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The Story of “Silent Night”

The beautiful and much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, has a very interesting story behind it….I thought you might enjoy hearing how this most famous carol came to be written!

The year was 1818 and a roving band of actors was traveling through the Austrian Alps performing their re-enactment of the story of Christ’s birth in towns all over the area. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, where they were scheduled to perform that evening in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the church organ was broken and unable to be repaired until after Christmas. Undeterred, the acting company simply moved their Christmas drama to a private home. In attendance that evening was an assistant priest of the church, Josef Mohr, a young man who had been born an illegitimate child on December 11, 1792 in  Salzburg.  He had become a Catholic priest in 1815 after he obtained a special papal dispensation that was required for illegitimate persons entering the priesthood. That night the beautiful presentation of the actors put him in a meditative mood, and instead of walking straight home, he took a longer route which included a quiet path up a hill overlooking the village below. As he looked down from the hilltop on the peaceful, snow-covered village, he reveled in the majestic silence of the wintry night and, gazing upon the picturesque winter scene, remembered a poem he had written a couple of years before about the night the angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on another hillside far away in Judea.

Mohr, who was very determined to introduce music in the mother tongue of the Austrian and German people, instead of insisting they sing songs and hear sermons in Latin which was not understood by anyone, decided that the words he had written might make a good simple carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The only problem was he had no music to which the poem could be sung! So the next day Father Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber. The organist had only a few hours to compose a melody for Mohr’s poem, and due to the fact the organ was inoperable, he had to come up with an extremely simple melody and chord pattern that could be sung with a guitar. Gruber managed to do just that, and by the time of the Christmas eve service, he had composed a simple but beautiful musical setting for the poem, one which could easily be sung by the common people and whose accompaniment could  be strummed on the guitar. They had just introduced a Christmas carol that could be sung without an organ!

On that Christmas Eve in 1818, the congregation heard for the very first time the beautiful carol, “Silent Night”, sung by Mohr and Gruber, who also accompanied them on his guitar.

Weeks later, when the organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived to repair the organ, he heard Gruber play his composition as he tested out the newly refurbished instrument. Deeply impressed by the beautiful, melodious carol, Mauracher took copies of the music and words to “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village of Kapfing. Two well-known singing families, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard and were captivated by the beautiful new song, putting it into their Christmas season repertoires.

The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, after they performed it for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, he ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve! Twenty years after it was written, the Rainers brought “Silent Night” to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside of New York City’s Trinity Church.  Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber had maintained their church work in relative obscurity through the years.  It was not until people began asking years later, as its popularity at Christmas increased, “Who wrote this beautiful song?” that  Gruber’s son spoke up and said, “I know the story of this song!” and produced a copy of it after his father’s death.  Josef Mohr died of complications from tuberculosis when he was not quite 56 years old, and is buried in the courtyard of a school he started in a small town in Austria during his priesthood.  Neither man ever knew the worldwide scope of the song they had penned that Christmas Eve in a small town in the mountains of Austria, but God used their talents in a remarkable way.  Even though Josef Mohr was a man who came from a less than desirable background at the time, God chose him to herald the message of the birth of the Savior through this beloved song!

In 1863, “Silent Night” was translated into English from the original German, and today the words of “Silent Night” are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world!  It has been recorded musically by over 740 artists all over the world, making it the most recorded song of all time!

The original German lyrics go something like this:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schlaft, einsam wacht;
Nur das traute heilige Paar,
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar;
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’, Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’.

Did God in His sovereignty allow a simple church organ to “break down” and be out of commission at a most important time so that someone would compose a simple song, one that ordinarily would not be thought of as nearly complex enough for the traditional organ masterpieces of the day, later sung around the world as a best-loved rendition of His birth? Did God anoint two men who were moved by the events recorded in Matthew and Luke to compose perhaps the most famous of the carols that are sung all over the world to this day? I believe He did! I am thankful that they were obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to pen the words and music that will go down in history as one of the greatest songs ever written!

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright;
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild;
Sleep in Heavenly peace, Sleep in Heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight; 
Glories stream from Heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing, “Allelujah”;
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!

