Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 5


In many Churches of Christ, the kinds with “worship leaders” rather than “song leaders,” we’ve rejected hymnals altogether, replacing them with projection of the lyrics on a screen (actually, a very good idea) backed by a waterfall scene.

For a while, we projected the notes with the lyrics — but this is becoming unfashionable on the theory that visitors will not know how to read notes and will feel intimidated. Besides, Willow Creek doesn’t project the notes. And they’re big.

As a result, we’re now back to where the church was before the Protestant Reformation, with songs that are often unsingable by the church members, no hymnals, and no notes (all in the name of making our music more accessible to visitors).

Of course, this theory reflects a rather low opinion of the musical gifts of our visitors (we’re just a little too full of ourselves on this point) and surrenders one of the biggest advantages we have because of our Church of Christ heritage: we sing beautiful four-part harmonies. Why do we want to throw this away? Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Arguments Opposed, Part 3

gay christianWe are thinking through additional counter-arguments to those in favor of gay marriage proposed by Richard Beck in his blog.

In yesterday’s post, I pointed out that we are given two biblical templates for life in the image of God — heterosexual marriage and celibate singleness. Both are declared to be in the image of God — and nothing else is.

Why? Well, perhaps this will help our understanding —

This metaphysics of sex, however, only finds explicit statement once in the Bible: “for love is fierce as death, passion is mighty as Sheol, its darts are darts of fire, a blazing flame. Vast floods cannot quench love, nor rivers drown it” (Song of Songs 8:6–7). Otherwise, there is no explicit reflection on the meaning of sexuality nor its place in the cosmic order.

The reason for this absence may be monotheism itself. There is no sexuality in the divine sphere. God, usually envisioned as male in gender, is not phallic; God does not represent male virility, and is never imaged below the waist.

The prophets use a powerful marital metaphor for the relationship between God, the “husband,” and Israel, the “wife,” but the relationship is not described in erotic language. God neither models nor grants sexual potency or attraction. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Arguments Opposed, Part 2

gay christianWe are thinking through additional counter-arguments to those in favor of gay marriage proposed by Richard Beck in his blog.

Now, as I discussed in detail in my series “Jesus, Paul & the Hermeneutics of Sexuality,” Jesus and Paul find their marital and sexual ethics in Gen 2, largely in the relationship of Adam and Eve before sin entered the world. To their thinking, the Gen 2 relationship of Adam and Eve is God’s template for how married people should live together.

I just realized the other day that the scriptures point us to two — and only two — models for how we’re to be returned to the image of God. Recall that one of the major points of the entire Bible is God’s work among humankind to restore us to his image. It’s one of the major themes of scripture coursing from Gen 1 to Rev 22.  It’s a big, big deal. Continue reading

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Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 4

CrownHimWithManyCrownsRestoration Movement

The Restoration Movement is the product the merger of two earlier movements, one founded by (among others) Barton W. Stone in Illinois and one founded by Thomas Campbell in western Pennsylvania. Both men were defrocked Presbyterian ministers, expelled from their denomination for treating believers outside their denomination (or sect within Presbyterianism) as brothers in Christ.

Soon many towns had churches of both stripes, and yet they were similar (not identical) in their preaching. By this time also, Alexander Campbell had become the leader of the Campbell-movement (“Reformer”) churches, working among the Baptists to unite across denominational and doctrinal lines based on confession of Jesus as Messiah and submission to baptism — and nothing more.

In 1832, the two congregations in Lexington, Kentucky famously merged at the behest of leaders of both movements — although Alexander Campbell was initially reluctant to bless the merging of the movements. But he quickly came to endorse the idea, and congregations across the American frontier merged. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Arguments Opposed, Part 1

gay christian[This is rewritten from a post from years ago.]

There are, of course, many factors pushing marriage rates down in the West, and there have been for years. They largely fit within the rubric of “marriage is but a social construct.” And each time society pushes further in that direction, the marriage rate goes down.

It’s not uniquely homosexual marriage. Rather, homosexual marriage is just the most recent sharp nail being driven into the coffin of traditional marriage.

It goes back to the 1960s with the destigmatization of unmarried couples living together, providing a non-marital alternative, which eventually became fully socialized. As a result, the gay-marriage debate suffered from the fact that it’s now perfectly legal for gay couples to live together and be sexually active together. Hence, why was gay marriage even necessary? Continue reading

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Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 3

Isaac Watts


From Isaac Watts’ book of hymns

In the early 18th Century, Isaac Watts began writing hymns by either arranging Psalms to have meter and rhyme or, in a revolution of doctrine and practice, composing entirely original hymns.

