Tag Archives: Bonhoeffer

Praying Prayers Together: Why I Don’t Sing at Church

It’s been over two years since I’ve sang at church.

It’s not because my church plays one kind of music while I prefer another. It’s not because I’m angry at God. It’s not because I’m deathly afraid to sing in public. I just don’t sing at church.

But isn’t corporate worship part of going to church? Isn’t singing a huge part of that corporate worship- at least within the modern day church?

Yes, I guess you could argue those points and on one level I would have to agree with you. My response, however, is why? Why do we sing?

Bonhoeffer said that church singing is a way for a group of people to pray the same prayer. It’s a way for people of different ages, genders, social classes, education and spiritual maturity to all say the same thing to God at the same time.

I love the picture that Bonhoeffer creates. It’s the same picture we see in Revelation when people from every nation are gathered around the throne of God and sing “worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” If that were explained in church then I might be able to sing. Instead of standing to sing because standing to sing is what we do at church, the church was lead- shepherded, pastored- to the throne of God to pray the same prayer to God that would completely change how we sing church music.

Two other things also hinder our churches from realizing Bonhoeffer’s vision.

1. We must have prayers worth praying. In our conversation this means that we must have songs worth singing. Have you ever really paid attention to the words to some of the songs we sing at church? There are many songs that have well developed theology but there are many songs that do not, they just string a line of adjectives together and apply them to God. It brings me to the question, what does it mean to praise or worship God? Is worship merely describing God- God is holy, God is loving, God is full of grace? Is worship thanking God for what God has done? I’m not an expert on worship and I honestly haven’t done much research on the topic but when I read the Psalms or the early hymns of the church I see more than just assigning adjectives to God or thanking God for what God has done. Though I see those things, beyond them I see a change in the relationship between God, who is being praised and worshiped, and the one offering that praise and worship. In the Psalms we see the psalmist moved to steadfastness and action or we see evil crumble before God. When Paul writes or quotes an early Christian hymn, it ends with every knee bowing and tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. I may be wrong and I may change my mind, but I don’t see many of our church songs causing a change in the relationship between God and the worshiper.

2. We must have community that is worth belonging to. If singing is praying prayers together, then it reasons that we need to know each other. In Romans, Paul tells us to rejoice with those rejoice and weep with those who weep; if we don’t know who is rejoicing and who is weeping, how can we rejoice and weep with them? If I don’t know what is going on in the lives of people around me, how can I pray prayers of thanksgiving with them, or prayers of comfort, or prayers of distress, or prayers of hope? What happens is that I sing or pray my little song in the context of my world in my rejoicing and my weeping and you sing your little song in the context of your little world in your rejoicing or your weeping and we are singing two individual songs instead of singing one song together. It’s only though really knowing those around us that we can truly sing and pray together.

As I said earlier, I really love Bonhoeffer’s picture of what church singing is suppose to be. Above that, I think it’s the picture we see in the Bible and in the example of the early Christian church. God hears enough of us singing our individual prayers- everyone in the world can do that- what we need more of is singing prayers as one body and that means having prayers worth praying and knowing what prayers to pray by being in true community with each other.

 

Book Review

A Review of

In Visible Fellowship

By Jon Walker

2 of 5 Stars 

            When I saw the title of this book, I was eager to get my hands on a copy and read and engage with it. Since reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas I have been eager to read Bonhoeffer’s works for myself and the subtitle of Walker’s book (the full title is In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work Life Together) caught my eye and made me eager to see how Walker would take Bonhoeffer’s words and bring them into a contemporary setting. I am disappointed to say that this book falls far short of supplying what the author attempts to give.

The Author

            Jon Walker has served in several positions within the SaddlebackChurchnetwork with both the church, specifically, but also with Purpose Driven Ministries. He also served as editor-in-chief of Lifeway’s HomeLife magazine. In addition to writing In Visible Fellowship, he is the author of Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.

Questions of Form

            Now we will dive intoWalker’s work. The first puzzling issue with the book is the format in which it was written. The book breaks down into 36 chapters that range in length from 2 to 5 pages. Each chapter is divided into five subheadings: The Big Idea, Jesus is…, To Be Like Jesus…, Scripture, and Questions. The book almost comes across as a devotional, however,Walkerdoes not note in his introduction whether this is in fact the case or not. Therefore, the reader is left with a feeling of ambiguity as how to best utilize the book. A second puzzling aspect of the book, mostly just a pet-peeve for me, is that six chapters in a row (chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) all begin with the same sentence.

            The third puzzling issue in the book is the author’s choice of Bible translation.Walker occasionally quotes scripture from the NIV, but the majority of scripture quotations come from The Message and the TEV. While I am familiar with The Message, coming from an academic background it is frustrating to read a passage quoted from The Message that differs so drastically from other translations. The Message also makes it hard to fit the quoted passage into the book from which it came and take both the passage and its context into consideration. In chapter 1, for example,Walker quotes Ephesians 4:15-16 from The Message, “We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” However, quoting that passage from the NASB, we see that they carry very different emphases: “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

            The other translationWalker uses is the TEV. I have never heard of the TEV and had to Google it in order to find out that the TEV is the renamed Good News Bible. The TEV/ Good New Bible contains a number of questionable translations. You can look at the following website for more information about the TEV and other Bible translations (http://www.bible-researcher.com/tev.html). I feel certain that Bonhoeffer, as a biblical scholar and pastor, would not agree with Walker’s choices for Bible translations.

Questions of Content

            The reader is also left asking several pointed questions thatWalker fails to answer throughout the book. First,Walker fails to define what he means by community. Is the community solely the church? Is it family? Or does it consist of a small group of confidants? Walker seems to imply each at some point during the book but fails to specifically spell out what he means when he speaks of community.  

            Second,Walkerdoes a good job describing what Bonhoeffer says about a particular subject butWalker fails to give any suggestions on how we take Bonhoeffer’s ideas and bring them into the world of 2012. One example of this occurs in chapter 13. Here Walker engages with Bonhoeffer’s call for Christians to stop and engage in mid-day worship.Walker writes that Bonhoeffer notes that several important things happened at noon in Scripture but he doesn’t give any ideas for taking that principle and making it practical in 2012.  

Benefits

            Looking beyond the book’s shortcomings, I found the chapters on confession beneficial. Confession remains one of the Christians disciplines forgotten, or ignored, by most of the Protestant denominations. However, we know that confession is vital for healing and for encouraging others who face similar trials and temptations. Walker writes,

                        “Bonhoeffer says that when we hide our sins from one another we are left alone in our sin. And, “he who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.” This is his concern: Do we hide our sins from one another because we sense that our fellowship doesn’t really want to deal with the problems of our sins? We’d rather keep relating to each other as good people and ignore the truth that we are sinners saved by grace. And does that lead us to subtly discourage one another from confessing our sins, leaving us alone with them?” (144)

This is a legitimate question for Christians to ask and answer. Christians have become known for being hypocritical, judgmental and condemning. Perhaps if we were more open with our own struggles and shortcomings we would do a better job at showing the world the grace and love found in Jesus.

Conclusion

            I rated this book 2/5 stars because it can be used as a devotional book for a group of friends who are wanting to start meeting together for prayer, Bible reading and confession. Also, as I have mentioned,Walker writes some beneficial things on confession and its beauty and necessity with the Christian disciplines. However, the short comings I have noted caused me frustration while I read and would cause me not to recommend this book to others. If someone was looking for a resource on how to build Christian community, I would send them straight the source- Bonhoeffer himself.

 

© Ryan Vanderland 2012