Please enjoy my arrangement of this beloved carol from my Christmas album “Proclaim the Joy!” (available also on Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, CD Baby and others)

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part II

Worship[1]

Yesterday we discussed how King David called upon the singers and instrumentalists to accompany him in bringing the ark of God to its tent home…the Tabernacle of David!  I want to continue this story by pointing out several very interesting things that happened during this journey!

In I Chronicles 15 we are told of the musicians who were called upon to accompany the ark on its way to the tent David had pitched to house it until the building of the Temple could occur years later under King Solomon.  Verse 19 speaks of three singers, Heman, Asaph and Ethan, who were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze, as well!  Verse 20 details some who played psalteries (which is similar to today’s “zither” which looks somewhat like an autoharp; it is a stringed instrument, possibly a forerunner of the piano); verse 21 speaks of harps; and verse 24 mentions blowing with trumpets.

I Chronicles 15:27 says,  Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers.  David also wore an ephod of linen.  An ephod was a priestly garment or vestment for the high priest, so in essence David was acting as a priest in bringing the ark of God to its home, as he worshipped!  Verse 28 reads, Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres. (NASB)  Chapter 16, verse 1 tells us, And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. (NASB) It seems that the musicians were very jubilant, shouting, playing their instruments and really “having church”!

II Samuel 6:14 & 15 adds this note,  And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. (NASB)  I believe they were all worshipping, feeling the presence of the Lord very strongly, as they journeyed to the waiting tent, many dancing and shouting. Some played musical instruments, including  two of the priests who blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God! (I Chronicles 16:5 and 6 paraphrased)  In short, they were “getting happy” in the Lord!

How many musicians were there among the Levites, you ask?  I Chronicles 23:3-5 gives us the answer:  The Levites were numbered from thirty years old and upward, and their number by census of men was 38,000.  Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the Lord; and 6,000 were officers and judges, and 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise. (NASB) The number 4,000 indicates skillful musicians who had been trained and played instruments made by David in order to lead the singers and others in worship!  I find this to be very exciting!  Many of these ancient instruments are forerunners of those we have today, and some of them are still made in much the same way.  If David designed them, perhaps he had others who actually made them from a prototype.  Who knows?  He probably did not personally manufacture them all.  It would be interesting to know how the instruments really came to be made!  We do know that David and others accompanied those who sang the Psalms, as is written above many of them in the Book of Psalms.  There are 150 of them there, but more appear in several other Old Testament books; Jesus and Paul quoted them in the New Testament, as well, so it is assumed the Early Church also sang psalms, as the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:16,  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (KJV)

In I Chronicles 25:1 & 3 we read, Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;….six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the Lord. (NASB) Musicians were even used in warfare! Today, prophetic music is a powerful thing, and can be used in spiritual warfare!  The Holy Spirit releases His anointing which in turn can bring about deliverance and healing as a Spirit-filled musician plays on an instrument.  Case in point:  Remember when Saul called for a musician when he was tormented by demons and David played for him on the harp and the evil spirit departed from him? (I Samuel 16:23)

In addition to (or perhaps a part of) the 4,000 mentioned above, I Chronicles 25:6 & 7 tells us about others used in the house of the Lord to minister in music:  All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God.  Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king.  Their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288. (NASB)

And in conclusion, don’t forget Jehoshaphat, the righteous king who ruled hundreds of years after King David.  He also knew the power of anointed worship music, sometimes even sending the musicians and singers into battle before the army of Judah!  How would you have liked to be in that choir and orchestra?  Here are the words of II Chronicles 20:20b-22,  “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established.  Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.”  When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. (NASB)  The dictionary says “rout” means “to defeat decisively or disastrously”!

Is there power in anointed music?  Absolutely!  God has used musicians time and time again for His divine purposes, not only to destroy the works of the enemy, but to bring us into His presence through the oil and sweet savor of the music He has created…a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness!  Come into the Holy of Holies and be refreshed as you play and sing before Him!  Truly God has given us this beautiful gift, so be encouraged today, fellow musician.  You are very special to God!!

I, as a musician, want to be a woman God can use in His Kingdom!  I want Him to say of me, as he said of King David of old, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”  Acts 13:22 (NASB)  Is that your prayer today?

