- Impact of the Bible
- The cultural influence of the Bible and Christianity in England
- Bible in English culture, The
- English Bible Translations
- Influence of the Book of Common Prayer on the English language
- A history of the church in England
- Culture and sung Christian worship
- Famous stories from the Bible
- Literary titles from the Bible
- Common Sayings from the Bible
- Big ideas from the Bible
- Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming
- Ascent and descent
- Atonement and sacrifice
- Babel, language and comprehension
- Bride and marriage
- Cain and Abel
- City and countryside
- Community, church, the body of Christ
- Creation, creativity, image of God
- Cross, crucifixion
- Death and resurrection
- Desert and wilderness
- Donkey, ass
- Doubt and faith
- Dreams, visions and prophecy
- Earth, clay, dust
- Feasting and fasting
- Forgiveness, mercy and grace
- Fruit, pruning
- Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, 'Second Adam'
- Gateway, door
- Grass and wild flowers
- Incarnation (nativity)
- Inheritance and heirs
- Jewels and precious metals
- Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel, Israelites
- Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners
- Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass
- Lost, seeking, finding, rescue
- Messiah, Christ, Jesus
- Mission, evangelism, conversion
- Noah and the flood
- Numbers in the Bible
- Parents and children
- Path, way
- Penitence, repentance, penance
- Poverty and wealth
- Promised Land, Diaspora, Zionism
- Rabbi, Pharisee, teacher of the law
- Redemption, salvation
- Rock and stone
- Seed, sowing
- Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast
- Servant-hood, obedience and authority
- Sheep, shepherd and lamb
- Temple, tabernacle
- Ten Commandments, The
- Trinity, Holy Spirit
- Vine, vineyard
- Weeds, chaff, briar, thorn
- Wisdom and foolishness
- Women in the Bible
- Word of God
- Work and idleness
- Investigating the Bible
- Literary allusions to the Bible
- Pilgrimage in literature
- Biblical style in poetry
- Biblical imagery in metaphysical poetry
- Bible/Literature intertextuality
- The cultural influence of the Bible and Christianity in England
Culture and sung Christian worship
Introduction: music in Christian worship
If people attend a Sunday service at a Christian church, it is almost certain that they will hear music, and very likely that they will be invited, or expected, to share in making that music, probably when everyone sings together. Christians value their music, which often forms a significant part of their acts of worship. However, there is also a great variety of music in churches, with different musical styles, different types of instrumental accompaniment and different proportions of the service being sung.
What part does singing play in worship?
The function of songs
Allowing participation – shared songs are a practical way for a hundred or more people to contribute in a service.
Fostering unity – a Christian group may draw on a shared repertoire of songs; this will enhance their sense of community and identity.
Releasing emotion – some Christian songs have an emotional rather than an intellectual focus, helping worshippers to engage with God at a different level. These songs may express joy, penitence, gratitude, longing or commitment. Music can reach deep into the heart; there is a strong link between Christian song and Christian revival (the times when the church grows rapidly with large numbers of people converting to the Christian faith in a short period). Revivals are often characterised by intense, heartfelt singing, and may lead to the writing of many new songs.
Carrying liturgy – in some Christian traditions almost the whole act of worship will follow a standard pattern, often printed in a service book. Some congregations will say these words but others will sing them. Often, when this pattern of service is followed, there will be places at which other songs or hymns can be inserted into the regular pattern, giving a mixture of regularity and variety.
The power of music
The quantity of music used in a service will vary from denomination to denomination, but often also within denominations. Some of this will depend on a congregation's particular theological emphasis; another significant factor is the local resources available. The presence of a strong choir or a number of competent musicians in a congregation increases the scope for using a broader range of song.
The effectiveness of Christian song is beyond question. Many people can remember hymns and songs they learned as children; Christians often find that these songs nourish their faith and help their private devotion as well as their public involvement in church life. It has been said that ‘no-one ever sings the sermon in the shower' – but songs, once learned, take root.
Who are the songs for?
An interesting exercise in assessing the breadth of Christian song is to take a hymn or song book and look at who is addressed in different songs; this may include:
Other believers – using words which offer comfort or encouragement
The singers themselves – songs of self-examination, songs encouraging worship, praise and prayer, etc
How have songs developed through church history?
Medieval and reformation worship
18th to 20th century hymnody
More recent developments and influences
Roughly since the 1960s there have been many new developments in sung worship. These have included:
Songs of a less formal nature, often taking their form from popular contemporary music
The ‘hymn explosion': a large amount of new writing in the form of classic hymnody, but exploring more recent ideas, addressing current concerns, and moving away from things which now look unacceptable (for example, military imagery or male-dominated language)
Contemporary ‘praise and worship' material, written for small-group musical accompaniment (guitars, flutes, piano, drums etc.) rather than the more traditional organ. Just as choral anthems can sometimes become the reserve of the trained chorister, this material can on occasion lean towards performance by a small group rather than participation by a whole congregation.
Almost all of the above are still widely used. Some congregations employ a mixture of musical styles, whether in the same service or varying from week to week: traditional hymns one Sunday, newer praise songs the next.
Some Christian songs belong to a particular time of the year:
most obviously, Christmas carols …
Most hymnals also contain material most suitable for:
specific occasions such as harvest festivals or Remembrance Sunday, and
saint's days when particular individuals are commemorated.
The shape of the song
e.g. ‘There is a green hill far away (8 syllables with 4 stresses)
Outside a city wall (6 syllables, 3 stresses)
Where Jesus Christ was crucified (8 syllables, 4 stresses)
Who died to save us all.' (6 syllables, 3 stresses)
This shape will typically be repeated several times for the different verses / stanzas of a hymn. Examples include:
8 6 8 6 (known as ‘common metre') of which the verse above is a sample
8 7 8 7 D (where D indicates ‘double' – this is an 8-line verse)
10 10 10 10.
One shape, many tunes
Traditional hymns are mostly based on a limited number of metres for which there are many different tunes. This allows:
words to be sung to a variety of different tunes
tunes to serve various sets of words
words and tunes to be written separately and put together later.
Different groups frequently disagree about the ‘right' tune for a particular set of words, but overall the use of regular metres has proved to be a strength, giving variety and flexibility in the use of hymns.
More recent songs are often less regular in metre and have one specific pairing of words and music.
Christian music and contemporary culture
There has often been interaction both ways between the words and music of Christian songs and the culture in which they are used.
Culture absorbed by worship
Poems have sometimes been set to music for use as hymns; examples include work by Anne Bronte (1820-1849) and George Herbert (1593-1633).
The structural model of a typical pop song, with verse, chorus and bridge, has been followed by many contemporary Christian songs.
Classical music by composers such as Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) and Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) have been adapted for use as hymn tunes.
The music editor of the English Hymnal (1906), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), collected numerous folk melodies and arranged them as hymn tunes.
William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army, approved the use of secular melodies for Christian songs with the words, ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?'
Worship absorbed by culture
Since 1927 the first verse of the hymn Abide with me has been sung at the start of the English FA Cup final, whilst at rugby matches the spiritual Swing low sweet chariot, and hymn Guide me O thou great redeemer are often heard .
Several Christian songs (including Amazing grace and Morning has broken) have been pop hits
The influence of the spirituals sung by Afro-Caribbean slaves in the USA has fed into various musical genres including not only gospel music but also the blues, R&B and soul.
This kind of interaction is both understandable and inevitable: Christian songs, like any others, are written and used in a cultural context.
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