Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Singing the Church

Mark Mummert, Director of Worship at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, TX, and contributor to the latest Lutheran hymnal, recently wrote:

Singing an ever-widening repertoire of global hymnody is important for every Christian assembly, whether the congregation is monolithic or quite diverse. Singing words and music from other times and places reminds us that the church exists beyond the four walls of a building, beyond the confines of our city, state, or country, beyond the cultural make-up of one particular congregation or church, and beyond the boundaries of time and location. Singing global hymnody is not about trying to create a church that is more enticing to people of diverse cultural backgrounds, as if we were marketing Jesus to a particular demographic ("Let's sing an Asian hymn to get Asians to come to our church"!!) Nor is singing global hymnody a task that is motivated by somehow being "politically correct." Instead, singing global hymnody is about the incarnation -- it means that God comes enfleshed in diverse colors, tongues, and styles. We sing what the body of Christ -- the church -- looks like.

As a former worship pastor myself, I couldn't agree more. Now the question becomes: does such an incarnational view entail the incorporation of "praise and worship" music as well? Those who have worshipped with me know that my answer is an unashamed and emphatic "yes" - provided its done well. There is not much difference between the African American spirituals we are quick to fetishize, the Taize chants we love to commodify, and the repetitious, exuberantly meditative nature of many contemporary songs. That being said, here we must also inquire after the question of good taste, of fittingness, and of the capacity of certain songs to assist in the faithful unfolding of the Word of the true Gospel. Such considerations are always-already conditioned, but its worth wrestling with, I think.

In the meantime, I continue to long for the day (as well as to proleptically practice it) when a service might incorporate a praise song, an Arabic-Byzantine chant, an Appalachian folk melody, a spiritual, an old school hymn, all over a rock-inspired liturgical setting...coherently and beautifully. Not because we are trying to "be diverse;" because this is the diversity we have been given, and because music is beautiful. As Bach once wrote in the pages of his Calov Bible, Chronicles is filled with “Magnificent proof that, besides other functions of the divine service, music especially has also been ordered into existence by God’s spirit through David.” And next to II Chronicles 5: 13-14, he observed that “in devotional music, God with his grace is always present.”

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