The Importance Of Being Authentic

For me the best part of the Doxology experience is, far and away, our many opportunities for worship.  Structured around the daily orders of Matins, Vespers, and Compline, the opportunity to come together in worship not only as colleagues, but as brothers, brings home not only the vertical aspect (God to us) of our new life in Christ, but the horizontal aspect as well.

Mr. Phillip Magness is a man whom I am very glad I have gotten to know through the program.  Phillip is the Kantor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL (a congregation of which I am now very envious).  🙂  Phillip’s musical leadership, or perhaps musical servitude is the better term, enriched every aspect of our time together in the Word and prayer.  I thank God for his talents.

It seems to me that Kantor Magness has found the “sweet spot” on the bat that is the role of music in worship.  I find that Bethany’s website says it best (quoted below).  (If you wish to read the whole page on music there, go here).

(i.e. How do we answer the “worship war” question of “Traditional” vs. “Contemporary”?)

Worship at Bethany is both contemporary and traditional – and yet neither. Rather than divide the congregation according to what sounds they prefer, Bethany seeks to unite God’s family in worship that rises above stylistic preferences. We remember that worship should never be confused with the music that accompanies it. With worship, not music, at the center, we find it easier to avoid conflict and embrace the concord that is ours in Christ Jesus.

What is worship?
Christian worship begins with the crucified Christ, who comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He brings to the people of God forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through His Word and in the Sacraments, which are His means of grace. We in turn extol these gifts with joyful thanksgiving and praise, proclaiming the story of God’s love through His Word. This celebration is done in concert with the Church throughout the world, and finds its expression in the liturgy. Authentic Lutheran worship is therefore traditional in that it is part of the timeless culture of the Church, and contemporary in that it communicates the Gospel in ways that are appropriate to a given
place and time.

Why is this important for everyone – not just the musicians?
Worship is the vocation of all baptized Christians. An excellent voice is not required, just a heart for worship. And the good news is that God “has put a new song” in our mouths, “a song of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:3a) Lutheran liturgy therefore invovles the whole assembly, and calls on all individuals to do their parts, that faith may be increased among all who worship, and that Christ may be most strongly confessed before the world. “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3b)

Providing worship that achieves these noble ends is the responsibility of any Christian congregation. Continuing in the tradition of the evangelical Lutheran communion, the Divine Service at Bethany seeks therefore to involve all who gather in the name of the Lord in the proclaiming, confessing,
singing, and praying of God’s Word.

Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord!

The term “authentic” is perfectly chosen here.  I have heard Phillip play English hymnody on the pipe organ as if you were at Westminster Abbey.  I have also heard him use piano with jazz chords on the traditional Kyrie of Matins/Vespers and take you to the intersection of Canal and Bourbon in New Orleans.  His new melody to the classic “May God Embrace Us With His Grace” is on perpetual spin on my cloud player right now.  From organ to piano to brass to bells to voice, what Bethany, Naperville is doing is what churches with competent musicians should be doing…transcending the old argument about traditional vs. contemporary by utilizing it all…in the same service.  It beats allowing a division in the congregation over something as superficial as style by having three differently styled services.

Still, one thing comes first:  THE MESSAGE.  Mr. Magness is not simply employing contemporary Christian songs like so many churches.  He’s transforming the hymns, songs, and psalms into settings and sounds which sing in a 21st century context.  In so doing, the Church doesn’t compromise on its message.  Surely, if good theologians were writing songs in contemporary styles, this would be a good thing.  But if that’s not happening, (and I would argue it’s not), then what Mr. Magness is doing is absolutely good, right, and salutary.  I believe Bach himself–a confessional Lutheran at that–would agree.

I truly have no desire to glorify one man.  I am grateful to God for the gifts he has given Phillip.  I also am keen to bring St. John’s into this new world of “authentic” worship.  Worship centered on the Gospel, but dressed in 21st c. clothes.  I think our musician, Vicar H.C., probably has the ability to try some of these things.  It will definitely be an experiment worth trying in our context here in Waukesha County.

By the way, the link above also takes you to a place where you can download a podcast of Bethany’s services.  Prepare to be transformed in the renewing of your mind through God’s gift of music.

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