Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why "Sermons in Song"?

Some have asked why we call what we do, "Sermons in Song," so this article should answer some of those questions. Mainly, we are trying to strengthen local churches by the preaching of the gospel according to Colossians 3:16. This verse says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Sermons – Let the Word of Christ
There is almost nothing that will more quickly weaken a church than the neglect of preaching the word of God. For this reason, Sermons in Song is thoroughly committed to expositional preaching. This means that we endeavor to say what the Bible says, where the Bible says it, with the emphasis that the Bible gives. This is the proclamation of the word of Christ, and it is the partial fulfillment of the great commission, where Christ says that we are to teach disciples to “observe all things” that He has commanded.

The Old Testament Scriptures and the Apostolic teaching of the New Testament provide the content of the gospel, which Christ taught to His disciples and which has been transmitted to us in the Bible. For this reason, preaching and teaching of the Word of God is the first and most important element of Sermons in Song. Without this, all other efforts are empty and powerless. We believe that the only hope for the revival of God’s churches and the strengthening of God’s people is a concentrated emphasis on the exposition of His authoritative Word.

Sermons – Dwell in You Richly
Even a church that has a full complement of Bible teaching can be weakened because they are not vitally saturated with the Word of God. It is important to note that this phrase isn’t simply a reference to the fact that the Bible is everywhere present, so what could be missing?

God’s people must come to understand that the Scriptures are far more than a source book for defending a doctrinal statement or confession of faith. They are the self-disclosure of God Himself, centered on the person and work of Christ. As a result, Sermons in Song is committed to true gospel preaching that also focuses on showing how the person and work of Christ fully and completely impacts every sphere of life. There is nothing else that can strengthen God’s churches.

Sermons – In All Wisdom
There is a subtle trap that has been laid for the American church, and it is the suggestion that the word of God is sufficient for salvation and other spiritual stuff, but it doesn’t really impact the emotional and practical life of the people. This inevitably leads God’s people to trust in the false teaching of secular psychological philosophy that has been dressed up in spiritual sounding language. The sufficiency of Christ and of the word of Christ is threatened and undermined.

We must be jealous for the ministry of the word, and we cannot allow ourselves to supplant the life-changing truth with our own opinions or the opinions of some expert that would suggest Scripture isn’t a sufficient help. Anything except seeing that all wisdom and knowledge is found in God and revealed in the person and work of Christ will inevitably lead to weak churches. This is why Sermons in song is committed to Biblical Counseling.

Song – Teaching and Admonishing One Another
When our lives are saturated and influenced by the word of God, this will naturally be reflected in our music, and now we see Paul suggesting that the proclamation of the word should be set to music. We also see that this music is to be expressed in relation to the community of believers (one another), and it is at this point that Paul gives two purposes for the use of music in the community of the local church.

This verse leads us to conclude that music must be doctrinally accurate, at the very least. However, this is not the only element of teaching that should be in view. Our music also teaches us how we are to view the world and how the Scriptures are applied to various circumstances of life, and we don’t need to look any further than the Psalms to provide us a great pattern for the ways in which we are instructed by our music. In brief, Sermons in Song believes that the Christian’s music should either be directly Biblical or reflect a distinctively God-centered and Biblical perspective.

The second purpose given here for music is very interesting. It is the word noutheteo, from which we derive the concept of “nouthetic counseling.” In other words our music both teaches and counsels us! So, we are not just taught bare facts; we are also taught how we are to respond to the truth. This includes exhortation to action as well as the emotional response that is appropriate to the truth. For example, that I am a great sinner should accompany music that reflects the sorrow that a believer necessarily has because of their sin and its effects.
Because of this, Sermons in Song believes that our music must communicate in a way that reflects emotion that is appropriate to the truth being expressed in the language of the song.

