The Reformation Comes Back to Poznań

How many battles have been won by choirs singing in formation?

It is not a trick question. I know of at least one, and the story is told in 2 Chronicles 20.

And when [Jehoshaphat] had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.

2 Chronicles 20:21-22 (ESV)

The point of the story is, quite simply, that God fights for his people. He goes before them and routs the evil schemes of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And there is perhaps no more fitting activity for the people of God as they watch this great salvation than to sing.

This is one of the reasons why traveling in Europe and Asia with The Genevans was such a precious experience. As exhausting as a series of choral concerts can be, The Genevans were never doing the heavy lifting. A choir is a sign, pointing beyond itself (remember that I am studying semiotics this spring!), and the object to which the choir points is the music that moves hearts and the God that works through music.

The Genevans singing Psalm 19 in Hebrew in the Philippines in 2014

Music is often at the forefront of revolutions and reformations. The music of Martin Luther spurred the momentum of the early Protestant Reformation, as did the Genevan Psalter commissioned by John Calvin in Switzerland a little later. As it turns out, the Genevan Psalter is still spearheading reformation in the church of Jesus Christ, and I got to witness a small part of that musical army in Poznań today.

The Ewangeliczny Zbór Reformowany w Poznaniu is a small, conservative Reformed congregation in the Grunwald district of Poznań, which is a (blustery but otherwise pleasant) half-hour walk from my apartment. Its members congregate in an unused Lutheran chapel in a cemetery-turned-park, and let me tell you what a refreshment it is to step out of the February chill into a tiny church with bundled-up congregants huddling together over coffee and tea to discuss the events of the week in front of two roaring woodstoves.

I heard a powerful sermon on Isaiah 58 which expounded upon the idea that worship and service are the Christian’s grateful response to what God has already done in Jesus Christ. I also witnessed a lively catechism class which discussed the similarities and differences between the Reformed and Roman Catholic views of baptism. And I was able to understand both, not because I have magically acquired Polish in three days, but because a gracious member who is also an English teacher sat next to me and whispered real-time translations of the sermon, songs, and lessons in my ear. That is Christian generosity in action, and it will not soon be forgotten.

My mental faculties were stretched to the utmost in pronouncing the Polish song texts, but (and here is one more argument for psalm-singing!) I was delighted to be able to understand the psalms as soon as I could match each number to the English text I knew. A group of Reformed people in Poland, including several members of this congregation, are currently engaged in producing a complete metrical psalter in Polish using the tunes of the Genevan Psalter. It is not the first time this has been done (one version dates back to the early days of the Reformation), but it will be the first complete psalter available in modern Polish.

A musical ensemble consisting of flute, violin, viola, guitar, and drums provided the congregation with creative, energetic, reverent, and singable accompaniment for the tunes. The ensemble, whose instrumentalists are mostly members of one extremely gifted musical family, also goes by the name Cithara Sanctorum and exists to provide exposure to the historic music of the Reformation to a new generation. Their musicianship is world-class.

Best of all, I spent the afternoon in this family’s home, feasting on roast goose, buckwheat, and pastries, listening cluelessly as a little girl read to me from the Polish translation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, enjoying and playing a wide variety of music, and discussing the things of the Lord.

It has been a day of physical and mental exhaustion but of spiritual refreshment beyond measure. The Lord has added this mercy to them all, that he has led me to the assembly of believers. Not only have we communicated in the universal language of music, we have also discovered that we are neighbors and friends in the advancing march of the kingdom of heaven.

The Poles tell me that my pronunciation is remarkably good (apparently better than that of J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave up on learning Polish after inventing three languages of his own), but I am afraid that my brain has room for only one language at a time, and I sometimes worry that if I go too far in my learning I will lose the ability to speak English at all. So if you have something to say to me, you may want to say it soon, before my only reply will be, “Przepraszam, nie rozumiem.”

Michael