We continue the series with the graduates of the Séminaire du Nord who summarize their chapter of Wise church.
This article is by Julie Murdock.
“Music is an age-old way to raise our voices together in praise and thanksgiving to God our Father, as well as to introduce and reinforce important lessons from our faith.” (p.87) Music and especially song have been an integral part of Christianity in our defining times; angels sang to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and Jesus and the apostles sang hymns as part of the Last Supper. Sadly, music has also been a source of conflict within churches, especially over the past 200 years. I imagine that most, if not all, church leaders at some point have faced “hymn wars”. These conflicts are emotionally charged because the music speaks to our emotions, our traditions and our soul. Although music in most churches serves in a secondary or supporting position, the dissensions surrounding hymns and music often take center stage in the life of the congregation. Traditional or contemporary, organ or guitar, musical preferences often pit segments of the ecclesial family against each other: the youngest against the oldest, conservatives against progressives, tradition against innovation. The time and resources devoted to finding solutions or options to please everyone means that the church has to create several services, several hymns or songbooks, several groups of musicians or any other multitude. solutions the church has witnessed over the past 50 years.
It is a most unfortunate development and, in the proverbial true sense, insane. Music has been and can continue to be a powerful tool in imparting wisdom and in building a culture of wisdom. Like no other mode of communication, music has the power to transcend speech and connect what is said to the emotional and spiritual self in addition to the rational self. In discerning how music can be put to good use as a tool for the growth of wisdom, it is important to examine how the church has used music throughout its past to worship and teach. Additionally, it is important to understand the impact of music on the listener during and after listening. Knowing the history of music in the church, the traditions that have been passed down for millennia, and understanding the conscious and subconscious reactions to music can not only help church leaders choose wise music, but also address the conflict that arises from musical choices.
The early church, born from the cradle of Judaism, sang psalms and hymns as they used to in the synagogue. Gentle converts to Christianity were also comfortable singing hymns to God, as it was also common in the worship of pagan gods. This ancient music was centered around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, it is also engaged as an educational tool for the transmission and strengthening of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The singing of hymns and psalms was also encouraged as a practice not only as a form of personal worship and devotions, but also as a means of keeping the teaching of the church in mind. As the teachings began to diverge, the church used hymns to promote orthodoxy and combat heresies. In the 4th century CE, when Christianity became legal and churches were no longer required to meet in small groups in secret, the size of the congregation increased. At the same time, the hymn grew; many believe that this was in part the result of a less intimate practice of the Eucharist. Also around this time, debates arose over whether or not hymns should be used in services, as some church fathers were uncomfortable with the similarities between Christian and pagan practices. Specifically, the flute and the zither were considered pagan instruments, while the harp and lyre were considered acceptable due to their use in the Psalms.
After the reformation, church leaders discovered a new use of music, involving the congregation in worship, although this view is not unanimous. Until this time, hymns were mainly composed of psalms and scriptures. However, in the 18th century, and more particularly in the Methodist tradition, hymns began to be written and sung as a guide to the Christian life and to the practical doctrines of the Christian faith. While remaining faithful to the scriptures, they attempted to answer the questions on a more practical level. Some examples of these new topics were the goodness of God, the joy of fellowship, and songs appropriate to the seasons of the church calendar. There were churches that resisted this new direction in the hymn, notably the Church of England and the Catholic Church. The Great Awakening saw hymns that combined worship and teachings with community experiences. Nowhere is this more evident than in the moving Negro Spirituals which were created in the 19th century and are still sung today. Throughout the history of the church, music has been used to praise and worship God and to teach Bible truths and doctrines that are important for the faithful to repeat.
As stated above, in addition to the rich traditional heritage, we are touched by music in more ways than singing or listening. Through the experience of music, we benefit from a synergy between words and music, creating an experience that is more than the parts. Company-wide, uniting voices in praise and worship strengthens feelings of oneness and koinonia. Moreover, when the music is chosen in accordance with the sermon or scriptural teaching, the message is reinforced, emphasized, if you will, by the emotions encountered through the song and the participation. Individually, each listener participates in a mimetic way in the music, whether by singing, humming or simply moving in rhythm. This mimetic participation promotes feelings of accomplishment and belonging. The more familiar a listener is with a piece of music, the more powerful its impact as the mind receives a reward as the music makes sense and the message is reinforced. Mimetic participation motivates and forms conceptions in the minds of the faithful. Combining a message with music that will reinforce the objectives of the message and help listeners conceptualize the message results in a powerful tool. As a tool, this mimetic action can be put to good use, or a tool that can cause damage and misconceptions.
In conclusion, the church has always used music and hymns first for praise and worship, and then as a teaching aid. They have also been used to approach the Christian life in a practical way and to celebrate the Christian life of love and brotherhood. These messages and lessons have a lasting impact on the faithful when they leave the church. They will reflect on the music and the message long after Sunday morning by mimically participating in the music. Church leaders can use this influential tool to guide their congregations and foster the growth of wisdom by choosing hymns that maintain the church’s original focus on worship and the life of Christ and using it to communicate sound doctrine and guidance. Great care and attention must be given to the selection of music for the service, understanding the lasting and impactful effect the hymns will have on their listeners. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “What should I do then? … I will sing praises with the spirit, but I will also sing praises with the spirit. (1 Cor. 14:15)