Martin Luther on Music and Song Writing

One of Luther’s great contributions to Christianity was that he pointed out that much of the common thinking about Christian living and attitudes comes from Plato and Aristotle, rather than from the Bible.

Plato, for example, was a dualist – who viewed the physical world as inherently bad, and the unseen spiritual world as inherently good. Therefore, Plato taught that physical pleasure should be avoided; it was better to live a life of suffering and eschew pleasure in order to be more spiritual. This thinking worked its way into Christianity, to the point where things intended by God to be blessings for our enjoyment were rejected and forbidden. One such area was music.

Augustine of Hippo had written about music in the 5th century, stating that he was “troubled in conscience whenever he caught himself delighting in music.” Luther, who greatly looked up to Augustine, responded by saying: “I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God.” He went on to say, “Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor,” and “next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart.”

“Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.”

“Next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart.”

Luther is the one who introduced, or at least re-introduced congregational singing to the church. It may be hard to imagine, but until Luther brought singing to the church, there had been no such thing for at least several hundred years, if not more. Furthermore, the fact that there is congregational singing in Catholic churches today is directly because of Luther, and most hymns sung in the Roman Catholic Church today were written by Protestants.

Luther also believed that music was a great tool for teaching spiritual truths. He wanted to put good doctrine into congregational songs to reinforce the teaching that was coming from the pulpit. Luther wrote many hymns himself, but he also reached out to others for help. In a letter to his friend Georg Spalatin in 1523, Luther wrote:

Our plan is to follow the example of the prophets and the ancient fathers of the church and to compose songs for the people in the vernacular, that is: spiritual songs so the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music. Therefore we are searching everywhere for poets. Since you are endowed with a wealth of knowledge and elegance in the German language, and since you have polished it through much use, I ask you to work with us in this project.

I would like you to avoid any new words or the language used at court. In order to be understood by the people, only the simplest and most common words should be used for singing; at the same time, however, they should be pure and apt; and further, the sense should be clear and as close as possible to the [Bible]. You need a free hand here; maintain the sense, but don’t cling to the words; [rather] translate them with other appropriate words.

Furthermore, unlike Zwingli in Zürich, who forbade the use of musical instruments, Luther encouraged the use of musical instruments in church.

Martin Luther not only introduced music back into the church, but he defined the parameters of what makes for good Christian church music.

Welcome Mike!

We are excited to be joined here in Longmont by our friend Mike Payne, who is coming on staff at White Fields to serve as our Worship Pastor.

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Picking up Mike and David at the airport last night. His parents recently moved to our area as well!

Mike and his wife Marika have been serving the Lord in Hungary for many years through music, media arts, teaching and evangelism. We look forward to how his skills and leadership will be used by God at White Fields!

Marika stayed back in Hungary to be with her ailing father. Please pray for both of them.  She will join us in Colorado when the time is right.

Mike will begin leading worship for us this Sunday, July 2! If you’re in the area, come meet him and worship with us!

Cat’s in the Cradle

I realize it’s a little late to be posting about Father’s Day, but here goes:

On Father’s Day I preached a sermon in our Parables of Jesus series about the Parable of the Sower called Lessons from the Dirt

After church we went out to lunch with my dad and then we drove to South Dakota for a few days away as a family in the Black Hills and the Badlands, that filled us with a strong desire to watch Dances with Wolves when we got back.

My family got me an ENO hammock for Father’s Day, which I look forward to getting a lot of use out of.

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I’ve always hated the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. It’s a haunting and depressing message about how quickly kids grow up and about the regret of a father who wasn’t around for his son.  So I was glad when I came across this video put out by TD Ameritrade for Father’s Day of that song with re-worked lyrics, telling a different story of fatherhood.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!   (1 John 3:1)

“All That is Gold Does Not Glitter”

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring

I remember as a kid, discovering my parents’ record collection, and listening to their albums on the turntable in our basement. My favorite album was Led Zepplin IV: the one which had all the symbols for the title.

