Truth over tempo


     I am currently between churches as I write this due to a move. We’re looking. Two great tools to use for this by the way are the IX Marks website church search, and the Master's Seminary alumni search. I went to a new church today. I am left, among other things, considering the musical part of it all. I suppose if I could have the best of it all I’d want a church with contemporary music (guitar, drums, piano, etc.) accompanying the lyrics in the tradition of what we might call classic hymns. It’s hard to find them both. No one today is writing anything better than songs like Amazing Grace, My Jesus I Love Thee, The Old Rugged Cross, It is Well With My Soul or Just As I Am. The truths that these melodies articulate are such that demand songs. They are huge truths and apply to us all. I want to be moved more by what I’m singing about than the sounds along which I sing! You cannot mistake the sound of a living church singing a doxology for anything of this world. There are worldly tunes that are catchy; church songs are more.

     The Old Testament lays the foundation for musical instruments in song to the Lord very clearly. Nothing in the New Testament abrogates such celebration styles. Those who claim it does demonstrate a great ignorance of the difference between the prescriptive and descriptive texts in Scripture. Psalm 150 reads:


Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
2 Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
5 Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! (NKJV) 


     The use of musical instruments demands skill, tempo and harmony. Cacophony, even with great lyrics, is neither desirable nor worthy of our God and faith. So of what should we sing? Should we sing about how we feel or what God has done? Should we use our songs to articulate our feelings or let the truths of our songs give merit to our feelings? I’ll leave that as an open question for just a moment. It’s to verse two above that I’d like to again call your attention to in Psalm 150. I think there’s a good model here.

     When we praise God with sound theology in our music we’re remembering His mighty acts. Emotion comes second and is then focused well. When we sing of the cross, justification, our eternal preservation in the Father, or His glorious word we sing of His acts toward us. This is both as old as the Exodus and spoken of as future in Revelation 5:8-14. Both speak of God’s works. Their emotions about them, though certainly there in fervor, are not mentioned. Please note that they have harps in the future as well. In Exodus 15:1-21 immediately following the miracle of the Red Sea crossing, the children of Abraham sang a song of praise to their God 1) for what He had done, and 2) for who they knew Him to be.

     Could the songs we claim to sing “From our hearts” today also thrill the hearts of the folks on our flanks? What truths do they honor in God? What works do they extoll? It’s not just about emotion, beloved; it's about God. Emotion’s good, but a healthy focus on the truths that produce it is far better. What saint is not moved when singing: 


“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone?” – Augustus Toplady. Rock of Ages.


      It is the truth of complete pardon in Christ’s justifying righteousness that should enrapture us when we sing this song. It syllabizes things like a futility in good deeds to save us, the law of God, the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, repentance, and a complete trust in Christ alone. It calls into focus the fruits of our hearts that flow forth from a life that loves and lives in such truths. This causes great joy in our hearts that purifies us. It pulls together all we know, all we have and all we hope for into song. That’s why we praise Him in it. A lot of music today lacks any semblance of theological depth. It focuses on issues in us and feeling. Repetition and superficial chorus rhymes are used to fill the void of truth. It’s catchy to the ear, but boring to the heart.

     In the song-less prisons of ancient Philippi there were once two of the freest men any prison ever envied. “And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” Acts 16:23-25. What, I wonder, did they sing about? I don’t know. I don’t, but I guarantee it’s something that I could sing about too! They would have something even more to sing of the following night.

     What truths would move your heart if you were shackled to a stone? If it wasn’t those you sang of today then what you sang about today is of little use.

     “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Ephesians 5:18-20.


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