Tag Archives: Martin Luther
It happened again yesterday. I attended one of those hip, contemporary churches — and almost no one sang. Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them. A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.
Last month I blogged, “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man – but that tide may be going out again. And that could be bad news for men.
First, a very quick history of congregational singing.
Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. Sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs), and sung in an obscure language (Latin).
Reformers gave worship back to the people, in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes with lyrics that people could easily memorize. Some of the tunes came out of local taverns.
A technological advance – the printing press – led to an explosion of congregational singing. The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid 20th century every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung. In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.
About a decade ago, a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders.
At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.
But that began to change about three years ago. Worship leaders brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.
Years ago, worship leaders used to prepare their flocks when introducing a new song. “We’re going to do a new song for you now. We’ll go through it twice, and then we invite you to join in.”
That kind of coaching is rare today. Songs get switched out so frequently today that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?
And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, and sing in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.
What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church. Men who are poor readers or poor singers no longer have to fumble through hymnals, sing archaic lyrics or read a musical staff.
But the negatives are huge. Men are doers, and singing was one of the things we used to do together in church. It was a chance to participate. Now, with congregational singing going away, and communion no longer a weekly ordinance, there’s only one avenue left for men to participate in the service – the offering. Is this really the message we want to send to men? Sit there, be quiet, and enjoy the show. And don’t forget to give us money.
There’s nothing wrong with professionalism and quality in church music.The problem isn’t the rock band, or the lights, or the smoke machine. The key here is familiarity. When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded. People sang. Even the men.
- Why Men (And Others) Have Stopped Singing In Church (via David Murrow) (garyware.me)
- Men and worship… (matreames.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 8: Worship Wars (starlightliz.wordpress.com)
- New Hymns – A Scottish Perspective: A report on hymnody in Scotland (crossrhythms.co.uk)
Murrow also blogs:
When I was a kid growing up in church, we sang hymns. Songs about God. From a book. Never more than three in a row. There was little emotion attached to this experience. Nobody dimmed the lights.
- And we all sang. Loudly. Or at least we mouthed the words.
Today, worship is not something you do – it’s something you feel. We no longer sing about God, we sing to him. There might be seven songs in a row without a break. We are expected to feel something. The lights are low.
And we’re not singing any more.
As I visit churches around the country, I’ve frequently observed that the majority of attendees do not sing. They stand motionless, looking at the words on the jumbo screen. It’s particularly noticeable in so called seeker-friendly congregations. I’d guess that only a quarter of the men sing.
According to LifeWay Worship Director Mike Harland, the modern stage-driven worship atmosphere gives people an excuse to be spectators instead of participators.
Lillian Kwon writes in the Christian Post, “While the congregation is left in the dark under dim lights, stage lights place the focus on the gifted worship leader — who has in-ear monitors and who sings songs in a key that best fits him or her. The worship leader can’t hear the congregation or see the congregation and ‘they don’t even know that the congregation is not even singing,’ Harland said.
whether he said it or not, it proclaims optimism
from “Beggars All”:
Ellen G. White claims:
Yet another example of running down a quotation comes from the Luther.de site that says:
Many more legends about Luther and trees swirl around, one of the best known should be mentioned, the famous saying: ‘If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!’ is attributed to Luther. One must remember, that the first written evidence of this saying comes from 1944…The 1944 date may come from Martin Schloemann’s book which has a section on the apple-tree quote.
I, Yoel Natan, think the Luther apple seedling quotation was invented and attributed to Luther in 1944 or before, but it comes by way of an ancient rabbi, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who survived the sacking of Jerusalem in 70AD. Claudia J. Setzer wrote:
While they [rabbis] retained the idea of longing for a messiah, they did not encourage chasing after one. A Tannaitic source reads, “He [Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai] used to say: ‘If there were a plant in your hand and they should say to you, ‘Look, the Messiah is here!’ Go and plant your plant, and after that go forth to receive him’ (‘Abot R. Nat. B 31).
