Can tunes be considered circumstances?

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Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
In Rev. Winzer's recent article in the CPJ on the Westminster Assembly's take on exclusive psalmody, he says the following:

A circumstance therefore is nothing more than a means of worship without any religious significance whatsoever. It is that without which the action as an action could not be performed. It is an adjunct which incidentally accompanies the worship rather than an addition which qualitatively affect s the worship. That which edifies is not an adjunct but an addition to the worship of God (p. 7 of the PDF).
My attention is focused on the idea that circumstances are "without any religious significance whatsoever." I agree with this, but I also do not understand how, given this definition, tunes for psalms can be considered circumstantial.

Certain tunes have a much greater propensity to stir up religious affections, when combined with the appropriate lyrical content, than others do. Just imagine the state of a congregation who sings a metrical psalm as found in a typical psalter, versus a congregation who sings a psalm with the most aesthetically monstrous rhythms and chords imaginable. Would it be appropriate to say that the tune has no religious value?

I suppose that we could also (e.g.) compare the state of a congregation meeting at 3:30 AM compared to one meeting at 10 AM. One would be more fit to worship, yet that does not seem sufficient to say that the time of worship is not circumstantial. But if this is so, then it would follow that other aesthetics, whether visual or aural, which may stir up the religious affections (perhaps, stained glass?) could also be likewise permissible, while yet remaining circumstances.

Is this correct, or have I made some equivocation on the nature of circumstances (or some other error)?
 

jogri17

Puritan Board Junior
A tune is unavoidable in worship. Anything that is sung has a tune by definition. I'm not sure what the debate is? Psalms has tunes, ccm has tunes, and classic hymns have tunes. It is just a fact of reality.
 

PreservedKillick

Puritan Board Freshman
Is this addressing whether or not a tune is context free, the usual pro-contemporary worship song argument? I don't think music can be divorced from its context--someone (I've forgotten who) said that, for instance, no church uses polka, oompah band type music in its worship. I would say that there are genres of music that should not be used in worship because of their worldly connotations. At different times in my life, I've had a very hard time taking a hymn seriously if the tune was grossly mismatched, such as at the Christian elementary school I attended where they had us sing "Amazing Grace" to the theme song of "Gilligan's Island." How could any of us take the words seriously?

PS--I want to be careful to say that I'm not arguing here against all contemporary hymns or compositions.
 

toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
In Rev. Winzer's recent article in the CPJ on the Westminster Assembly's take on exclusive psalmody, he says the following:

A circumstance therefore is nothing more than a means of worship without any religious significance whatsoever. It is that without which the action as an action could not be performed. It is an adjunct which incidentally accompanies the worship rather than an addition which qualitatively affect s the worship. That which edifies is not an adjunct but an addition to the worship of God (p. 7 of the PDF).
My attention is focused on the idea that circumstances are "without any religious significance whatsoever." I agree with this, but I also do not understand how, given this definition, tunes for psalms can be considered circumstantial.

Certain tunes have a much greater propensity to stir up religious affections, when combined with the appropriate lyrical content, than others do. Just imagine the state of a congregation who sings a metrical psalm as found in a typical psalter, versus a congregation who sings a psalm with the most aesthetically monstrous rhythms and chords imaginable. Would it be appropriate to say that the tune has no religious value?

I suppose that we could also (e.g.) compare the state of a congregation meeting at 3:30 AM compared to one meeting at 10 AM. One would be more fit to worship, yet that does not seem sufficient to say that the time of worship is not circumstantial. But if this is so, then it would follow that other aesthetics, whether visual or aural, which may stir up the religious affections (perhaps, stained glass?) could also be likewise permissible, while yet remaining circumstances.

Is this correct, or have I made some equivocation on the nature of circumstances (or some other error)?
The tune chosen by necessity is circumstantial. We have no inspired tunes, first of all - so there can be no "right" tune. Hence the tune cannot be an element. Different tunes may be and are used. The fact that some tunes are not as edifying as others does not imply that the tune chosen is not a circumstance (in fact I believe quite firmly that even whether one uses a tune or chants a psalm instead is not relevant)

Second, while some tunes are more edifying than others in the West, it is extremely culturally arrogant to assume that the tunes we choose are the ones everyone everywhere ought to use. I can assure you that the tunes nearest to my heart and excite the most peaceful devotional attitude as I sing them are quite likely to have the opposite effect among many in different parts of the world. Who has the "right", most worshipful tune, then? Obviously that cannot be answered.

The mere fact that wisdom must be employed in setting psalms to music is no indicator that tunes aren't circumstantial. With ALL things deemed circumstantial, I daresay, wisdom must be employed. Purple strobe lights in the sanctuary would be inappropriate and a foolish choice to make in regard to the circumstance of lighting the worship space, though not inherently wrong. Similarly orange shag carpet paired with bright fuschia chairs would notbe the wisest choice for interior decor of the sanctuary... yet these two things - lighting and interior decorating are by all hands regarded as circumstantial. Wisdom must yet be employed. So to must wisdom be employed in tune selection.
 

toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
Tunes have to be circumstantial since we're not given regulation of them in the Scriptures. I'm not sure how much more really could be argued.
I suppose I should have been a bit more concise and stopped at my first point, since it's really the only argument needed :)
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
It is interesting that virtually no evidence remains as to what ancient Middle Eastern music sounded like. God could have preserved the melodies and harmonies and rhythms and tempos and timbres just as He did the lyrics, yet He chose not to.
 