In that album there were several references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, particularly in The Battle of Evermore and Misty Mountain Hop, and of course the opening lines of Stairway to Heaven: “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying the stairway to heaven.”

That is a reference to a poem from The Fellowship of the Ring, a riddle which is found in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo, which he left for him at Bree. Frodo only realizes later that the riddle is about a person: Strider, AKA Aragorn, the true king – who is the Christ figure in the story.

Yesterday was Tolkien’s 125th birthday. Born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the Oxford don never actually aimed to be a fantasy writer, but the fantasy literature he wrote led to a subsequent surge in fantasy writing. Tolkien did not consider The Lord of the Rings to be his greatest achievement. Tolkien’s main passion was linguistics, and he created multiple working languages over the course of his life.

As I have written about before (see: Addison’s Walk), Tolkien was very interested in the topic of what he called “fairy stories,” and why it is that they captivate people the way they do, especially in an age of science and reason. He believed that the reason is because the characteristic features of all the great stories reflect the deep human longings – and as such, they point to an underlying reality which is more real that reality as we experience it.

Upon further reflection Tolkien recognized that all these key elements are also present in the gospel story of Jesus. His conclusion was that the gospel is not just one more story which points to this underlying reality, but that the gospel isthe underlying reality to which all the stories point.

The movies that move you to tears. The stories which you can’t get enough of, even though they contain the same elements as all the other stories: heroic self-sacrifice, life out of death, love without parting, good overcoming evil, victory snatched from the jaws out death, etc… The reason we can’t get enough of these stories is because they point to THE STORY which is written on our hearts. Tolkien was the master story teller precisely because he understood this.

When Tolkien wrote “All that is gold does not glitter,” he was not only referring to Aragorn, but to a fundamental and biblical truth: that some of the most precious and truly valuable things in this world are not monetary or even material at all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,”

“…your faith which is more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:3-4, 7)

One Day

 

What all of us long for is nothing less than redemption.

This young Israeli couple have been posting videos of their music for a while. This video, according to their Facebook page, was recorded a cappella in their car because the original recording had audio problems, but there is something very lovely and beautiful about both the way they sing and what they are singing about.

What makes it so beautiful, is that they are singing about a day in the future when there will be no more wars and strife, when things will be the way we all innately feel that they should be and the way that all people deep down hope it will be.

What all of us long for is nothing less than redemption. 

And that’s because we were made for perfection, but we’re fallen… and yet we have a sort of ancestral memory of it; we know that even though death and strife and sickness are the realities of the world we live it, even though that may be how it is, we still believe that it’s not the way it should be, and so we long for and we sing and dream and write about a world where these things are no more and everything is finally as it is supposed to be:

No more death. No more violence. No more pain. No more parting from those we love. No more infirmity. Love that lasts forever. True peace. Overcoming the limitations we experience now with frustration.

That is why this song is so moving. That is why all of the movies which make you cry have the same common themes: heroic self-sacrifice, good overcoming evil, immortality and overcoming death itself.

The message of the Gospel is that God loves you so much that He made a way for you to be redeemed through Jesus, so that one day that hope could become reality, so that everything your heart longs for deep down could not only be a wish, but a reality.

One day…

 

If you’re interested in more from these guys, here’s a link to their YouTube channel, and here is another song of theirs, this one in Hebrew (English translation can be found in the comments section on YouTube) – it’s a song of praise and worship to God:

 

The Open Market and Songs About God

Following up on my recent post about Bono on Jesus:

I think sometimes it can be easy for Christians to forget what Romans 1:19-20 says: “For what can be known about God is plain to [all people], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

What that means is that all people are grappling with ideas and questions about God. Christians can be quick to discount what people “outside the fold” think or say about God – but the truth is that sometimes they have some pretty astute and profound things to say, even though they may have no commitment to Jesus. On the other hand, I am sometimes frustrated with the trite nature and shallow lyrics of some “Christian” music.

