J. M. Barnes on singing and unity

J. M. Barnes on singing and unity


Justus McDuffie Barnes (1836–1913) Justus McDuffie Barnes (1836–1913)

In July 1896, J. M. Barnes embarked on a month-long preaching tour through the State of Texas, documenting his travels in a series of articles in the Firm Foundation. Barnes was, without question, the leading conservative in Alabama during the years between the close of the Civil War and his own death in the spring of 1913. But he also travelled extensively, and was a regular writer for, among others, the Gospel Advocate and Benjamin Franklin’s American Christian Review.

This is an illuminating series for, among other things, its insights into congregational life in the 1890s. Beginning on the first Sunday in August, Barnes recounts that he preached a ten-days’ meeting at the Pearl and Bryan Streets church in Dallas, “in some respects the most remarkable body in my whole knowledge.”

Barnes is blunt over the course of several articles as he describes the state…

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Must Hymns Be Scriptural?

Carl Peterson kicks off a series about questions we should be asking and contemplating regarding our worship to God in song.

Strains Divine

I sometimes wonder if song/worship leaders should be giving the same disclaimer as preachers: “Compare the songs we sing to the Scriptures. You’d be my friend if you let me know if anything we’ve sung is out of harmony with the word of God.” 

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To You Who Bring Small Children to Church

To You Who Bring Small Children to Church.


I want you — you mothers and/or fathers — to know just how encouraging you are to so many.

Bring your children to church. If you don’t hear crying, the church is dying.

Read more at http://veritasvenator.com/2013/09/25/to-you-who-bring-small-children-to-church/

Modern Hymn Writers Aim To Take Back Sunday – NPR

Modern Hymn Writers Aim To Take Back Sunday – NPR

Modern Hymn Writers Aim To Take Back Sunday – NPR

by  —  July 08, 2013 3:28 PM

Modern hymn writers Kristyn and Keith Getty run through their song "In Christ Alone" at their home near Nashville's Music Row.

Modern hymn writers Kristyn and Keith Getty run through their song “In Christ Alone” at their home near Nashville’s Music Row.

Courtesy of Stephen Jerkins

There was a time when hymns were used primarily to drive home the message that came from the pulpit. But then came the praise songs.

Matt Redman’s song “Our God” is the most popular piece of music in Christian churches today. That’s according to charts that track congregational singing — yes, there is such a thing. But approaching the Top 10 is a retro hymn: “In Christ Alone,” co-written by Keith Getty.

Keith’s wife, Kristyn, sings the hymn, while he plays the piano in their home near Nashville’s Music Row. The couple came to town to write songs not for individual artists, but for what Keith Getty calls “the congregation.”

“Our goal is to write songs that teach the faith, where the congregation is the main thing, and everybody accompanies that,” he says.


Read more at the link  — http://www.npr.org/2013/07/08/200013769/modern-hymn-writers-aim-to-take-back-sunday

Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church

Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church

Why men have stopped singing in church

May 8, 2013 By 

Worship BandIt happened again yesterday. I was attending 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.

A few months ago 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. They were expected to stand mute as 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 that were easy to sing, and mated them with theologically rich lyrics. Since most people were illiterate in the 16th century, singing became an effective form of catechism. Congregants learned about God as they sang about God.

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 20 years 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 ten years ago. Worship leaders realized they could project anything on that screen. So they 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.

In short order we went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows.

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,” they would say. “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 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, sung 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 is familiarity. People enjoy singing songs they know.

How do I know? When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded with gusto. People sang. Even the men.

Footnote 18 – D.A. Carson, ed., Worship By the Book

D.A. Carson, ed. (with Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy J. Keller) Worship By the Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 48-49, 52-53 (Kindle Edition, @Location 689).

Context: In the opening chapter of this collaborative work, Carson quotes what he describes as “one of the most succinct summaries of such evidence as the New Testament provides” from an essay by Edmund Clowney, who observes that “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what the elements of [corporate] worship are.”  Carson then continues:

“I am not sure that we would be wise to apply the expression ‘corporate worship’ to any and all activities in which groups of Christians faithfully engage – going to a football match, say, or shopping for groceries.  Such activities doubtless fall under the ‘do all to the glory of God’ rubric and therefore properly belong to the ways in which we honor God; therefore they do belong to worship in a broad sense. Yet the activities the New Testament describes when Christians gather together in assembly…are more restricted and more focused.  Doubtless there can be some mutual edification going on when a group of Christians take a sewing class together, but in the light of what the New Testament pictures Christians doing when they assemble together, there is something slightly skewed about calling a sewing class an activity of corporate worship.  So there is a narrower sense of worship, it appears; and this narrower sense is bound up with corporate worship, with what the assembled church does in the pages of the New Testament.”

[In the pages of the New Testament] “there is no mention of a lot of other things: drama, “special” (performance) music, choirs, artistic dance, organ solos.  Many churches are so steeped in these or other traditions that it would be unthinkable to have a Sunday morning service without, say ‘special music’ – though there is ot so much as a hint of this practice in the new Testament.44

44 By ‘special music’ I am including not only the solos and small groups that a slightly earlier generation of evangelical churches customarily presented but also the very substantial number of ‘performance’ items that current ‘worship teams’ normally include in worship.  These are often not seen by the teams themselves as ‘special music’ or ‘performance music,’ but that is of course what they are.

45 There are many entailments to these cultural differences beyond the differences in the corporate services themselves. For example, Britain, without much place for “special music” in corporate worship, does not have to feed a market driven by the search for more “special music.” Therefore, a great deal of intellectual and spiritual energy is devoted to writing songs that will be sung congregationally. This has resulted in a fairly wide production of new hymnody in more or less contemporary guise, some of it junk, some of it acceptable but scarcely enduring, and some of it frankly superb. By contrast, our addiction to ‘special music’ means that a great deal of creative energy goes into supplying products for that market. Whether it is good or bad, it is almost never usable by a congregation. The result is that far more of our congregational pieces are dated than in Britain, or are no more than repetitious choruses.

There’s more nuance in the extended discussion – read for more observations. Usual caveats apply – without accepting every conclusion or using terms identically, these comments have the ‘ring of truth.’   (Hat tip to John Gentry for the Kindle reference) –SW

A HYMN FOR TODAY – Hark! Ten Thousand Voices Sounding


Hark! Ten thousand voices sounding,
Far and wide throughout the sky;
‘Tis the voice of joy abounding:
Jesus lives no more to die.

Jesus lives, His conflict over,
Lives to claim His great reward;
Angels ’round the Victor hover,
Crowding to behold their Lord.

Yonder throne for Him erected
Now becomes the Victor’s seat;
Lo, the Man on earth rejected,
Angels worship at His feet!

All the pow’rs of heav’n adore Him;
All obey His sovereign word;
Day and night they cry before Him,
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord!” – Thomas Kelly, 1806

Tune: SUSSEX (English Folk Melody)
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

#256 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs