Friday, December 30, 2011

Hymnody Resurgent: Minnesota

Reformed Praise. Cross-Centered Worship. Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2005. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) (H)

Reformed Praise. Merciful to Me.  Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2010. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) (H)

Reformed Praise. Amazing Love.  Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2010. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) (H)

Our journey around the country observing the resurgence of hymnody in the Church continues in Minnesota!
Our Mission
Reformed Praise exists to...
  • Provide songs for corporate worship which are rich in theology, diverse in musical style, and centered on the gospel of grace, that our praise might be informed by Biblical truth.
  • Promote the use of historic and modern hymns in corporate worship.
  • Teach, write, and create other resources that the church might be built up in a Biblical understanding of worship and music.
(RP Website)

Allow me to introduce you to the three albums of Reformed Praise.

Cross-Centered Worship by David L. Ward, Released October 2005
The contemporary church is drowning in a sea of music that, at least in name, is designed for use in worship. The musical styles of this tidal wave represent almost every form of music imaginable: Eastern chant, African tribal music, classical, rock, blues, jazz, country, folk, and even “hard-core.” This musical variety can be a good thing since modern recording technology has given us unprecedented access to enjoying the music of a huge variety of styles. The music that tugs at the heartstrings of people in a community, even in an individual family, can be very different. But should musical variety or style be the main distinguishing characteristic in worship music? What should set a particular song or arrangement of music apart in order for it to be called “worship” music?

God gives us insight into how He wants music to be used in the church. He commands, “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). This passage teaches that worship songs should stir our emotions (thankfulness being the example in this passage) and be a means by which God’s Word dwells richly within us. Worship songs should be written to be musically moving and theologically gripping. Successful worship music will meet both of these requirements by presenting a depth and breadth of biblical truth along with a musical style that is fit for congregation singing.
I would characterize the settings and instrumentation on this album as "adult-contemporary rock," based on my radio station days. Percussion is light, yet basically unnecessary, in my opinion. I like hearing saxophone and piano.

Track two from this album is a "Featured Song" on their site. Take a listen...
Featured Song

By Grace Alone

Reformed Praise presents Martin Luther's setting of Psalm 130 in a fresh, reflective, piano-driven setting suitable for a wide range of worship music styles.
I would use this new melody of "From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee" (cf. LSB 607) next Ash Wednesday as the Hymn of the Day (with appropriate copyright permission, of course). That's about the highest compliment I can pay David Ward and Reformed Praise. This is the true gem of the first album.

"God of Mercy" transitions to light jazz. Acoustic guitar is featured on "I Lay My Sins on Jesus." "I Need You" is mellow and reverent. The upbeat "The Fountain of Grace" recalls "Depths of Mercy," track one. "Ever to Obey You" has an acoustic guitar accompaniment that reminds me of the sound of Caedmon's Call.

This initial album shows great promise in the simple idea of getting God's people to sing historic hymns by providing new (and often more singable tunes) that support Biblically-solid evangelical texts.

Amazing Love by Josh Buttram, Released December 2010

We’re proud to share an album which features several of our songs and some fantastic traditional hymn texts and tunes. Josh has done a great job casting these wonderful texts in an acoustic setting that is creative, tasteful, and fresh. Acoustic guitar leads the way on most of the arrangements, but be on the lookout for the occasional tasty electric guitar riff, mandolin, or pedal steel morsel.


(RP website)

This album has a modern bluegrass feel. Vocals are pleasantly rough and rustic. Vocal harmonies add interest and beauty.

Some historic texts retain an historic tune: "The Solid Rock," "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted," "Rock of Ages," and "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need."

"Amazing Love (And Can It Be)," " Jesus, Priceless Treasure," "How Sweet," "Nearer," "Depth of Mercy," and "He Lives (I Know that My Redeemer Lives)" get new David L. Ward tunes. 

The third album shows maturing musicianship, vocals, and composition.

Merciful to Me by Reformed Praise, Released September 2010
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” These words, from the gospel of Luke, represent the disposition of the heart and the confession of the lips shared among all true followers of Jesus. When planted in the hearts of poets and musicians, this cry for mercy gives birth to songs of gratitude for the promise that God will answer it in Jesus. Though the lyricists and musicians behind these songs span the centuries, they are united in their desire to magnify the mercy of God shown to them in Jesus, the one who both satisfied the requirements of the law and bore the penalty for its transgression, in order that God might justly show mercy for all those who put their trust in Him.

