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

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.

1 comment:

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thanks for posting this about your catechetical music. I will likely purchase it as it's such a great idea...and the sample track I just listened to was very nice.