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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

To God Be the Glory

By Ken Horn
Feb. 19, 2012

In 1971, Andrae Crouch released a song that has become an enduring classic, capturing the hearts of millions of Christians with its profound words and stirring melodies. The song is “My Tribute,” and its better-known subtitle serves as a defining description of genuine Christian music: “To God Be the Glory.”

If music is truly Christian, God gets the glory. If He doesn’t get glory, it is difficult to make a case that it is Christian.

A little history

Let’s start about 500 years ago.

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century emphasized devotional music. Martin Luther believed that “the devil who is the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless trouble, flees before the sound of God’s music almost as much as before the Word of God.” Thus he felt it was important to involve the congregation in singing. He wrote hymns with powerful truths and simple melodies, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther even set sacred words to the tunes of secular ballads.

Not all reformers were as zealous. In Zurich, Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli barred the use of religious music. His “cleansing” of the church included removal of songbooks and the closing of the organ.

But Zurich believers were singing again soon after his death. Grateful believers have a song in their hearts that is difficult to suppress.

In the 1600s, Puritans left England to escape the reach of the state church. One major criticism they had of the Church of England was the high church, formal nature of the worship. Music they considered stilted and ceremonial was part of that style of worship.

So they abandoned the elaborate music in favor of something they considered more biblical and less worldly, the singing of psalms.

In 1707, the publication of Isaac Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs marked a new development in the kind of music sung in churches. Watts elevated the hymn, adorning it with poetry and sound doctrine.

For example, Watts began his musical “Psalm 147 Part 1” with these lyrics:

“Praise ye the Lord; ’tis good to raise

Our hearts and voices in His praise;

His nature and His works invite

To make this duty our delight.”

Christians today, regardless of music preference, must agree with Watts: It is both our duty and our delight to praise God. The question remaining, however, is, “How does one get a congregation beyond duty to delight when there are many generations and music preferences among them?”

Worship music is all about traditions ... and people of all ages have them. In my youth, the tradition was to sing three hymns and a chorus in a church service. Today the worship band is a tradition, as is extreme repetition and a high level of decibels.

In a church I was visiting, I watched an elderly gentleman, seated with most of the older saints, who had seemingly lost interest in the service. Younger attendees stood in praise. But suddenly something caused him to rise from his seat. A portion of a familiar hymn made an appearance in the midst of a newer song. “On Christ the solid rock I stand … ” brought him to his feet. He went from disengaged to completely involved.

John Newton wrote the kind of songs that touched this elderly man. In 1764, Newton, who had been greatly influenced by the revivalists George Whitefield and John Wesley, became curate of Olney in England.

Here Newton dared to replace the conventional psalm singing with the singing of hymns that were simple enough to be understood and felt by plain people. “Amazing Grace” (1779) was Newton’s testimony set to music. Today — 233 years later — the song still reaches the depths of the soul.

Revivalism also added a distinctive element to the music of the church. When the most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening began in 1800, the Cane Ridge Revival defined “frontier religion” — and with it, gospel music.

Those backwoods evangelists drew on the hymns of Watts and Charles Wesley, but with a twist. They essentially created a new genre with simplified lyrics and catchier tunes. In line with the overtly emotional nature of the revival, the music also gripped the hearts of eager or penitent participants — a trend that continues to the present in many evangelical circles.

Born soon thereafter and adding its own, separate stream of emotion-gripping harmony, the spiritual emerged from the souls of those bound in slavery. It’s popular message: freedom.

Later in the century, Ira Sankey took the gospel song to the next level, often adding a simple invitation to come to Jesus, spurred by his relationship with evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

It was said that Sankey owed his life to a hymn. He had been a Union soldier in the Civil War (while Moody was a chaplain) when a Confederate sniper trained his sights squarely upon him. Before he could squeeze the trigger he heard Sankey’s melodious baritone singing the strains of a heartfelt hymn — and chose to let him live.

Sankey’s music was soul stirring. But it was also criticized — especially Sankey’s use of an organ. When he accompanied Moody to Scotland, the conservative Christians there complained that his “kist of whistles” had a devil in every pipe.

Music had clearly moved in a more “sentimental” direction — stirring the feelings — apt for the more frequent evangelical altar call. The songs of blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby moved in that direction. Crosby was a poet, and though she was able musically, she wrote the music for only a few of her hymns. She was also able to write with far more complexity, but chose the simpler direction to touch more lives.

Though the term “sentimental” is often used negatively, if it is used to describe music that touches the heart and genuinely stirs the soul, it is a positive thing.