Listen to this song I wrote and recorded a few years ago based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23 & 24…. I hope you will pray this prayer with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part I

Worship[1]

Let me tell you a story about the singers and orchestra that led God’s people, the children of Israel, on many journeys, including battles and a journey to place the ark of God in a permanent home!

The story begins in I Chronicles 15:1 and 2:  David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (NKJV)  The story continues through the chapter with verse 16 stating, Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. (NKJV)

It is important to remember that as we study the Torah and the Law of God (primarily in the books of Exodus and Leviticus),  we become aware that the Levites were one of the twelve tribes and the only one of the tribes to be “priests” of God and minister to Him in the Tabernacle, which at that time was portable and could be carried.  It was a tent-like structure made of animal skins, rich tapestries and other coverings, curtains, ornate wood overlaid with gold, and beautiful furnishings.  The ark of God (often referred to as the Ark of the Covenant) was housed within the Holy of Holies and only the priests (Levites) were allowed in this area.  The Tabernacle was carried with the children of Israel during their many years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the “Promised Land”.

David desperately wanted to find a permanent home for the ark of God.  He desired to build a house, or temple, for God, but the Lord denied David this honor, telling him that because he had been a man of war, He would only allow it to be built by his son at a later time.  Solomon, David’s son, became king after David ruled for 40 years and built the temple, much of it planned out by his father!  But God allowed David to house the ark in a tent, as we read above, and that is where it remained until the completion of the temple at a later date.  This is where we get the terminology “The Tabernacle of David” because it refers to the glory of God brought into our lives through praise and worship! God is restoring this type of worship today, a spontaneous, non-structured, joyful “entering into His presence” experience.  Holy Spirit anointed instrumental and vocal musicians lead the way into the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant used to be located, but is now located within us as we enter into His presence!  We can come boldly before the Throne of Grace today as we enter in through our worship! (Hebrews 4:16)

What is interesting to me, as a musician, is the detail recorded in I Chronicles regarding the musical instruments the musicians played.   In chapter 15, verse 20 we read about several musicians playing “harps tuned to alamoth”, apparently a tuning scale of the day.   Verse 21 mentions six other musicians would “lead with lyres tuned to the sheminith”.  The Hebrew Interlinear Bible interprets this as, “with lyres on the octave” indicating a scale similar to ours today.  I find this fascinating!  Verse 22  says, Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful. (NASB) (A footnote says he was “trained”). This indicates that a portion of the Levites were musicians who apparently even taught music!  So, being a music teacher is very scriptural!  Psalm 33:3 says, Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (NASB) and Isaiah 23:16 says,  Take your harp….Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. (NASB)  I spent nearly 35 years as a music teacher, and I am glad that God found this to be important…stressing the need for playing skillfully!

These verses should give music directors, teachers, singers and instrumentalists cause for joy in their profession!  Now, let’s see how the musicians who were of the tribe of the Levites were supported on a day-to-day basis.  I Chronicles 9:33 reads, These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night. (NKJV)  They were obviously engaged in singing and playing instruments, as well as teaching, in the house of the Lord.  Nehemiah 11:22b & 23 tells us,  ...the singers in charge of the service of the house of God.  For it was the king’s command concerning them that a certain portion should be for the singers, a quota day by day. (NKJV) The ESV puts it this way, For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required.

So, music must have been extremely important to God, for He provided for the musicians in His House, not only as singers and instrumentalists, but as instructors of future musicians!  They were a part of the Levitical priesthood and as such, were provided for financially! Nehemiah 12:44-46 reads, On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites;….For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon.  For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. (NASB)

But, unfortunately, some had not been paid.   Nehemiah 13:10 & 11 tells us,  I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.  So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”  And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.” (ESV)  The NASB says, “Restored them to their posts.”  Nehemiah then speaks in the next verses about restoring the tithes and appointing treasurers over the storehouses so that the Levites and musicians could once again serve, being supported financially.  Verse 12 says,  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  Nehemiah put several “in charge of the storehouses” (in verse 13) for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.  Isn’t this fascinating how the tithes were distributed to also include the payment of musicians?

