Thursday, January 2, 2014

To Hymn or not to Him - That's really the question



I am often accused of not liking modern church music because I 'don't get it.' There may be something to that. But it's probably more a question of waiting for something to speak to my soul and spirit the way these words do:
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust a sweeter frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' Name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand...
all other ground is sinking sand."
Modern "worship" leaders so often mix songs of praise, worship songs, the 'psalms, hymns and spiritual songs' of which Paul speaks in his letter to the church at Ephesus, under the broad banner of 'worship' to an apparently hard of hearing God, that is it is patently clear the worship leaders don't know what the differences are and can hardly be expected to lead that which they don't 'get'. and then there are the words of Edward Mote, the son of a London pub owner, who wrote what is by all definition, from the first verse to the last chorus, a simple hymn of grace
In Mote's own words:
"One morn­ing it came into my mind as I went to la­bour, to write an hymn on the ‘Gra­cious Ex­per­i­ence of a Christ­ian.’ As I went up Hol­born I had the chor­us,

‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand.’

"In the day I had four first vers­es com­plete, and wrote them off. On the Sab­bath fol­low­ing I met bro­ther King as I came out of Lisle Street Meet­ing…who in­formed me that his wife was ve­ry ill, and asked me to call and see her. I had an ear­ly tea, and called af­ter­wards. He said that it was his usu­al custom to sing a hymn, read a por­tion, and en­gage in pray­er, be­fore he went to meet­ing. He looked for his hymn-book but could find it no­where. I said, ‘I have some vers­es in my pock­et; if he liked, we would sing them.’ We did, and his wife en­joyed them so much, that af­ter ser­vice he asked me, as a fa­vour, to leave a co­py of them for his wife. I went home, and by the fire­side com­posed the last two vers­es, wrote the whole off, and took them to sis­ter King…As these vers­es so met the dy­ing wo­man’s case, my at­ten­tion to them was the more ar­rest­ed, and I had a thou­sand print­ed for dis­tr­ibu­tion. I sent one to the Spir­it­u­al Mag­a­zine, with­out my ini­tials, which ap­peared some time af­ter this. Bro­ther Rees, of Crown Street, So­ho, brought out an edi­tion of hymns [1836], and this hymn was in it. Da­vid Den­ham in­tro­duced it [1837] with Rees’ name, and others af­ter…Your in­sert­ing this brief out­line may in fu­ture shield me from the charge of stealth, and be a vin­di­ca­tion of truth­ful­ness in my con­nect­ion with the Church of God."
~ Edward Mote
Let­ter to the Gos­pel Her­ald
Were he alive today, Edward Mote probably wouldn't 'get it' either, but thank God he 'got it' where the simple truth of the saving grace of God through repentance and faith in the shed blood of Jesus is concerned. And with Pastor Mote I sing,
"On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand...
all other ground is sinking sand."

So I suppose it boils down to m I hanging on to tradition for tradition sake, and therefore, for tradition’s sake, rejecting anything and everything ‘new’ out of hand because in the end, I really don’t ‘get it’.  I didn’t ‘get’ the old stuff by that measure either, if I’m being honest.
No, there must be an objective, immutable means of measuring the sacred validity of the concept of what is or is not worship music, and it can no more be popular culture, which is itself prone to fly here and there with each new trendy thing that comes along, than it can be established by my judgment, for the admitted opposite reason – rigid inflexibility.  There must be something more in a place where one does not invalidate the other and each recognizes that its passing fancy cannot realistically be the exclusive norm, either.  After all, even though VH-1 named it the number 1 one-hit wonder of all time, who among us really wishes ‘Macarena’ was still a permanent part of our party going experience in 2014?
For something more definitive, and critically so for the Christ follower, the only place an answer can be found is the Bible.
     Paul said is time Ephesians 5:18-20 (NIV) Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      This Scripture has several key words in the original Greek which help clarify things, I think.
      That very first phrase in verse 18 – ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery’. The phrase ‘get drunk’ isn’t really about alcohol or imbibing. It is, rather, a metaphor for control, or more to the point, losing control to something. In the specific metaphor, Paul speaks of drinking wine to the point of excess – where the wine controls you. Paul contrasts this in the very next statement Instead, be filled (controlled) with (by) the Spirit.
     ‘Be Filled’, the Greek here is playro’o, is a direct contradistinction to ‘be drunk’ or ‘be controlled’. It is in a voice and tense that suggests that the reader is to be in a constant state of being replenished and controlled by the Holy Spirit of God; the third member of the Godhead or triunity (a word I like in preference to the more commonly used term trinity).
     Next, Paul instructs his readers to ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ., which is the other point of our friendly disagreement.
      Three different words are used with reference to how we use music when we approach God. They have different etymology and are not interchangeable, although our tendency is to do just that.
      First, the word translated Psalms. In the original, it is Psal-mos. Literally, it means the book of the Psalms in the Old Testament. More generally it means ‘scripture.’ Since the text begins with the word ‘speaking’, the context calls for two distinctly different, yet contextually similar ideas. Preaching the Word to each other, and singing the Word to each other. In other words, use the text of Scripture in your singing just as you would in your preaching.
     The second word is translated ‘hymns.’ It is the Greek word humnos – from the older, hudeo, and it means to bring praises in singing. These are praise songs, and are an entirely different genre from psalms used in singing, although Psalms (Scripture songs) can include Praise and Worship songs.
     Third is the word spiritual songs,’ from the Greek words pneumatikos, which means literally breathed by the Holy Spirit, and ‘oday’, which means ‘to sing in an attitude of reverence.’ In other words, these are worship songs.
     Preached (spoken) and sung Scripture, songs of praise, and songs of worship. Each existing separately, yet harmoniously in the instruction of the Apostle as he teaches us about the way we are to approach the Almighty, Omniscient God of Eternity in our worship of Him. Each different. Each distinct. Each a necessary part. And, I can’t help but notice that in each case the focus is on God, the Creator, and not man, the creation.
      And to think – the Psalmist, on top of all that – this has been about our voices in praise and worship - in the 150th Psalm, gave us an orchestra with which to accompany our singing.
     It is important to note that order and distinction are significant in God’s Word. These terms and forms function in harmony, but they are not synonymous. Praise is not Worship. Scripture is not personal testimony or experience. There is order to God’s plan and to lead we must first understand.
     So, reflecting back on Edward Mote’s hymn, one must conclude that the question is not nor has it ever been one of Hymns OR the new stuff. The question is, if you are calling it Worship music, does it fit the Biblical definition of Worship music, i.e., do the words and music (a) worship God) and (b) bring about an attitude of worship in others? And by this I mean worshiping God as opposed to praising God (two different things), and more importantly, worshiping or praising GOD or worshiping/praising (drawing attention to) ME (and my performance as worship leader)? Most church music today is just loud, self-gratifying music that stirs emotions as loudly as possible ( as if God is hard of hearing) and focuses attention not on God, but on the performance skills of the worship leader and his/her ability to stir your emotions. That's true whether it's done with old hymns or the k-love top 40.

Post a Comment