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Formed by the power of music

IT IS POSSIBLE that when it comes to shaping our theology the music in our worship is far more influential than the word: spoken, read or preached.

Protestant reformer John Calvin said music has a “sacred and almost incredible power to move hearts in one way or another” and Uniting Church Minister and hymn writer Rev David MacGregor would agree.

Mr MacGregor has spent half a lifetime studying how worship shapes the church and contends that music does this more powerfully than almost anything else.

“Music has in its very self a formative, nurturing, creative and evocative power ready to be unleashed in worship to the living God,” he said.

Mr MacGregor points to the use of music from the African-American spiritual tradition in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“It was music that helped unite these enslaved and marginalised people in their cause. It helped them to articulate what words alone could not do.

“A similar scenario is seen in the freedom songs arising out of the decades of apartheid oppression endured by the blacks and coloureds of 20th century South Africa.”

Mr MacGregor said the Christian church is more than competent when it comes to praising God but he is critical of what he terms “happy-faced” worship that leads the congregation down a one-way musical street of praise and more praise.

“It is untruthful; worship which fails to declare the whole truth of God; worship which fails to declare the whole truth of the human condition.”

Music can best give voice to other places which allow room for “lament, for intercession, for connecting with a broken world, for connecting with people whose relationships are disintegrating, for sending people out in Christian service.

“Where is the music through which we confess our personal and communal sin before God? Where is the music that propels us into discipleship?

“In our public praise we have so sought to embrace the first part of the Great Commandment, ‘love the Lord your God’, that we have forgotten about the second, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’.”

While not wishing to criticise the Pentecostal churches Mr MacGregor maintains that much of contemporary music emanating from the mega-churches focuses on “praise, praise, praise” to the extent that God’s worshipping people have become impoverished and their Christian formation faces a dangerous imbalance.

“Music is so influential that across the various demographics of the Uniting Church in Australia there are those congregations who, via their worship music, have a ‘Hillsong faith’ or a ‘Vineyard faith’, a ‘Planet Shakers faith’ or an ‘Iona faith’.

“The question must be asked: is the music informing belief or is belief informing the music sung?”
Mr MacGregor argues that music has such a pivotal role that when we fail to name the human condition and explore the God-connections in our worship music, we are being less than truthful to God.

“It is encouraging to note that the contemporary British songwriter Graham Kendrick can both exhort the singer to ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ and yet sing, ‘This is our God, the servant king; he calls us now to honour him. To give our lives as a daily offering of worship to the servant king’.

“I firmly believe if we were to take seriously and energetically the power of music to nurture and form Christian spirituality and discipleship we would be a more authentic and convincing Christian community – the loving and serving people God calls us to be.

“The Christian church, particularly those in spiritual and musical leadership, needs to catch afresh the formative power of music in developing worshipping, witnessing and serving disciples of Jesus.”

First created in early 2000 Rev David MacGregor’s website Together to Celebrate is a service to the wider church offering musical selections across the breadth of contemporary Christian music linked with the Revised Common Lectionary. www.togethertocelebrate.com.au