I will conclude this fascinating study with Part II tomorrow….Please don’t miss it!

A few years ago I recorded my arrangement of the beautiful praise song written by Fanny J. Crosby, “Praise Him!  Praise Him!”…it has a bit of a “jazzy” twist.  I hope you will enjoy this as you worship today!

 

 

 

 

Could a Christmas Song Stop a War?

Nativity sceneYou have no doubt heard the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night, which is played and sung around the world, beautifully proclaiming the night our Savior was born in a manger in Bethlehem!  But, when I searched more deeply into the origins of this beloved carol, I was somewhat surprised by what I found.

Here is how the story goes:  A parish priest in a small town in France commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass.  Placide Cappeau read the account of Christ’s birth in the Gospel of Luke one night while traveling to Paris, and finished the poem “O Holy Night” by the time he reached the city.  He asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adam, to compose the music for his poem, and three weeks later, the beautiful song was sung for the first time in the village on Christmas Eve 1847.

Initially, Cantique de Noel, the song’s French name, was widely sung and loved by the Church in France, but when some of the leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist, and the musical composer, Adam, was a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services.  But, as is the case so often with truly great music, the common French people loved the song and continued to sing it!

The song came to the United States via John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War, who translated it from French into English in 1858.  He was greatly moved by the line in the third verse:

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother;

and in His Name all oppression shall cease….

Dwight published the words of the song in his magazine and quickly found favor with the people in the North during the war.

Even though the song was banned in France, it was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve, 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and started singing the song’s first line in French.  After he had sung all three verses, a German soldier emerged and started singing, “Von Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her….”, the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day!   Soon afterward, the French Church re-embraced the beloved song, Cantique de Noel, known to us in this country as O Holy Night.  It continues to be sung around the world and will no doubt remain on the list of most beloved Christmas songs!  I believe wherever this song is sung, a quiet, reverent atmosphere of praise and worship to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is created.

I love to play this song each Christmas and have combined it with the Italian carol, Gesu Bambino, in this live performance I did in Utah at Canyons Church a few years ago.  I hope you will enjoy this and worship the King of Kings with me!

 

(For more of my music videos, including this one, please visit my You Tube channel, Rebecca Baker Bafford).

Where Did Christmas Carols Come From?

DSC00671.jpgWhat would Christmas be without those all familiar and beautifully sung carols we have undoubtedly heard since childhood? Did you ever wonder how they came to be called “carols” and what their origins are?

In France, these songs are called appropriately “noels”, from the French word meaning “Christmas”. Perhaps that explains the title of one much-loved carol, “The First Noel”. The first known Christmas hymns may be traced to fourth century Rome, where Latin hymns were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the Christmas “sequence” or “prose” was introduced in northern European monasteries, and in the twelfth century monks began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something much closer to the traditional Christmas carols we take for granted.

Soon a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in regional native languages developed, particularly in France, Germany and Italy. Christmas carols in English first appeared in 1426 in a book of twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of “wassailers”, or carolers who went from house to house singing and indulging in a brew called “wassail”, a hot drink made from wine or cider, spices, sugar and usually baked apples. It was traditionally served in a large bowl to warm the carolers. Many of these traditions continue to this day, especially where snow and ice make wassailing so inviting!

Many Christmas carols popular today were first printed in “Piae Cantiones”, a collection of late medieval Latin songs first publichsed in 1582. Some of these include “Christ was born on Christmas Day”, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”, and “Good King Wenceslas”. Another favorite, “Adeste Fideles” (O Come All Ye Faithful), may have originated in the thirteenth century. Carols gained popularity after the Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence and as well-known reformers like Martin Luther authored carols, encouraging their use in worship. The Lutheran reformation warmly welcomed music.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought several more well-known carols, including “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church; “Joy to the World” written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, to a tune attributed to ideas of a work by Handel, and based on Psalm 98, first published in England in 1833; “Silent Night” written in 1818 by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber (see my blog on the history of “Silent Night”) and first performed on Christmas Eve in Oberndorf, Austria; and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” written in 1868 by a Philadelphia Episcopalian priest, Phillips Brooks, who had been greatly inspired after traveling on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865. His organist, Lewis Redner, added the music.

