A Reformation In How We Sing!

As you may be aware, congregational worship is something that has really impacted me over the last few years. I have written many articles on the subject, and it’s a topic that really needs attention. I recently read the Getty’s ‘Sing’ book (now also a conference which I highly recommend looking at) which described how we need a reformation in how we sing. That hit me hard…a ‘reformation in how we sing’…have we been doing it that wrong for so long? And as I looked around me, and over a few conversations, I realised we had. Some of us have gone to the contemporary, pop version of church singing  promoting songs which have no meaning in the words, but instead catchy tunes and bands/singers. Some of us have gone reclusive, only singing the hymns of our forefathers and not really engaging with anything that is new – even regarding instruments such as drums and guitars as ‘evil’ and have this weird fixation with the organ and that’s it.

The Church needs a reformation in how we sing. It’s plain and simple, we need to wake up and change. In this article I am going to go through some points on how we change our attitude towards music.

  1. There is a problem and we must acknowledge it. I have a feeling that we are blindly just continuing to do what we do, missing out on the true point of music worship and do not realise that we are missing out on blessing and growth.   We go to church, listen to our favourite songs that we hear on the radio or that we sing every week time and time again, and forget to fall in love with the words all over again. There is a problem: is our worship reverent? Is our worship helpful? Is our worship theological? Does our worship cover different emotions? Etc…These are just some questions we must ask ourselves and our church. Music is so important and I think many of us have got it wrong.
  2. The church has been severely affected by the worship wars that have happened inside her walls. The church has separated into ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ churches; in fact, the biggest divide today is most likely to be found in our style! The thing is, congregational worship isn’t about new or old songs/hymns. It’s about those which are God-honouring, thought-provoking, and those which spur us on to praise even in the storms. What does the Bible say on this? Sing to each other, to encourage one another, to help one another, to learn about God. To ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ to one another. I’m not sure the church fully understands what this is about. Does the music you sing, engage your mind and heart? Does it help the person next to you, or does it just help you emotionally, singing simple things to cheer you up? As I said it’s not about new vs old, it’s not about drums or piano only, it’s about the words we sing.
  3. The church has to figure out the difference between congregational music and ‘home’ music. There’s nothing wrong in liking ‘Good Good Father’, but is it a song to be sung by a congregation? It’s one where we can praise on our own and listen to for sure, but do we learn much from it, or do we help others by singing it? Whilst ‘Bless the Lord oh my Soul’ is one which certainly helps us in a congregation.
  4. We must know the difference in just good music and bad music, and be discerning in our choice.  To be honest, many songs are also just dire – old and new – you listen to them and either the tune is just awful, or the words are just so fluffy that anyone could have written them.
  5. Church is not solely for the young! I never get the point of making music ‘contemporary’ for the sake of its audience. We shouldn’t ever market a church for a particular age group or culture; instead it’s for all, for the old and young. Let us remember to respect and follow our elders, insofar as they follow Christ. I’m not saying young people and young peoples’ ideas are stupid! I wrote an article on the fact that they should have a voice, but they should be very careful how they seek to influence the church.
  6. The church’s music worship should only be as high as the pulpit. We must note the link between music and what is taught. If the church is not taught the word, with a desire for rich theology and doctrine, then its singing will not have depth. Therefore, ministers and those leading worship (bands, worship leaders) have a great responsibility in feeding their congregations the word. Weak/superficial theology will produce weak/superficial worship.
  7. We need more hymn writers in the present! Charles Wesley’s hymns, set to popular tunes of the time, revolutionised Christian singing and hymnody. Look at why he wrote them – to teach, to praise – and when you see his adoration, its breathtaking! We need that today, more hymn writers, using contemporary tunes to convey praise, doctrine and love all in one piece of music.
  8. We need to re-engage with the Pslams.  These were the songs that Christ sang!  The Bible has its own hymn book!  Whether its reading it more in our services or singing hymns based off them, it is something we need to re-engage with, as the Pslams offer so much to the Christian!
  9. We need creativity. We need to have creativity in praise, in worship, in our styles of music. Whether it is hip-hop, rock, metal, folk, orchestral, let us use it all to praise God and worship. People may say, well that happens already, and yes it does to a point, but it has to be gospel-focused and it needs to be theologically-driven to be powerful.
  10. We need to sing in our families. I remember reading the Getty’s book ‘Sing’, where they stated that the Puritans would withdraw communion from the man, if he failed to lead his family in singing at home. Strong, and probably a tad over the top (as the Puritans often were!) but it shows us how important singing was. We should sing at home, with our children, so as they get older, they have strong hymns of faith that will stay with them their entire life.
  11. Finally, we need it to come from the local church. We need to encourage men and women in our churches to write music, to write worship that impacts the local church and people. Worship today is so commercialised, let us just scale it back slightly to the local church. In saying that, there is nothing wrong is popular Christian music! I love the Getty’s and Stuart Townend, they are amazing, but what I mean to say is that we should also encourage the local church to write!

