I’ve had an idea rolling around in the back of my mind. It’s one of those times where I wish I wasn’t a student searching for jobs and housing for next semester, becuase I really want to persue it. Hopefully I can still scrape together some time to get a start before the beginning of the semester.
What’s the idea? Well, it starts with something that Bryan Chapel talked about at GA last week. Chapel mentioned that through informal polling, he found that in the average PCA church, a maximum of 15% of the congregation actually grew up in a Biblical, Presbyterian church. He mentioned very quickly what that meant for students of Covenant Seminary as they prepared for ordination exams, suddenly learning things like the Book of Church Order and Westminster Standards for the first time. As a result, the faculty has found it necessary to purposefully and declaratively integrate elements from the Standards into all classes. Most of the students had become Christian (or become “serious” about their faith) at some point in college.
This got me thinking. I’m facing similar problems at RTS, where we are responsible to learn the Shorter Catechism to graduate (well, parts of it, but I digress). I also heard from a friend of mine at my home church that many of the older JMU students and graduates are starting a study with one of the ruling elders on the scriptural supports for the Confession. It occurred to me that the PCA has such a wonderful posession in our Standards, but the majority of our parishoners don’t know them and find them inaccessible. It’s one thing to make learning the Catechism a necessity for ordination, its a very different thing to think that the 20 and 30 year-olds in your congregation are going to teach themselves the good old Q&A.
Then I think about my own calling as a pastor and worship leader. One of the major reasons why I am persuing this track is because I love how music can be a vehicle for instructing, growing, and interacting with Biblical, theological truth. I love how many praise songs remind me of the simple truths of the Bible. I love the historic hymns of the Church, where you can often trace out the controversies that threatened to split the Church and called her to repentance. I’m starting to wonder if music can be a vehicle for teaching our congregations the theological truths of the Westminster Standards.
To be clear, what I’m thinking of is not “memory songs.” There are a few people who have taken upon themselves to very directly set the words of the Shorter Catechism to music. Many in my seminary owe a deep debt to Bruce Benedict’s work in this regard to help them get through their exams. But, with due respect to Bruce and his co-laborers, these songs are largely utilitarian. They are useful for memorizing the exact wording of the Catechism, but that’s where their usefulness ends.
What I am envisioning are songs that contain very particular doctrine from one section of the Confession or Shorter or Longer, but not necessarily their exact language. Rather, the songs lyrical content would be artful products of meditating on the section from the Standards and the accumpanying proof texts. The final lyric would include phrases from each, but in a more dynamic rather than a “wooden” setting. The music would be modern, but with careful attention to be easily singable by congregations and usable in a number of church traditions.
What would I call it? What do you think? reformationdrive.