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Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns

Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns

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Published by David Alexander
Developing a tool for contextual theological evaluation of hymn texts written by foreigners for use by local churches, with direct application to Taiwan
Developing a tool for contextual theological evaluation of hymn texts written by foreigners for use by local churches, with direct application to Taiwan

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Published by: David Alexander on Feb 01, 2010
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Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21
st
Century Asian ChurchesDavid Alexander August 2008
Evaluating Missionary-Written Hymns for use in 21
st
Century AsianChurches, with Specific Reference to the Taiwan Context
David Alexander 
*
The Uses Of Hymns And Other Liturgical Texts
The people of God sing. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs comprisesignificant portions of both Hebrew and Christian scriptures and of the lives of God’s people. Music and song are vital in the life of God’s people today. Karl Barth opined “singing is not an option for the people of God; it is one of the essential ministries of the church.”
1
Yet when we take the
 styles
of singing into mind, these comprise highlycontested areas of concern in churches. Relevance to modern culture is cited byadvocates of more contemporary styles of worship. The danger of culturalaccommodation and its potential to distort the message of the gospel is cited by thosewishing to adhere to “the traditions.”
2
In the earliest days of Reformed churches music was not thought fit for admissionto the public worship of Almighty God. Ulrich Zwingli, himself a very accomplishedmusician, banned it. This pattern, initiated at Zurich and copied elsewhere, lasted wellinto the 16
th
century. For these
Sweitz-deutch
Christians and their churches it was the
word 
which mattered. Emotion, sentimentality and musical accompaniment were banned to preclude the possibility of the word becoming lost or obscured by artifice.
3
John Calvin changed the pattern. The church at Geneva in 1536 held to theZwinglian pattern. Calvin soon suggested the restoration of music to the churchservice “so that the coldness of the prayers of the people be removed and so that the
*
The author holds the MA in Theology degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in the USAand the Ed.M. degree from Rutgers University Graduate School of Education and serves asInternational Students’ Advisor at Tainan Theological College and Seminary.
1
Karl Barth,
Church Dogmatics
, Vol. IV, part 3, chapter 16, par. 72, #4.
2
Robert L. Foster , “A plea for new songs: a missional/theological reflection on Psalm 96.” 
Currents in Theology and Mission
- August 1, 2006
3
Howard Hageman, “Can Church Music Be Reformed?”
The Reformed Review
, Dec 1960 Vol 14, No.2. p. 19.1
 
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21
st
Century Asian ChurchesDavid Alexander August 2008
hearts of worshipers be incited to zeal and that those gathered come to invoke andexalt the glory of God’s name by their praises.”
4
This was rejected. When Calvin wentto Strasbourg he found Lutheran Protestants who had retained music in evangelicalworship. He re-introduced song to the Strasbourg Reformed congregation through useof versifications of scripture texts. These were faithful to the originals with frequentresort to additional material to fill out a line.
5
He stuck to the scriptures in the belief that attempts to sing new songs in our own words often result in singing aboutourselves rather than about God.
6
The relationship between worship and theology is a two-way affair. There are both theologies
of 
 
worship and theologies
 from
worship.
Congregational singing bothexpresses and forms Christian faith. Because people tend to remember the theologythey sing more than the theology that they hear preached, primacy is placed on themeaning of the
texts
that are sung. Often it is through the sense of words sung that believers learn of the nature and character of God and of the Christian life. Theologyimplicit in the hymns is often the more powerful than theology preached. It givesworshipers “food for thought” as they form their own ways of thinking and speakingabout God.
 Hymns in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
The use of music and of hymn singing in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan(PCT) can be traced to 19
th
century missionaries from the UK and Canada. The Britishmission to the south of Taiwan that began in 1865 was linked to Xiamen where, in1854, a collection of 13 hymns in the Minnan language (the same as that in Taiwan)
4
Ibid, p. 20.
5
Ibid. p. 26
6
Gracia Grimdal, “On Translating Hymns: Outrageous Opinions and Personal Regrets”
The Hymn
Vol 37 No. 2 April 1986, p. 20.
7
Susan J. White,
 Foundations of Christian Worship Louisville:
Westminster, John Knox, 2006, p.14.2
 
Evaluating Missionary Written Hymns for use in 21
st
Century Asian ChurchesDavid Alexander August 2008
was in use.
8
In 1859 this collection was expanded to 25 hymns and published there byJohn Van Nest Talmage.
9
Upon his baptism on 12
th
June 1886 Ko Tiu
n
, the firstTaiwanese Protestant, was able to recite a few verses of scripture and sing 13 hymns, presumably those from the 1854 collection.
An 1872 collection of 59 hymns was published in Xiamen and subsequently became available to church workers in Taiwan.
This collection included all 13 of the1854 book’s selections plus translations of English hymns and new songs written inMinnan by Carstairs Douglas (of the English Presbyterian Mission) Alexander Stronach (from the London Missionary Society) and John Van Nest Talmage
(
fromthe Reformed Church in America.)
 George Mackay arrived in southern Taiwan early in 1872 where he conferredwith British missionaries. A few months later he was escorted northward to Tam-suiand left there on his own. His first “native student,” A-hoa, accompanied him invillage preaching and hymn singing. Confronted one day with opposition in Keelung,Mackay directed A-hoa to address the crowd. A-hoa froze, and Mackay resorted to theuse of an Isaac Watts hymn, “I am Not Afraid to Own My Lord” (found in the 1872hymnbook). After they sang a couple of verses together the fear was banished and thestudent became a preacher.
 A widow, Thah-so, is said to have sung her way acrossthe boundary to death with hymn
 Forever with the Lord 
from the 1872 collection.
On evangelistic trips to Taiwan’s interior Mackay taught the gospel through song and
8
 
 Ióng Sim Sin Si
(
Xiamen
:
1854)
 
9
John Lai,
Taiwan Church News
2670, 4 May 2003, p.13.
10
John Lai, “The Historical Sources of Seng-si Songs”
Taiwan Church News
2663, 16 March2003, p. 13
11
John Lai,”Iong Sim Sin Si 59 Hymns”
Taiwan Church News
#1901 7 August 1988
12
Church Music Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Seng-si (Taipei: PCT, 1964)Indexes pp 1-3. AND John Geddes, “The Hymn Book of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan” inCheung David,
Christianity in Modern China: the Making of the First Native Protestant Church.
 Leiden: Brill, 2004 p. 104.
13
George Leslie Mackay,
 From Far Formosa,
3
rd
Edition, Taipei: SMC Publishing Co, 1991) p. 147
14
Ibid. p. 151.3

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