Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Moratorium on Music

The only reason I wouldn't support Greg Gilbert's suggested moratorium on music in the church is that we are commanded to sing biblical truth to one another. But the current state of affairs of church music is, as Gilbert argues, just about enough to make me disobey those commands.

Now, my sense is that there are some deeper aspects of the discussion about music and culture and meaning that Gilbert glosses—aspects that I simply don't feel qualified to discuss intelligently myself. Nevertheless, I think his assessment of the tastes and proclivities of believers is spot on:
I am really afraid that we’ve managed to create a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

6 comments:

Andy Naselli said...

Greg Gilbert's moratorium suggestion was entirely tongue-in-cheek. (He said so in a private email yesterday.)

Ben said...

He also says that in the footnote in his post. I was intending to be tongue-in-cheek as well.

Scott Aniol said...

I guess some of us need to stick our tongues further into our cheeks to make ourselves clear! :)

For the record, I addressed some of those "deeper issues" related to Gilbert's post on my blog.

Paul said...

Having just attend the DG Pastor's conference I think I observed to some extent at least the very problem Greg is seeking to address.

Fr. Bill said...

Flying in from way off this reservation, I'll leave these comments before flying off again ...

It caught my eye that someone had suggested, even in jest, to have a moratorium on music. That is exactly what we observe in our parish (along with many other sons of the English Reformation), beginning on Ash Wednesday. From then through Good Friday, we do not sing. There is no organ playing. No chanting of Psalms or portions of the Eucharistic liturgy. It is all said. Except for the Gloria in Excelis. It disappears until the Easter Vigil.

They're called "said services" for this reason.

Of course, this suspension of music has an utterly different reason than what is proposed here, even in jest.

Second, I was Really Interested in this statement:

a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

The words "excellent" and "great" are inaccurate. For sure, there are those as he describes, whose dependency is on music that actually complies with widely accepted criteria for music of the highest aesthetic quality. But, I'd bet a bundle that what he's describing is mostly the lot of those who love things such as Fannie Crosby hymns and similar post-revivalist dreck.

But here's the money quote:

Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

Note the linkage:

great music-->>ability to worship-->>feeling close to God-->>spiritual wellbeing.

This linkage is mute testimony to what remains within the heritage of Anabaptist reductionism of the rich history of Western catholic (note the small "c") worship. That worship is richly liturgical, which means that there are abundant occasions within the service where individuals leave their individuality and join the throng around them in a corporate unity of words wedded to actions: prayers of thanksgiving and petition; songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; confession of faith, confession of sin, the giving of tithes and offerings; communing in bread and wine.

The modern worship environment in non-liturgical churches is bereft of any occasion for corporate unity in word and action EXCEPT in the singing of hymns. It is for this reason alone, I am now convinced, that "worship" and "singing hymns" have become synonymns of one another. If you told people in these environs that they must not sing, they would conclude that worship were utterly impossible.

That's why this proposed moratorium (made in jest) sounds so outrageously radical. It would never sound radical to those for whom song is simply one of a great many ways in which individuals unite in word and action to offer corporate worship to God. Take away their singing, and they go right along, worshiping corporately as before, just as we are doing in our parish. After sundown on Holy Saturday, the organ and the joyous voices will burst out once more, making their contribution to all the other things the saints of our parish are doing to unite with one another in worship.

Mikha'el said...

I agree with bill in that the larger problem is a lack of unity in our churches.

We are not practising the "one anothers" of the NT and as a result singing is the only thing we have left that approximates corporate worship.

Within the last year, I've joined a church which, though not liturgical in its practise, consistently includes other corporate elements in its worship such as responsive scripture readings, prayers, and the affirmation of excerpts from our statement of faith in addition to singing and loving one another is consistently encouraged and practised.

As a result, the bond of the people there is much stronger than any other church I have ever attended. These are truly my brothers and sisters in Christ.

--
Mikha'el