Certainty in faith, part 2.

This is the second part of my story, Certainty in faith. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

“We talk about how to be a Christian, but we don’t talk about what it means when you are. We don’t talk about our God experiences, when that’s the very reason to be a Christian. No one comes to faith because they want to follow rules– they come to faith because they want to see God through Christ. They want the Spirit’s presence moving in their life. And that means it’s incredibly important for Christians to share about the Spirit’s moving in our lives. That is our call to testimony– not only who Jesus was and what he did, but what God is doing through Christ and the Spirit in our lives today.”

After undergrad, I was looking for someplace to move to, because there hasn’t been economic growth in New York State in a decade or three, and I really needed to go somewhere else to start out my life. I don’t know why I chose Richmond, Virginia. Sure, I had superficial justifications about it, the size of the city, the opportunities, the adventure, but really, it just felt right, so I went. I found a roommate on Craigslist, and packed up my car and moved south, without a job and without knowing anyone, just knowing that I should go, feeling that Richmond was where I was supposed to be I’ve learned since that that feeling is God’s nudge in my life. When I have that feeling, I know it comes from God, and I know to pay attention.

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Certainty in faith.

This ended up longer than I anticipated, so I’m sharing the first part of it today, and I’ll post the second part tomorrow.

I’m reading a book right now that discusses the abundance of writings available about the mechanics of faith and worship, the analysis of scripture, and the how-to of prayer and ministry. This is fantastic– there are so many resources available for us to discover more about the history of the church, to explore new authentic ways of worship, and to strengthen our faith with knowledge. But there is a significant absence of personal testimony in common Christian publications, and even in sermons and worship these days. We talk about how to be a Christian, but we don’t talk about what it means when you are. We don’t talk about our God experiences, when that’s the very reason to be a Christian. No one comes to faith because they want to follow rules– they come to faith because they want to see God through Christ. They want the Spirit’s presence moving in their life. And that means it’s incredibly important for Christians to share about the Spirit’s moving in our lives. That is our call to testimony– not only who Jesus was and what he did, but what God is doing through Christ and the Spirit in our lives today.

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Fairest Lord Jesus

“I do not think of Christ as God alone, or man alone, but both together. For I know He was hungry, and I know that with five loaves He fed five thousand. I know He was thirsty, and I know that He turned the water into wine. I know He was carried in a ship, and I know that He walked on the sea. I know that He died, and I know that He raised the dead. I know that He was set before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father on His throne. I know that He was worshiped by angels, and I know that He was stoned by the Jews. And truly some of these I ascribe to the human, and others to the divine nature. For by reason of this He is said to have been both God and man.”

-John Chrysostom, fourth-century preacher of Antioch

Fairest Lord Jesus, UMH #189, originated in the Roman Catholic Jesuit tradition in Germany, and the text first appeared in a Jesuit hymnbook Munster Gesangbuch in 1677. It emphasizes the beauty and wonder of Christ, and especially focuses on his dual nature of being both human and divine. We’ve looked at a few hymns that explain and teach theology; this is not one such hymn. This text begins by stating a difficult theological tenet: Christ is both Son of God and son of man. And from this point, rather than attempt to explain something unexplainable, the hymn just continues in praise, worship, and adoration of Christ. It’s refreshing, especially living in a time when it seems like absolutely everything has to be explainable, to go to church and sing a hymn that simply accepts that we don’t know everything, and in fact there are things about God that we will never be able to figure out or explain. Living with these difficult theological ideas and accepting that we may never be able to understand them is one of the most difficult parts of Christianity, but it’s when human understanding fails that faith picks up the baton.

While the text of this hymn is awesome, this is an example of a hymntune that eminently fits the text. The tune is called CRUSADERS’ HYMN, sometimes also known as ST. ELIZABETH, and has only ever been associated with this text. As far as can be discerned, the tune was originally an eighteenth-century folk song from the Glaz area of Silesia, but a legend persisted for some time that this text and tune dated back to the twelfth-century crusades, which is likely the reason for one of the tune names. Franz Liszt used the tune in his oratorio The Legend of St. Elizabeth (1862), after which the tune also became known as ST. ELIZABETH.

Let’s take a closer look at this melody. Its simplicity makes it easy to sing and easy to remember; more than that, though, it’s exceptionally fitting for the text. The text states this theological idea very simply, that Christ is both divine and human, and the tune reflects this simplicity. It isn’t overly ornate, it doesn’t use an excessive range or a lot of skips/jumps. Its basic melodic idea is stated in the first two measures, and the rest of the tune builds that simple melody into 2 balanced phrases.


This melody of the first two measures is:

Do – Do – Do – Re – Ti – Do

Measure 3-4 is the same melodic pattern, transposed up a third to begin on Mi:

Mi – Mi – Mi – Fa – Re – Mi

Measures 5-8 begins on the 5th scale degree, sol, and its overarching motion is sol, fa, mi, and then ending on re, the 2nd scale degree, which gives us a half-cadence at the midpoint of the melody.

In these four measures, mm. 5-8, there are remnants of the initial melodic pattern, though it’s not precisely transposed since this section is aiming us towards that half-cadence. Look specifically at the direction of the melody, and the slurs that tie over the skip in m. 5 and the step in m. 6. The melody is clearly the inspiration from which this section was derived.

The second phrase, beginning in m. 9-10, is the return of the initial melodic phrase. However, because we’re starting on the 5th scale degree and we’ve got to make our way back down to the first by the end, the melodic pattern has to be altered slightly. At the beginning, each 2-measure phrase began and ended on the same note; the slurred skip pattern (found in m. 2 on the word “Je-sus”) began with a step up, then a skip down, and a step back to the starting note. In this second phrase, that slurred skip pattern (found in m. 10 on the word “cher-ish”) doesn’t start with a step up– it stays on the same note, then has a skip down and a step up; by not starting with a step up, the melodic pattern ends on a note lower than where it started.

