Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is Your Music Occasional or Directional?

Previously, in my ongoing look at the application of Arnobius' arguments as applied to the modern-day Church, we looked at worship innovations and motives.  (See here for the last post.)  He next turns his attention to the music being offered during worship and asks:
Are the gods moved … by the jingling of brass also, and the shaking of cymbals, by timbrels also, and also by bagpipes? *  What effect has the clattering of castanets, that when the deities have heard them, they think that honor has been shown to them, and lay aside their fiery spirit of resentment in forgetfulness?  Or, as little boys are frightened into giving over their silly wailing by hearing the sound of rattles, are the almighty deities also soothed in the same way by the whistling of pipes?  And do they become mild, is their indignation softened, at the musical sound of cymbals?

What is the meaning of those calls † which you sing in the morning, joining your voices to the music of the pipe?  Do the gods of heaven fall asleep, so that they should return to their posts?  What is the meaning of those slumbers † to which you commend them with auspicious salutations that they may be in good health?  Are they awakened from sleep; and that they may be able to be overcome by it, must soothing lullabies be heard?
The Case against the Pagans, VII.32

He raises an excellent point of inquiry in this sarcastic diatribe against the pagans.  Why do they sing and play instruments?  What purpose do they serve?

Biblical accounts demonstrate that music has been a part of worship for centuries.  The song of victory at the Red Sea (Exod 15:1-18), though not in the context of formal worship, is an early example of attestation and exaltation for the Lord's person and work.  This same two-fold pattern is eminently brought forth in the Psalms.  Whether a lament, reflection, instruction, or jubilation, the psalms maintain their focus on who God is and what he has done or will do.

Most, if not all, 21st-century assemblies have one person or a small group that prepares the musical aspect of worship with a view to exalt Christ while undergirding and accentuating the instruction.  This is all well and good.  However, a problem arises when the music shifts focus from the triune god (or specific person of the godhead) to the person giving the song or the occasion itself.

The pagans of Arnobius' day used feast days to excuse and promote their music. Some mentioned are:
The purification of the mother of the gods is today.
The feast of Jupiter is tomorrow.
The vintage festival of Aesculapius is being celebrated.
The lectisternium of Ceres will be on the next Ides.
It is the birthday of Tellus.  (Pagans, VII.32)
Notice that these place the occasion above the deity to be honored.  Their emphasis was to honor the day so those in attendance could enjoy themselves.  We run the same direction today.  In an effort to promote the group, assemblies use any gathering as a way to stimulate the audience, by carefully selected music, for the purpose of a good experience, rather than allowing the truth of God's word and the glorious gospel to lift the weary heart.  That is where the true power lies.

Songs allow the worshiper to express himself in gratitude for what Christ accomplished in his death, burial, and resurrection.  He is the rightful focus.  Do not sing a song because it is Sunday; sing because it speaks of him.  When it does not, what is the point?

* Lit. symphoniis.  The singular symphoniae is used in Daniel 3:5, 10 of the Vulgate.

† At daybreak on opening, and at night on closing the temple, the priests of Isis sang hymns in praise of the goddess.