Analogue Church has resumed: Jesus says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28)
This pandemic is the first global event since the Second World War and the first global disaster since the ‘Spanish Influenza’ at the end of the First World War. Some things have changed and some things stay the same. Jesus says it rains on the righteous and the unrighteous and Job reminds us that God allows both good things and bad things to happen to his people. The pandemic is a theological symbol of judgement. Like the plagues and judgements in Scripture it symbolises how sin ends in death. It also reminds us that our sin has damaged creation, viruses mutate and hurt us. But the pandemic is also an opportunity to help the vulnerable members of our congregation, to check they have enough supplies to not let the immunocompromised members of our community and the congregation from becoming infected. The Old Testament laws provide principles for our current quarantine, we separate ourselves from each other to keep the infection from spreading, to keep the vulnerable safe until we have enough tests and treatments ready. However discipleship continues, pastoral care continues, hearing, understanding and responding to God's word continues. Through it all we accept that God has allowed the pandemic to take place and look for opportunities to love God and love our neighbour.
We're thankful the restrictions have changed and we're excited about the opportunity this gives us to return to in-person gathering. From this coming Sunday (31 October), we will be reopening with two services of 30 "unknown vaccination status" people at 9:30 am and 11:30 am. If both services fill up we may consider adding new services in the afternoon or evening. This gives us the benefits of meeting together in-person and also remaining open to anyone of "unknown vaccination status". It is important that we take an approach which does not exclude anyone from gathering with God's people to grow as a disciple of Jesus. During Jesus' ministry, many people were scandalised at his openness to all kinds of people. But Jesus' grace was marked by the fact that he did not turn anyone away. This pattern of grace continues to shape our own discipleship and our collective gathered worship. Likewise, we need to avoid placing barriers on people gathering for worship. Sadly sometimes an individual is temporarily excluded from public worship because they are disruptive or under church discipline but that's a rare and sober exception. Taking this approach does limit the size of our gathering. This is because our health experts are carefully considering the ways COVID-19 spreads and the impact this will have, especially on our vulnerable populations and the capacity of our health system. As a way of loving our neighbours, especially those who are most vulnerable, it is important that we follow health directives. Generally, the health directives to be vaccinated are highly encouraged. Be assured we will be carefully following all the health and safety precautions as stipulated in the COVID Safe rules, for example, QR check-ins, density quotients, regular hand washing, disinfecting and mask wearing. We're thankful for our health system, and note that most Victorians are now vaccinated, which gives us the opportunity to worship together again in person. We look forward to joining you in worship!
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.( Colossians 3:16) I became a Christian from a non-Christian family, but I had always loved to sing. I grew up singing in choirs and into my hairbrush. I sang while cleaning, walking, and waiting for the bus. It was my happy place. After becoming a Christian I went to church twice every Sunday at a traditional Presbyterian congregation, a highlight was singing. I didn’t mind which songs we sang, old or new, contemporary or traditional. I was in a young, adventurous congregation and I was part of a team who turned pop songs into Christian songs. Singing was an unquestioned part of my Christian life. When I took the time to think about why Christians sing, the first place to go was: Ephesians, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, ( Ephesians 5:19) In every church, one of the greatest sticking points is usually music. Some adore organ music and see it as the embodiment of all that is holy about church. Others raise their hands when they are moved by singing more contemporary songs. I have been in churches with a team of amazing musicians, some of international renown. I have been in churches where there is only an acoustic guitar played by the pastor. I have been urged to “not perform” while song leading and have strained my voice trying to project without a microphone. We need to reconcile a number of biblical commands to resolve how to worship God with music and singing without falling into the fear of “performing” and to correct hyper-holy perspectives about instruments, song choices and atmosphere. Here are three main points to get us started thinking about church and music. We are called to Sing together (but that's not the only way to worship) The psalms are thick with the word “sing”! David urged God’s people to sing, he sang frequently in praise and thankfulness. In the new testament, there are often commands to sing when in gathered worship. There is a great emphasis on the mindful aspect of singing. Singing songs that teach the congregation, songs that are useful for growing the mind as well as the spirit. