Worship as Language: Where do we go from here?

This little mini-series of worship (and music) as language is coming to an end; for a recap of all the posts, they are linked here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Sonata Music

Image by jrossol via Flickr

In order to conclude our discussion, we must now try to understand how to contextualize the biblical model with sociological phenomena.  The responsible church musician must ask first and foremost what the common language of their congregants is.  What moves them, what heightens their affections, what draws them closer to God?  Is it contemporary expressions of music, played by a band with guitars and drums?  Is it hymns of the faith, played on organ and accompanied by strings?  We are to strive for excellence, to be sure.  It is our objective to be precise in our exegesis of our culture, and edify the body by using our gifts to serve the kingdom.

Does this mean that we forget the music of our past?  Of course not.

As Reggie Kidd is quick to point out, the hymns, creeds, and confessions of our church that have stood the test of time are just some of the things that connects generations past to this present age, and give the saints that have gone before us their voice in our day.  We are part of a church that is confessional (we hold to the creeds and confessions of our faith), connectional (we are linked together by Christ to the church universal), and we must be a church that is contextual (that is, we strive to edify our surrounding culture by meeting them in their own common experience).

Does this mean that we leave them there?  No.  We want to, again using the words of Kidd, be as broad, vast, and as creative as the Creator is.  We want to explore new expressions of music and art.  We want to see what new spheres our art takes us to next.  But this is not to serve ourselves.  This is to point us to the Holy, for indeed that is only where we can find true beauty.

But as we explore these new forms of expression, we want to be sure that we are contextualizing it for our people; we want to make it come alive for them in new and vibrant ways.  Language is not innately understood.  It is learned and it is taught.  Likewise in music, people only know what they have been exposed to.  It is the burden of those who have been gifted to excel in music to condescend to the people (just as Christ did), to meet them where they are (just as Christ did), and to lift them up to places that they could not go on their own (just as Christ did).  Churches must take an active role in safeguarding their worship, so that the body of Christ is edified, and not alienated.

When we speak of elevating a person’s language, we do not mean that they must switch from Swahili to English. It instead means that we teach them to explore the full depths of Swahili and plumb its fullness of expression out for a specific purpose. Likewise, when we speak of music, though we want to expose people to “languages” that are not their native tongue, we do not want to err as the Catholic church did by presenting one service in one language to the detriment of the people. Our calling in the reformation is to make sure that the language of worship is accessible.

Why is this important? Because when we think of worship in terms of style, aesthetic, and preference, there is no common denominator whereby we can orient our discussion. However, when we think of worship is a communicative tool that will be transmitted and must be understood by the hearer, we can then have (what I feel to be) a more objective discussion.

I am a pastor, a husband, a father, and a lover of Jesus. I am also an unpredictable blogger, who can go for several years without blogging a thing, and then inexplicably write a book. Perhaps this is one of those times.

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Posted in Commentary, Culture, Theology, Worship Matters

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