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A New Song?

The preface to this radically contemporary version of the Bible included this plea from the translators for patience and acceptance: a new translation, “deserveth much respect and esteem, but yet findeth cold entertainment in the world. It is welcomed with suspicion instead of love…. For, was there ever any-projected, that savoured any way of newness or renewing, but the same endured many a storm of gainsaying, or opposition?” (Those words are from the “Preface to the Reader” of the 1611 King James Bible.)

One example of opposition was the distinguished scholar and Puritan, Dr. Hugh Broughton. He said (about the King James Bible): “[It] bred in me a sadness that will grieve me while I breathe, it is so ill done. Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches…. The new edition crosseth me, I require it to be burnt” (Quoted in F. F. Bruce, History of the English Bible, 2002 reprint, 107). Broughton’s censure was surely affected by his disappointment in not being invited to join the translation committee, but he does remind us that church traditions die hard.

The same is true of music as translations. Listen to these complaints about a new musical form:

1) It is an unknown tongue.

2) It is not as melodious as the usual way.

3) There are so many tunes that we shall never learn them.

4) The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly.

5) The names given the notes are bawdy, blasphemous.

6) It is needless since our fathers got to heaven without it.

7) It is a contrivance to get money.

8) They are a group of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose.

This list was compiled by Thomas Symmes in 1723 over the signing of psalms and hymns to four-part music rather than lining them out as had been done.

In his book, "I Don’t Like That Music" (great title, is it not?), Robert Mitchell observes that musical forms are often the “primary, familiar liturgical structure [for the service]. This element of worship must be recognized, protected, nurtured and maintained. However, an opposite dynamic is also present: ‘I know what I like!’ is often a way of saying, ‘I like what I know!’ Such a stance represents a commitment to the status quo and an attendant resistance to anything new that might disturb it…. We need to ask, ‘How did we get this way?’ and, ‘What might we do to expand appreciation and permit a richer, fresher experience of worship?’

From a sermon by Glenn Durham, "A Dynamic Church Worships Joyfully" 8/5/2008

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