Song – Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
Much of the debate on this passage relates to the identification of these three musical terms. However they are understood, we can at least conclude that a variety of musical categories are intended. The identification of the Psalms is clear, and Sermons in Song believes the Psalms have been tragically neglected in many American churches. From this and the parallel passage in Ephesians we can also conclude that music, without lyrics, can be included, which has interesting implications for considering emotional expressions simply as they are or are not consonant with the Christian life. We can further conclude that these categories also include congregational music.

In light of these categories, Sermons in Song seeks to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the Psalms, the writing of new congregational music, the renewal of historic hymns, and providing musical expositions of Scripture, all provided that the emotional expressions of the music are consonant with the God-centered life.

Song – Singing With Grace in Your Hearts to the Lord
Music starts with who you are, and it is essential that the grace of God be evidenced in the life of the believer. Our music reflects who we are with surprising accuracy, and Christian music must start with the believer knowing the grace of God in truth. From this point, we can encourage and counsel one another, but our music and ministry to one another needs to be understood as having one primary audience that matters most. We sing for the Lord, and this demands that our music demonstrates a life of worship, reflecting the character and attributes of God in our musical expressions.

While we acknowledge that various contexts require music that is appropriate to the occasion and audience, we do not believe there is a separate category for “worship music.” Sermons in Song is committed to musical expressions that reflect lives bent toward the worship of God and the enjoyment of who He is, which is the whole purpose for which we were created.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Using the Web

Recently we have been looking at more effective ways to use the various internet resources that are available, particularly social networking and blog resources. As part of this, we are beginning to standardize and focus the various web elements for Sermons in Song. In this post, we will explain how we intend to use the various resources available.

On Blogging
The blog is a format that has some familiarity with me, since I have been blogging for several years. Many of you are aware that I have been blogging at NeoFundamentalist since early 2005. For several reasons, I have not recently been writing there, and we are probably going to archive the whole site at some point in the not-to-distant future. In respect to my Theological / Philosophical writings, I intend to begin blogging again, but that will be in coordination with a project that some friends and I have been working on recently (more sometime later on that).

However, we are also using this blog for Sermons in Song specifically, and we will continue to write here regarding matters of Worship, Music in specific, and other Ministry related articles and news. We will be moving matters of prayer to other social networking outlets, since these are more tuned to getting prayer requests out quickly to those who are interested in praying for our ministry. For those who prefer to use this site as a hub, there is a feed at the far right for our Facebook posts, which will be concerned with the general, day to day, concerns and progress of where we are and what we are doing.

So the blog will be the primary outlet for practical articles that are aimed at the church-strengthening ministry of Sermons in Song. Some cross-posting may occur between this site and the "notes" section of the Facebook fan page, but that will not necessarily be the case. We welcome and would like to encourage as much interaction as possible, since this helps us better serve the churches where God sends us.

On Facebook
Facebook is a fantastic tool, though it can become an albatross to life if it isn't used wisely. It is a great venue for bite sized transmission of information. Much of the "status" updates we see on Facebook are more or less mundane, but we would like to use the Sermons in Song updates particularly for the purpose of sharing pieces of information that will help you know how to pray for us in that particular day. We appreciate those of you who pray regularly for us and we intend to keep that aspect of this site moving regularly, even if the articles are not as regular as we would like.

Our own personal Facebook accounts (Martha and Tom both are there) will be more personal, so if you are interested in that, then you can find us and "friend" us. However, please note in your friend request how and when we met in person. We intend to limit the personal friend list to people we have actually met. Thank you, in advance, for your understanding!

In addition, the Facebook fan page has some features that are very conducive to supporting and facilitating a robust communication with those who are interested in our ministry. We have links to our music in the "Music" tab, and we have another music app on the "Wall" that allows us to post practice sessions of new songs, just for those of you who are interested in keeping up with us and praying for us.

The other feature that we hope gets used more is the forums on the Facebook page. There we can carry on extended conversations regarding what is happening and we can answer questions about aspects of our ministry that interests you. We have even posted lyrics and chords for some of our new and upcoming songs in the wall music player.