The publication of Christmas music books in the nineteenth century helped to widen the popular appeal of carols and in the twentieth century composers and arrangers such as John Rutter and Benjamin Britten have continued to broaden the tradition with more beautiful songs of the Savior’s birth! As recently as 1865, Christmas-related lyrics were adopted for the traditional English folk song, “Greensleeves”, becoming the internationally popular Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” These beautiful hymns, known as “Christmas carols”, can be sung at anytime during the year, because they present so majestically and lyrically, the truths of the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, who came to bring hope and salvation to every person who believes on Him! He truly is the “reason for the season” and can bring “joy to the world” to all who trust in Him! May you have a blessed and Christ-centered Christmas!
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Some Things Should Never Change!

images[5]In my last blog post I mentioned a number of negative things I believe are going on in the church world when it comes to music, which do not lend themselves to a productive worship experience for many people.  Today, I would like to take a positive approach to worship by sharing a couple of scriptures from the New Testament, written through the hand of the Apostle Paul, about what, ideally, our corporate worship should look like.  The Bible says “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established”, so I have chosen two verses which say nearly the same thing.

The first is found in Ephesians 5:19 and 20, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The second verse is in Colossians 3:16, “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.” (ESV)

It is pretty clear from these verses that the Early Church used this pattern of worship in its services.  Psalms have been used since the time of David as poetic themes from the Word of God set to various musical patterns.  Many churches, as well as synagogues, use these to this day.  Some use them exclusively in worship.  Psalms are simply passages of scripture dedicated to praise and worship of our Father which, when set to various melodies, can be extremely conducive to entering into His presence in the corporate worship setting.

Last night I attended a choir rehearsal of a world-famous and highly renowned choir.  They were rehearsing the familiar old tune from the 1800’s, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, which is a musical adaptation of Psalm 23.  The associate choir director, a young man in his 30’s, related the story of how four years ago he had been experiencing severe trials in his life which had led him into a sort of depressed state.  One Sunday, as he walked into church, he heard the choir sing the words from this psalm,

“My table thou hast furnished

In presence of my foes;

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

And my cup overflows.”

He said that immediately a peace came over him and his whole outlook and attitude changed as he thought about our Lord who gives us so many blessings that our cups overflow with them!  It was a major turning point in his life that he never forgot.  God used a simple hymn to transform the life of a young man from feelings of depression to victory!

The second form of musical worship mentioned in the above verses is “hymns”.  These anointed works containing much scripture, worship of God and theologically sound doctrinal themes, have been penned by men and women for centuries as expressions of their love for their Lord, often mentioning the omnipotence and majesty of God, as well as the themes of crowning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, now and in Eternity!  I could go on and on, naming such great hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and so on.  To omit these mighty works, which have endured in the church for literally centuries, from our modern repertoire in favor of some light, fluffy tunes with words that copy current pop or rock lyrics, simply substituting the word “Jesus” for “you, my lover” is missing a sacred opportunity to enter into the presence of the Holy One!

The last type of music mentioned by the Apostle Paul is the term, “spiritual songs”.  I think we all are aware of what “spirituals” are…the African American people learned hundreds of songs by rote, which we still sing, as they were working in hard labor in the cotton fields and wherever they happened to be.  No doubt these songs were a great comfort to them in their physically agonizing times of stress and strain and probably “got them through” much pain and suffering.

Even if we today are not enduring the trials of the American slaves of old, we still have trials and tribulations that cause us to turn to our Creator for peace and help.  This is where many “spiritual songs” have sustained men and women, boys and girls for centuries.  These are “testimony” songs about God’s sustaining grace and power to deliver in time of need; songs about how God rescued us from the pit of despair and put us on the path to Eternal Life; testimonies and praise to Him in upbeat, as well as quiet and worshipful, tunes; and songs simply expressing our heartfelt love and gratitude to the One who has changed our lives!

I believe the Church collectively would do well to consider including music from each of these three categories in our worship services.  Surely this admonition from the New Testament is just as important for us to observe today as it was back when it was written.  Some things are not meant to change!

