John Stonestreet and Glenn Sunshine

What Music is for in Corporate Worship

I thank God for modern writers of hymns and songs, committed to producing music that is true and excellent for the glory of God and the people of God.  Music is a gift of God, a unique way of connecting His revelation with our hearts and minds. St. Augustine is thought to have said, “he who sings, prays twice.” The Church must recover a more robust understanding and practice of music. 

Today, January 13, we remember the Hussites who, on this day in 1501, published the first hymnal in history written in the language of the common people. The descendants of the Hussites are known as the Moravian Brethren, who carry on the rich tradition of hymns and church music today.  
Christians have good reason to commemorate this event. After all, ours, like Judaism, has always been a singing faith. The longest book in the Bible, and the one at its center, is the Psalms, a word that means “songs.” David’s plans for the Temple included clans of Levites whose entire job was music. Choirs, soloists, orchestras, and antiphonal singing were prescribed parts of Temple life and practice, and an entire class of Psalms, the Songs of Ascent, were sung by the people as they traveled to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals.  
Throughout the biblical texts, music is also connected to prophecy and to dealing with evil spirits. Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn after the Last Supper, according to two of the Gospels. The Apostle Paul specifically associates singing with being filled with the Spirit in his epistle to the church at Ephesus. And, in John’s Revelation of what is constantly happening around the throne of God, there is lots of singing, sometimes accompanied by harps.  
Music also is part of the culmination of the creation story. When Eve is taken from Adam’s side, Adam awakes and exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Many scholars believe this to essentially be a celebratory song.  
Eliminating the musical element from the text of Scripture would be to gut them and the practices that have emerged from them. Monks chanted the Psalms daily, in some cases covering the entire Psalter in a week. Medieval thinkers thought of the human heartbeat, respiration, and daily cycle of sleeping and waking as “music.” They also believed the motion of the heavenly bodies was regulated by the “music of the spheres.” 
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The Church and Antisemitism

Though Christian churches and Christian individuals have been guilty of antisemitism, the record is better than skeptics and popular history suggest. Whenever churches have stood up for the Jews, the degree of antisemitism in that culture has been far less. 

Over the centuries, Christians have been responsible for many crimes and evils committed against Jews, from malicious accusations to forced conversions to expulsions and massacres. While the Church has been culpable for some of the violence, instigated by friars, preachers, and church leaders, there is more to the story.
For example, during the First Crusade, a widespread outbreak of antisemitic massacres occurred when mobs in Germany attacked Jewish communities. They were motivated by a fanaticism and a need to finance their journey to the Holy Land. Although the Crusade had been called by the Pope, the attacks on the Jews were condemned by the entire Church hierarchy. Some bishops offered Jews refuge in surrounding cities, while others sheltered them in their own palaces, though not always successfully. Others bought off the marauding crusaders with silver.
After the First Crusade, Popes Gregory X and Benedict XIII declared that Jews were not enemies of Christians and that their lives and property were to be respected. In his preaching during the Second Crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux explicitly condemned the attacks on the Jews during the First Crusade.
Later, when the Black Death struck Europe, rumors began to circulate that the disease was caused by Jews poisoning the wells of Christians on orders from a Spanish rabbi. Once again, violence against Jews broke out. Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. In the city of Strasbourg, before the plague had even reached the city, 900 Jews were herded into a synagogue that was then burned to the ground.
Again, bishops attempted to stop the violence. Some protected the Jews in their own palaces, and Pope Clement VI issued two papal bulls refuting the idea of well poisoning by pointing out that the Jews were dying of plague just like the Christians. Although the Church in the Middle Ages was guilty of antisemitic acts, particularly at a local level, many secular authorities and mobs also targeted the Jews as convenient scapegoats in times of crisis.
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How Christianity Created the Hospital

Medicine was an integral part of the modern mission movement of the 19th century. Because Christianity has always affirmed the importance of the body, hospitals soon followed wherever missionaries went. This is another way the Church has been essential throughout history. Many Christians and critics today are skeptical that the Church is essential or necessary in the modern world. It is. 

Far from being an otherworldly religion, Christianity teaches both the importance and goodness of life in this world. In fact, from Jesus’ healing ministry to the work of modern missionary doctors, a consistent feature of the work of the Church in the world has been to care for the sick and needy, and not just point them to the life to come. 
The early Church understood Jesus’ ministry to be a paradigm for their own work. So, just as Jesus set believers free from their bondage to sin, early Christians purchased slaves specifically to free them. Whereas Jesus used miraculous power to heal people from physical effects of the Fall, Christians used more ordinary tools to care for the sick and disabled. These activities are not merely good deeds in themselves but serve to advance the Kingdom. Though the Gospel is a message and must be proclaimed, the early Church saw works of mercy and preaching the Gospel as two sides of the same coin. 
The first major epidemic faced by the Church was the Antonine Plague (A.D. 166-189). In fear of their lives, the Romans threw the sick out of their homes to die in the streets. Galen, the most prominent physician of the age, knew he could neither heal its victims nor protect himself. So, he fled Rome to stay at his country estate. 
Recognizing that all persons were made in the image of God and that Jesus came to make all things new, body and soul, many Christians ran the other direction. They fought the Fall by tending to the sick, at risk (and often at the cost) of their own lives.  
Since even basic nursing care can make a significant difference during an epidemic, Christian action saved lives. Their courage and self-sacrifice contributed to the rapid growth of Christianity. 
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Taking Unpopular Stands in a Strange New World

Christians today must oppose cultural evils, such as the taking of preborn life, the buying and selling of preborn lives, the ideological sexual abuse of children, and the persecution of religious minorities. Though the rapid changes in our society are confusing and distressing, we must understand them if we are to know when, where, and how we must take a stand.  