On Twitter
To be entirely honest, I don't really get Twitter. It seems too much information. I am not sure that I want to know blow by blow snippets of very many people's lives, and I certainly can't imagine people really wanting to know that for me. However, I understand that this is something that is a great benefit to many, so we will be cross posting all the Facebook updates into Twitter (@tpryde3) for those of you who use this platform. This means that you can use Twitter to receive prayer related posts from Sermons in Song.

That pretty much covers it all. We will be updating the links to reflect our usage of these tools, and we sincerely hope that our interaction is a blessing to you and an encouragement to your ministry in your church. Thank you for your interest in our ministry and your prayers, and drop us a note to let us know who you are. We would love to know who is praying for the work God has given us in strengthening His churches.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Soteriology Does Inform Your Worship

I recently read an article on worship that made the following assertion: "However, I must repeat, there is no direct impact of Reformed Theology itself on worship theology or practice. Historically there have been both conservative and progressive Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, and Covenant Theologians, and there is nothing inherent in these theological convictions that leads to a particular worship philosophy."

I could not disagree more! First, the statement assumes that Worship Theology and Reformed Theology are only tangentially related, and this assumption is made, even in the face of earlier statements that appear to be made to the contrary. For example, “[God-centeredness] is clearly evidenced in their theology, their emphases, their biblical exposition, their song texts, and their writings. It has certainly influenced their theology of worship, and no doubt has impacted the worship theology and practice of fundamentalists as well.”

This drives the thoughtful reader to ask how the writer can make the previous assertion. In searching for the answer, we discover the underlying equivocation that obfuscates and undermines the coherence of the argument, which is common in this particular writer's articles. Take notice of the various assertions made, particularly those related to “Worship Theology.” Here are a few quotes:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How Much Does It Cost?

I have been asked quite a few times recently, "How much would it cost to get you to come to our church?" The question is understandable, but it is also a bit foreign to the way we think of our ministry. On one hand, the simple answer is that it doesn't cost anything.

We don't charge any amount, nor do we have any monetary conditions on our coming to any church. We come without any expectations. We trust that God will supply our every need, and He has been faithful to do exactly that. So if your church has no money, we don't really care at all. As long as God supplies us enough gas to get to your church, we can come!

Of course, some churches just want to know what the actual costs are, so basically we figure that it costs us about 65-75 cents for every mile we drive. On top of this we have other expenses like food, RV payments, insurance, and phone bill. We trust that God will provide either the funds or side jobs to cover our expenses, and he always does. Paul made tents, so from time to time, Tom will paint houses or provide audio recording services (we carry professional recording equipment with us).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Changing Directions and Pressing On!

In New Mexico, we had a wonderful time teaching how to study the Bible and we even got to sing a new song, based on Psalm 2. We were blessed, as usual, by the church family there in La Luz. Something happened while we were there that really emphasized the importance of the family of God in the life of His people.

We had been planning on going to Michigan for the Summer (to work on a book and record that is based on 12 Messianic Psalms), and on the way we were also planning on stopping off for a few Sundays in Illinois. Sadly (at the time) two Sundays opened up in our schedule and I could not find a church to fill those Sundays. God seemed to be preventing our going there, so we decided to stay a few more days in New Mexico and then go straight to Michigan.

One half hour from leaving to go to Michigan, we got a call that Martha's mother had suddenly suffered a heart attack and died. We needed to go to South Carolina, and we didn't have to cancel any services! Not only that, if we had gotten the word much later (or if we had gone up sooner), we would not have had enough money to get to South Carolina.

As we were leaving, the church family there in La Luz simply loved on us and sent us away with the comfort and joy of knowing that there is yet another group of God's people praying for us and the ministry that He has given us. We have been so incredibly blessed, and then God provided just enough to get to Greenville, and we are so blessed by His provision!

Now we are in South Carolina, and we appreciate your prayers for our family and for all that we need to accomplish in the coming months. We are praying for some opportunities to minister while we are here. While we are not sure how long God wants us to stay in Greenville, we are praying for God's provision to get us back up to Michigan.