N. Eshelman

Puritan Board Senior
It is interesting that virtually no evidence remains as to what ancient Middle Eastern music sounded like. God could have preserved the melodies and harmonies and rhythms and tempos and timbres just as He did the lyrics, yet He chose not to.
I am grateful that God chose to not preserve these things as well. There would be people in the EP/acapella tradition that would try to force the church to use the tunes that were used in the Hebrew psalter.

I also agree that tunes are circumstantial, although we must use wisdom in selecting tunes that are culturally appropriate for the message of the psalm. If a psalm is sober and grave- our tune should reflect that (which will vary by culture) gravity. If it is joyful- we should reflect that. Wisdom in what is appropriate is part of the circumstance though, In my humble opinion.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
It is interesting that virtually no evidence remains as to what ancient Middle Eastern music sounded like. God could have preserved the melodies and harmonies and rhythms and tempos and timbres just as He did the lyrics, yet He chose not to.
I am grateful that God chose to not preserve these things as well. There would be people in the EP/acapella tradition that would try to force the church to use the tunes that were used in the Hebrew psalter.

I also agree that tunes are circumstantial, although we must use wisdom in selecting tunes that are culturally appropriate for the message of the psalm. If a psalm is sober and grave- our tune should reflect that (which will vary by culture) gravity. If it is joyful- we should reflect that. Wisdom in what is appropriate is part of the circumstance though, In my humble opinion.
Wisdom is always good, and it would not be a good idea to set the psalms to a Raga Asavari scale to be sung by western churches. But 'appropriateness' is so subjective when it comes to mood, I don't think there are hard and fast 'rules'.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
The mere fact that wisdom must be employed in setting psalms to music is no indicator that tunes aren't circumstantial. With ALL things deemed circumstantial, I daresay, wisdom must be employed. Purple strobe lights in the sanctuary would be inappropriate and a foolish choice to make in regard to the circumstance of lighting the worship space, though not inherently wrong. Similarly orange shag carpet paired with bright fuschia chairs would notbe the wisest choice for interior decor of the sanctuary... yet these two things - lighting and interior decorating are by all hands regarded as circumstantial. Wisdom must yet be employed. So to must wisdom be employed in tune selection.
Actually, I am grateful that you said more than Mr. Hicks, because I thought that a good number of responses were not answering my question -- by which, I mean, I was too unclear in my phrasing. I was asking not so much why we consider tunes circumstances in the first place, as much as why we can still consider them circumstances, given that they can serve to edify the congregation. Rev. Winzer said rather sweepingly that circumstances cannot edify, and that sounds like a reasonable distinction between element and circumstance. But my question is, Don't we receive edification (to some extent) from an aesthetically pleasing tune? Don't we understand some tunes to be more "heavenly-sounding" than others (even if that perception is partially culture-relative)?

The only options are the following:
(1) Tunes are not circumstantial.
(2) Circumstances can be edifying.
(3) Tunes are not edifying in the same sense as elements are.

Surely, part of this can be more helpfully understood if we know what "edify" means. It cannot just mean having a good feeling, or else comfy pews will also count as edifying, which is awkward to say. It also, seemingly, cannot just be referring to a purely didactic/propositional function, since that would constrain the definition of elements too narrowly (...I think). But beyond those two statements of what edification is not, I'm unsure what to say about the proper understanding of edification and/or of the element-circumstance distinction.

Anyway, hopefully now my question is clearer.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
But my question is, Don't we receive edification (to some extent) from an aesthetically pleasing tune? Don't we understand some tunes to be more "heavenly-sounding" than others (even if that perception is partially culture-relative)?
Please read 1 Corinthians 14. Edification in the church requires intelligible communication of the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.
 

toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
But my question is, Don't we receive edification (to some extent) from an aesthetically pleasing tune? Don't we understand some tunes to be more "heavenly-sounding" than others (even if that perception is partially culture-relative)?
Please read 1 Corinthians 14. Edification in the church requires intelligible communication of the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.
And I need to clarify what I meant by some tunes being edifying for worship and others not.

I most certainly did *not* mean edification in terms of gaining additional knowledge, or something of that nature. I think what I meant to convey by distinguishing some forms of music as edifying and others not is more along the lines of the following: some music, because of our cultural associations with it, is not only pleasing but helpful in terms of setting the appropriate tone or mood for the Psalm. Other music is distracting and can be an obstacle for the worshipper. An example has already been given - that of the tune to Gilligan's Island, which can be used for most Common Meter psalms - but would be, at least in a society in which Gilligan's Island was known to the worshippers, completely inappropriate for any Psalm.

Certainly most people recognize some music as more somber, reflective, more appropriate for penitential Psalms - while other tunes have more of a sense of celebratory grandeur, appropriate for Psalms such as 8, 19, etc.

By "edifying" tunes, I was merely discussing this - the nature of the music as helpful or harmful vis a vis the subject of the Psalm or Psalm portion being sung, and as an aid to worship thereby.

Todd
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Are psalm books that the congregation holds and pew bibles that the congregation reads from/follows along as another reads edifying? Doesn't that mean they cannot be considered circumstances?
 
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