Christmas Hymns have some of the richest theology you can find in congregational song. Perhaps it is because it is hard to sing about the incarnation without going on to explain Jesus' full ministry and reason for coming in the first place.
Think about "What Child is This." Verse one describes the angels, the shepherds, and new mother Mary. Verse two gets to the heart of Jesus' suffering work: Nails, Spear shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me for you.
Charles Wesley, one of the most significant contributors to protestant hymnody and sung theology, has a number of his 6,000+ hymns in hymnals across denominational lines. His text Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, combined with Mendelssohn's majestic musical setting, is one of my all-time favorite Christmas hymns. It wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered two other verses which are not typically included in hymnals:
I have our church sing these extra verses at least one Sunday in Advent. The scriptural allusions show us that God's plan of redemption first promised to Eve in Genesis is fulfilled in the work of the second Adam (Jesus).
Glory to the newborn King!
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the first Sing! conference in Nashville, hosted by Keith and Kristyn Getty. It was an intense time of singing and instruction, one that is taking me a lot of time to process. As a high functioning introvert, my processing is very internal, but there is much I would like to remember and share about the time at Sing ’17.
There were five goals outlined for this conference by Getty Music and the participants:
They pursued these goals through corporate gatherings of singing, an expansive list of practical breakout sessions, as well as these plenary sessions:
The conference partnered with LifeWay Worship and has made the content available through a purchased digital pass. More info about that here.
More of what I learned and how I was challenged in future posts.
I always look froward to the Olympics - summer or winter. I really like the competition, the representation of so many nations, and even the cheesy commentary. I try not to think about the doping that is going on or how the host nation is likely to go bankrupt after the Olympics have come and gone.
I love the music. Some of my favorite music appears during the Olympics thanks the the limitless talents of John Williams. Williams has the ability to write motives and melodies that immediately convey an archetype. It can be Superman, Darth Vader, an alien's relation with a child, a shark, a heroic archeologist, the tragedies and triumphs of World War II, the magic of Hogwarts, or the nightly news.
His immediately recognizable tunes make it easy for networks to excerpt small segments of his Olympic music. We will hear portions of these pieces as we go to and return from commercials.
I may or may not listen to this music regularly in the car...
Hopefully, we will hear some of the works in full. If not, you can enjoy them here.
The "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" was written for the 1984 summer olympics in Los Angeles. Williams received a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition.
0In 1988 he wrote "The Olympic Spirit" for the summer olympics in Seoul. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition.
In commemoration of the Centennial of the Modern Olympic Games Williams wrote "Summon the Heroes" for the summer olympics in Atlanta (1996). This theme is used heavily by NBC for intros and outros to commercial breaks.
"Call of the Champions" is a fanfare for orchestra and choir composed for the 2000 winter olympics in Salt Lake City. It opens with the choir singing "Citius! Altius! Fortius!" (Faster, Higher, Stronger), which is the Olympic Motto chosen by the founder of the modern Games.
This is a follow up to my previous post on Bob Kauflin's book True Worshipers.
Chapter Seven, True Worshipers Keep Singing: Worship and Perseverance is packed with many helpful questions that have us all at some point. The following list is certainly not exhaustive, but includes the questions that resonated most strongly with me.
WHAT IF I DON'T FEEL LIKE SINGING?
"Sometimes we come in on a Sunday morning and the last thing we want to do is sing. God gave us singing as a means not only of expressing our emotions but also speaking to them. We won't always be moved in the same way or to the same degree when we sing. There may be times when we feel numb. But the answer isn't to stop singing. Crying for grace to feel strong affections toward [God] is itself a sign of true worship. And certainly more fruitful than gritting our teeth and accepting the condition as normal."
WHY DO WE SING SO MANY OLD SONGS (OR NEW SONGS)?
"Objecting to songs simply because they're old is rooted in the same problem as objecting to new ones. We want to sing the songs we like. But the issue isn't how familiar we are with the songs. The issue is whether we're going to take every opportunity as true worshipers to exalt God."
This is a great exhortation to me as one who can be distracted by my own critical spirit when in an unfamiliar worship scenario. Kauflin's answer can be applied to any aspect of a worship service. Perhaps we're in a service more "rigid" than we're used to or perhaps the liturgy is very different. The choice is ours: do we enter in and seek the glory of the Lord or do we itemize those things which do not live up to our standards?
