Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘congregational singing’


Covid-19 has changed all our lives. For now it is changing the face of the church.

Live streaming used to be for big churches. With CDC recommendations and cities limiting gatherings, corporate worship has ceased in many places.

Many have opposed this on the basis of Hebrews 10:23-25. In the context of the letter, some were avoiding corporate worship due to persecution in their region. The stoppage of corporate worship due to a pandemic is different and should not be confused with disobedience. However, we still need to stir up on another to love and good works. Technology allows us to “meet” and worship, to hear the word of God preached by our own pastors who love us, rather than some celebrity pastor.

This week our congregation joins the time of the live stream worship service.

Photo by Joelle Smith

One question has arisen this week in the wake of “virtual” worship for the next unknown number of weeks. In our county we initially made the decision to track with the schools which were out of session for two weeks. Today I heard it would be another two. So we anticipate live streaming for the next month, minimum.

A number of the Facebook groups I am in have been grappling with this question. It is a pertinent one. People have taken some pretty hard stances (surprise!).

I want to briefly lay out how our Session has processed this question. This is not an indictment of those who disagree. It is simply the rationale we use for our decision for the time being. As time passes it is possible we may change our minds.

There is something about the corporeal. We are a body-soul union. As a result place matters to us. So do people.

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2

We anticipate some level of awkwardness as we worship via live stream. We won’t see each other, put hands on shoulders or shake hands. More, we won’t hear each other sing. There is something about a singing congregation. Ours sings well, and as the pastor I find it encouraging. This will be missed, and missed greatly by many, particularly those in smaller churches where you know most of the congregation.

16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10

There is much about communion that is corporal. We use bread and wine (scripturally and confessionally) with juice available as an accommodation for others. In 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 the instruction regarding communion assumes a corporate context. We see this in the misuse of the Table in drunkenness (11:21)). The one loaf represents the one body (10:17), our union with Him and one another. It is meant to be a participation in that union, from which we derive the term communion (brought over from koinonia).  One loaf and one cup representing not only one Savior but one body- a corporeal entity.

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 1 Corinthians 11

Virtual communion, with the one body spread out seems to be a repudiation of our union and participation together (11:33). Yes, we still hold to the “communion of saints” and “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic church”. This is meant to be an affirmation our our universal union with Christ, not an excuse not to participate in local communion or congregation. Communion happened when the local congregation gathered together.

Photo by Joelle Smith

I suggest that many of our churches could do a better job of living in light of this reality. It is more than partaking of the elements at the same time, but not less than that. Our communion is not supposed to be just with Christ, but also with one another as alluded to in 1 Corinthians 10-11. Virtual communion, in my opinion, moves us even farther from that spiritual reality.

33 So then, my brothers,[when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. 1 Corinthians 11

During the Babylonian exile, the Jews began to worship in synagogues. Their worship changed. No longer did they have access to the temple. They longed for temple worship even as they gathered to hear Torah. Their communion with God was different. They sensed loss. And longing.

I think we are entering a season of longing. Deprivation is not a bad thing, or should I say delayed gratification is not a bad thing. Exile creates longing, a longing that was eventually satisfied.

This week I read through 1 Peter. One of the oft repeated phrases is that we are “strangers and aliens” or “exiles”, depending on the translation used. We are “elect exiles” (1:1) living in a time of exile (1:17), as well as sojourners and exiles called to abstain for evil desires (2:11). They didn’t have a sense of belonging to their culture anymore.

In many ways we have lost that. We fit in too much. It is as though we’ve entered a time of exile to learn how to be the church, just as Israel had to learn to be  the assembly of the Lord (assembly is translated in the Septuagint with ekklesia, the word we translate church). We are likely in this ‘exile’ to regain our identity, similar to how God called Israel into the wilderness to speak tenderly to her (Hosea 3).

Perhaps we are entering a time of deprivation because not only does He love Christians but loves His church. Just as the God often withdraws from individual Christians so they experience temptation and even sin (WCF 5:5) so He withdraws His countenance so we will begin to realize just how much we really need Him. That doesn’t happen when all things continue as they were.

5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends. WCF, V

We do hold to a high view of communion. It is not merely a memorial, but a means of grace when received in faith. But it is also not magical. We should not separate our theology of communion from our practice of communion. If it is about our unity and fellowship with one another it should be practiced as a part of our unity and fellowship with each other- when we are together.

So, communion seems inappropriate to me when we are not together as a body to partake with each other. The absence of communion falls under the providence of God and may be a way to stir up our holy longings for a deeper understanding and experience of communion when we are able to celebrate together again. Let us not run from our discomforting experience, and a call to delay gratification but embrace it.

Read Full Post »


I got a free copy of Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith & Kristyn Getty from a local bookstore as part of Pastor’s Appreciation. I’m glad I was gifted the book. I ended up buying copies for our worship team.

I read this short book on study leave. It is a quick read. It was a good read.

They want the book to be read by worship teams, pastoral staffs and even congregations. They want people to understand why it is important that we sing, and that this should influence how we approach corporate worship, among other things.

It starts with the notion that we were created to sing. I would point to our being made in the imago dei, but they take a more natural law approach to this. God fashioned in us in such a way that we can sing. God sings over us, and made us to sing over Him. He sings over us and we sing to Him and to one another. There is something about us that wants to sing. It isn’t strange, like Prince Herbert in Holy Grail. We sing in the car, in the shower and around the house. Most of us like music. We are wired to do it.

We are commanded to sing. The Scriptures reveal that God’s will for us is to sing. The Bible is full of songs: laments, thanksgiving and more. We sing to express praise, fears, hopes and prayers.

We are compelled to sing. We sing about Christ’s work for us, in us and through us because of Christ’s work in us. The Spirit works in us prompting us to sing. He often overcomes our inner resistance and excuses.

I don’t sing well. I often joke about my lack of a singing voice. But I sing, often with exuberance. I sing, not because I’m great it, but that I have something great to sing about. They want to help us see beyond gifting to calling. We are called to sing even if we aren’t good singers. That is because it isn’t about us.

The Gettys encourage us to sing with heart and mind. All of who we are should be engaged in singing to God. They remind us that singing brings “Sunday’s truths into Monday” and the rest of the week. It is a way to bring our theology into our everyday life. As a result, it can help sustain us in the various seasons of life. We can sing to remind ourselves what Christ has done for us, and promises to do for us.

There are various contexts in which we can and should sing. We should sing in our families, but their main focus is congregational singing. In this regard they are pushing back against some common trends in worship. It is increasingly common to have a praise band perform. Worship is increasingly like a concert and the singing of the congregation seems to be optional. The Gettys, rightfully, want to encourage congregational singing. Singers in praise bands, or choirs, are to help the congregation sing, not to sing on the behalf of the congregation. This is part of why I wanted my worship team to read this.

As we look for a new worship director, I want to choose someone who has this priority too. How we choose and play music should facilitate congregational singing. As a pastor, I love to hear the congregation sing. I think we are a congregation that sings well. Our building is suited well for me to hear them, but not so much for them to hear one another. On Christmas Eve we joined together with another congregation, in their building. I couldn’t hear the congregation very well. It affected my singing. I wasn’t sure if they had turned off my mic. Apparently they could hear one another well, and they sang well. I just couldn’t tell.

The book concludes with some sections, in admittedly blog-like fashion, to different groups or classes of people: worship and song leaders, musicians, choirs and production, and songwriters. They provide some helpful advice for each of these groups. They apply the material and provide some helpful questions.

This was a helpful book. It was a book worth reading. I’m glad they wrote it, and that it was given to me.

Read Full Post »