 

 

A Word About Worship

Worship[1]Perhaps all of us have memories of walking in a forest or looking up at the stars on a clear night while worshipping and praising God for His creation!  However, how many times have we sat in a church pew on Sunday morning being critical, apathetic or “just there” physically, while our minds wandered to other subjects?

Even ministers, experts, and worship leaders have admitted they have had this experience, so should the rest of us be surprised if we also have trouble worshipping at times?  We face many obstacles in today’s active lifestyle and, in addition, Satan does his best to distract us and obstruct our true worship.  His desire to receive our worship instead of God results in his best efforts to distract and stop us from truly worshipping our Lord!  If successful, he has won half the battle. (Isaiah 14:12-14)

In 1961, the late A. W. Tozer rebuked evangelicals of his generation for their inadequate worship, in his book “Worship:  The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church”.  In 1982, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror published a response in “Worship:  Rediscovering the Missing Jewel”.  They wrote, “The jewel is still missing, but at least now many of us know it, and miss it, and want to find it.”

For years some churches have prided themselves on free and spontaneous worship, while others have been equally proud of their staid and reverent attitude towards it.  Perhaps both have a point.  Could the ideal worship encompass both ends of the spectrum?  God is a God of balance and symmetry, and yet we as human beings tend to be off-balance on many issues, swaying first to the right and then to the left, when God is saying that somewhere in the middle we often find the ideal!

In a 1996 issue of “Moody” Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Bruce Shelley wrote an article titled, “Then and Now:  How Have Cultural Changes Altered our Expectations in Worship?”  In his informative article, Mr. Shelley details the explosive issues faced by churches attempting to change musical styles in their worship in order to improve their worship experience.  Although the need to do this was basically acknowledged by most, making it a non-controversial issue of the time, the difference of opinion as to how this should be accomplished was considerable.  In addressing the feelings that stir older members when churches change music styles, he told of the sanctified outrage he met with when he mentioned having drums in a service…”like a match dropped on a haystack!”  The room erupted in a corporate groan, followed by an outburst of laughter.  Remember, this article was written nearly twenty years ago when the changes in contemporary church worship were in their infancy.  Shelley went on to elaborate that churches across the country are “torn between the tug of tradition and the pull of style”.  Seniors want harmony; boomers want beat.  “What can be done to relieve this tension?” he asked.

Today, nearly twenty years later,  the “boomers” are the seniors in churches and the “millennials” have undertaken an even more radical approach to worship, shunning nearly all inferences to traditional church hymns or music of any sort, and imitating only the latest songs from the top “Christian” rock bands of the day or trendy pseudo-pop artists.  No matter that the music is absolutely “unsingable” to the average congregation (it sounds great on the radio where thousands of dollars have been spent to sync, digitize, loop and process each song); the lyrics trite and shallow; not to mention that the keys are pitched for high-voiced rock singers, not your average housewife or “man on the street” with zero musical ability.  Is it any wonder that when a person chances to look around the congregation, most of the audience is standing in silence, not even trying to sing?  Is this the way those attempting to come into God’s presence through corporate worship are encouraged to participate?

It is a fact that “loud cymbals” and “high sounding cymbals” are mentioned as a part of worship in Psalm 150:5 and elsewhere in the Psalms.  However, many other musical instruments used in praise and worship to God are mentioned, as well, such as the harp, lyre and ten-stringed instruments.  Should these be toned down and smothered in favor of the cymbals?  Could there be a musical balance that is pleasing to God that makes way for many instruments and styles of music?  Does the Psalmist speak about jubilant shouting in one psalm, as well as “waiting on God” and the “stillness of His presence” in another?  Are some of the anointed older hymns and songs of the past being shunned in favor of trendy fluff  with little or no theological or Bible-based soundness… not to mention, being poorly written from a musical standpoint, generally limited to three chords?  Who decided this appalling trend in music?

Perhaps, as “boomers” reach old age and “millennials” mature into middle age, there will be another generation that will emerge, seeking balance and wondering whatever happened to the hymns of old or the worship songs anointed of the Holy Spirit to bring people into a place of worship not readily experienced anymore.  Will they, then, return to the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” mentioned in Colossians 3:16?  I pray they will!