Even so, while we are here, I am working on a book project (with my good friend, Dr. Bob Snyder). We are busy translating and commenting on 12 Messianic Psalms so that we can write a study guide / resource for people to use in studying these precious gems of Scripture. Along with this written work, we are busy writing songs based upon those Psalms. In this way we are hoping to bridge the gap between understanding the message of the Psalms and how we should emotionally respond to them.

It is hard to explain how exciting it is to work on the project, and we are so excited about what God is doing. We would appreciate your prayers as we continue work on that project!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Glory of God and Musical Communication

I would like to offer a few preliminary thoughts that are foundational to the discussion regarding music and worship. In the very first place, we need to establish that music is not, itself, worship (though many seem to think so). Worship is properly the ultimate aim of everything. It is even the whole point of God’s revelation itself. Therefore, our every expression should be reflective of the person of God, particularly as He has chosen to reveal Himself in the person of Christ. My whole philosophy of music flows from this idea, both philosophically and practically.

Almost everyone who has spent any time in any church knows 1Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” How many people have actually considered what that means? The “glory of God” is a summary statement for “all that God is.” Another way to say this is to say that the “glory of God” is the sum total of His character and attributes.

Once we accept this, we need to ask, “What does it mean to 'do everything' to the glory of God?” Many people assume that this simply means we give God the credit, and while in a tangential way this is somewhat true, it isn’t the point of the statement. In order to fully understand, it is helpful to bring another verse into the picture at this point: Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

When I first recognized this connection, it revolutionized my whole concept of worship! Sin is failing to meet up with the standard set by the attributes and character of God (this would exclude the attributes of God’s greatness - the omni’s, etc…), and this means that God Himself is the standard. So we could also assert that all sin is ultimately a failure to properly worship God.

However, this doesn’t entirely answer the question, though it does bring us one step closer. Sin is also a failure to love, since every command by God, and especially the law of Christ, is expressed by the twin commands to love God and my neighbor as myself. Even God, Himself, is described by the statement, “God is love.”

So, to live to the glory of God is to live a life contrary to a life of sin. It is to live so that every heart response and every corresponding action in our lives is actually a reflection of the glory of God. This is, of course, impossible without the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration (Remember the fruit of the spirit? They are all either an attribute of God or the effect of an attribute of God), and though music isn't, itself, worship. These principles certainly relate to music as a form of communication.

So a Christian can evaluate the value of any given piece of music by comparing the communication of that music with the character and attributes of God. We should be able to ask whether it reflects the love of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God, the anger of God, the righteousness of God…and so on. However, just as with the spoken word, the communicative content of the music is largely dependent upon context to accurately evaluate the meaning. This means that music must be understood in context of the musician, the venue, the occasion, and the audience.

For example, the words, "I love you" are a wonderful expression that can mean entirely different things if those words are spoken by a 4 year old to their stuffed animal, a 16 year old to his girlfriend, a wife to her newlywed husband, or an elderly husband to his dying wife. Who is speaking to whom is important, if we are going to understand the communication, and the same is true for music. Both the musician and the audience must be considered.

In addition, we can take the same words and understand them in completely different ways, depending on the venue. If it is spoken in a hospital it might communicate hope or even finality. If it is spoken in a carnival, it could be understood as a joke, or if it was spoken at home, it might communicate a close family bond.

However, not only is it important to consider the musician, the audience, and the venue, we also must consider the occasion. For example, our three words could be part of a skit at summer camp, or they could be spoken by a teenager upon receiving a new car, or they could be spoken at the end of a wedding (or funeral). In every instance, the communication is different - sometimes drastically.

Yet, we also have to consider tone of voice. If I yell angrily at my wife, “I LOVE YOU!!!” she is not likely to get the message clearly, because the emotion doesn’t match the words. Worse, she might understand exactly the opposite. The tone of voice can make these words communicate hatred, friendship, exasperation, or even genuine love. Tone can enhance or even reverse the meaning of the words.