What notes, what lyrics cause me to want to worship? What brings me to my feet (like the old gentleman I mentioned earlier), or leads me to effortlessly raise my hand in praise? If that is “sentimental” music, then it is a good thing.

And if it is a more hard-driving alternative that evokes this reaction, then we must admit that this music, too, is a good thing. Clearly, taste is a major factor in how music affects worshippers. If music leads you to worship, it is a good thing. If it leads you only to say, “What great musicians,” then it is not so good. And if it actually distracts from worship, it needs to go.

The last few decades have seen a proliferation of Christian music genres, including rock and rap, that are unpalatable to older Christians. Our purpose here is not to judge styles but to call for solid spiritual value in all Christian music.

Music’s importance

It is undeniable that many people can be touched by music who might never respond to the spoken or written word. That’s why it is critical to have anointed music and musicians in our churches.

Martin Luther believed strongly that music and preaching go hand in hand. He actually went so far as to require all ministers to receive musical training before they could be ordained.

Though we don’t see this as a necessity today, the reverse should certainly be true. Anyone who leads in a church’s music should be a minister. Not necessarily a professional minister, mind you, but an individual who cares about the ministry value of his or her singing or playing.

It is sad when talent alone is the standard by which those who minister in music are chosen. There are too many passionless musicians performing on our platforms simply because they have a natural gift.

Give a singer anointing, and music becomes ministry. Give him or her talent as well, and you have an unbeatable combination. But don’t put a microphone in someone’s hand unless there’s a reason for it that goes beyond talent.

In recent decades, the value of music has been seen in changing church titles. What was once a song leader is now a worship leader. Churches used to have music directors; now they frequently have worship pastors. One seldom hears music referred to as among the “preliminaries” anymore.

But dramatically changing worship styles have isolated some segments of the congregation. While some actively worship, others observe worship.

Music is one of the most commonly conveyed communication forms by any type of media. Some of it is more valuable than others.

Years ago I contracted an illness while doing missions work in Eastern Europe. I was out of ministry for four years with the prospect of never being able to go back to full-time ministry. I suffered a deep depression along with the physical infirmities.

Little gave me comfort — especially during the months when I was mostly bedridden. But something became my lifeline when I was having difficulty sensing God’s presence. It was one selection on an audiocassette tape by Jimmy Blackwood. “In the Midst of It All” was a song about Job — and me. And it was anointed. I played it over and over. Soon I was playing it in tandem with the song before it, “Don’t Give Up on the Brink of a Miracle.”

Taste varies and generations differ. But something is the same for all tastes and generations: Christian music must be anointed. If it is not, it is no more than hollow entertainment — and there is already plenty of that to go around.

After God enabled me to return to pastoring, Jimmy Blackwood came to minister at our church in Oregon. When he sang “In the Midst of It All,” my wife, Peggy, and I sat on a front pew and wept. This anointed song by an anointed minister had helped bring me through the darkest part of my trial.

Culture impacts music

Both religious tradition and local culture have a great bearing on the kind of music one will find in churches.

Ojibwa Indians formed some of the earliest traveling music groups. In the 1830s, missionaries in the Great Lakes area began translating gospel songs into Indian languages. The Ojibwas loved singing, and by the 1870s, traveling Ojibwa hymn-singing groups were common.1

The first time I preached in the extreme south of Texas, I experienced my first taste of Tejano praise music, complete with trumpets.

So-called “high church” denominations frequently lean toward more classical music and have a tendency to treat it as an art, often paying key musicians to play. Whereas a great variety can be found in evangelical churches — and even in churches of the same denomination.

Worship music in Assemblies of God churches is widely disparate, even in churches in the same city. A church’s history and tradition have a lot to do with this, but so do the preferences of the lead pastor or even the music minister.

Age impacts music

Older people should not de facto dismiss the music of younger generations — and vice versa.

Older folks must make sure they do not criticize the ways of a younger generation simply because they are different.

Younger believers need to try to appreciate the ways of older Christians — without rolling their eyes.

The generations need each other. And although differences are perhaps magnified the most when it comes to music, we need to strive to appreciate one another, while also being willing to learn from each other. Older and younger people have a lot to give one another. That begins by recognizing that differences will exist.

Part 2 of this series will appear in the March 11 issue: Not all music labeled as “Christian” is truly Christian. What identifies genuinely Christian music?

1 Jon Butler, Grant Wacker & Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life: A Short History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 233.

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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