Monday, October 27, 2008

Anglican praise music

The last two Sundays have taken us away from our normal 1928 BCP/Hymnal 1940 parish. While the choices were geographically convenient, they serve as a reminder as to why I am fighting to preserve our hymnal and liturgy for future generations.

Yesterday was an ACN low church parish, complete with rock band. (Some rock band churches draw the lines at a drummer — this modern liturgy does not).

The worship music consisted of
(† The copyright assertion is probably an error — or intended for the music — since the words are just a paraphrase of the 1611 KJV version)

As pop-rock (or pop-folk), the music is harmless stuff. A little bland, and without the timeless qualities of, say a hymn that’s survived for 700 years or a four-part Bach harmony. But nothing too terribly offensive, and at times I even wonder if I could be up there, strummin’ or singin’ away.

However, at the end of the service, something struck me: it’s all “praise” music. (Which is I guess why they call it “praise music.”) Words like “praise” and “love” are common, but expressions of contrition, penitence or obedience are not.

Let’s take a few examples. Here’s an excerpt from the MW Smith Agnus Dei:
Alleluia, Alleluia
For our Lord God Almighty reigns
Alleluia
Holy, Holy
Are You Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Lamb
Here is what John Merbecke wrote in 1549, for the first English-language service music:
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.
Here are some words from the closing hymn at Our Lady of the Praise Music:
I can sing in the troubled times
Sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step
And fall down again
I can sing 'cause You pick me up
Sing 'cause You're there
I can sing 'cause You hear me, Lord
When I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath
Sing for I know
That I'll sing with the angels
And the saints around the throne
According one of the two liturgical indices in my favorite hymnal, the closing hymn for Trinity XXIII is #147, an 1897 composition by Rudyard Kipling.
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
What’s missing? Sin. Humility. Penitence. But, if you think about it, there’s no surprise here.

Lutherans (like LCMS founder CFW Walther) and also the Reformed talk about the Christian message as being Law and Gospel. In contrast, this praise music (like most praise music) is all about the Gospel — God’s love — without the obedience to his will and the confession of our failings implicit in any discussion of the Law. We are incomplete Christians without both: admitting God’s great power — and thus humbling ourselves before him — requires both Law and Gospel.

It’s been long known that a major failing of the hip, modernized nondenominational churches (notably including the megachurches) is that “the sin-free pep rallies don't encourage personal transformation and reflection, keystones of religion” (to use a quote from Fox news).

So my question is for my CCM-toting Anglican brethren: is it really safe to pick up our worship music (and thus our theology and instruction of the laity) from a branch of Christianity that repudiates (or carefully avoids) many of the tenets of our 39 Articles? Perhaps if Anglicans want to use CCM they need to write their own — or borrow some from the Catholics — making sure that it emphasizes not only praise but obedience.

1 comment:

Ed said...

I attended the National Worship Leader Conference these past two years, and learned that your concern is widely shared in the contemporary christian music industry. In fact the very first presentation I heard was from a contemporary composer who shared how his experience of Evensong at Westminster Abbey had changed his song writing focus.

This past year a theologian spoke about the need for more songs about the Trinity. There is no question that there is room for dramatic improvement.