WHAT DO I DO WHEN I'M DISTRACTED?
"It's enough to be distracted internally by our own thoughts, relational challenges, struggles, pains, and anxieties. But distractions can also be external. It might be a leader or someone in the band who's particularly expressive or grumpy looking. It might be the temperature in the room. If you're a musician, you might be bothered by a bad mix. It's the rare meeting that doesn't have something we can complain about. But for true worshipers, the question is always, How can I respond in a way that exalts God's glory in Christ in my mind, affections, and will?"
I am so thankful for Bob Kauflin's work in music and worship at Sovereign Grace. It has helped me grow in so many ways and I hope it helps us all to keep singing!
In the last few posts I unpacked the three broad characteristics of Christian worship as defined by the BiFrost Arts curriculum. Read more about the curriculum here. The curriculum asserts that Christian worship will be Biblical, Trinitarian, and Redemptive.
The fourth broad characteristic of Christian worship is that it is Participatory.
Participatory worship helps to challenge two idolatries:
If the preacher/pastor is doing all of the heavy lifting, then we are tempted to check out of the rest of the service. "It's all lead up to the sermon anyway." We might even be tempted to substitute podcast sermons for actual worship attendance, when we are physically able to attend church. Biblical sermons are excellent, but it is easy to treat them as another self help talk if we think Sunday worship is just about me learning more.
So when we read scripture together in worship, read it intentionally. When we confess our sins, may it be heartfelt and genuine. When we hear the promise of the gospel that our sins are forgiven in Jesus, take it in deeply. When we listen to musicians or soloists we do not have to be passive. Listen actively, searching for God's glory in what is being sung or played. The work of our worship is actively receiving the finished work of Jesus.
I recently finished Bob Kauflin's book True Worshipers. In his normal winsome and clear way, Kauflin draws our attention to the core truths about worship. While many of his insights are not new, he provides them in a context which helps the believer process worship individually and in community.
His chapters on music are particularly helpful. In chapter six, TRUE WORSHIPERS SING: Worship and Music, he covers the what and why of corporate singing, acknowledging that if we sing without understanding God's purpose for it, we won't be motivated to sing.
"No one is excused. Not even those with zero musical ability. The critical question is not Do I have a voice? but Do I have a song? And if you're a true worshiper, forgiven and reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ, the answer is a resounding yes. It's not a song we originated or created. We can't add to it, change it, or improve upon it. It's the song of the redeemed for their great Redeemer. It's a song God's people have been singing together for thousands of years."
Most of us are struggling at some time in worship. We might be fighting fatigue, children, depression, or any number of emotional and relational battles as we try to stand and engage in the work of worship. If singing is just about our expression and what we can contribute, we can feel resentful or hypocritical when our hearts are not in it. His next question, WHAT does singing do? provides grounding for our hearts.
Singing encourages and expresses the Spirit's work in our hearts and it helps us to remember God's Word. It helps us to teach and be taught and to express and engage our emotions. It also encourages physical expressiveness and help us to express our unity with the church. Remember these corporate aspects of song the next time you are tempted to check out during the service and remember that the body of Christ is a collection of believers, skeptics, and strugglers who are uniting around the perfect work of Jesus and singing HIS song.
"If you no longer have to fear eternal separation from God, if death is merely the doorway to unspeakable joy, if sin has been conquered, hell is overcome, and Jesus has saved you to enjoy unending pleasures at God's right hand, then you have a song to sing. And it's a song that no trial, no disease, no struggle, no persecution, no power on earth or in hell can stop."
Continuing from my last post, I want to discuss how Trinity's worship reflects God's Big Story.
Our services are structured around five main pillars: God gathers, cleanses, speaks, strengthens, and sends.
God Gathers Us
God initiates (CREATION) and calls us to Himself through his Word. We read scripture, ask for God's help in worship, and sing songs in praise of his attributes.
God Cleanses Us
The Confession and Assurance sequence (FALL - REDEMPTION) presents one of the many paradoxes in worship. Despite the joyful nature of the material that precedes it - singing, calls to worship, and prayers of adoration - the proper result of praise is a form of sorrow. Sorrow that our lives don't reflect the glorious attributes of our Creator. Sorrow that our hearts have worshipped things other than God. The Confession/Assurance sequence, though reflective in tone, leads us out of sorrow into pardon, relief, and joy through the hope of the gospel, the atoning work of Jesus on the cross.
