Forming Christians through Musicking in China
Christianity now makes up the largest single civil society grouping in China.The party sees that.Terence HallidayCo-director, Center for Law and Globalizationat the American Bar Foundation 
The perspectives of faith communities on the role of religion are of course different from that of the Party-State. Although different religions have different perspectives, overall they believe that religious faith is beneficial to individual believers and society by providing a moral basis for society and moral guidance to individuals.
Mediascapes whether produced by private or state interests, tend to be image-centered, narrative-based accounts of strips of reality, and what they offer to those who experience and transform them is a series of elements (such as characters, plots and textual forms) out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives, their own as well as those of others living in other places. These scripts can and do get disaggregated into complex sets of metaphors by which people live as they help to constitute narratives of the ‘other’ and proto-narratives of possible lives, fantasies which could become prologemena to the desire for acquisition and movement.(, p. 299)
The phenomenon of music, like that of language or that of religion, cannot be defined or described correctly unless we take account of its threefold mode of existence—as an arbitrarily isolated object, as something produced and as something perceived. It is on these three dimensions that the specificity of the symbolic largely rests.
1. The Agency of Musicking in Christianity
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.(Ephesians 5:18–20, NRSV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.(Colossians 3:16–17, NRSV)
Its words, rhythm, and stylistic characteristics are made for the ear, lips, body, and senses. Lyrical theology is therefore an experience. This is in part why it can be world-making, for it elicits response. Sentence structure, parallelism, rhetoric, etc. become a song on the lips, in the heart, in one’s life…lyrical theology does not make theology a mere object of consciousness. It engages the forces that shape worship and life.(, pp. 15–16)
It is the hymns, repeated over and over again, which form the container of much of our faith. They are probably in our age the only confessional documents which we learn by heart. As such, they have taken the place of our catechisms...There is ample literature about the great formative influence of the hymns of a tradition on its members. Tell me what you sing, and I’ll tell you who you are!(, p. 6)
2. Types of Congregational Song in Musicking
The Gospel is like a seed, but when it is sown, the plant that grows up is Christianity. The plant must bear the marks of the seed as well as of the soil. There is only one Gospel, but there are many Christianities, each indigenous to the soil in which it grows. We must resist the attempt of those who would treat the Gospel as manure for the trees that are already growing in the various lands…When you sow the seed of the Gospel in Israel, a plant that can be called Jewish Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the Gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the Gospel is later brought to America, and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now, when missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the Gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flower pot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the Gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.
From my heartfelt perspective, the Canaan hymns are God’s gift to the Chinese people. When I sing hymns translated from other languages, I feel that I am walking into the kingdom of God. Now it is like God is walking into our hearts, taking care of all our needs through the Canaan hymns. He encourages us when we are weak, he strengthens us when we lose hope, he gives us power when we need it. He guides us with these hymns. So I think the Canaan hymns are absolutely right for the Chinese Church. They touch me very deeply.
3. Musicking and Sinicization
Nobody has the courage to say, “Let’s drop this from our formularies,” since to do so would appear to be somehow of a betrayal of our heritage, a reneging on our ancestors in the faith, or a wanton disregard for tradition. So it goes on appearing in the book, and everyone knows that when you reach it in the order of worship, you simply turn the page and pass over it to the next prayer or whatever.(, p. 6)
Equally telling is the observation from Amity News Service, the publication agency for the official China Christian Council, indicating that “well-known foreign hymns such as ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’ and ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’ are still central to the musical life of large numbers of Chinese Christians and that Chinese churches are still very Western in forms of worship, music and theology” (, p. 210). This clearly indicates that Adopted and Adapted Songs are dominant forms in the Chinese congregational song corpus compared to Actualized Song. This experience is similar to the musicking experiences of other Asian Christianities [36,37,38].It is very difficult. Quite a few Chinese believers and workers have become used to singing foreign hymns. If you don’t let them sing foreign hymns, they will feel they are not really singing hymns at all. I am a musical worker. I feel we Chinese should sing our own hymns made by ourselves. Luther thought they should have German hymns. But there are quite a few Chinese believers who do not like Chinese hymns. They still like old things.(, p. 210)
4. Looking Ahead: What Does It Mean?
For he that sings praise, not only praises, but only praises with gladness: he that sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him of whom he sings. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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- 1This is one of five theoretical dimensions that Arjun Appadurai (1949–) developed in addressing global cultural flows. The remaining four being ethnoscapes, technoscape, finanscape, and mediascapes.
- 2The phrase “we are what we sing” is my adaptation of Albert van den Heuvel’s remark when he wrote, “Tell me what you sing, and I’ll tell you who you are!”
- 3Latin text: Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affectio…
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Lim, S.H. Forming Christians through Musicking in China. Religions 2017, 8, 50. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040050
Lim SH. Forming Christians through Musicking in China. Religions. 2017; 8(4):50. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040050Chicago/Turabian Style
Lim, Swee Hong. 2017. "Forming Christians through Musicking in China" Religions 8, no. 4: 50. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040050