Five Reasons to Sing Somber Songs in Worship

I like sad songs. I don’t mean sappy love songs or My Chemical Romance or anything like that, but more somber forms of instrumental or sacred music—take the Agnus Dei sung after Samuel Barber’s Adagio, for example. I know that makes me a minority, but I think there’s good reason for the evangelical church to depart from its quest to happify everything it touches and reclaim some of the more somber, minor, reflective songs in its worship. Here are five reasons:

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A Redemptive-Historical Waltz

Last week I wrote about the apostolic conviction that everything written in the Old Testament was written about Christ and for the church. I believe this conviction can serve as a powerful corrective to a watered-down moralistic hermeneutic which we’ve all heard or used at some point.

We have all heard (or preached) that moralistic sermon, right? The one where the preacher (who is still a good man, by the way; it’s not easy to present God’s Word to God’s people every week) asks us to turn to Joshua 1:9 and spends twenty-five minutes exhorting us all to “be strong and courageous” because Joshua was so. Or the one where we are exhorted to show generosity in hardship like Elisha’s widowed supporter. These are the kind of expository maneuvers which can be performed on any story where the flow of the narrative ends with the righteous rewarded and the wicked punished. We may profit just as much from a homily which takes as its text “Old Mother Hubbard,” and which admonishes us to be diligent and hardworking, to lay up for lean times.

The point is, these moralistic sermons and teachings, rather than applying the sacred text in the way it was intended, obscure the true message of the text and in the end are powerless to bring about the true ethical change which is their aim. Try as you might to exhort me to courage in the face of fear and challenge, I am no Joshua, and when the obstacle before me seems too large for what I thought I could handle, your sermon last Sunday loses its ability to strengthen and hold me up. There is no true link between the modern hearer and the ancient hero.

This is where the apostolic conviction comes in. It claims that all of Scripture, rather than being a cipher from which I may glean moral directive if I can, is a story. The apostles held that Scripture, with all its facets and in all its genres, is a single story about a single offspring who is the object of saving faith. Every faithful son and daughter looks like that Son. Every enemy is his enemy, and every victory is a prelude to his final victory.

A method for reading Scripture emerges from this conviction. It holds that events in the Old Testament really did happen, and do need to be understood fully in their context before being used as starting blocks. Having understood the story or passage in question, the next step is to see Christ where he may be seen as fulfilling what is promised. By the way, this isn’t like that game you played as a child where you lay down on the grass and stared up at the sky, willing elephants and battleships to emerge from the shapeless clouds. Rather, it is  much more like an Easter egg hunt–no matter how difficult it is to find the egg, you can be assured that it is there because hey, it’s Easter.

It is only after we see Christ for who he is as he has revealed himself in the Word that we see ourselves in him as his redeemed people. When we see that Joshua, the strong and fearless commander of the Lord’s army, is a shadow, a picture, a type of the greater Joshua who defeats the enemies of God and provides his people with an eternal inheritance, then whom have we to fear? What might can stand against the divine and risen Christ who works on our behalf? Courage is a foregone conclusion at that point. There is a moral imperative here, but it can only exist in its connection to the redemptive fiat standing over our lives as those who are in Christ.

The moralistic method of interpreting Scripture is a crab-walk, a graceless two-step from the figures of the Old Testament to you and I. The apostolic method is a beautiful dance, a three-step waltz between the Old and New in which Christ is glorified and his people redeemed.

“The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book written about the redemptive work of Christ for his people…”

Alright, I admit the original version is catchier. I’m no songwriter.

Last week I mentioned that my convictions about the meaning of Scripture can be summed up in one phrase: Everything written is about Christ and for the church. To be more accurate, I should have said that my convictions about the apostolic method of Scriptural interpretation can be summed up in the above phrase. I believe that these two statements, “Scripture is written about Christ” and “Scripture is written for the church,” function as two great guiding lights which Christ and his apostles used in their Spirit-inspired interpretation of the Old Testament.  I’d like to unpack that a little bit.

Everything is written about Christ. In Luke 24:13-27, the Emmaus road account, the incognito risen Christ gives what must have been the most edifying sermon ever: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Later the same day, he appeared in the midst of his disciples and reminded them of his teaching: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). He then opened their minds to understand the Scripture, and this is the summary of their understanding: “‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise of the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem'” (24:46-47).

Everything is written for the church. Paul says in Romans 15 that “whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He says in 1 Corinthians of the Jewish exodus that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). This is what allows Paul to relate the Jews’ eating of manna and drinking water from a rock to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10), to apply laws concerning oxen to the rights of a gospel minister (1 Corinthians 9), to call the church Isaac and the unbelieving world Ishmael (Galatians 4); it’s what allows Peter to give the Jew-Gentile church the designation given to Israel in the Old Testament, that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).

