Here it comes … but, I have been thinking about the issue of music in the church service recently. If you go to an Evangelical or Pentecostal church nowadays, you will hear “contemporary music”, which is a lot like jazz mixed with rock. It is designed to connect with people from this day and age.
Contemporary worship music is very effective in connecting with people. It is so effective that even liturgical churches have adapted to the changes and put “worship bands” in their services. This has a mixed result. Some people prefer the hymns, while others prefer the “praise songs”. It has caused a bit of a split in these churches.
To many, the difference is merely between old and new. To me, the difference is deeper.
In my church, we practice catechism, which means that we teach children the basics of the Christian faith through prescribed questions and answers. It is hoped that they will be encouraged in their faith through the process. This process begins in childhood, however, I believe the process of learning and growing should continue throughout one’s life. In fact, it does!
Whenever we sing a hymn or a praise song, we are feeding ourselves a theology. We are involved in the process of catechising ourselves. The melody is simply a delivery method to atheology.
And, what theology are we feeding ourselves? Here are the words to “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”:
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.
Now, read the following praise song:
Lord the Light or Your Love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.
Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your word
Lord and let there be light.
Lord I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance,
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness,
Shine on me. Shine on me.
As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
So our faces display Your likeness.
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.
The first song is a catechism into the depths of the Christian hope in Christ. The second is more of an attempt at “personal surrender”. This is not to say that modern Christian music is “bad”. Nor do I believe that all hymns are excellent. Some are really lousy.
No, I think the vehicle (melody) can be simple, complex, or something in the middle, without issue. The real issue is what “word diet” are we feeding on? Much of contemporary Christian music is man-centered. Theologians call it “Arminian” (not Armenian). It means that if I do X, God will do Y.
This is not good theology.
This is a diet of worms.
The music we should sing, in church and to ourselves, should be Christ-focused. That is why I can easily listen to “Holy, Holy, Holy”, and “Sing to Jesus” (a wonderful song by Fernando Ortega) wherever I’m at. These songs both affirm my Christian faith, rather than confuse it.
So, here’s my appeal; Music directors, please consider the words, not the vehicle; church members, please consider the words of the praise songs you sing to yourselves. The point is not the “newness” or “catchiness” of the tune. It is not the tradition. It is what we are catechising and being catechised into. If we focus on the theology of the songs, then we can be open to both new and old, while rejecting the hellish.
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix c. 1861
Jacob provides a good example of Christian meditation. I don’t mean that he picked on angels in bar fights. I mean he was willing to go to the mat with God until he received the blessing from the Angel of the Lord (see Genesis 32:26)
Christian meditation is reading, or listening to, or reciting out loud a particular passage of scripture expecting the Holy Spirit to give a person an understanding of the passage. The Holy Spirit will show one who “wrestles” for understanding the Law and the Gospel in the passage. This is what makes a true theologian.
Christian meditation is not sitting in some sense-deprived environment and emptying the mind to have an “alpha state” experience of God. It is not employing the words of scripture as a mantra to repeat over and over again with a view to have an ecstatic experience.
In comparing Roman Catholic Lectio Divina “Four Moments” practice to Luther’s concept, Rev. Jeffrey Ware wrote:
“Luther also completely redefines meditatio. Whereas in Lectio Divina meditation is focused on the human memory and its ability to make the text personal through the recollection of past events, Luther’s understanding of meditation focuses on God’s word. For Luther, meditation is simply the continual study of scripture. God’s word is not a mere sign that needs to be internalized in order to be heard properly, it is the very voice of God that comes with power both to kill and make alive” (A Lutheran Perspective on Lectio Divina, from SoundWitness.org)
As Luther noted:
Let him who wants to contemplate in the right way reflect on his Baptism; let him read his Bible, hear sermons, honour father and mother, and come to the aid of a brother in distress. But let him not shut himself up in a nook . . . and there entertain himself with his devotions and thus suppose that he is sitting in God’s bosom and has fellowship with God without Christ, without the Word, without the sacraments (The Kindled Heart – Luther on Meditation, John Kleinig).
What is the result of the type of meditation that wrestles with God through the word? First, one is humbled through the working and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Second, one’s faith in Christ is deepened and grown. Third, one serves others selflessly. Fourth, over time, a desire and ability to teach is developed in the one who practices Christian meditation. Fifth, one is brought into trials and temptations, which I will describe in my next article: Tentatio.
