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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Homosexuality: Four Arguments for Affirming Same Sex Marriage, Part 3

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.

3. The Holy Spirit Changing a Literal and Traditional Reading of the Bible

A huge hermeneutical crisis faced the early church when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and Peter allowed them to be baptized, formally bringing the Gentiles into the church and recognizing them as co-heirs of the covenant God made to Abraham. This was a hermeneutical crisis so big it split the church.

The issue was that circumcision was proclaimed by God to be an “everlasting” sign “in the flesh” of the covenant between God and Israel (Gen. 17.13). A plain and literal reading of the text argued that the Gentiles, therefore, would have to be circumcised to gain access to the promises made by God to Abraham.

And yet, the Holy Spirit was being poured out upon the uncircumcised. God was doing a new thing. Not just with Cornelius, but also with the Gentile converts in Antioch. How was the church to reconcile a plain, literal and centuries old traditional reading of the Bible in light of what was happening among the Gentile converts?

The issue came to a head in Acts 15 in what we call the First Apostolic Counsel. There the issues were debated–literal and traditional readings of Scripture clashing with experiences and testimony about the Holy Spirit at work among the uncircumcised. Hesitantly, the church decided in favor of experience and testimony over literal and traditional readings of Scripture.

This is not exactly right. It’s close, but the most dangerous errors are often the ones that are almost true. Continue reading

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Matt Moore: “Discovering True Masculinity: How The Church Helped Me Rest In My Identity As A Man”

gay christianRecommended by a reader: A powerful testimony by a Christian gay man who is not, as he says, a man’s man but has found his place in a B-side (abstinence and gay Christian affirming) church.

Here’s the money quote, but you should read the whole thing:

And by “make me feel like I belonged,” I don’t mean that they tried to shape me into their image. They didn’t give me a guy-makeover, forcing me to go to football games or to participate in other culturally masculine activities I didn’t enjoy.

They actually did (and still do) something utterly foreign to many men today: they sat down and talked to me. They invited me over for dinner or out for coffee and initiated conversations about things in which they knew I had interest. They asked about my life. They asked about my family. They told me about their life. They told me about their family. They shared their struggles with me in a way that showed me they didn’t view my same-sex attraction as worse or weirder than their own brokenness.

These guys embraced the patient work it was to push through my walls and get to know me. They gently, but stubbornly, pursued friendship with me . . . even when I didn’t want them to. If, for no good reason, I declined an invitation to hang out, my phone would start ringing almost immediately. They wouldn’t allow me to retreat from fellowship without a fight.

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Gospel Advocate Under New Ownership

Here’s the press release. I am not acquainted with the new owner, Charles Randall (Randy) Duke, and know only what the press release says. Still, I thought this would be of interest to the readers, given the influence the Advocate has among many congregations.

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From the Comments: Clarifying “Spirit” in Acts, Part 4

HolySpirit7Robert (Part 4),

1 Cor 12 is clear that we receive whatever gifts of the Spirit God chooses. We don’t get to pick. We don’t get to complain. We don’t get to brag. God chooses.

If I can’t heal or raise the dead, it’s because God has so chosen. If God wants to go 50,000 years without giving the power to heal, that would be his business.

In OT times, there were times when there were many prophets, and times when there were no prophets. God’s choice. There are no rules. There are no laws. God chooses. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Four Arguments for Affirming Same Sex Marriage, Part 2

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.

2. Marriage as Grace

“Male and female God created them” and “Be fruitful and multiply.” …

[Pro-gay marriage or pro-GM] views of same-sex marriage argue, however, that there is another marriage found in the Bible, the marriage between God and Israel. This marriage is not based upon biology but upon election and grace. In this marriage the Image of God is witnessed in covenantal fidelity.

The primacy of grace over biology is also highlighted by Paul when he discusses the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church, the non-biological children who are grafted into Israel “contrary to nature” via the grace and election of God. This grace is also displayed in the family of the church, a family not formed through biology but through the Spirit and our pledges of covenantal fidelity to God and each other.

Does the Bible evidence covenantal unions that are not literal heterosexual marriage? Are some analogized by the scriptural authors to heterosexual marriage? Absolutely. Do any of these covenantal unions (other than heterosexual marriage) involve actual sex? Of course, not. Apples and oranges. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: Four Arguments for Affirming Same Sex Marriage, Part 1

gay christianRichard Beck’s Experimental Theology continues to be a must-read blog. Even though I sometimes disagree. Especially because I sometimes disagree.

Richard recently posted an article summarizing four arguments for affirming same sex marriage. He did not endorse or advocate these arguments.