Mm. 9-10:

Sol – La – Sol – Sol – Mi – Fa

Mm. 11-12:

Fa – Sol – Fa – Fa – Re – Mi

The final 4 measures of the melody are one large movement of mi – re – do. The last two beats of m. 13, the jump up to sol – fa (on the word “glo-ry”) are essentially an extension of this 3 – 2 – 1 movement; the harmony serves to extend this cadential movement as well, with a V7 of IV resolving to a IV, then the standard I6/4 — V7 — I cadence in the final two measures.

Analyzing the tune of the hymn just makes it clearer that it can simply be taken at face value. There are no hidden intricacies in the melody. There’s nothing unexpected in the harmonic progression. It’s easy to sing and fits well in the voice without pretension or undue effort, and its simplicity and unaffectedness gives it beauty.

And this is just further proof of the tune’s appropriateness for this text; the text presents the duality of Christ in the same matter-of-fact way that the tune presents its melody. The pairing of this simple message and simple melody enhances the impact of both.

The initial quote comes from Then Sings My Soul, Robert J Morgan.

Singing the Psalms

The Psalms are some of the earliest songs of the church, and they were some of the only songs permitted in church for much of the existence of the church, but not many people today speak about the psalm-singing tradition of our heritage, and I think that’s a loss.

The modern tradition of hymns didn’t go mainstream in churches until the Great Awakening in 17th-century England. Some Christian traditions did sing hymns before this: the Lutherans began writing and singing hymns during the Reformation, and the Moravians sang hymns from before the Thirty Years’ War, but hymns were not mainstream for a long time, because non-scriptural texts were considered inappropriate by much of the Christian church– who were these people writing hymns, who thought their human words could stand in worship next to the divine scriptures? Sermons were acceptable in worship because in them the Holy Spirit was speaking to the church through the minister/pastor, but hymn texts weren’t considered inspired by the Holy Spirit, rather, they were rejected as tempting the people to worship the human instead of the divine. (There is, of course, a considerable amount of nuance with this issue, having to do with the church’s changing theology about human creativity over the centuries, the church’s evolving relationship with music and the arts, and its struggles to justify the theology of God the one and only Creator, with the presence of creative people created by God. If you’re interested in the subject, look up Jeremy Begbie; he’s written several great books about theology and music/the arts, and it’s a very good place to start.)

The Great Awakening in 18th century England opened the doors for the leaders of the Dissenting movement such as Isaac Watts, and leaders of the Anglican church (some of whom would eventually become part of the Dissenting movement) like the Wesleys, to begin writing hymns and proving through demonstration the case for divinely inspired texts that were not literally scriptures, but were instead based on scriptures and theological concepts.

Prior to this hymn movement, the majority of the church sang the Psalms, if they sang anything at all. Now, the Psalms were originally intended to be sung, and they were; but they were not originally in English, so when the Bible was translated for the English-speaking church, the Psalms didn’t have the rhythm or rhyme of the original Hebrew. Open your Bible to the book of Psalms and you’ll see what I mean. It doesn’t matter what translation you have- the priority of the Bible translators was the preservation of meaning over meter, so they worked to find the English words that best conveyed the meaning of the original Hebrew, and the meter was typically disregarded.

If the English-speaking church was to sing the Psalms, then, there would need to be a translation of the Psalms in a singable meter.

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Faith, while trees are still in blossom

Hymns and songs can have so many different uses in worship, from gathering a congregation together to sending them out into the world with the light of Christ, and everything inbetween. One of the most important uses of congregational song is to proclaim Scripture, and there are some wonderful hymns that do a very good job at this.

“Faith, while trees are still in blossom” is a great example of a hymn proclaiming and supporting Scripture. This hymn, with the original Swedish title “Tron sig sträcker efter frukten när i bloming rädet gär,” was written in 1960 by Anders Frostenson (1906 – 2006), a Lutheran Priest at the Lövö Assembly of the Swedish Lutheran Church. Frostenson was known as a theologian deeply dedicated to hymnody, and was highly involved in the development of various hymnals for the Swedish Lutheran Church. He had a passion for translating poetry and hymns into Swedish, and he was also a hymnist in his own right. Unusual among contemporary hymn writers, his own hymn texts were frequently based on biblical texts from the Old Testament (rather than the New) and this can be found especially in this hymn.

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A hymnwriter you should know: Fred Kaan

I’ve talked a bit about the historical hymnody of the church, which is really important to learn about– it keeps us tied to our roots in the Christian church– and, it’s usually really fun to learn about. However, there are a lot of contemporary hymnwriters who are totally AWESOME, but who don’t always get the kind of press that folks like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley get.

So today, here’s a contemporary hymnwriter you should know: Fred Kaan.

Kaan (1929 – 2009) was one of the major hymn writers in the 20th century, and was a significant force in the hymnwriting explosion of the 1960s. He and his contemporaries were truly trailblazers, because while the church had spread through the world by this point, the international Christian church wasn’t globally connected and unified until the 20th century, thanks in large part to the improvements in communication methods. As the church connected, so did its music, and these hymn writers stepped up.

While the Wesleys were global hymnwriters in the sense that their traditional, Anglican-heritage hymns were sent out into the world with missionaries, Kaan and his contemporaries were writing hymns for the global church, as a part of the global church. They addressed contemporary global issues, they wrote for many countries, many nationalities, many traditions, and they worked to unify those faith communities within the international Christian church.

That’s super cool, but how exactly does one become a global hymnwriter, you ask? (Well, maybe you didn’t, but lucky you, I’m going to tell you anyway 🙂 )

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