Music works exactly the same way as language, with the added benefit (liability) that it is designed to make the emotion of our communication more evident. Think of singing as "speaking, with the volume turned up on the emotion."

This is why we cannot evaluate music by looking at its disjunctive parts, like rhythm, harmony, and melody. The communication must be viewed as a whole, considering all relevant contextual information as well as the communicative content. This is also one reason why I am opposed to the notion that there is intrinsic morality in music (independent of context).

On the other hand, I am equally opposed to those who would suggest that music is amoral and irrelevant to the communication, which would be like saying tone of voice has nothing to do with my telling my wife, "I love you." We can see and readily accept this in the realm of language, but music seems to be emotionally and practically polarizing. We really need to cut through the convoluted confusion of the "worship wars" and just get back to the point that music communicates.

Then we can move forward by observing that the communication must be Biblical (or from a Biblical perspective); it must be emotionally consistent with the verbal content (loving music goes to loving words); and it must be appropriate to the venue, occasion, and audience. Those three principles would save us all a whole lot of grief, and allow us to evaluate whether that communication properly communicates the character and attributes of God.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Needs Update

It has been a while since we have updated you on our needs so that our praying readers can know specifically how to pray for us. We have been blessed to see God's provision over this year, and we are eagerly anticipating what He will do over the coming months. With that said, we greatly appreciate your prayers to God on our behalf, especially regarding these specific needs:

Financial Needs
It costs us about 75 cents, on average, for every mile we travel, and other vehicle costs amount to about 150 dollars a month. We and our five children (now one teenager) eat about 100 dollars a week worth of food. Our communications costs are around 160 dollars a month. Health insurance would cost around 1000 dollars a month, and other miscellaneous expenses bring the total we need per month to something around 3000 dollars per month.

Right now, we are entirely dependent upon one-time gifts and donations, but we are praying that God would allow us to raise monthly support to pay for our regular bills. To this point, I have been painting on the side to pay for these things, but that drastically limits my effectiveness with both Veritas School of Theology and Sermons in Song.

One-time Expenses
We just found out that we need a new rubber roof for the RV. This will cost between 2500 and 5000 dollars, and really needs to be done as soon as possible (pin holes and cracks). We may try a paint-on solution to get us by, but reviews of that approach indicate that it should be thought of as a temporary measure.

Some of you may remember that last year both my guitars broke. Though we have managed to get them to the point that they are working adequately, we are looking for a new guitar that will replace both of the broken ones. We had some money donated for it, and that has put us about 1/4 of the way there. So we are praying that God would supply a professional guitar or allow us to purchase one soon (For those of you who like guitars, you can email or call me to get specifics).

Personal Needs
Traveling has been good for our family, but there are also a unique set of challenges that come along with this sort of life. I appreciate your prayers for us as we continue to grow together as a family-team.

School materials for the kids is also a significant expense (about 1000 dollars per child, per year), and we would appreciate your prayers regarding God's supply in this matter.

As always, we are blessed to be able to serve the Lord with both Veritas and Sermons in Song, and we are grateful for those of you who continue to pray for these endeavors.

Your servant,
Tom Pryde

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Note from Excelsior Drive Baptist Church

Today, I received a message on my Facebook wall from the pastor of Excelsior Drive Baptist Church (that was where we were this past Sunday). I thought that you, who are praying for our ministry, would rejoice to hear what he wrote:

"Hi Tom, guess what?? The Lord mightily used your teaching and preaching yesterday to move the heart of Melissa who is one of our teenagers. SHE GOT SAVED and the first words after that was I want to be baptized and join the church. Give me your cell phone number when you can and Teresa will tell you the whole wonderful, beautiful story. Hope all is going well." (Pastor Riley)

We are delighted and rejoice with very life brought closer into fellowship with God through the work that God has given us to do. You, who have prayed and sacrificially given to keep us moving, have played an important part in every single changed life! I trust that God will credit this fruit to your account.