According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus, on January 1, A.D. 404, an ascetic monk named Telemachus jumped to the floor of the arena during a gladiatorial match and begged the competitors to stop. The crowd was so angry at the interruption that they stoned him to death. When Christian Emperor Honorius heard about Telemachus’ act of bravery, he ordered an end to gladiatorial combat.  
Telemachus’ stand led to martyrdom, but it changed a culture. Throughout history, similar stands made in Jesus’ name yielded similar results. Though they often came at great cost, and transformation was not instantaneous, in the end, a culture was left better.  
Telemachus’ brave act occurred 91 years after Christianity was legalized by Constantine, and 24 years after it was made the state religion of Rome by Emperor Theodosius I. Earlier Christians denounced other evils, such as abusive sexual mores. They insisted that sex be limited to marriage and, following the Jews, rejected abortion and infanticide. They treated women and slaves as the spiritual equals of men. As a result, woman and slaves became leaders in the church. Pliny the Younger, in a letter dated about 111, mentions deaconesses, and a slave was made a bishop of Ephesus in the early second century. 
Christians didn’t kill baby girls, a practice common among the pagans. Nor did they pressure girls into early marriage, or Christian widows into remarriage. As a result, Christian churches had a higher percentage of women than did society at large. In fact, Christianity was held in contempt by the Romans as “a religion of women and slaves.” 
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Work is Not a Result of the Fall

In our current cultural moment, many see work as frustrating, unrewarding, and not worth it (that is, as toil). So, in our cultural moment, Christians have an incredible, better vision of work to offer the larger world. We’ve also got a history to tell, of how a vision of human dignity and innovation became a blessing across economic and class lines. Just as in the past, the Christian view can move our imaginations about work beyond drudgery, to a renewed and redeemed way of thinking and living.

As the “Big Quit” happens across America, the Christian vision of work could be more relevant and impactful than ever. Which, as history attests, is saying quite a lot.
Physical labor was devalued in the ancient world. The exception, in classical Greece and the early days of the Roman Republic, was farming, which was considered the proper pursuit of citizens. All other labor was viewed as demeaning. In the later days of the Republic, as plantation agriculture replaced small farms, the work of farming was also seen as demeaning and relegated to slaves.
By the time of the Roman Empire, all physical labor was only thought proper for slaves and lower classes. Though the foundation of the empire’s wealth, the upper classes believed that production was beneath them. Their attention, or so they thought, belonged in the more “refined” areas of life, such as the arts and philosophy.
Of course, the biblical view of work is completely different. Scripture frames work as a good thing, an essential part of what it means to be human. Because God created us to work, at least in part, it’s inherently connected to our worship and dignity.
Put differently, work is not the result of the fall. It was, however, tainted by Adam’s sin. God’s created purposes for humanity, to fill and form His world through work, would now feature pain and frustration. Aspects of human work were twisted from dignity to drudgery. Human efforts to cultivate the earth, designed by God to be part of the joy of imaging Him, became sources of frustration, pain, sweat, and sorrow.
Because of the uniqueness of the Biblical framework, even the early Christians approached work with a very different view than their pagan neighbors did. They thought of work as good but marred by sin. So, for example, in monastic communities, monks were expected to do physical labor, if for no other reason than to grow their food. In his Rule for Monastic Life, St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) insisted that monks should work both to fulfill the biblical mandate that God gave Adam, and to encourage humility in a world that thought of work as demeaning.
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How the Irish (Christians) Saved Education

The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York. Alcuin reintroduced liberal arts as the foundation for education in Europe. He started schools in monasteries, cathedrals, and even the palace itself. Alcuin also oversaw the systematic copying and preservation of any and all ancient texts that he could find. In fact, many of the oldest copies of classical works still in existence today date from copies produced under his direction.

The Christian commitment to advancing education is part of the historical record. While not wholly consistent in every time and place, the Christian view of life and the world (especially its view of a created, ordered reality and the divine imprint on every human person) has been history’s most fertile ground for advancing learning and knowledge.
In a Christian worldview, the value of education isn’t merely utilitarian. Instead, it grows from the rich soil of Christian beliefs: in a God who wants to be known, Who created an ordered and knowable universe to be stewarded by humans, to whom He gave the ability to learn and the capacity to use knowledge in His service.
That worldview framework has been uniquely fruitful for advancing education, even (and perhaps especially) at times of civilizational crisis. For example, during the decline of the Roman Empire’s authority in Western Europe, education went into sharp decline. Centuries worth of accumulated knowledge and learning were at risk of being lost forever, except In Ireland, where monks preserved learning that they’d later reintroduce to Europe.
Irish monks viewed the preservation of literature and knowledge as part of their task as Christian scholars and clergy. More than merely preserving learning, they innovated in the methodology of education. Up to this point, the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages were written in an unbroken stream of letters with no capitalization, punctuation, or word spacing. The Irish changed that and, in doing so, made writing a primary method of learning.
The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York.
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