A FEW years ago one of our colleges sent out a questionnaire to its ministerial graduates who had been in the work for a few years. It asked them to state which courses had been most valuable to them in their practical experience, and which courses, not taken by them in college, they would like to add to their equipment in the future if opportunity were presented. The answers were interesting and helpful. One was rather startling. This young minister remarked dourly that there was nothing additional he would like to take—he already knew more than he was able to use.
This pragmatic view of education apparently came from a man with no intellectual curiosity. The eagerness to meet other minds, to strike sparks from the clash of great ideas, to view scenes through the eyes of great artists, or to hear music that had sung itself through other men's thoughts—these things had no interest or invitation for him. He is and likely always will be a plodder, doggedly pulling a steady load, with eyes on the familiar road and with no glance to spare for the beauty and wonder of the world around him, or a wish to raise his eyes to the challenge of the skies and the glory of the stars.
Even as communion with God is established and prayers are sometimes answered by the coming to mind of some mentally stored Scripture passage, so our everyday lives are enriched as lines from the great poets are brought to mind by the scenes and incidents of our daily lives. As a traveler abroad finds himself thankful for every bit of literature that helps interpret for him the places and people he encounters there, so in everyday living we can see a new significance and beauty in everyday things when they are interpreted for us by men and women who see clearly and feel deeply. An understanding of literature and what makes it great will add enormously to one's appreciation and enjoyment of the Bible.
Aside from the message that it brings, its beauty and force of expression, the forms in which it is embodied, its imagery and imagination, and the strength and grace of its poetry—all these give the keenest delight to the Bible student who also knows literature.
It is not difficult for a minister to understand the value and importance of wide reading. After all, sermon writing is a responsibility that is ever with him and which the conscientious minister takes seriously. Less understood, often, is the importance of culture in the fields of music and art. But music is a part of each service of divine worship. Choirs, choir leaders, organists, pianists, and soloists are all entities with which the minister must deal in his church. Not all college courses require classes in music appreciation, or even church music for theological students. And it is obvious that a single course, in any case, could not teach a minister all he needs to know about this important phase of worship.
Principles of Music in Worship
Music and art are two fields in which practically everyone has definite and strong opinions—and often the strength of the opinion seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of actual knowledge of the subject. Fortunate is the minister who has the services of well-qualified and consecrated musicians for his meetings. But even if he has little experienced musical talent available, and limited personal knowledge of the subject, there are a few basic principles in the use of music that can guide the minister if he is aware of his limitations along these lines.
For an assembly service at the College of Medical Evangelists some time ago we were privileged to have Dr. Joseph Clokey as speaker. He is a famous church musician and composer, and was professor at Claremont Graduate School. He laid down for our group some basic principles of worship services and the use of music in churches.
They sound simple, yet they are not easy to apply. First, a worship service is directed from man to God and from God to man— never from man to man. This means that the congregation in hymns and prayers addresses itself to God. The choir and soloists sing to God, not to the congregation. The minister delivers the word of God to the congregation, not his own words. Thus every part of a worship service should contribute directly to the progress of th° service, and nothing extraneous should be introduced for its own sake. The music selected should all be directed toward God and His worship, not toward expressing the emotions of the singer. The serious church musician looks askance at hymns that center attention on the singer and his emotions, particularly if they are lugubrious or complaining. We should direct to God only adoration, tvorship, and praise, not complaints.
Nor should music be used that attracts attention to itself or its performer, by show-iness in the music or flashy virtuosity in its performance. There is a great difference between the monumental works of Bach, which were written and inscribed by his own hand as only for the glory of God, and those of some others, such as Franz Liszt, who delighted in a display of technical skill and whose emotions were sentimental rather than religious.
The attitude of the church organist, the choir, and the soloists has much to do with the effectiveness of the music from a worship standpoint. Their intention in performance must be to contribute their best efforts to the service and worship of God rather than to display their skill and virtuosity before the congregation. The Baptist denomination has undertaken a serious project of raising the standard of music in its churches. It has groups of trained church musicians who go from church to church and instruct the congregations in the fundamentals of church music and introduce to them good materials. Where these groups have been, with their explanations and demonstrations, the standards of worship have been greatly elevated.
Our own church members are committed to a program of health reform, to good taste in dress, to continual Bible study, to careful Sabbathkeeping, and to Christian recreation and amusements. They would, no doubt, also be willing to forsake the cheap and trivial in music if it were presented to them in the proper light, and if they were given better materials to use. This is an excellent project for the minister with a sincere desire to raise the cultural level of his church.