“Merciful to Me” is a collection of songs whose texts and tunes are both old and new. While all of these songs are intended for congregational singing, they have been cast into many different styles of music. This reflects our conviction that worship music should be as stylistically diverse as the cultures of humanity. Our goal in singing our faith is that we might engage with the lyrics in our songs emotionally. This is why Reformed Praise so often writes fresh melodies for hymns even though they may already have a commonly used tune – the tune was usually written centuries ago and, in the opinion of many, does not fit the pathos of the lyrics. It is our hope by writing and recording worship songs that continue the legacy of centuries of Protestant hymnody, that we might reform the praise of the church by injecting heart-stirring melodies into theologically rich and gospel-saturated lyrics. (RP website)
The title track, "Merciful to Me" is quite endearing and memorable. The Eric Schumacher/David Ward original, "There Is No Greater Portrait," focuses on the person and work of Christ, His work in winning for us and delivering to us the forgiveness of sins. The choral background is quite moving. "Jesus I My Cross Have Taken" is a Henry Lyte hymn of the theology of the cross in the life of a believer in Jesus.

"O Jesus" reinvents an old text with a peppy tune and rock arrangement. Amazingly, the words of the text come through clearly over the electric guitar. "O God the Holy Spirit" focuses on the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. This is a Ward original, both words and music. It is evidence of how the new tunes of modern hymnody use more of the melodic rhythms of CCM yet within the discipline of supporting a hymn text.

John Newton's "Come Sinners View the Lamb of God" is paired with an expressive new melody and refrain, "So I Will Come," that deftly combines and contrasts our attributes (unworthy, helpless) with the attributes of God in Christ (mercy, righteousness, spotless) slain on the cross. The language of invitation is answered by "I" language that focuses on what Jesus has done for us rather than our response of faith. I would use this as an opening hymn or as special music in Lent.

Craig Johnson composed a new melody of Charles Wesley's "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." Acoustic guitar, saxophone, and miltary-style snare drum provide inspiring musical support, transforming a text of child-like prayer for help into a more confident confession of faith and strength in Christ the Victor. This arrangement would work well on a Sunday with "Onward, Christian Soliders."

The new tune and arrangement for "The River" reminded me of Petra from the early 90's. Hand drums are quite appropriate for the hopeful and faith-filled mood of the new tune for "Glory Is Certain." Well done! "There Is No Sin That I Have Done" is another Schumacher/Ward original. The rest of the first sentence? "....that has such height and breadth it can't be washed in Jesus' blood or covered by His death." Comforting in a practical way. "O Weary Saint" is an original text by the same pair to the familiar tune LOVE UNKNOWN.

Another John Newton text meets bluegrass in "Begone, Unbelief!" The Ward tune, arrangement, and instrumentation fits the joyful and confident faith of the text. "Majestic Sweetness" gets a light jazz piano arrangement of a Ward tune. The text puts Jesus' heavenly glory in the context of His cross for our rescue. I would love to hear the melody with brass at a much faster tempo.

Want to know or hear more? Visit the groups website through their "Guide to Songs."
  • Updated Hymns
    • Historic hymn texts, usually more than a hundred years old, set to new tunes.
  • Modern Hymns
    • New texts, new tunes. They are called "modern hymns" because the lyrics have the same depth and format as historic hymns.
  • Hymn Texts
    • New, old, and updated hymn texts for use with existing hymn tunes.
  • Hymn Arrangements
    • Historic lyrics and melodies set to contemporary chord progressions.
  • Favorites
    • Jump right to some of our most popular songs.

I personally want to hear more from Reformed Praise.

What specifically?

  1. Many Christians are recovering (or retaining like our church body) even older hymns and liturgical texts from before the Reformation. 
  2. How would Reformed Praise lead a service of Vespers or Evening Prayer with Psalm 141 and the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)? 
  3. What would a Reformed Praise Matins/Morning Prayer setting sound like with Psalm 95 and the Te Deum or Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)? 
  4. Finally, I'd love to hear Compline/Prayer at Close of the Day with settings of verses from Psalms 92, 31, 102, 17, the Lord's Prayer, and the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32).

Lutheran Christians and Reformed Christians have some honest differences in theology and practice, but I am grateful for edifying experimentation Reformed Praise is doing to recover classic hymnody, to add something new of their own to an enlivened and resurgent heritage of hymns.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.