Across the landscape of “Christendom” today, the foundations of everything held dear and true to the people of God for centuries has been rethought and retaught. Foundational principles have been vilified and mocked. The Bible has been replaced, revised and retarded. Music has been rewritten and redefined.
Public worship has suffered the same fate. In many places, we no longer minister, we perform. The abode of the pulpit is not a platform but rather a stage. We no longer sing in the old-fashioned way in simplicity, but rather cloud the platform with divas that push to the side the pulpit and the man of God. It is that old-time touch of God on simplicity that we crave! It is that foundation of biblicism, simplicity and truth glaringly missing from our churches.
Recently, I was with a young man who attends a prominent, denominational church in town. He chronicled the tug-of-war taking place in his church. The battle was generational! The traditional, “foundational” members of age were on one side, and the state-of-the-art millennials were on the other. Rather than offering separate services, the church had opted to blend both worship styles into one hot mess! He then unequivocally expressed their goal to entirely push out the old music (and people) and replace it with the new.
However, is the problem really “old versus new,” or is the problem better classified “old versus new kind?”
In 17th century England, it was the practice of almost every congregation of England to sing only Old Testament psalms in public worship. Over the years, Isaac Watts, a Nonconformist, had grown indifferent to this liturgical style and felt that the psalms did not radiate with gospel light contained in the New Testament, nor could “easily and naturally be accommodated to the various occasions of Christian life.”
“To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips,” Watts wrote, “might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” It was clear to Watts that a new contribution be made to church music.
From age 20 to 22, “Hymns poured from his pen with the impetus of true genius.” Watts retooled the psalms into an elegant tapestry of piety and freshness. Psalm 98 became, “Joy to the World, ” Psalm 72 became, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun,” and Psalm 90 became, “O God our Help in Ages Past.” Other works were written, such as, “At the Cross,” “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” and 600 more!
Accordingly, in 1707 Watts produced a new hymnal, entitled, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. His work, however, was not immediately seen as a welcomed contribution to church music. His protestors exclaimed, “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy,” while others labeled Watt’s hymns, “Watts’s whims.”
In the preface to Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Watts addresses the worship situation of his time and offers a defense for writing and publishing new music.
Many Ministers and many private Christians have long groaned under this Inconvenience, and have wished rather than attempted a Reformation: At their importunate and repeated Requests I have for some Years past devoted many Hours of leisure to this Service. Far be it from my Thoughts to lay aside the Psalms of David in public Worship; few can pretend so great a Value for them as my self … But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Saint in our Day, to assume as his own; There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied in the Writings of the New Testament; and with this Advantage I have composed these spiritual Songs which are now presented to the World.
Today, we look on his work as irreplaceable genius and worthy of perpetuity. The question then is, “Is what is happening now in church music akin to what plagued the heart of Watts over 300 years ago.” Worship had become stale and lifeless in England’s churches. Fire was needed! However, what was needed was not a new form, a new foundation, a new kind of music. What was needed was fresh fire to fall on old altars!
So today, we are told that new music is the key to the future and a magical panacea to reach young families. Using Watts’s story, please observe the following statements:
Music is not valuable simply because it is old!
An old thing might indeed just be an old thing! In antique shops there are highly valuable items, as well as things of little or no value. A trained eye looks for older pieces with intrinsic value. Consider that we sing a half millennium later, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” That is an old song with great value! With no promise of preservation, as was assigned by our Lord to the Holy Scriptures, many songs are lost in time.
New music is not necessarily a wicked thing!
When we speak of music, we ought to consider the spirit, the substance and the sound. A new song may quite easily be used to worship Christ in spirit and in truth. However, if it emanates from the Charismatic, praise and worship world, we ought to question “of what sort it is” in relation to its spirit. If it is published by a “vanilla” publication house, selling to all denominations, we ought to question of what substance it is. Is it strong doctrinally, and does it speak specifically of the Lord Jesus Christ? Also, is the sound wholesome, holy and distinctively Christian, or, as my eight year old son once said, “Daddy, it sounds like Rock-n-Roll with Jesus’ name in it”?
That being said, there are many new songs we sing that are powerful additions to our services that are, as was ascribed to Watts, “elegant, yet full of piety” in spirit, substance, and sound.
Every old-fashioned church is not lifeless!
Don’t buy that lie! That snake-oil salesman, the Devil, is profiting mightily on that one. Are there lifeless churches, allegiant to the right music? Yes! Are there song leaders lifelessly leading congregations through the service? Yes! BUT, not every old-fashioned church is lifeless! If you were privileged to go where I go, you would see joyful, happy, and sacred singing that points men and women to the God of the Bible! You would hear the shouts of the people of God! You would shout, cry, meditate and even stand in awe of God in relative silence! Our Lord is not without “true worshippers” in these last days.
New music does not need to betray old principles! If it does, it should not be labeled “new,” but rather of a new kind.
Beloved, let us be cautious in our words, lest someone perceive we are against any new music. We are against music of a new kind! We are openly and vocally against music that preaches another gospel or not one at all! We are against music that speaks of God in the impersonal pronoun “He” or “You.” We are against songs that can be sung on the country music stage and in the church house! We are against musical styles that appeal to the flesh and the soul, leaving the spirit thirsty and unfed.
Interestingly, the producers of new music have been quite willing to label it as a new kind. It is called “Praise and Worship” or “Contemporary.” Why do many fundamental brethren have difficulty seeing that?