Repentance and forgiveness is central to the life of the believer. Martin Luther spoke of this in the first of his Ninety-Five Theses: "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." Confessing corporately reminds us that we must be doing this individually. It unites believers under the promises of the gospel and shows those among us who do not yet believe that our hope is not in ourselves, our self-determination, or our abilities, but in Jesus Christ alone.
God Speaks to Us
Through the preaching of God's Word (CREATION-FALL-REDEMPTION-CONSUMMATION), we hear more of God's loving instruction and exhortation and are further equipped to live as those who has been called out of darkness into his light. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
God Strengthens Us
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a simultaneous look back at the cross and our need for the atoning blood of Jesus (FALL-REDEMPTION) and a look forward in anticipation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (CONSUMMATION) .
In his book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, James Torrance speaks of the Lord's Supper as the supreme expression of all worship. "It is the act in which the risen and ascended Lord meets us at his table, in the power of the Spirit, to bring his passion to our remembrance and to draw us to himself that we may share his communion with the Father and his intercessions for the world."
God Sends Us
Although we have been reminded of our forgiveness in Christ and have been strengthened through the promises of the gospel preached and enacted in Communion, we are still sojourners in a fallen world. We are reminded that just as we have been the church gathered, we are being sent out to be the church scattered. Our worship and our mission are joined.
I recently finished reading The Stories We Tell, by Mike Cosper, which is a fascinating discussion of literature, TV, and movies. In it, Cosper says that "the Big Story of the Bible--creation, fall, redemption, and consummation--is so pervasive, so all-encompassing of our world, that we can't help but echo it (or movements within it) when we're telling other stories." He provides a diverse media diet and approaches the shows and films with an eye toward the Big Story.
Services of worship tell a story as well. Whether the content of the service is heavily outlined with headings or done with a higher emphasis on continuity and smooth transition, our corporate worship is a story we tell, enact, and embody every time we gather.
The concept of story is central to the third of the four broad characteristics of biblical worship we discussed in my Sunday School class. (Read more about #1 scriptural and #2 triune here.)
"Worship should celebrate and enact the redeeming work of God in the life of his people."
Here are reasons for ensuring that God’s redemption story is present throughout our worship service every week:
What does this look like practically at Trinity?
I'll unpack this in the next post.
Continuing from the last post, we look at four broad characteristics of biblical worship as identified by the curriculum published by BiFrost Arts. The curriculum asserts that Christian worship will be scriptural, triune, redemptive, and participatory.
"One distinctive of the Christian faith is that we believe in a triune God. We believe that the Scriptures describe God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, of one will, of one substance, unchanging, and glorious beyond all comprehension. This should be reflected in our worship.
"It is easy to emphasize one particular person of the Trinity. It is possible to emphasize the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, praying to the Holy Spirit, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, maybe even to the point of neglecting some of the other persons of the Trinity. Or we can boil down the whole of the Bible to having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All the prayers are directed to Jesus.
"￼Look at or listen to the prayers we pray during our worship service. What would it look like to say prayers and sing songs that acknowledge each person of the one triune God?"
As we strive for greater and great balance in our approaches to worship, it is tempting to load our prayers and songs with trinitarian references without considering the relational dynamics at play.
One of the most concise and helpful definitions of Trinitarian worship is found in James Torrance's book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace:
“Trinitarian Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.”
The Triune God, complete in relationship from all eternity, has created us for his glory and redeemed us from the fall so that we may participate in the mystery of the Trinity's continuous outpouring.
Torrance unpacks this definition even more, showing how our union with Christ is the core of all we do, individually and corporately:
(Trinitarian worship) means participating in union with Christ, in what he has done for us once and for all, in his self-offering to the Father, in his life and death on the cross. It also means participating in what he is continuing to do for us in the presence of the Father and in his mission from the Father to the world. When we see that ..... (and) that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, ‘the apostle and high priest whom we confess [Heb 3:1], then the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the ministry of the Spirit, Church and sacraments, our understanding of the kingdom....all unfold from that center.
Anthony is the Director of Music and Worship at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC.
Recommended Music for Worship
Keith and Kristyn Getty
With One Voice
Look and Live
Rhythms of Grace
The Worship Architect
The Stories We Tell
Music Though the Eyes of Faith
Christ Centered Worship