Posted by: chuckbumgardner | November 23, 2009

Calvin Stapert, A New Song for an Old World, Part 2

After Stapert’s introductory chapter, he addresses “The Song of the Church in the New Testament.”  His summary of that topic:

The song the church sings, as described in the New Testament, is a joyful response to the works of God, stimulated by the Word and the Spirit.  It is sung by humans to God and to each other, with the saints and angels and all creation. (28)

Some points of note as Stapert works through musical references in the NT:

Stapert draws the connection between Christian music and the music of Judaism.  One way this is significant is that the Psalms teach us that the subject matter of our song should not be monolithic.  The main theme of Christian song is “the good news of a rescue” (16), but

The countersubject [“sorrow and a cry for mercy” (16)] needs to be sung lest the expression of joy in the main theme sound glib and its celebration of victory sound hollow.  Christians need to remember what they have been rescued from, and they need to acknowledge what they still need rescuing from.  There must be, if I may put it this way, a Kyrie theme in Christian song that brings out the true meaning of the main theme, Gloria. (17)

Christian song is unlike pagan ritual music in its purposes.  It is not meant to magically influence God to do what we want him to do; at most it is “petitionary,” but never “manipulative” (19). Nor it is “an opiate that numbs one to the ills of this life and thus provides a false comfort.  It is a response of joy to what is known through the Word and the Spirit.” (21)

Stapert speaks of the “dual direction” of Christian music in the NT: both to God as our primary audience as well as to other believers.  In addition Stapert suggests that Christian music also has a role to play in evangelism, reaching back into the OT for this point, but also seeing a hint of this role in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16:25): “Whatever the circumstances, God is always the primary audience; but another audience — the prisoners, the nations — is also listening.” (23)

Music in the NT was also meant to reflect the unity among believers.  Stapert points to Romans 15:5-6: “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  “Does ‘with one voice’ refer directly to singing?  Probably not — at least not exclusively.  But no one can doubt that it articulates a principle that the church took very seriously for her singing.  The importance of singing ‘with one voice’ was a constant refrain among the early Christian writers.” (25)

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