There is a theme in a couple of blogs I have been reading lately that has given me something to chew on. Pastor Sherill is starting a sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed. This creed is said in some churches throughout the world as a corporate reminder of the story we believe, the God we believe in, and the life we are called to live. Duncan and his blog community have been discussing the use of music in a worship service (second link here). There is a strong desire there for their faith community to create artistic expressions of their faith unique to their community.
Should we continue reciting ancient creeds and singing traditional hymns, or should we be actively creating new artistic expressions of our Faith?
I grew up attending a traditional Methodist worship service. Near the beginning of the service, we would always recite the Apostle’s creed. As a child and youth I mostly recited the words with the rest of the congregation without giving much thought to the meaning of the entire creed. I would catch myself thinking, “Why is He judging the quick – kinda unfair to the slow”. It didn’t mean much to me then, but I recited it. It was etched into my brain. Now, whenever I hear it, the words just start pouring out. It is comforting when visiting another church to recite the creed with them. It’s something we share and connects my Faith community to theirs. And, now that I am maturing in my Faith, the creed is intriguing and the words have new meaning. The same goes for traditional hymns. Most of the time my mind wonders and I lose my place somewhere around the middle of the second stanza. Most of the words lose their meaning during the song as I just start humming the tune of the song. I really don’t get much out of most traditional hymns (sorry Charles Wesley), but there are exceptions. It is comforting to hear certain songs in specific worship services (i.e. “Up From the Grave He Arose” at Easter, “Joy to the World” at Christmas, and the “Doxology” every Sunday after the offering was collected). I also read an article by a pastor that was worshiping at a Christian church in Korea, and he described how comforting it was to recognize the tune to Holy, Holy, Holy and sing it in English while the rest of the congregation was singing it in their native tongue. This is another example of a traditional (or universal) expression that links Faith communities.
Currently, I attend a contemporary Methodist worship service (same church where I used to attend the traditional). There are no creeds and no traditional hymns. We sing contemporary Christian songs and occasionally express ourselves in the service with original dramas, interpretive dances, and songs. Most of the time we sing the contemporary Christian songs that are on the Christian radio stations, and we watch movie clips that relate to the sermon. Some of the songs are solid and really connect with me on an emotional and intellectual level, and some are very thin with weak theology but maybe have a catchy hook. Trying to follow the lyrics to contemporary songs you aren’t familiar with is just as bad as losing your place in a six stanza traditional hymn. We have continually battled the “entertainment” vs “participation” elements of the service. The part of the discussion that I think is interesting is the attempt to create expressions of faith in your faith community, or better yet, on a personal level. For example, how many of you have ever tried to summarize the gospel in your own words (i.e. develop your own creed). It is difficult. I tried it and quickly realized that I am not as familiar with my faith as I think that I am. Before you create, you have to have a firm understanding of the subject. This requires intentional study. New expressions that truly resonate with your faith group require you to know the subject well enough and the group well enough so that you can relate one to the other. Again, very difficult, but I think the process of trying this will lead you to a deeper understanding of your group and the subject.
So, back to the original question (stated differently) – Should we continue to sing traditional hymns and recite ancient creeds that, on one hand, connect us to the church universal, but on the other hand, are so foreign that they don’t exactly relate to me today, or should we strive to create our own expressions of faith that, on one hand, require us to intentionally study and know the subject deeply, but, on the other hand, may alienate others that are not indigenous to our worship services?
The obvious answer is “yes” – we should practice organic and universal expressions of our faith. We should appreciate the songs and indigenous expressions of faith that other faith communities create, and we should appreciate the traditional expressions of our faith that have existed throughout the evolution of Christians understanding and application of the Faith to our lives.
I want to challenge you to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs or hymns you sing in worship and the words of the creeds you recite. Do they speak to you? Do you find lyrics distracting, and do you prefer instrumental songs? Do you find instruments distracting and prefer a cappella singing? Does music in general distract you? Are creeds just something you robotically recite, or do you truly believe what you are saying? Do creeds and traditional hymns have any relevancy in your lives today?
The even bigger challenge is to attempt to create new expressions. Try to write your own creed or song. Once you are done, I bet you will have a new connection and appreciation for the traditional creeds, songs and hymns.