Although the Lutherans had been composing hymns for 200 years, Watts was the father of English hymnody, composing over 750 hymns, including many that remain popular today, such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Joy to the World.”

It’s amazing to realize that English speakers have only been singing original hymns for about 300 years. And yet Watts was a Nonconformist, meaning he refused to follow the Book of Common Prayer and so was banned from the Anglican Church. After all, there’s no authority in the Bible for reading printed prayers!

Watts was roundly criticized, and yet his hymns quickly caught on and helped fuel the First Great Awakening in England and in America, along with the brilliant Methodist hymns later composed by Charles Wesley. Great Christian music has often been tied to waves of evangelism. Continue reading

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Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 2

CrownHimWithManyCrownsThe Calvinist Regulative Principle of Worship

In Switzerland, unlike Luther’s Germany, the Reformation went an entirely different direction. In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli adopted the Regulative Principle of Worship, arguing that we may only do that which has been authorized by express command, approved precedent, or necessary inference. As a result, he rejected instruments in worship, although he was, like Luther, an accomplished musician. See this excellent article by John Mark Hicks for further background.

The Regulative Principle was originally limited to worship — on the theory that worship holds a special place in NT theology. However, the Churches of Christ have expanded the principle to apply to the use of church buildings, the church treasury, church organization, the name of the church, and for some, all of life. That sounds like an exaggeration, but the claim has been made, and it’s not unusual to read articles from the early 20th Century judging whether it’s wrong to play cards or listen to a brass band in a city park based on the RPW. Questions Answered, a book that compiles articles answering readers’ questions published in the Gospel Advocate, by David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell, is filled with such material. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Four Arguments for Affirming Same Sex Marriage, Part 4

gay christianWe’re considering Richard Beck’s post at his Experimental Theology blog summarizing four arguments for affirming same sex marriage. He did not endorse or advocate these arguments.

4. Love and Liberation

The fourth argument for [a pro-gay marriage (or pro-GM)] position regarding same-sex marriage is a direct appeal to the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In some hands this appeal is a simple appeal to love and compassion in embracing our shared humanity as beloved children of God in affirming same-sex marriages. 1 John 4.8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

In other hands, the appeal is for justice, often informed by a biblical and prophetic appeal to liberation theology: God’s preferential option for those who are oppressed and suffering. Following the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4.16-21), the Bible must be read as “good news” for those who are suffering in the world due to hate, violence, oppression and marginalization. As it says in Romans 13.10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor.”  …

[Y]ou can make the appeal for compassion and justice (Argument #4) more compelling and urgent by citing statistics about gay teen suicide and homelessness.

Of the four argument, this is the one hardest to refute. To me, the first three aren’t really serious theology. They are rationalizations.

But this one is different. Continue reading

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Bible Class Survey

bibleclassI get emails. This one is from reader Andrew —


I’m working on a research project regarding the quality of Bible classes in our congregations.  I’m trying to put a finger on what makes Bible classes either low or high quality.

I hope to be able to use the research to help improve class quality in our assemblies.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask two things from each of you.

  1. Complete the survey (short 7 questions) at
  1. Pass this link along to as many others as possible. The more responses I get, the better the data will be.

Thanks so much! Continue reading

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Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 1

CrownHimWithManyCrownsThe early church sang hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Commentators don’t even know for sure whether these were words for different things or essentially synonyms.

We don’t know much about how the early church sang. We have an entire book of psalms, of course, but these pre-date Christianity by hundreds of years. And we have some passages in the NT that scholars believe may have been lyrics for songs, such as Phil 2:5-11. But no one really knows for sure — and even if we could know, we have no way of knowing the tunes for these early songs.

Were they improvised by the song leader? Did he chant a line, to be repeated by the church? Over time, did certain melodies become standard?

Unlike Western music, there was no regular meter or rhyme in the Psalms and other songs we have. Meter is especially important in Western music, because our music is based on measures of repeating rhythm — 3/4 time for a waltz, 4/4 time for an anthem, 5/4 time for “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, etc. In fact, a Westerner wouldn’t think of anything else as “music.” Ask a Western church to sing a meter-less (rhythmless) biblical psalm as written, and we wouldn’t know where to begin. For us, music is all about the rhythm. Continue reading

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