Today, January 13, we remember the Hussites who on this day in 1501 published the first hymn in history written in the language of the common people. The descendants of the Hussites are known as the Moravian Brothers, who continue the rich tradition of chant and church music today.
Christians have good reason to celebrate this event. After all, our faith, like Judaism, has always been a lyrical faith. The longest book in the Bible, and in the middle, is the Psalter, a word meaning “hymns.” David’s plans for the Temple included clans of Levites whose entire job was music. Choirs, soloists, orchestras, and counter-singing are described as parts of Temple life and practice, and the people sang a whole class of psalms, the Songs of the Ascension, as they traveled to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage feasts.
Throughout the Bible texts, music is also associated with prophecy and dealing with evil spirits. Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn after the Last Supper, according to two of the Gospels. The apostle Paul specifically connects singing with being filled with the Spirit in his letter to the church at Ephesians. And in the revelation of John about what is constantly happening around the throne of God, there is a lot of singing, sometimes accompanied by harps.
Music is also part of the culmination of the creation story. When Eve was taken by Adam’s side, Adam awoke and cried, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she is called Woman because of Man she was taken.” Many scholars believe that this is essentially a ceremonial song.
To remove the musical element from the text of the Bible would be tantamount to their perversions and the practices that arose from them. The monks chanted the psalms daily, in some cases covering the entire Psalter in a week. Medieval thinkers considered the human heartbeat, breathing, and the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness to be “music.” They also believed that the movement of the celestial bodies was regulated by the “music of the spheres”. For the medieval mind, music was the glue that held the universe together. These ideas shaped the imaginations of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, who used music as a creative factor in their own tales of Narnia and Middle Earth.
In the Reformation, Martin Luther reintroduced group singing to the liturgy, an idea that spread through all branches of Protestantism and eventually returned to the Roman Catholic Church. Reformed Christians focused on singing psalms and other songs from the Bible, although some also incorporated hymns into their worship.
All of this points to a truth central to the Christian worldview, which is that God loves music. Because music has been central to church worship and the Christian imagination, the first hymn in a common language is a milestone to remember and an opportunity to reflect on how music can serve Christian worship today.
While I do not wish to reignite the “worship wars” of recent decades, Christians should not think of music as merely decoration for the services they perform. Is that true On teaching and preaching. The essential question, even as music styles change and new music is created and incorporated is, what is the music in worship services to?
The Psalms provide basic guidance. Some are songs of praise, others are confessions, but the greater part of the psalms are lamentations. In other words, the Psalms cover the full range of human emotions, bringing the totality of human experience into collective worship.
However, the Psalms always direct our attention to God. Even when they talk about their own trials and hardships, they always turn their attention outward and upward, from themselves and to God. This is often done by to remember What God has done and who declared Himself to be.
Too often, the music used in churches fails to go beyond us to express our thoughts and feelings towards God, and many times, only songs that evoke positive and happy feelings are sung. This does not follow the model of the Bible, the model that helps God’s people see trouble and grief in light of God’s faithfulness and character. This also misses what the music is about to. Music guides. It is a tool for catechism, not just a time for self-expression. In the end, hymns that focus on the subjective experience of Christians quickly became poor theological sources.
Another consideration is that of music to The whole congregation. When the music in the church is primarily about the performance of professional musicians, the songs just can’t be sent to the many congregations. This is not a matter of style or preference. I thank God for modern songwriters and hymns, who are committed to producing true and wonderful music for the glory of God and God’s people.
Music is a gift from God and a unique way to connect his revelation to our hearts and minds. Saint Augustine is believed to have said, “He who sings, prays twice.” The Church must restore a stronger understanding and practice of music.
Originally published in BreakPoint.
John Stonestreet is President of the Coulson Center for Christian Worldview. He is a sought-after author and speaker in the areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education, and apologetics.
Glenn Sunshine is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, Senior Fellow at the Coulson Center for Christian World Vision, and Founder and President of All Square Inch Ministries. He is a speaker, author of several books, and co-author with Jerry Trousdale of The Kingdom Unleashed.
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