Harmony and Unison in the Church

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Thanks to my interfaith romance, most weeks I attend both Mormon and Catholic services.  Lately, I’ve been musing on each faith’s church music.

Mormon Sacrament Meetings are simple: someone plays the piano or organ, while the congregation sings three or four hymns from a 30-year old hymnbook.  All parts — Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass — tend to be well-represented.  Occasionally there’s a special musical number by the choir or an amateur musician.  On the margins, music leaders and priesthood leaders bicker about brass instruments, non-Hymn performances, and overly “fancy” arrangements.

Catholic Masses are similar.  The congregation sings four or five hymns together throughout the service; the accompaniment is usually piano or organ.  A large segment of the service is dedicated to call-and-response chants and singing – reciting the Lord’s Prayer, begging Christ for mercy.   The music is often performed by volunteers and amateur choirs, but its common for bigger and wealthier parishes to have professional musical staff.    [Read more…]

Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]

Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

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Onward, Christian Soldiers

I decided a few years ago that I could no longer sing this hymn in good conscience, even though I always liked the music. Then, earlier this year, D Fletcher suggested that I rewrite it. Slowly, and with his able editorial assistance, I’ve done so. I decided that the hymn gets its theology of the cross all wrong, choosing the cross of Constantine and the Crusaders over Paul’s “scandalous” one. Thus, my rewrite owes quite a bit to 1 Corinthians, where Paul’s theology of the cross receives its best articulation.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
March in Jesus’ peace,
Bearing acts of mercy
‘Til oppression cease.
Christ our gentle Master
Leads us in the way;
With His grace upon us,
We’ll be kind today.

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Eliza R. Snow and the Gospel of Work

Eliza R. Snow reveals much about herself when she describes her early search for religion:

[W]hen I asked, like one of old, “What must I do to be saved?” and was told that I must have a change of heart, and, to obtain it, I must feel myself to be the worst of sinners, and acknowledge the justice of God in consigning me to everlasting torment, the common-sense with which God had endowed me, revolted, for I knew I had lived a virtuous and conscientious life, and no consideration could extort from me a confession so absurd. [1]

By claiming freedom from hell on the basis of her own merit, Snow transgressed against a standard trope of Christian autobiography dating back to Augustine’s Confessions and evidenced in the title of John Bunyan’s 17th-century classic Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners: instead of a life radically transformed by God from the grossest depravity to a state of grace, she understood her life as basically good and freely oriented toward God. From the perspective of Augustinian or Calvinist orthodoxy (not necessarily shared, to be sure, by other participants in the Second Great Awakening), Snow’s position might appear in the suspect guise of works-righteousness. Rather than claim to merit heaven by her works, I believe that she worked diligently to show her love for God. This energetic life of serving God by serving other people is why we honor her today, on the anniversary of  her death.

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Songs I Wish Were in the Hymn Book

Growing up I always thought the image on the hymn book was Angkor Wat.

On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach.  We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts.  She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly.  Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”  She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her.  But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me.  She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn. [Read more…]