Music as Medicine - Liturgics
In class today, after listening to Bach’s 2-3 hour “Matthäus-Passion” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVo6YUlwfeA), the topic of “church music” and its various implications, categorizations, and applications became the center of discussion. This, of course, can become a heated topic in the context of both Western and Eastern Christianity. From old southern spirituals to the youth pastor’s jazzy rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” the realm of Western Christian music spans an enormous range of genres, theologies, and preferences--all serving different purposes. Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, stands strongly in musical tradition, maintaining the original “church music” with impressive consistency, for the most part.
After addressing the basic categories of past and present church music and providing a vague definition of music as “that which expresses the inexpressible” we began to consider: Which one is more “correct?” Is there a “correct” church music or utilization of it at all? What is the purpose of church music? What are the criteria to fulfill this purpose?
With these questions came even more diverse answers, spanning from “No, no musical or theological standard exists in church music” to “There should be no church music at all.” In the end, though, we all agreed that church music, as a whole, fulfills these three basic purposes:
-To include all the senses (the entire body) in worship, through the use of sound.
-To unite the church in the participation of worship
-To unite the church theologically
Within this, though, the subtleties of opinions rise: what theology do you use? What kind of music do you use? Does one person lead the music or is it congregational? And so on...
And then, someone played the devil’s advocate... he added a secondary purpose for church music: evangelism and sharing the gospel. In essence, the purpose of church music was simply to evangelize.
This, of course, is too simple a purpose--the music is meant just as much for the congregation as it is for those outside of it. However, his point was fascinating. Can one of the purposes of church music be evangelical?
If so, then it seems to support the idea that church music itself must conform, or sympathize with the modern culture’s fluctuations in musical preference in order to make Christianity more “appealing” and “inviting,” thus seemingly strengthening evangelism.
However, this is far from the case. It is true that one purpose of church music is evangelical, but that does not justify cultural conformity nor sympathy. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul states:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Our spiritual service of worship (and thus our music) is instructed not to be of this world’s aimless desires. What does this look like? It looks like music which is not only solemn, but consistent in its technicalities and theology, while allowing for the participation and interaction of the congregation. Liturgical music fits this bill perfectly. After all, what does “liturgy” mean? It means the “work of the people.”
And yet, with this, how do we reconcile liturgical music and the presented evangelical purpose of it? In a world full of hundreds of musical genres and preferences, wouldn’t traditional music be a “turn off?” Wouldn’t contemporary music be more inviting and thus successful?
No, in fact, traditional/liturgical music is the most effective form of evangelism. For, Christ refers to himself as the physician: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Mt. 9:12) And since the church is His bride, she is also His hospital. This is something the Early Church Fathers emphasized greatly: the Church is a hospital.
If this is the case and if her (the Church’s) music is meant to be evangelical, then it must be assumed that her music is medicinal. Thus, her music cannot conform to the world, which is saturated in passions and carnal desires. For a medicine is meant to heal, it is not meant to promote sickness. A hospital and its medicine restores physical normality and consistency to a person’s life. In the same way, the Church’s music ought to restore spiritual normality and consistency to a person’s life.
Liturgical music, specifically the Byzantine tradition of Church music, fulfills this characteristic of theological and spiritual consistency. Of course, the modern world in its pomp and glory may not find such staunchness attractive and such tradition appealing, but when it comes to Church music, “a spoonful of sugar” does not help the medicine go down. The Physician’s medicine requires no sweetener or supplement, it is, in its purest form, literal “music” to His patient’s ears.