Your Servant,
Tom

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Year In Review

It was almost exactly a year ago that our family embarked upon this itinerate ministry, and we have been blessed to minister with so many of God's people around the country. Of course, it has been a real challenge at times, as God has been teaching us to live together in close quarters, but God has been faithful to us as we seek to please Him in our family.

His faithfulness is evident to us as we consider how often He has provided to give us exactly what we needed to get us to the next location. Many times we have been packing up without quite enough to get us to the next stop, and just as we have needed it, God has provided through the generosity of His people. Of course, we are thankful also to those whom He has used to provide for our ministry, and we are confident that God will likewise show his faithfulness to provide for those who are generous toward Him.

It is difficult to recount all the ministry opportunities that God has given us, but I would like to highlight a few of the high-points. We began last year with the ordination of Bro. Will Dudding, in Fremont. That was the end of a year long ministry to him and his church, which we have spoken of previously.

God allowed us to participate briefly with a brand new church plant in downtown Colorado (Providence Bible Church), and we were blessed to see God's people reaching into areas that have long been neglected. We look forward to seeing what God has done in them this past year, as well as renewing friendships made while we were there.

We spent quite a long time being ministered to and ministering in Rockford, Illinois (Morning Star Baptist Church), and then we traveled to Michigan, where we ministered in several churches. While in Michigan, we spent some time in Goodells (Mt. Pleasant Bible Church) for their "Spiritual Life Emphasis" week. We were kept busy ministering in as many ways as the Lord allowed us opportunity. This church was the first church to have us present an extended series, and we were blessed to see the Lord work through a presentation of the gospel through a few Psalms.

We spent some time in Washington DC, and even found time to do a Christmas concert that included a new Christmas hymn. In December, we found ourselves ministering to friends in the South and also visiting family in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, the Lord gave us opportunities to minister as well.

New Mexico was our next destination (with a stop over in Texas to take care of some Veritas School of Theology business). The First Baptist Church of La Luz has become dear to us, as they have had us minister with them several times now. This time, they asked us to teach my counseling course (available at Veritas) over the course of a month or so. It was a great time, and God blessed us with lots of opportunities to speak (and sing) His word.

That brings us back to California, for a very busy spring. The next three months will be taken up with meetings in some new churches and some of the same churches that we have gotten to know already. We look forward to ministering with fellow servants scattered wherever the Lord has placed them.

One aspect of our ministry that is difficult to quantify is the ministry that happens "in the gaps." We have had many opportunities to minister individually, in counseling and encouragement with pastors and others. This work is not extra, but rather it is an integral part to our mission, which is to demonstrate and teach how the gospel of Jesus Christ touches every area of life.

Thank you for your generosity, prayers, and encouragement over this past year. We anticipate even more opportunities to minister as God continues to direct our steps.

Your servant,
Tom Pryde

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jeep...Need Your Prayers

Well, this week has been on the discouraging side. Our Jeep that we purchased in New Mexico has been having electrical problems since we got it, and we finally were able to get it to a mechanic here in Greenville. Sadly, the news is worse than I expected.

Evidently the thing had been submerged; as a possible explanation, we did a carfax and learned that it had been sold at an auction shortly after Katrina. Anyway, it has so many problems as a result that nearly everything is affected by it. The short version is that it isn't worth fixing. Now that poses quite a few problems for us, and we would like your prayers as we seek to discern how the Lord would have us proceed.

In the first place, we use the Jeep as storage while we are traveling, so if we get rid of it we need to figure out what we are doing with all that stuff. It also means that we will be without a vehicle, until the Lord provides a replacement.

Regardless, God knows and has a better plan for us, even though that isn't readily apparent yet. We will continue to trust His work and do our best to be faithful to the task He has called us to do.

That also brings me to ask for your prayers next week for our trip West. We will strike out to New Mexico, where we will be recording a course for Veritas School of Theology: Introduction to Biblical Counseling. I will also be teaching the second run through my course on Hermeneutics soon as well.

