Hymnals, (a collection of songs, Psalms, poems/hymns and gospel songs) in book form, will remain with us as door stops, seat risers and history books. Three-line choruses will remain with us as the stark reminder of our preference for quick, popular, popular, seeker-sensitive, easy, and shallow discipleship. But will the songs in the hymnals continue to be sung?
Most of the songs (hymns and spiritual songs) found within hymnals were birthed and penned by folks who were theologically grounded and mature. The soil from which these songs emerged knew drought, disease, hardship, and scorn. Rarely did they know prosperity, good times and Yippie—WOW—Fun times for all! In other words, real life and its crucibles are how and why we relate to the sufferings of Christ. Even our praise, and especially our praise to God, must have bathed in such sorrow and brokenness before they no longer sound like “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal”. He said we would share in them with Him. This is how poetry, music, and believers “STAND THE TEST OF TIME”. For every circus or party there is a food bank or rehab center ready to keep us balanced and in true perspective.
Most contemporary songs today are birthed by people who know music and theology like they know financial marketing mixed with emotional, sensational appeal to the carnal man and his pocketbook. They know music crafted for secular, human appeal, but too often refuse to accept that this appeal is contrary to the Spirit and our call to be distinct and separate from worldly offerings that smack of human entreaty. This “bargain” music is a cultural copycat of its secular counterpart where high profile personalities are set before us as worthy of worship, the new empty-suit heroes of our faith. Not THE worship, rather the placating of all things entertainment with all the wares that are associated, like stage, lights, skinny jeans, praise-me-bands, and fog machines, complete with a psyche-pep talk void of biblical content parading as a sermon. It is a merry go round with childish whim and cutesy sayings that sound pious yet offer no grounding in all things “Faith of our Fathers” or allegiance to the scriptures for obedience sake. We now have front and center stage—Retail Jesus—all the money with none of the theology. We have also noticed that retail Jesus does not usually sing in 4-part harmony.
Do we not see that in the battle for influence, the church has become mesmerized and lost in the glitz and glamour of this world–AWOL as it were just as Demas.
“Demas loves the things of this world so much that he left me and went to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia.”
–II Timothy 4:10
A BRIGHT SPOT OF HOPE in the midst of decline:
A new age of Spiritual Song is with us and we are being blessed with writers who are theologically sound as well as musically adept. Though their songs and poetry are far from universally accepted, because the American appetite is far from healthy, they are making progress and we see their effect of maturity in congregations.
Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals our purpose for having music, poetry or any other means of communication within and to the body of Christ.
“Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.
We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.
TO IGNORE THIS GENESIS OF MOTIVATION FOR ALL OUR DISCIPLESHIP MEANS DECLINE
Our country and the Christian church within it are obviously not entirely healthy as we see decline in every denomination. What role might hymns, psalms and spiritual songs play in a healthy America—a healthy church? Do we doubt for one moment that our obedience and depth of worship have immense effect on ourselves and on the world around us? Worship in the form of “Loving God first” is intrinsically coupled with the Commission to “Go and make disciples.” If we want to test the worth of our said “worship”, we but need to observe how we act out on the Great Commission or not.
Congregations are using songs written by their own leaders and members–indigenous beauty!
No, the music and poetry we use do not have to be “scholarly” before they are useable, but they do need to harmonize. We want no contradiction between the intrinsic (universal) appeal of melody and chord and the stated meaning of the text. No obvious battle for the rights of ownership caused by the associative power of music (pop-culture) abusing and overpowering the meaning and message of the text.
No, the music and poetry we use do not have to be “owned and operated” by a denomination before they may be shared across the landscape of faith in Christ, but they do need have theological cohesiveness.
Today, we are seeing and singing some offerings that are fresh reflections of true discipleship and biblical, hymnic historicity.
SO, WHILE WE ALWAYS LIVE IN THE NOW WITH “Sing a New Song unto the Lord”, we do not abandon the old HYMN or PSALM OR SPIRITUAL SONG that has stood the test of time. We ADD to the present offerings. We are always ADDING TO our faith.
Consider II Peter 1:3-9
“We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness.God made great and marvelous promises, so that his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world.
Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. But if you don’t grow, you are like someone who is nearsighted or blind, and you have forgotten that your past sins are forgiven.
The old still speaks with clarion voice without respect to or disconnect from any one generation. We learn quickly that hymnals still have necessary place in the church building and in among the believer’s diet of chorus, spiritual / gospel song) and psalmody.
Consider this Gospel Song (hymn) by Elisha Hoffman.
When each generation writes with such poignancy and depth of character as Mr. Hoffman, the style of music and the instrumentation, or none, will fall in place. The contradictions so often implemented for justification-sake will all but go away and the hymnal (collection of songs) will stay as more than a door-prop or relic of history.
Elisha was a Presbyterian pastor. (1839-1929) On one of his many visitations to his flock, he spent time with a mother in distress. As ministers do, he read from the bible several passages he believed to be appropriate. In this case, she found no relief. So, he told her, “Sometimes you have to tell Jesus”. She repeated his words but made them personal. “I must Tell Jesus”, and she did. As soon as that was done, she rose with new perspective and fresh hope. On the way home, the good pastor reveled in those precious moments. When inside he penned these words:
I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.
Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
He all my cares and sorrows will share.
We must tell Jesus…He is a kind, compassionate friend! The truth we gain from hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs become our language to our God, to the world, to the Body of Christ, and the ourselves. Great are His ways and forever be praised!