Friday, March 26, 2010

Where to Put What We Sing

As the Lord's Day looms near I found an article that might be of help as you prepare for worship.

Darryl Hart has written a helpful piece about music and worship. No, its not a piece for or against contempary music. Rather, it is a call for careful examination about what we sing and why it shows up at a certain place in the order of worship. Here is a relevant nugget...

Hymnals are something that Presbyterians take for granted. Rare is the lay person who picks up the book to examine it like any other, looking say at the table of contents, then at some of the indexes, and then at one or two hymns to see which tune the compilers used for a certain text. Instead, most church members look at the bulletin at the specific time for singing in the service, find the number in the hymnal, stand, and sing the chosen hymn.

Perhaps just as rare is a church member who reflects on a hymn in relation to what goes before and after it in the service. Does it follow a prayer, a Bible reading, the sermon? Did the pastor choose the hymn for a specific reason? Was it to reinforce the theme of the biblical passage, to resonate with the sermon topic, or as is often the case for hymns before the sermon, just a way to let people stand and stretch?

And most important, did the pastor choose the hymn to function as a prayer in response to what just transpired in divine worship?

This is the most important question if the dialogical principle guides the way that we order a service. If God speaks and we respond, then the way God speaks is through word (read and preached) and sacraments, and we respond by prayer (and offering). This means that congregational singing needs to fit the category of prayer...
Now whether you agree with the rest of the article is immaterial to me.  What is important is the view that worship is dialogical and that our response in song is be a form of prayer. 

How many can say that their church's worship service conforms to a dialogical of pattern where God speaks and we respond?  Not too many.  How many can legitimately say that their music is a type of prayer?  Probably not too many.  There are those who will debate this point on the grounds that their worship service is filled with praise (stretched to mean prayers of praise).  But is that dialog or monologue?  Seems pretty one dimensional to me.  Prayers are more than praise: there are prayers of confession, prayers of gratitude, prayers requesting mercy, and prayers of application (Lord, may I not forget this message from your word).  Thus it follows that our music and where it shows up in the order of worship is very important in serving the dialogical nature of our communication with God.

I realize that many are not interested in this point of view.  But if you are one of the "young, restless and reformed" crowd then think again.  What is articulated by D.G. Hart is classic reformed theology from the pen of John Calvin. 

Click here to read more: Old Life Theological Society » Blog Archive » Where to Put What We Sing


Kaitiaki said...

Seems to me you have made a point which is hard to contest, Dave. In the Old Testament, when the covenant was renewed the people sang in response to the reading of the Law. This is very much in line with the main thrust of your article.

Then, in the New Testament, when Paul enjoins us to teach and admonish one another in "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" we have another element of song in worship. Whether we can regard this as prayer, or not, I think you make a compelling argument for our being more thoughtful about what we sing as well as the How, Why and when.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for your kind words.

This topic is rather subtle but powerful. It underscores the way I choose music for our worship services and I thought that it would be beneficial for others to be exposed to it.

Ken e said...

It's a really good short article. I think in the greater context it speaks in regards to the whole body of Christ. In his book Liturgical Theology, Simon Chan says that bad worship produces bad theology, which leads to an unhealthy church.

The reformed relentless crowd in my opinion need to stop living on half hour sound bites and start reading and interacting with people like louis berkhof, and especially calvin's work. Also, I'd recommend reading through the canons of dort, because one would be surprised how many questions that document answers. And not to forget, have a copy of the Westminster always nearby to answer and re-assure yourself and family when issues arise and questions arise.

Dave Sarafolean said...


You are exactly correct. I just took a class on the French Reformation and French Theology. I learned volumes from the readings and I did a lot of research on early reformation creeds and confessions (1520-1545). I was amazed at their theological clarity which only improved as the reformation progresses. If you can get your hands on a new book it would be well worth your time. Check out Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, edited by James Dennison and published by Reformation Heritage Books. At this time Volume I is all that is available. Fascinating.