As always, thank you for your prayers to God on our behalf!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Music Without Affectation or Offense

Ask anyone if they can name a hymn, and Amazing Grace will be near the top of the list. It was written by a gloriously saved John Newton. Once a slave trader, God used this man to publish a series of hymns called the Olney Hymns. He began working on it with his friend William Cowper, but it wasn't long before Cowper became unable to continue the project.

Reading the introduction to this hymn book is instructive for those of us who seek to participate in Christian music. In particular, I would like to call attention to the following paragraph:

There is a style and manner suited to the composition of hymns, which may be more successfully, or at least more easily attained by a versifier, than by a poet. They should be Hymns, not Odes, if designed for public worship, and for the use of plain people. Perspicuity, simplicity and ease, should be chiefly attended to; and the imagery and coloring of poetry, if admitted at all, should be indulged very sparingly and with great judgment. The late Dr. Watts, many of whose hymns are admirable patterns in this species of writing, might, as a poet, have a right to say, That it cost him some labor to restrain his fire, and to accommodate himself to the capacities of common readers. But it would not become me to make such a declaration. It behoved me to do my best. But though I would not offend readers of taste by a wilful coarseness, and negligence, I do not write professedly for them. If the LORD whom I serve, has been pleased to favor me with that mediocrity of talent, which may qualify me for usefulness to the weak and the poor of his flock, without quite disgusting persons of superior discernment, I have reason to be satisfied.

I love how, in comparing himself to Isaac Watts, he speaks of limiting the poetic elements so that the hymn communicates to "plain" people. The first task for the hymn writer, according to Newton, is clarity of communication, which requires simplicity and ease of access.

Of course, he isn't suggesting that the banal and crass should be fair game, and this is clear in how he describes his need to do his best and in how he disavows "willful coarseness." In contrast, he describes Watts as needing to temper his poetic gifts in order to produce a text that is good for the whole congregation.

Basically, he hopes not to "offend the readers of taste" but avows that he isn't writing for them. He hopes to write in such a way as to be useful to the congregation as a whole, without intentionally offending those with "superior discernment."

In essence, he is content to communicate the truth clearly, in verse, so that it is transparent to everyone without at the same time offending those who would have higher taste. I appreciate this sentiment greatly, since we hope to communicate clearly, without offending those who are truly gifted musicians and writers. I am a preacher first, and music is helpful in that the clarity of an exposition can often be enhanced by an accompanying song.

Newton understood this, which is why you will find a virtual commentary in song, along with hymns that are marked "before the sermon" and "after the sermon." Newton appreciated the value of music that preaches.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This Isn't Really New

Most everyone seems to think that what we are doing with Sermons in Song is new or novel, but the truth is that it is not. The idea isn't new with us, and while we can find Biblical examples (like Moses and Jeremiah), there are also several interesting examples of song-writers of the past doing the same thing.

For example, Phillip Doddridge wrote these words that you might know: "O happy day that fixed my choice, On Thee my Savior and my God". It was written in the mid 1700's and was originally titled, "Rejoicing in our Covenant." The text is as follows, but some might wonder where the chorus is. That was added in the mid-1800's and included in the Wesleyan Sacred Harp hymnal.

O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

O happy bond, that seals my vows
To Him Who merits all my love!
Let cheerful anthems fill His house,
While to that sacred shrine I move.

It's done: the great transaction's done!
I am the Lord's and He is mine;
He drew me and I followed on;
Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long divided heart,
Fixed on this blissful center, rest.
Here have I found a nobler part;
Here heavenly pleasures fill my breast.

High heaven, that heard the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear,
Till in life's latest hour I bow
And bless in death a bond so dear.

It was his practice to write a hymn near the end of his sermon preparation, and then he would have it sung at the conclusion of the sermon. As I have been studying the history of hymns, it is striking how frequently examples of this practice have cropped up. In the future, I plan on highlighting some sermons-in-song examples from time to time, so stay tuned.