Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We've Got Issues!

We just wanted to let you know that Cantor Magness is on Issues, Etc. this week. Todd Wilken will be interviewing Phillip on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at 3:30pm to continue their conversation about worship. Not a good time for you? No problem: just go to the site and download the podcasts.

Cantor Magness promises that he will not be referring to himself in the third person on the program.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sing the Faith Indeed!

Last year, CPH published a set of songs I composed for singing Luther's small catechism. The collection is titled, appropriately, Sing the Faith, and it is available as a songbook and also as a CD. The reason I like the title of this collection of songs so much is because it points to how the songs sing about the objective faith by which we are saved, known by theologians as the "fides quae", as opposed to the experiential songs that subjectively express personal experiences of saving faith, otherwise known as the "fides qua". For further edification on this difference, Pastor Klemet Preus recently wrote an excellent article over at the "Johnny Steadfast" website (Brothers of John the Steadfast) discussing the distinction between fides quae and fides qua.

These terms have many implications beyond worship. But like most everything doctrinal, the distinctives of 'fides quae' and 'fides qua' have enormous implications on the Divine Service. I believe these distinctions take us to the heart of the "worship wars" in our churches.

Over the years, as I have worked with amateur musicians who want to "do" contemporary worship and talked with parishioners who thirst for "real contemporary worship" (as opposed to a modern-sounding Divine Service with orthodox hymnody, led by piano, keyboards, guitars, & woodwinds), I have noted consistently that they are all about expressing the fides qua and think music is basically for that purpose alone. I've concluded that at its core, expressing one's "fides qua" is what the 'praise movement' is all about. This is why the texts of almost all the songs in the 'contemporary worship' repertoire lean in direction of expressing one's faith experience and/or the individual's personal devotion to God. By contrast, the great chorales and most of the appointed liturgical texts from Scripture sing the fides quae.

In plainer English, pop praise sings about saving faith, while traditional Lutheran music sings of the faith by which we are saved. This is why there is conflict even when traditioanl music is done creatively and well with the most modern instrumentations, rhythms, and harmonies. You see, the sturdy, objective character of our music just doesn't "move" those who just want to sing about "the faith within their heart". They want to sing about the faith they have (fides qua), not the faith by which we are saved (fides quae). And those musics have differing characteristsics no matter what genre in which they are composed.

Now certainly there is room for fides qua expressions in hymnody. I happen to think that a certain amount of it is essential. Great hymn writers like Gerhardt do a great job of incorporating the subjective experience alongside the objective truth extolled and confessed in our hymnody. Faith moves us to sing and it is salutary to extol one's heartfelt adoration of our Lord. But the music of fides qua alone can't sing faith into other people's hearts, because it doesn't "sing the story of God's love and proclaim His faithfulness." (Ps. 89:1) So its use for corporate worship is especially limited because it doesn't allow us to "address one another" and build each other up as Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 instruct us to do with our music.

I have found it helpful in the Lord's ministry to encourage people to use THE as much as possible instead of MY when they talk about expressing faith. Sure, it's not wrong to sing a simple song of praise. There's certainly room for Psalm 150 expressions in the church. But we have a whole psalter of faith to sing about, and the riches of God's grace far surpass our own personal experiences of it, however inspiring they may be at times.

Ironically, those who promote the fides qua repertoire of contemporary worship often claim that such music is necessary in the Divine Service for the sake of "outreach". Yet there is often very little that is overtly Christian in these subjective songs of praise. So how can it truly be evangelical? Listening to someone sing about their great love for God can certainly make an impression, but, at the end of the day, the impression is going to be about the singer. The truly evangelical music is the song that sings not of the singer's faith, but rather the music that sings THE faith. Only through fides quae proclamation can music magnify the Word and thereby sing faith into people's hearts.

So how much fides quae is in your congregation's song? Let us all - pastors and laymen; teachers, musicians, and poets; members of Voters' Assemblies, worship committees, and Ministry Councils - do what we can to encourage one another to sing THE faith.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Yesterday a middle-aged couple came up to me after the Divine Service to compliment me on the music at Bethany. One of our choir members, Elise B. Calhoon, had sung parts of the liturgy and provided some of the attendant music, and so I was expecting to discuss her beautiful singing. However, the wife instead focused on the hymnody. They reported that they were not Lutheran, and had come for the baptism held at the service. They had visited several other Lutheran churches with their relatives in the past but had never liked the music. But she thought the hymns we sang were great!

What did we sing? "O Holy Spirit, Enter In" (Entrance Hymn), "If Christ Himself Be For Me" (all 10 stanzas, Hymn of the Day); "Have No Fear, Little Flock" (Hymn before the Rite of Holy Baptism); "I Know My Faith Is Founded" (Offertory Hymn); "Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses" (just the last two stanzas as a closing hymn).

Let's see: 3 chorales, and 2 modern hymns that are probably unique to Lutheran hymnals. Folks, our hymnody isn't a problem. It's a blessisng! People can sing our hymnody - provided, like any hymnody, that it be ably led. And there are no better texts to be found!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What to Expect from Liturgy Solutions

Phillip Magness and I are working hard on the Liturgy Solutions web site, which has been restored after a disastrous loss of data from our former host company's server. We are open for business, but realize that several user friendly features are not yet available. They will be soon.

So the first thing you can expect, likely by the end of this month, is a new feature that enables you to view the first pages of our musical products. You will be able to go to any product page where it says: "product details." On those pages you will be able to click the musical image after which a PDF file of the first page of the piece will emerge on your computer. This will allow you to see the beginning of any piece you may be considering for purchase. We are working on the nuts and bolts of that feature this month and hope to have it operating before the end of July.

The other thing you can expect throughout the summer are more products in the catalog and more musical resources such as concertatos, instrumental accompaniments, anthems, motets, service music, psalm anthems and other similar works. I believe that Phillip will make available his setting of the liturgy as well. We hope that these additions will make Liturgy Solutions a place you will visit often to seek music that enhances the Lord's song in your parishes.

Please keep us in mind, visit us often, and let us know how we can better assist you as you guide the worship of your parishes through music.