 

I am sure many of you reading this know the hymns of old. If you don’t then look them up, start with the Psalms, check out Isaac Watts, who wrote mainly from them. Check out Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon. There are so many greats that we should learn from.

I am sure many of you reading this know the new hymns. If you don’t then do check out Kristyn and Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, Matt Boswell and Matt Redman. There are many others, but they are fantastic and should be sung in our churches in the present.

So, here are just a few points. I doubt I do it justice, but there are issues and we need to address them.   If we do, then we as a church will be blessed. The whole point is to bring a stronger theological focus in our worship that covers different themes and emotions and styles. It’s not a debate about instruments or style, but about our focus. A good starting point is the hymns of old, and many churches need to go back to them, whilst for them, discovering the new hymns of the age is also a MUST. Let us see a reformation, let us see this change, for the blessing, for the glory of our Lord and for the praise of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Remembering, Commemorating And Romanticising The Reformation

Five hundred years ago a big event happened in Europe that changed the course of history forever. Five hundred years ago this month, a monk nailed 95 theses to a door, a move which would shake the foundations of the European world and indeed the global world forevermore. Five hundred years ago, was the beginning of the Reformation.

You will undoubtedly see many a post this month, and probably have seen this year about how important the Reformation was in history. But in this post I would like to offer a warning about romanticising the past, as well as the exciting opportunities and lessons it can give us.

Before we really get going, I feel a brief word about the Reformation is necessary. It was a movement in the late medieval/early modern period of history, mostly in the 16th century, although reverberations continued well into the next. It saw the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and other ‘Reformers’ lead the split from the Catholic Church. Luther famously nailed his 95 theses on a church door, each point showing the wrongdoings of the Catholic Church. It was a time which would see the establishment of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries, as well as bibles being written in common languages, and where God was shown to be a personal God, not a distant one, shrouded in mystery, approachable only through a priest or a ‘Saint’.

The ‘darker side’ of the Reformation

There are many paintings, many lectures, and many stories about the lives of the Reformation brethren. All these include their heroic deeds, the amazing and humble lives they led, and how positive the Reformation was. I’ve read articles on how we should tell our children about them, most fascinating I must say, but there is a danger in this. We romanticise the past, maybe this is because of the Victorian approach to history (Hobsbawm’s Invention of tradition comes to mind) but it should stop. Below are a few reasons why it was not so black and white:

    1. The saints involved were far from perfect, and should not be placed on any sort of pedestal, as some have been. This is painfully ironic as one of the issues the Reformers fought against was the idolisation of past saints; men like Luther and Calvin would probably turn in their graves at the sort of attention afforded to them today.
    2. The Reformation was a torrid time. It brought war, death, disorder to the lives of so many. It was a time of instability. It arguably saw the worst war in European history.
    3. Protestants fought Protestants. It wasn’t as straight forward as Catholic versus Protestant.
    4. The Catholics aren’t the ‘bad guys’. Both sides did terrible things! Both sides also had good godly Christians, who sought to do what was right before the Lord.
    5. Propaganda was one of the most-effective tools at the disposal of different figures and governments. There was a ton of it!
    6. The Reformation saw a rise of witch trials. Mainly this was on nation borders as people divided themselves more and more. This shows us just how divided people were at the time.
  • The Reformation, to a large extent, created the nation states that we know today. Borders were drawn up, and people more divided than ever before.

 

So what did the Reformation give us?

