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Saturday, July 30, 2011

EECC 1.3: Liturgy—Worship Styles (Critique)

This is the final post concerning worship styles, but the liturgy discussion will continue on after this. For now, we shall approach the concerns, benefits, and detriments of the chosen worship style of the Churches of Christ, that is (predominantly, anyway), a cappella.

A Brief Confession
There are many queries worth considering, and I am afraid that for me to attempt them I must first acknowledge at least a couple of things. The first is my youth. While a young mind may be flexible, it is equally inexperienced. As youth fades it is most often replaced with experience, and this is something I lack. I cannot admit to knowing the deep questions and potential answers that lie beneath the surface of the church's skin. Thus I tell you that these are guesses and observations, nothing more. The second item I must bring out is my bias. I struggled for some time as to whether I ought to remain in the CofCs or simply transfer to some seemingly more stable Christian tradition. Having only recently (that is, within the past two years) decided that I am willing to stay within and help in the growth of my own tradition, I still have some small amount of bitterness toward my upbringing and my tradition. With these in mind, let us continue in the discussion.

What is at stake in our worship to God? What is it that drives what we do and how we do it? What sort of questions underly our actions and reactions? When the CofCs gather to bring their praise before God, we have attempted to pour our beliefs about God and concerning his Son into our music... at least when the music is ours, anyway. We have never had much problem taking the songs of other Christian traditions and adapting them for our own purposes. This is common throughout Christianity's history, what with the creation of various gospels (Mark's, Peter's, John's, Mary's, Thomas', etc.) and expressions of God's character and being (trinitarian/unitarian, bishops/elders, etc.). When we see something we like, we feel the need to investigate and see how well it fits us. But here's the big question: Why do we like some of these things in the first place?

One of the simplest answers is that what we borrow from others already seems to fit in with what we have chosen or been given as our belief system. Depending on which hymnal/songbook is used, one may find many songs written by one Dennis Jernigan, who is not CofC, but has written many excellent songs which our tradition has taken hold of and "a cappellized".

Going a bit deeper, I wish to pose the question of what exactly we seek in our worship. A common answer might be, "We seek to praise God." Well, how many Christians do you know who have no intention of worshipping God at what is commonly called now a "worship service"? Let's dig a little, and we may find some possibilities underneath. How do we seek to praise God? Do we treat every aspect of God's character as far as we have understood in our holy text? To we praise God's justice, even when it sometimes seems like that justice kind of sucks when it happens? What about Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Our tradition does not seem to have fully grasped the question or any of its possible answers as to whether we should or even may worship either of these two members of the Godhead. So let's ask continue to ask the questions, "Why do we do it this way? Why do we sing about this, but not that?"

Benefits of A Cappella
At this point, I wish to avoid any questions concerning whether certain worship styles are acceptable, primarily because I feel I have already discussed them in a previous EECC post. So, for this brief moment, my goal is to see what about voice-only worship has to offer its participants (without appearing to make it appear in a consumerist light; I have no intention of selling this like a product).

First of all, singing with the voice is natural; normal, if you will. Whether done well or badly, on a stage or in the shower, with others or alone, I would wager a guess that most people sing. Even children, who have little or no concept of music, create song with their voices. Two of my favorite movie examples of this are in Monsters, Inc. and Despicable Me. Both films have a very young girl who sings at one point, either by making up the words (Boo) or singing about something desired for (Agnes). Occasionally, it becomes annoying for those older than the singer nearby. However, we ought not forget the wonder of the creation of music even from the least of these.

Second, the voice is very flexible. For as many instruments as have been created, none of them seems to have the range of mimicry available to the voice. In a post at my fiancée's blog, she briefly delves into the wonder that is the human voice. She brings together the complexities of human vocal ability and the magnificence of God's creativity, praising God for the voice with the voice.

Third, a cappella by definition requires nothing but itself. The voice is set up in such a way that it can function musically on its own. But here's one of the cool things about the voice: Not only can it perform solo, but it can complement and be complemented by other forms of musical expression. Even those I know who refuse to worship with anything but the voice do not deny how well voice and manmade musical instruments work together. However, even alone the voice is a magnificent work of art.

Even as wonderful as the voice is, there are some aspects of music that are neglected in a cappella music. These do not mean that there is something inherently evil about it, but rather are meant to clarify how a cappella fits into the grand scheme of music.

One of a cappella's limitations is that it does not, cannot encompass the full range of human musical potential. For even as flexible, marvelous, and wondrous as mankind's voice is, and while there are many things it may imitate, it cannot become something it is not. For those who cannot sing, such as the mute, or those who are uncomfortable with their voices being heard, there are those kinds of music which are played by the use of the rest of the body. Breath is sometimes involved (flute, tuba, harmonica, etc.), but not always (piano, violin, accordion, etc.). But even the mute can breathe (else they wouldn't be mute, but dead...). Some of the Psalms are meant to be accompanied by manmade instruments as a means to further praise God. Could they have been made into voice-only music? I'm willing to assume so. Were they? No (at least not as far as we are aware).

Next, and related to the first, a cappella does not reach every man's heart. As Paul chose to become all things to all people (1 Cor 9.19-23), so music has been made to reach out to mankind's soul in its greatly varying forms. This seems to be most true of Christian worship. While it used to be the case that the music of the gospel had its own genre, contemporary (and long-gone) musicians have sought to adapt the musical abilities of the secular world so that such a world might be reached. Whether this was in music that simply has no words, or in the development of Christian metal bands, Christianity has so spread its musical wings that all kinds of music are enveloped in them.

I do not claim to know everything about Christian music. As mentioned earlier, these are merely observations and theories; do with them what you will (not that I could really stop you!). I, in fact, know so little about music that I feel I may have gone too far into the realm of assumption without having explored the vast research on the matter. Is there much I could learn from those more musically trained than myself, such as my fiancée? Absolutely. She once told me that the history of music is greatly interwoven into the history of the church, and so there is much we have to learn about them both.

May we ever seek truth, trusting that when it is revealed, we shall see it for what it is. May our hearts be touched, our eyes opened, our selves cleansed by the redeeming power of God, so that we may be prepared for his coming.

Grace and peace,

1 comment:

  1. You have presented a wonderfully balanced critique, both pointing out the stronger aspects of a cappella music while also highlighting the inherent shortcomings as well - I had never even considered the musical ability of a person who is mute!