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.(1 Corinthians 14:15) Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, (Ephesians 5:19) Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16) Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.(James 5:13) There are no prescriptive texts about instruments In the Old Testament, many instruments are mentioned for using to praise God. Although we cannot take these as prescriptive of our corporate worship, they give an idea of how corporate singing occurred in the Old Testament. Cymbals, harps and lyres are mentioned in Second Chronicles, lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals are mentioned in Second Samuel. So how do we reconcile church music tradition with the commands of scripture? Should we have congregation members trained in the lyre and harp? In the Balaclava congregation we use Worship Lyric Videos, Emu Music and various other Youtube videos to lead us in singing. It allows us to focus on other acts of service at church and select music that we believe is best for building up the congregation. In the St Kilda congregation we use a combination of organ and videos to lead the singing. We like the organ but sometimes there are other songs we would like to sing with the congregation that are not written for the organ. Songs should be “great to sing” Given that we are commanded to sing in the bible, and the commands centre around encouraging one another and not around a specific style of music, we aim to select songs with three different qualities. The melody is comfortable and pleasurable to sing In previous eras, many people sang at school or work, or even at the pub on Fridays. We were a culture of singers. Some of the melodies from these eras assume a wider range for singing or a higher or lower singing register than many people have. Therefore older songs may need to be transposed or arranged differently to make this easier. Singing can make you breathless and faint if a song is too slow, or hurt someone’s throat if they are too high. The worst is when people do not sing at all! The words are rich and encouraging We select songs from across all kinds of church genres, contemporary, traditional, pentecostal, indie or pop. However, they must first be enjoyable to sing ( see point a) and more importantly, have great quality and theologically powerful lyrics. Singing about repentance, grief, joy and truth is more potent when the words are well written, but they must also be reliable and true from the bible. The songs speak to our community Sometimes we will select songs from Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran or more broadly contemporary sources as we know that our congregation is made up of people from different places. Sometimes we introduce new songs that many of us are not familiar with as they fill a gap in our theological teaching. Some songs are arranged for organ, but others are piano, others have a full band. We prefer worship videos with text and good cueing so that the congregation can sing and be in harmony with one another. Worshipping together in a physical space and singing is one of the greatest joys to share with our community together. We can share our pain and sorrow, our delight and joy and be reminded of rich biblical truths. May God bless our singing together to glorify Him and build up the people in the congregation.
Put simply, worship is seeking God's presence. We seek God's presence in different ways in different places. When we read, think about and discuss the Bible, we are learning about who God is and how God saves us through Jesus. This information is useful for knowing about the God whose presence we are seeking. But seeking God's presence isn't just intellectual. It's existential as well. When we gather with God's people, listen to sermons together, sing songs, say creeds aloud, and share our search for God's presence with other believers we experience a glimpse of God's presence. This is partly social and partly an altered state of consciousness. It's good to be around other believers, and it's good to not just know about God's presence but to also emotionally feel his presence. Knowledge and emotions, like everything else in this world, has a spiritual dimension. If we trust Jesus, we have a spiritual connection to Jesus, we belong to him. This spiritual fact will enliven us and make learning about and experiencing the sensation of God's presence coherent. Worshipping God varies. The gathered experience will be different to seeking God during ordinary or unpleasant activities. Sometimes seeking God's presence will be formal and ritualised, sometimes it'll be intuitive and only understood later. The purpose of our lives should be to shape them around this search for God's presence. Which means when we sin, we make seeking God's presence more difficult. Worship as the gathered congregation is important because God has created humans as social beings reflecting the relational unity of the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Despite Adam's sin breaking the world, including relationships, God uses the organised gatherings of his people as a way of bringing us into his presence. Not the only way, but an important one, because of our social nature. This social activity isn't just sociologically useful for following Jesus, it's also spiritually useful for belonging to Jesus. God uses the organized church, as fragile, broken and eccentric as it often is, to help us draw closer into God's presence.