These are just a few things that show a darker side to the reformation. Nonetheless, despite all of this, the effects of the Reformation were, and still are, amazing; it paved the way for free thought and free press. Sometimes we talk about the spiritual awakening brought by the Reformation, and of course that was tremendous. But when we talk to our non-Christian friends and they talk about history, what do we say to them? God brought light to Europe? He sent his Spirit? Arguments that will never hold up in the present day, because people do not believe in God. We know what God has done, but in an age of evidence and argument, we need to show what God has done; cold hard facts.

So what did come out of the Reformation? Free thought and press would alone give vent to many scientific discoveries and political discussions.   New theories, new theological ideas all came from the Reformation, finally ‘religion’ could no longer control people as it had. It gave a voice to the common person; it allowed them to engage in national debates.

The Reformation would lead to us being able to read, to write, to engage with discussions around us. Now some people take this as people before didn’t know what was going on in their country and what not, and that is wrong. But the Reformation allowed a stronger sense of identity, and protest. It allowed people to read, it would allow people like you and me to actually have an education.

The Reformation quickened superstition’s death. Although witch trials did increase, it did allow eventually for superstition to decrease. And whilst superstition is still around today, ‘touch wood’ and all that; it is nothing like what it was like in the medieval period.

The Reformation induced free trade, and gave way to a bigger and more powerful middle-class. Now, you could be a Marxist or a socialist reading this and think this was more a negative, and to be honest, I do see your point. But what we see is people that were once disregarded in society, elevated to positions such as Parliament, and perhaps giving us greater social mobility, even if it was still very limited. It saw the begins of a capitalist system, which has indeed given us benefits, and even if you are a Marxist reading this, then it is one step closer to communism/socialism!

The Reformation showed us that people can stand up to authority and win. It shows us that we can stand up as the smaller guy and win; it shows us that if there is something you believe in, fight for it, and don’t give up. It gave us people, even if you don’t have a faith, to look at and admire for their bravery. If you are a Christian, then it shows us that anything is possible with God, if he is with us, what can stand against? For the Christian, it put the ‘church’ back in its place, and emphasised a personal relationship with God through Christ, instead of some weird distant god through priests, bishops, indulgences and purgatory. Instead of a wealthy domineering powerbase, the Reformation turned back to the original meaning of ‘church’ in the Bible: ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly of believers’.

And where did all this come from? The Bible, that great book, finally translated into the common languages of the European peoples. The greatest thing the Reformation gave anyone was the Bible finally in their own language.

In fact, the entirety of today’s society is built on the back of the Reformation, on the back of the Bible. Yes, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t a picturesque time by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave us things we value so much. The society we live in now comes from the Reformation, and that we can be thankful for that. The fact is, no period in time is lovely, it is all gritty and scary, and that is something Christians need to remember. When we teach our children about it, we have to ensure a balanced approach. Romanticising the past is dangerous, it can lead to misconceptions, and can lead us to living in the past, or our own idealised fantasy world. It can lead us to forgetting the awful things that were done. At the same time, it is an event to celebrate, but always do it in balance.

Five Hundred Years Of The Reformation: Recommended Reading Material

October is upon us and this month we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, but beyond some random hot-headed monk banging a bit of paper on a church-door and a few fights, what else happened?

It is my aim in this post to list a number of short books on the Reformation and Reformation characters, which everyone should read to give us all a bigger and better picture of what actually happened all those years ago.

What’s the big deal about the Reformation — is it just another word for the Renaissance?

The Reformation had very little to do with the Renaissance. If anything the Reformation was a grassroots movement against the Renaissance, a cultural and philosophical movement characterised by the revival of Græco-Roman ideas and art. The achievement central to the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the native languages of European peoples, unlocking the eternal word of God for the masses. In my opinion, the Renaissance was mostly intellectual hot-air and risqué art leaving little to the imagination; for a few oily-haired loafers.

‘The Unquenchable Flame’ by Dr. Michael Reeves

I think Dr. Reeves’ work is the best short overview of the Reformation that money can buy. In a lucid and fluent writing style he describes the decline of the Church into immorality and debauchery, and then the spark of flame that set it all off. The book is a gripping read that is completely ‘unputdownable’! The Reformation was a clear work of God from start to finish; He used everyone from prince to pauper, gallant knights to little old monks shuffling around.