- Apple tree (howictheworld.com)
How sad that today it so often appears that people will not stand up and be counted. Even the Church so often seems to prefer compromise to principle. Yet it has not always been so.
Little has been said about the role of the churches in the fall of the Iron Curtain. From September to November of 1989 East Germany experienced what became known as the October revolution in which the 40-year-old communist government fell with remarkably little violence. The church played an important role in encouraging the peaceful demonstrations that followed evening prayer services. On October 9 of that year it appeared as if things night get very brutal especially since Erich Honecker ordered a fierce and violent crackdown on the demonstrations.
The Lutheran Bishop warned of a blood bath and doctors cleared hospital wards in order to treat the casualties. The church decided not to cancel the prayer services however and appealed for calm. After the service the demonstrators numbered over 150,000. In a courageous act of defiance and insubordination, Egon Krenz, the politbureau member in charge of security, refused to carry our Honecker’s orders and the demonstration remained peaceful. That night became a turning point in the revolution. Some weeks later demonstrators hung a banner across a Leipzig street: saying Wir Danken Dir Kirche which means Thank You Church.
Sometimes we fail to realize just how important these acts of courage and political and religious defiance can be in the history of the world.
Remember many of these folks who stood up for their beliefs against enormous odds. Thomas More, the 16th century Oxford educated statesman, opposed two of the Kings of his day. He stood up to Henry VII and suffered for his opposition. He then became a favourite of Henry VIII who knighted him and who also often sought his companionship in philosophical conversations. The friendship was not to last!, for when Henry VIII became disenchanted with his wife, Catherine of Aragon he planned to divorce her in clear defiance of the Pope. More decided that his first loyalty was to the church and he was eventually executed by Henry VIII. 400 years later More was canonized by the Catholic Church.
Oliver Tyndale; who translated the Bible from Latin to English. was executed by the Kingdom for doing so.
Martin Luther; confronted the powers of the world with what he perceived was the fundamental truths of Christianity and when attacked was forced to leave the church he loved to start the Protestant Movement.
John Wesley; was condemned for preaching salvation by Grace and almost killed several times, and continually ridiculed for his faith.
Of course there are others: Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela all people who stood up to those in power and proclaimed the truth – no matter what the cost.
What is more important: the favour of the world or the integrity of following the way we feel to be the way of God?
The Bible asks us to make a choice: We can be “successful” or we can be like the disciples – and Jesus, —–“significant”, trying to make a difference in spite of the power of this world.
Which is more important? If we are honest with ourselves and with our faith we know the answer.
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Let us never underestimate the ministry of individuals in the world.
A few years ago, when I was a parish minister, I held a weekly bible study group. It wasn’t well attended – perhaps about half a dozen folk…but it was interesting. We’d study a Bible passage and our chat about it would lead to this topic and that…sometimes wandering far from the original point of discussion
One evening we talked about the Church’s involvement in the world and everyone was feeling that the church was not doing enough. I pointed out that the church was probably doing much more than they realised because the church was made up of people like themselves living out their ministry in the world.
There were only six or seven people in that little group.
But one of them worked in a hospital shop and wheeled the trolley round the wards. Another helped with the Guides and helped nurture young girls above and beyond the call of duty. A musical member volunteered her services once a week as a pianist at an old folks home to entertain the elderly residents. Another worked in a charity shop. And another took a disabled member of our congregation for regular trips to the country in his car.
But none of them had actually realised that what they were doing was Christlike in any way. They hadn’t really cottoned on to the fact that this was ministry – that it was following Christ and living the kind of caring life that he showed us in the world.
What’s really important? I think that it is in giving ourselves and loving in such a way that others could say we made a difference in their lives. That is rendering to God that which is God’s. That is the challenge to us all
* “little Christs” One of the early books by Martin Luther was The Freedom of a Christian (1520). In it, he wrote, “[A]s our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians….