Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Music in the Wee Free
In Scotland I was a member of a lovely Free Church of Scotland congregation in Dingwall. Friendly people, good preaching, mission focused, genuine care for the community, and very austere worship. One of the distinctive elements of the Free Church of Scotland is that they mandate the exclusive use of unaccompanied psalmody in worship. Singing the Psalms acapella can be very lovely, moving, serene, and stirring; but it can also be dull, painful, and leave you positively catatonic. There is a move afoot in the FCS to allow congregations to use musical instruments and to sing hymns and choruses in their public worship. There is an interesting article about the debate going on in the FCS available here. Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College is pushing for this change (note that every third man in Scotland is called either Donald MacLeod or Donald MacDonald) and he's right. So with a mix of seriousness and comedy, I have to make several criticisms of my former denomination:
1. It is a very strange feeling of acute irony to sing psalms about worshipping God with a tambourine, a harp, and a lyre (e.g., Psa 33.2-3; 57.8; 71.22; 81.2; 92.3; 108.2; 144.9; 150.3-5) in a denomination that would efficiently excommunicate you if you ever did attempt to worship God with a tambourine, harp, or lyre.
2. In my Colossians commentary, I offered an alternative translation of Col. 3.16 for the benefit of the die hard traditionalists in the FCS which runs: "singing psalms, unmusical psalms, and even more psalms". Afterall, why let a biblical text get in the way of a bad theology of worship?
3. Worshipping God like it's 1843 is great if you are actually living in the year 1843, but probably not so great for those of us living in 2010.
4. Singing the songs of Israel's experience keeps us deeply rooted in the historical worship experience of God's people and even the kind of worship that Jesus celebrated. However, it would also be nice to sing songs, hymns, and choruses as a New Testament believer once in a while.
5. The Rev. Jock McPlop of Falkirk FC in Ayershire has just announced that his congregation will be boycotting the Wedding Supper of the Lamb on the grounds that new age songs will be used in the ceremony (Rev 15.3).
6. Probably the biggest problem is that the FCS has been dominated by a Hebridean Church culture which has been confused with Christianity itself. The Hebridean way of "being church" is assumed to be canonical, authoritative, normative, and binding on all Christians in all times and in all places (even in Africa where the same worship principles are imposed by FCS churches planted there).
7. In the aforementioned article, the author laments that he'll be very disappointed if the psalm singing disappears since it'll be a cultural loss to Scotland and Britain. The problem is that no-one will be forced to do away with psalm singing and other denominations like the Free Presbyterians (very serious people) and the Associated Presbyterians (slightly serious people) will no doubt keep it too. I'm not concerned about psalm singing disappearing as much as I'm concerned with the FCS disappearing unless they make headway among young people in Scotland. Stephen Holmes, a theology lecturer at St. Andrews University, once noted that Scotland is filled with churches that are theologically orthodox but spiritually lifeless. I've spoken to FC ministers in university cities who have huge problems attracting Christians who come to Scotland for study because the worship is just so different or even archaic compared to what they are used to. So unless the FCS broadens it's acceptable practices of worship, I'm afraid that there won't be a FCS in 30 years time.