This matters now– have you ever started in on a one-year reading plan for your Bible and gotten bogged down in Leviticus, or Samuel, or Jeremiah, because it feels alien and draining rather than life-giving? Have you ever felt that a particular passage couldn’t possibly fit the rubric given in 1 Timothy, not profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, or training in righteousness? The truth is, the whole Bible exalts Christ for the benefit of the church. Therefore, it is our duty and delight to read the Old Testament in such a way that Christ is exalted and we are edified. This is not reading into the text; this is reading the entire text.

There is more to say here, but I’ve exhausted my word limit.

 

They Have Seen His Star

I know I’m indebted to Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan on this one, but I cannot tell you how much of this is from them or where I read it. It seems to have just leached into my brain.

In the beginning, God set the lights in the sky in order to serve as signs, among other things. He also set them in the sky to rule. Throughout the Old Testament, stars seem to be associated with kingship and ruling. In Numbers 24:17, for example, “star” and “scepter” are parallels, and in Judges 5:19-20 “kings” and “stars” are parallel. In Isaiah the king of Babylon is called the Day Star (14:12).

At the beginning of the New Testament, we see the same thing. Three wise men see a star and surmise that a king was born. This isn’t just eastern paganism, either; when the magi tell Herod about the star, he and all Jerusalem are concerned (Matthew 2:3). And again at the end of the New Testament: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).  The root and descendant of David– meaning the king of Israel– the bright morning star.

Abraham was promised descendants like the stars, and physically speaking, that was fulfilled (Deuteronomy 1:10). But Abraham is the father of the faithful also. Jesus’s star is first of a mighty innumerable host who rule with a rod of iron and receive the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28). At the end of Revelation we’re told that the sun and moon are replaced by the Lamb, but what of the stars? Perhaps they are replaced by the church, shining like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:15)

And if stars are kings, then perhaps when God told him he would have descendants as numerous as the stars he was also hinting at the future reality of the church- “And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign with him on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Ecclesial Tapestry

Good morning!

Last night at Bible study we were talking about the “household code” found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. I think the household codes in Scripture (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1) are really amazing and counter-cultural, and I enjoy teaching on them.

When I lead Bible studies I like to be able to go deep into the text, discuss things, difficulties, bring up questions, all that; but I don’t like to end there. I think people should go away from a Bible study challenged and encouraged, and so at the end of every Bible study I teach I throw on a little “homiletical takeaway–” my attempt to draw the discussion to a close with an encouraging word from the text. So here’s what I said last night:

God wants unity in inequality. I don’t mean inequality of worth; I mean distinction, difference. God doesn’t want a homogenous church, but an integrated one. He doesn’t love his own equally, as though they were all the same; he loves his own fully, as fully as he can love them. God is a Father– what father loves his own without distinction? There are different places, different levels of maturity, different gifts, different sexes, different roles. But one baptism, one church, one Lord, one Spirit, one God and Father of all.
Satan wants to iron out the difference between sexes, giftings, and institutions. God wants a beautiful stained-glass window; Satan want’s a nice uniform mud, which is just another way of talking about entropy, which is just another way of talking about death.
Unity in inequality. Each member fully accepted, fully loved, fully appreciated, for all their differences, their strengths and weaknesses– many members, one body, one Lord.

-Daniel

Thereness

Tomorrow I leave for the East Coast for a few weeks, and I have no intention of posting. Maybe a poem every now and again, we’ll see. Before I leave, however, I want to share something I found encouraging.

Pastor Sam Crabtree (author of Practicing Affirmation, one of my all time favorite Christian living books) and I sat down the other day to talk about the BBC Shepherd Group which I lead. Sam just became our overseeing elder, and so I was able to introduce him to the group and hear his heart for us. It was good.

Toward the end of our time I asked him what he expects of me as a small group leader, and he said something I thought was profound. He told me that my gift, my strength, the advantage that I have over him in this situation, is thereness. I am not as wise or experienced or mature or articulate or pastoral as Pastor Sam, but I am there, every week, with my group, and he is not. And for Sam, that counts for something.

I’m not sure I’d ever thought about that before. This extends to the whole church, this gift of thereness. Unless you suddenly find yourself the protagonist in a robinsonade, you have been gifted with thereness for someone else’s benefit, to be a blessing. People need good teaching/preaching, wise counselors, just authorities, and a whole host of other things, but they also need someone to just be there for them, and you can do that.

I think this is amazing- God has created a need in the greatest of us which can be met by the least of us. How well this ties the body together! I don’t need to be paralyzed by my own insecurities when it comes to comforting and encouraging a much older brother in the faith. I can just be there for that brother, and God is building his church. Anybody can do it; everybody should. There’s a brother or sister in your local body who needs you to exercise your gift of thereness