Church Music: a functional art (revised)

I’m re-reading “Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal” by Donald P. Hustad. I first read it in High School for a bible class (Actually, I might not have read the whole book.) I remember at the time that the book made me a little angry. It’s a scholarly text written by a guy who was obviously not happy about how church music was changing at the end of the 20th century. Now, that I’m a mature adult, I’m reading it with a little more of an open mind toward constructive criticism.

In the second chapter, Hustad presents the idea that Church music is a functional art as opposed to “pure” art. Functional art could be something like pottery which is beautiful but also fulfills a function (like coffee container). Functional are is architecture, advertising, graphic design, journalism – you get the idea. “Pure” art would be the music of the concert hall or art in a gallery or museum which exists to communicate a philosophical idea or something. One could argue that there is no such thing as “pure” art that has no ulterior “function” but I’ll not go down that rabbit hole for the moment.

Understanding Church music as a functional art helps  to keep our music focused on the goals for which its intended. Here are the various functions that Hustad postulates (the Greek makes it sound super-theological):

1. Worship (leitourgia) – communication between God and His people, a sacrifice of praise

  • “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty/ Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee”
  • “We lift our hands in the sanctuary/ we lift our hands to give you the glory”

2. Proclamation of the gospel (kerygma) – the call to respond in faith to God’s word and the good news of the kingdom

  • “Come ye sinners poor and needy weak and wounded sick and sore/ Jesus ready stands to save you full of pity joined with power”
  • “O Church arise and put your armor on, hear the call of Christ our Captain”

3. Christian education (didache) – teaching good theology to ourselves

  • “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength/ they shall mount up on wings like and eagle and soar”
  • “I am free; I’m forgiven by your work on Calvary / You gave me life worth living now the chains are broken, chains are broken”

4. Pastoral care (diakonia) – the priestly, shepherding service of healing broken hearts 

  • “Heal my heart and make it clean / open up my eyes to the things unseen / show me how to love like you have loved me”
  • “I know that I can make it / I know that I can stand / no matter what may come my way / my life is in Your hands”

5. Fellowship (koinonia) – experiencing music together, sharing our songs to build our bond of unity

  • “Let the doors swing open to the house of faith / every tribe and nation; every tongue and race”
  • “I need you, you need me / We’re all a part of God’s body… you are important to me / I need you to survive”

The idea is that the songs we sing in church should fulfill at least one of these roles. You can imagine that some churches might emphasize one function over others. For example, a shoutin’ church might sing songs focused on “worship” while neglecting “Christian education” while a more bookish church might do the opposite.

Problems? I’m concerned as always with the tendency of American-mainstream folks to analyze the worth of music from non-American-mainstream through the filter of it’s own values. Using Greek words that come from the New Testament doesn’t necessarily mean that our ideas are “big-T” truth that transcends cultures. Would another culture include other functions like spiritual warfare, celebration, prophetic confrontation, etc ? Or are those sub-categories of Hustad’s functions?


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  1. #1 by Ryan McMillen on April 9, 2013 - 6:26 pm

    Good stuff Kirk! I feel like beauty has a place in here too somewhere. It feels a little restrictive to limit worship to his categories, but maybe I need to consider the regulative principle a little more in my own theology of worship.

    • #2 by Kirk Ward on April 10, 2013 - 9:27 am

      Yes, I didn’t give the full breadth of what the book goes into. Hustad covered beauty and other aspects of our image-bearer creativity in the 1st chapter. Chapter 2 on the function of church music seems to be there to remind us that we don’t have the freedom to experiment with our own aesthetic goals in church music. It’s about submission to the good of the community. Although, I suppose that you could argue that “beauty” or the fundamental need of humans to experience transcendent art experiences could fit into the category of “Pastoral Care”.

      Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to start a music director’s book club and read through a few classics then meet for coffee to process it together?

  2. #3 by Heidi on April 9, 2013 - 8:08 pm

    I think it would be cool if you listed some songs for 1-5. I think I kinda know? Would “Saved by Grace” be kerygma? Would the song that goes “To the widow and the orphan, the oppressed and the broken…” be diakonia? I would list more, but it would be long, cause I don’t remember titles.

    • #4 by Kirk Ward on April 10, 2013 - 9:29 am

      I was going to do that, but it was not as easy as I thought it would be. A lot of the songs we sing cover 3 or more of these functions, so I gave up. But, it’s still a good thought, so I’ll add some examples into the original post.

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