The are some “secular” songs out there which put some “Christian songs” to shame, because they reflect a deeper, more sincere, more REAL engagement with questions about the person and character of God.

Here are a few examples for you. If you have any others to suggest, leave me a comment below!

First: Regina Spektor

Second: Dashboard Confessional.  Listen especially to the middle of this one, where Chris Carrabba is asking God to help him with the sin he wants to be set free from and talks about his struggles with unbelief.

Why Does it Matter What Bono Thinks About Jesus? A Few Reasons

I recently ran across this video of Bono talking about his Christian faith in an interview:

A lot has been made of Bono and his faith. I have heard some Christians declare that Bono is their pastor; I know several Christians who don’t listen to any “secular” music, but love U2 more than their first-born children – these ones typically own a guitar, on which they can play simple worship songs AND a few songs by U2, which they would say are “kinda like worship songs, you know, if you really think about it.”  In fact, I have known of churches where the worship leader has lead the congregation in a chorus of a U2 song during worship.

All that goes to say: There are quite a few Christians out there. Why should it matter what Bono in particular thinks of Jesus?

As I listen to Bono speak about his faith, I feel that he is almost hesitant to admit that he believes Jesus is the Messiah. The way he talks about church kind of rubs me the wrong way too. Jesus didn’t come to establish a private religion that people practice alone or in their home with just their family – Jesus came to start a worldwide movement which has corporate expression. The church is not a somewhat-necessary evil, it is intrinsic to why Jesus came.

Having said that – here are a few reasons why what Bono has to say about Jesus matters.

Why does it matter what Bono thinks about Jesus?  A few reasons:

1. He is not American

I think a lot of American’s don’t understand how the world outside of America views us. I remember the first time I travelled abroad, right after high school, I had this unarticulated view of people in other countries, that they were basically ‘the ones who hadn’t made it to America yet’. American culture tends to not have a clear understanding of how people outside of America really think about America. Often it is assumed that people either hate America or love America. In reality, it is much more nuanced than that.

One of the main views on America that I have heard abroad, is that we are a very religious country – which, statistically is absolutely true. Thus, people outside of the United States are used to American celebrities and politicians talking about their faith, oftentimes their evangelical Christian faith. However, when a European – an Irishman in Bono’s case – expresses evangelical Christian beliefs, the non-American world stops to listen a little more. And this is a great thing actually, because it helps the world to see that evangelical Christianity is not just an American phenomena – it is the natural outworking of taking the Bible seriously.

2. He is a celebrity who does a lot of good things

Bono has credibility in the eyes of the world because he has been so active in working for humanitarian causes. One of the criticisms evangelicalism has gotten (whether deserved or not), is that we are a relatively apathetic bunch when it comes to major social issues facing people around the world, such as AIDS, lack of clean drinking water, etc. Once again, the case can be made that this is certainly not the case – but there is a sense in which this is the reputation that evangelicals have gotten: that they are only concerned with getting “goose-bumps from Jesus” and getting the heck heaven out of here, that they are not concerned with the plights and suffering that people are facing. Bono, because of his well-publicized humanitarian efforts is generally considered a credible person. <— this is something to take note of for those of us who want to be heard.

3. He understands the outsider’s perspective

This is perhaps the greatest reason. Bono knows how to speak in a way that relates to those outside of the fold of Christianity and the church. I believe there are a great number of people who have some kind of latent faith in Jesus, but are not connected to any community of faith, because they are afraid that structured religion will kill their faith. Bono has a way of talking about Jesus which retains much of the mystery and awe for him, which is often lost by evangelicals. Yes, he comes across reluctant and non-conformist, but guess what: that’s how A LOT of people out there feel. Bono is good at speaking in a way that is relatable to the “outsider” because he is able to see things from their perspective – a very important skill we could all afford to grow in, by the way! I believe Jesus was a person who was able to relate to “outsiders” well too – and that was part of his magnetism.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Bono and his faith below in the comments section!