a bit monkish.
The sense of the words [in worship songs] should be unmistakable, and they should shine with truth, tell of righteousness, incite to humility, and inculcate justice. [Lyrics] should bring truth to the mind, devotion to the affections, the Cross to sins, and discipline to the senses. The melody should not be flippant or uncouth. It should be sweet but not frivolous; it should both enchant the ears and move the heart; it should lighten sad hearts and soften angry emotions; and it should never obscure but enhance the sense of the words...This is what should be heard in churches (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter 398).
The quote above is part of a letter sent from one medieval pastor to another regarding singing during worship.
Considering this medieval monk was writing primarily about monastic chants, there's a lot of takeaway in there for us today. Worship music is not about the composer, the lyricist, or the one(s) leading worship; for if a worship song reflects any of these three, it doesn't lead us to the worship of God. Worship is about drawing us to Almighty God, not drawing us to those leading worship or to those who write the songs.
A worship song is composed to draw us to the heart of Christ, yet sometimes its lyrics or melody ends up distracting us from the heart of Christ, for we pay more attention to the song than to the God of the song.
May we learn that at times it's best to look forward by looking backwards. This counsel from one medieval pastor to another reminds us what true worship songs should be.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
Note: Before you judge this article to harshly, I humbly request that before you read a single line, you commit to reading to the end (Don’t worry, it’s not that long).
I normally stay clear of publicly commenting on political issues. I just think it’s best for pastors to be as politically-neutral as possible so we don’t create a barrier between ourselves and congregants who hold opposing political views. It’s just one of the sacrifices we make for the sake of the call.
However, I want to address a recent event in political news this week because I believe we all need to take a deep breath. President Obama’s comments about Christians “committing terrible deeds in the name of Christ” during the Crusades and Inquisition have infuriated Christians around the country. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are lit up with furious folks condemning the President for making these comments.
As someone who has spent many years studying the Crusades (and to a much lesser extent, the Inquisition), I have to agree that the President’s statements are, sadly, correct. Armies of European holy warriors did invade foreign lands and commit horrible atrocities beginning in 1096 and continuing for the next 150 or so years. They did so in order recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims, for they believed these holy places needed to be in the safe control of Christians (That the region was much wealthier than the impoverished Europe must have played a motivating role, as well).
For their part, the Muslims defended their homeland from these foreign invaders and, following the customs of their times, committed horrible atrocities against the Christians. As the Musilms were divided by tribes and without a unifying leader, the Christian armies were able to march across the Middle East and recapture Jerusalem. Army toppled army. Nation invaded nation. Such was life in the exceedingly violent medieval world.
Today, Christians do and say many things in the name of Christ that are against his teachings. It could be said that a Christian ignoring someone in need is doing a ‘terrible deed.' It could be said that pastors who fail to preach that all people need a transformation of heart and life through the redeeming work of Christ is a ‘terrible deed.’ It could be argued that churches who focus on the expansion of property over the expansion of the message of Jesus Christ could be committing a ‘terrible deed.’
That said, I was disappointed to hear the President of the United States (who has every word scrutinized), utter these words at a prayer breakfast and without developed context behind them. I’m not sure what good those words did to address the real issue at hand: Stopping these ISIS/ISIL terrorists.
Thankfully, most of the world’s cultures have moved beyond the brutal practices of the Middle Ages. Most of us have grown as a human race to respect the dignity of the individual. That a group of terrorists continue to practice medieval forms of execution and torture is the real story; not what people did more than a thousand years ago. In fact, this is more than a Christian vs. Muslim issue. The ISIL/ISIS terrorists are killing fellow Muslims and anyone else who does not adhere to their narrow views.
My fellow Christians, society will always ridicule, belittle, and bully us with a myriad of accusations. Jesus even said as much in Matthew 5:10 and John 16:33. Our focus should not be on whether or not society respects us as Christians, but how faithful each one of us is to the cause of Christ.
(c) 2105 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.