is a day (by Phat Fish)

Man of Sorrows (You Tube video – not sure what the butterflies and flowers are all about)

My hope is built (Emu Music tune)

God rest ye merry

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