Dear Church Family,

This coming Sunday in our preaching series in the book of Genesis we are coming to a portion of the Scriptures that we all too often just skim over: genealogies. To be more specific, in Genesis 4:17-5:32 we find the genealogies of two of Adam and Eve’s sons: Cain and Seth. These two lines are contrasted, and as we shall see on Sunday, they are contrasted for a reason. The Holy Spirit intended for the people of God in the Old Covenant to make application to their own lives, and He intends for us to live differently as we rightly understand these genealogies, as well.

Cultural Development

One of the things that we won’t have time to delve into this Sunday, is how in the lineage of Cain (Genesis 4:17-24), we learn that Cain’s descendants are city-dwellers. More than that, we also see that despite the fact that Cain’s line is not the line of promise (it’s the unbelieving line), because they are created in the image of God, Cain’s line is the line in which we see the development of agriculture, music, and industry. They dwell in tents and develop the domestication of livestock. They make strides in music, playing the lyre and the pipe. And, they become forgers of implements of bronze and iron.

There is much that could be said about the insights that we receive from understanding how these cultural practices developed. At this point, however, I would like to simply reflect upon this observation with regard to music: Jubal was the father of all those who play the lyre and the pipe (Genesis 4:21), yet music was appropriated by God’s people in the worship of the covenant God, Yahweh (Psalm 150).

Music: Participatory or Consumerist?

Music is a wonderful gift from God which all peoples – regardless of faith – may enjoy. And, music is a wonderful gift from God that has a special place in the worship of God’s people. Yet, in recent years, music has become (at least in most Western cultures) less participatory and more of a spectator endeavor. At one time, people actively participated in music, whereas we have become a culture that passively consumes music.

T. David Gordon writes about this in his book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. I was reminded of these things in a recent review by Gordon of a book called iPod, Youtube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainments by D. Brent Layhem. I haven’t read Layhem’s book, but you can read Gordon’s review of it here: http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/ipod-youtube-wii-play.php.

Here’s a helpful paragraph from Gordon’s review:

Throughout, Laytham laments how passively we now regard music: ‘A hundred years ago, a Methodist Christian like me would also have had music in her pocket. Not a miniature musical device, however, but a hymnal…music has gone from being our performed social communication to my passive solitary consumption’ (p. 42…The iPod epitomizes music’s journey from ‘we play’ to ‘I listen’ (p. 43).

 

In my own personal experience, I have found this to be true. And, the move from participation to consumption has had deleterious effects on us as human beings. As Gordon later writes in that same book review, “…we were better off when we were our own performers/entertainers than we are when we passively consume and observe others.”

Unfortunately, the move from ‘performed social communication’ to ‘passive solitary consumption’ is not only true in our own personal lives, but it has become true of the corporate worship of many churches. The concept of adding a ‘praise team’ to the corporate worship of the church is simply a manifestation of our move from participation to passivity with regard to music.

Churches only encourage passivity and discourage participation when a few people are up on a stage playing instruments and singing into microphones. If we learn anything in Scripture about the music of God’s people when gathered for corporate worship, we learn that it is just that: corporate. The ‘performers’ of the sung praises to God are to be all of God’s people. Again, T. David Gordon has a helpful essay that speaks to these issues: The Problem with Praise Teams.

Encouraging Participation

So, in an effort to discourage musical passivity and encourage musical participation, here are some suggestions:

(1) Read and contemplate the issues that T. David Gordon raises in the three works that I’ve referenced above (one book and two online essays). [By the way, Gordon is an ordained minister in the PCA and Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College in Pennsylvania where he teaches courses in Religion, Greek, Humanities, and Media Ecology.]

(2) Learn to read music and sing parts. I’m not sure of the best way to do this. Perhaps you can take a class or music lessons, or read a book. Maybe just ask someone who knows how to read music to show you the basics. Just learning the basic principles and how to follow a melody line in a hymn will be of great benefit.

(3) Sing and sing out in church. One of our unspoken principles of worship at Providence Presbyterian Church is that, as much as possible, our elements of worship (particularly the singing) should involve the entire congregation. Through the order of service, the sing-ability of the songs, the aesthetics, the accompaniment – all that we do – we want to maximize participation by all those who are gathered.

(4) Practice singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs by yourself and with your family. Sing your favorite songs, sing ones you don’t know so well, but sing. As an added help, the orders of worship for our Sunday morning services are uploaded to the audio page of our website a couple of days in advance (no later than Thursday of each week). These are made available as aids in worship preparation.

(5) Finally, come to the Sunday evening ‘hymn sing’ this Sunday (September 29th) at 6:00 pm at the church. We will have a very short lesson from the Scriptures (related to singing in worship), but most of the hour will be dedicated to singing hymns and praises – and most of those songs that we sing will be by request from those who attend. We don’t do these ‘hymn sings’ often; however, these are helpful opportunities to encourage participatory engagement in music and singing in the church.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

P.S. I promise that I did not set out writing this for the sole purpose of giving a plug for our upcoming Sunday evening hymn sing. I have been thinking about these things for quite a while. Honest. Still, hope to see you on Sunday night!