When I was in high school, I worked as a stage hand one semester. I was in the background, helping to move stage elements. We changed backdrops, moved furniture, and moved props.
We got to see everything back there. The audience, though, was unaware of anything but what they saw in front of them.
This is true for our view of the world, too. Most people are largely unaware of what “backdrops” are behind their thinking. It’s too much work to figure it out. It’s more fun just to watch the play.
Our view of the purpose of the Bible is also influenced by our background beliefs. Everyone comes to it with beliefs/perspectives of what it’s about. And, if they don’t have any prior experience with it, they soon become aware that it talks a lot about commands, God, promises, war, sex, death, resurrection, angels and other “religious stuff”.
This helps to explain the differences in denominations. If you go to a church, you probably accept their “backdrop” explanation of the purpose of the Bible.
But, is it correct? Have you ever considered that conservative Christians (not talking politically here) have legitimate and valid differences concerning the purpose of the Bible?
One of the current “backdrops” is called “Lordship Salvation”. It assumes that the Bible is a book of rules that we must follow perfectly otherwise we are not true disciples. Christians in these churches assume that their church is “Biblical”. They assume that Christians in other churches are weak or disobedient. They assume this because this is the result of what they believe about the Bible and the Christian life.
Where does this belief come from? Why do people believe that once they “receive Jesus” or “repent and believe” (as the Lordship Salvation camp would say), they must “get to work”, “live obediently” and “put your nose to the grindstone”? Why does the Christian life return to me and my works?
Simple. This is the theology of the Old Adam. It is a theology that denies the Lordship of Christ. The Old Man denies that Christ is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He denies John 6:28-29 which the disciples ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The Old Adam denies Hebrews 10:10 which states, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
And in so denying that these verses are for Christians, the Old Adam denies Christ, Himself. The Old Adam replaces Jesus with his own works, effort and obedience. The Old Adam works to keep himself alive rather than submit to the crucifixion of Jesus as both the one who births faith in us and feeds faith through the means of grace.
The Old Adam is busy keeping himself as god. He is his own lord. He lives a blasphemous life.
And because of the extreme moral demands of Lordship Salvation, Christians under this theology can go only three directions:
In the first option, they can become self-righteous, arrogant about their relationship with God, and in denial about the depth of God’s demands on their lives. This person is willing to judge others harshly and never examine his/her own life in light of the “full thundering” of the Law. They become deeply judgmental, lacking any love.
In the second option, the Christian of sensitive conscience is thrown into despair about their salvation. Martin Luther, the great reformer, fell into this camp when the terrors of Roman Catholic theology scared him into a monastery to find peace. Eventually, these Christians will either leave the church, or have their faith shipwrecked. Some of these people become hopeless and becomes agnostics/atheists because of the lack of mercy in these church bodies.
In the third option, they can remain superficial, never taking any of it seriously, and covering up with a false edifice.
There is a fourth option, however. Along with many other who have escaped the clutches of Lordship Salvation, I encountered a completely different backdrop when I read Martin Luther. Because I had lived in both the first and second options, Luther’s Bondage of the Will was like a key to open the prison door I lived in.
His view was that we begin and end with Christ when it comes to the Christian life. In Biblical terms, that means that Jesus retains His lordship as the Alpha and the Omega. We are to come to church to hear “Christ crucified” rather than the “ten steps to overcoming sin”.
This is a theology of reception. It is a theology that believes that God is at work on and in us, and that it is His pleasure to do so.
It is a theology that views the Scripture as the manger in which we find the Christ-child. He is the heart of its meaning, purpose and proclamation. Read Hebrews. Is it about you or about Jesus? Read the Gospel from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Is it about you or Jesus?
And, having this “cross theology” also means that we interpret the Bible as being Law or Gospel. This means that God’s demands reveal our inherent sinfulness, but God has provided His own Son to fulfill ALL of these demands and cleanse us from ALL sin. Even the sin of trying to be your/my own God.
Why does He do this? Look at Romans 3:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Acts 4:12 states; “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name, not even your own.
To the Glory of His Holy Lordship, Amen.