The minister has less contact with the field of art in his work than with other areas of culture, and often less training and understanding of the underlying principles of good art. In the covers of church bulletins, in decoration of the church, in pictures used in the church building, good taste will be instantly apparent to the cultured visitor. In the Victorian era there was such a strong swing to the sentimental in art that its influence still lingers, particularly with the older members of the church. It takes thought and study to be able to draw a true line between the mawkishly sentimental and true sentiment. To be sentimental is to be overly emotional and insincere in feeling. Real sentiment is sincere, strong, true, and in good taste. An example of sentimental art is the popular Christ in Gethsemane. A moment's serious thought would remind one that Christ did not pray in the Garden with beautifully draped garments and with a serene face raised to heaven. The awfulness of that scene, which He shared with not even His closest disciple-friends, was hidden by the darkness of night, and is not a fit subject for light and sentimental handling. Many people feel deeply about this, and if we continue oblivious to the dictates of good art and good taste, we may alienate some who might otherwise be attracted to our message.
Elbert Hubbard spent much time in art galleries, savoring to the full the masterpieces there. A friend questioned him one day, "Why do you spend so much time on these things which you can never afford to own?" Hubbard answered, "I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot own than own things I would not be able to appreciate." Even more today than in Hubbard's day are fine things available to those who cannot afford to own them.
There are public libraries and paperback editions of good books for those who wish to read widely. There is FM radio with music masterpieces, and records of the good music you love the most. There are public art galleries and inexpensive reproductions of the masterpieces, so that good pictures are within the reach of all who love them. Goethe wrote:
Men are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest; the spirit and the senses so easily grow dead to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect, that every one should study, by all methods, to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things. . . . For this reason, one ought every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.
Religion and Culture
You will occasionally meet people who feel that there is a conflict between religion and culture. We find in our membership some who contend that God is concerned only with right and wrong, with truth and error, with good and evil. They do not sense God's concern with the purely beautiful or His involvement with the aesthetic. They never stop to think that the use of color, form, balance, proportion, rhythm, variety, and restraint in God's creation indicate His lavish gift of beautv to us. He further gave us an infinite variety of tastes and scents to enhance our physical enjoyment, and an endless wealth of sounds, which may be combined in patterns to make music. He could have given us His Word in the barest prose, explicit and unornamented. But He clothed His Word to us in poetry, narrative, drama, epic, exposition, allegory, parable, and song. Surely He must be disappointed when we fail to appreciate the literary forms, the similes, metaphors, refrains, and other devices that add polish and beauty. Some sixty years ago a lecturer in London spoke on the topic "How Can Browning Be a Christian?" He felt that a man who was at home in the fields of music, art, science, literature, and social life could not be a Christian in the Puritan and ascetic sense of the term. Yet Robert Browning, a layman, many sided and almost myriad-minded, was always ready to give a reason for the Christian faith to which he held. His robust confidence in the goodness of God's plans preached a more powerful sermon than many preachers can manage.
Culture at Work for God
Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New are examples of culture at work for God. Moses was versed in all the knowledge and lore of the Egyptians, yet it in no way diminished his devotion or made him less patient and understanding with the recalcitrant horde he dealt with. From his pen came the first five books of the Bible, and probably Job also, one of the great epics of all time. Paul, in turn, wrote a considerable part of the New Testament, and his background and training fitted him to stand before scholars and kings, and to speak to them as a cultural equal.
Phillips Brooks, the talented young theological student at Harvard, was so drawn to the cultural aspects of life that he left the ministry to pursue what he considered to be wider interests. But he could not find contentment in other pursuits. Returning at last to the ministry, he found that it was possible to fuse culture and religion, that one could not tell where the one ended and the other began. His favorite text was "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Browning and Phillips Brooks, and a myriad of others, found and demonstrated the fact that there need be no conflict between culture and religion, but that each may enhance and complement the other.
Culture, art, music, and learning are not given us to take the place of simple heart religion. They are given to enhance, to make more vivid and more beautiful the great truths God has given us. The apostle John tells of the coming of certain men to Philip at Jerusalem. They were from Greece, the seat of culture. They were of a people that had participated in the richest inheritance of learning and art the race had produced. They bore historic testimony to the inability of a godless culture to satisfy the deep spiritual language of the heart. They left behind them all the ac-couterments of a great civilization—a sophisticated literature, the profound questionings of their philosophies, a highly developed modal system of music, sculpture and architecture that have never been surpassed—the peak of a secular culture that conquered even its conquerors. Turning their backs on all this, they simply said, "We would see Jesus." Without Him the finest accomplishments of the world would be but dust and ashes to the touch.
So culture, art, music, and learning are not given us to take the place of sincere heart religion. As Christ clothed the truths He would present in vivid words and apt illustrations, as He led out in hymns and called attention to the beauties of nature, so He has given us these things to use in a similar manner. To understand and to use these things well is an art worthy of our greatest effort. Emerson said, "Culture is one thing, and varnish another." The aim for each Christian worker is to make culture an integral part of his personality, that he may be a fitting representative of the gospel of our Lord and of this marvelous truth we have been commissioned to spread to the ends of the earth.