So who was this Luther bloke — wasn’t he a civil-rights campaigner?

The 20th century American civil-rights campaigner Martin Luther King actually named himself after the original Martin Luther, the German monk generally accredited with kick-starting the Reformation (although a change had been in the wind for a good few hundred years). However, in many ways, the two men were not dissimilar…

‘The Triumph of Truth: A Life of Martin Luther’ by J.H. Merle D’Aubigné

Martin Luther was a German monk turned Reformer. A promising future as a lawyer was cut short by a thunderstorm and the young German signed his life away to a monastery, and, in his own words, ‘If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I.’ Then the Lord drew Luther’s attention to His word, and therein Luther found the truth. His is a fantastic story interwoven with disguise, deception and betrayal. The Reformation started by Luther banging his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door, and this is quite simply a banging book! I’ve heard it said that more biographies have been written of Martin Luther than any other man, which makes choosing one difficult. But in my opinion, D’Aubigné (haven’t a clue how to properly say his name by the way – I think it could be ‘door-bin-ay’, but I don’t think its ‘dow-big-knee’ as some say) is one of the best, most honest historians covering the Reformation with a number of titles.

I’m a Scot — where does Scotland come into all this?

Scotland! Well, the Reformation shook Europe to the core, and this seismic revolution reverberated around the world; it didn’t take long to reach the glens of Scotland too.
The Reformers were an eclectic bunch, from all walks of life. There were the reflective thinkers, timid by nature craving the quiet, bookish boffins like John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon and William Tyndale, and then there were the fiery lions like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and William Farel lovin’ a good scrap. But, loud or quiet, they were all thrust into defending and suffering for the gospel. And there was another lion by the name of John Knox who was quite a character, and perhaps did more for the gospel in wee bonnie Scotland than any other man…

‘John Knox: Fearless Faith’ by Steven J. Lawson

This short sharp captivating biography captures the essence of John Knox, as he journeys from bodyguard to galley slave, to displaced exile, doing whatever it takes in order to preach the gospel in his beloved Scotland. Honestly, it is a simply fantastic read and breathtaking introduction to the fiery Scotsman and the Gospel he fought for!

Yeah but what I really wanna know is how the Bible got translated into English?

All in good time, my lad, and it certainly did take time! Several people had a crack at it until Wycliffe got most of it done, before he popped his clogs back in the 14th century. Then England had to wait another one-hundred-and-fifty years before a chap by the name of William Tyndale came along. What did he do? Read this book and find out!

‘God’s Outlaw’ by Brian H. Edwards

The life of William Tyndale makes for fantastic reading. Brian Edwards really encapsulates the soul of the man and the King he served. Hunted and on the run in Europe, with the agents of the government after this elusive pimpernel; Tyndale battled tooth and nail to get the Bible translated and printed in English until eventually they nabbed him. From then on, it was only time until he was burnt at the stake; with one last cry, his dying prayer was, ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!’

What happened?

That great womanising buffoon Henry VIII declared that a Bible in English be placed in every church building in the land. Boom!

It’s my belief that William Tyndale did more for the English language and the English Bible than any other Englishman in history. Bold claim? Read the book and see if you agree with me.

So, what is the best way to understand the Reformers?

Read the book that they all fought for, and many of them died for!

What book’s that?

The Bible, you numpty!

It is the greatest book ever written. It has God’s everlasting message of hope and salvation. The greatest thing to come from the Reformation was the word of God in the languages of the people of Europe. When you read it look out for the ‘Five Solas’ of the Reformation (although one’s a ‘Solus’ and another’s a ‘Soli’…). These were the five great truths championed by the Reformers.

Solus Christus – Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone
Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

What should I do now?

Go and read, be educated and uplifted! And pray! We so need another Reformation. A Gospel Reformation, following those Five Solas. We need the name of Jesus Christ to fly like a banner across the sky for all the world to see once again!

Competition time! We would like to offer one reader of the Eat Write Sleep blog the chance to win any two of the books from this article of their choice. All you have to do is post a comment below (or on our Facebook page) with which two books you would like and why. The winner will be decided by lot (the Biblical method!), the books sent by post, and the competition will run until Saturday the 28th of October.