On the importance of vocabulary

Now, the debate regarding gay marriage is an intensely emotional one and also a highly politicized one. It this respect it’s like the abortion debate in the US. And like the abortion debate, the smart advocates battle not only over scripture but over control of the narrative and language. Hence, in abortion debates, the sides refer to themselves as “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” each capturing the most politically attractive aspect of their position in their nomenclature.

In the gay marriage debate, those who say the Bible approves gay marriage refer to themselves as “affirming,” and who could be against affirming people? But, of course, the debate isn’t over affirming gay Christians but affirming gay marriage — two very different things. But when we refer to one position by the shorthand of “affirming,” we paint with the brush of a particular narrative — whether we mean to or not. Continue reading

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From the Comments: Clarifying “Spirit” in Acts, Part 3

HolySpirit7Reader Robert asked for a more complete explanation of the Spirit’s work in Acts. Sometimes the Spirit comes at baptism, sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes entirely separate. Sometimes there are miraculous gifts, sometimes not. How does this all fit together?

Robert (Part 3),

I believe that we are baptized in the Spirit normally (better: normatively) when we’re baptized in water. It’s that water metaphor yet again! But there are three important exceptions in Acts. Continue reading

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The Gospel Advocate Creed: The March 2016 Issue

Loss of Biblical AuthorityAs I’ve often said, Gregory Alan Tidwell, editor of the Gospel Advocate, is my favorite conservative Church of Christ preacher. One reason for this is that the Gospel Advocate under his editorship had stopped routinely publishing pieces that damn those in the Churches of Christ that disagree with the editorial positions of the Gospel Advocate. The magazine had become less divisive and more uplifting. I had assumed that this was due to Greg’s editorship.

In fact, early in this blog’s history, I routinely responded to divisive, sectarian Gospel Advocate articles in posts captioned “The Gospel Advocate Creed.” But it’s been years since I felt the need to post such a post. I thought the GA was returning to its roots and reflecting the kinder, more irenic spirit of David Lipscomb, one of its founders. I seem to have been mistaken.

Last month, in the February GA issue, Greg wrote an editorial essentially declaring the progressive wing of the Churches of Christ damned. I discussed this article over at Wineskins.org. However, the same issue published articles on church unity the reflected a range of views, some much less narrow than Greg’s. So at least the GA was willing to give other points of view a hearing.

The March GA has a series of articles by Greg essentially damning all who disagree on any of the following issues: Continue reading

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From the Comments: Clarifying “Spirit” in Acts, Part 2

HolySpirit7Reader Robert asked for a more complete explanation of the Spirit’s work in Acts. Sometimes the Spirit comes at baptism, sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes entirely separate. Sometimes there are miraculous gifts, sometimes not. How does this all fit together?

Robert (continued),

The H. Leo Boles/J. W. McGarvey theory of “measures” of the Spirit is simply wrong — and unnecessarily complicates something that is very simple. We make it so complicated that only an “expert” trained in a preacher school can explain it — taking it out of the hands of those who just have Bibles and concordances. But it’s simple.

The “measure” theory comes from the Jewish idiom found in —

(Jn. 3:34 ESV) For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

The NET Bible translators explain,

Grk “for not by measure does he give the Spirit” (an idiom). Leviticus Rabbah 15:2 states: “The Holy Spirit rested on the prophets by measure.” Jesus is contrasted to this. The Spirit rests upon him without measure.

“Measure” refers to an amount, not a kind. Two cups and one cup measure differently. Water and flour differ, not by measure but by kind. The rabbis said that the prophets had differing amounts of the Spirit — not kinds of Spirit. This doubtlessly goes back to —

(2 Ki. 2:9 NET) When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “What can I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of the prophetic spirit that energizes you.”

In some sense, some prophets have a greater measure (amount) of the Spirit. A similar concept is found in —

(Eph. 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It’s more common in the NT to speak of differing degrees of being “filled” with the Spirit. Obviously, if I’m to be “filled with the Spirit” I can be not fully filled — right?

It’s the same Spirit — but the Spirit gives differing gifts. Some Christians are more influenced by the Spirit than others. Some are so influenced that their very words are God-breathed and their writings are scripture.

Some are so influenced they can see Jesus in heaven as they’re being stoned to death.

Some are so influenced that they address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That’s what the text says. We ignore it, but that’s it says. “Addressing” in Eph 5:19 is a participle modifying “be filled.” It says what happens if you’re truly filled with the Spirit.

And so we worry about a cappella (furthest thing from Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage) when he’s really talking about being filled (another water metaphor!) with the Spirit — so much so that we sing!! It’s not a command to sing. It’s a command to be filled with the Spirit — so that we’ll sing.

When we try singing while denying the Spirit in us, we violate this passage. It’s not the presence of guitars that concerns Paul. It’s the absence of the filling with the Spirit.

Continue reading

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