Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. -Psalm 133
Music knows no denomination. Hymns have been the drunkards song, and the saint’s canticle. The authors range from plain folk of no renowned character to religious sacrosanct of the utmost formality. Some were composed in the open field, others in the privacy and controlled atmosphere of fasting and prayer. Regardless of the source, the result sweetens any soul who is so disposed to receive it.
When you hum a tune from a hymn or spiritual song, you are linking arms with generations of Christians from every ethnicity. “Amazing Grace” was born aboard a slave-trader’s ship. “Jesus Whispers Peace” comforted soldiers on both sides of the trenches in World War 2. Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” is used to coronate the monarch in the United Kingdom today! How else could you join hands with so vast an host except through song?
Notwithstanding the source and the spectrum of these songs, maybe the question is instead: Should you join this singing army? What affect does their walk and their faith have on their music, and you as a result? Are you agreeing with their manner of life by echoing their melodies?
First of all, you cannot trust their entire judgement in life. No man born of a woman can set an impeccable example in anything, including song. Sin creeps into the corners of every tune you whistle, and sin affected hymn writers as well. You cannot honestly expect to idolize any composer for what he wrote, and ignore the fact he or she is a sinner still! Some of the meditative states that birthed noteworthy songs hatched from bitter depression because of sorrowful repentance. Sin affects us all.
The last verse of “The Love of God” was found written on the wall of a mental ward, author unknown. H.G. Spafford, writer of “It Is Well With My Soul” finished his days wandering Israel out of his mind with a ‘Messiah complex’. Fanny Crosby composed many of her hymns only in response to pressure from her publisher to meet deadlines for songbooks to hit the market. Need I go further? Sin affects us all.
(Many Christians are ‘ok’ with sins of which they are ignorant [willingly]. Yet how can you bring a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) out of unclean lips? We’ll look at this in a later post.)
A second, yet pertinent factor is the doctrinal belief that produced the songs we sing, or that is portrayed in the verse. It is no coincidence the Bible speaks of good teaching as “sound doctrine.” We must examine both the text as well as the tune.
Martin Luther is certainly an outstanding figure in Christian history. His stand was courageous, even though his doctrine was not entirely correct. I know of no Protestant who rejoices not at the hearing of his Judgment Hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The hymn is based loosely on Psalm 46, which is far from church-age doctrine. The song’s notability comes then neither by its author’s impeccable life, nor doctrinal applicability. But let us test its mettle another way: does God get praise and worship from it holily, justly, and unblameably? (1 Thessalonians 2:10, A reference to HOW it’s done, not WHAT is done)
My point, in short, is this: If I threw out my songs based on perfectly right doctrine, either of the words, or the belief of the author, or the origin of the tune, I would have NOT ONE SONG LEFT, in any hymnal, of any denomination that calls itself ‘Christian’.
Music selection among Christians is a very hotly debated, and strongly defended conviction. But my supposition is that they are based mostly on feeling and not on fact.
Can you not discern what is right? Did not the Holy Spirit pledge to guide you into all truth? Yes, He did. Cannot the tongue discern tastes? Doesn’t YOUR ear recognize good praise or honest worship when you hear it? (See Job 12:3,11) Many who are critical of musical types cannot reasonably explain why they listen as they do. It is good to have convictions that can be communicated, rather than criticisms based on preference.
Should not the most lovely Being in Eternity receive songs of love? Of course! But if you wait for that composer that will love him most purely, most correctly, you will die a deaf-mute. I suspect most put limits on their praise and worship in song because their heart is not right with God, and He wouldn’t accept the “Hallelujah Chorus” any more than “Kum-Ba-Ya.” Let me share with you my resolve in this issue:
- I will not scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to music for praise and worship. Why should a millionaire beg? You should not waste time trying to reform trash to bring before the Lord. Some have tried to put the words of Scripture itself to music, and as God is my witness: it is HORRIBLE both musically and Scripturally! Yet there are spiritual songs that express adoration to Christ that although creative in metaphor, are far from Scripture.
- I will not discard the best for nothing. I will not throw away Psalm 23 because of David’s adultery. I will not quiet the praise of “You Are Always Good” over the composer’s suicide. I will not refuse Deuteronomy 32 because of Moses’ murder. Yes, there were sinful situations, but in a moment of contrition, a second of repentance, a spell of sanctification WORSHIP was transformed into SONG. And if “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14) they have endured as channels of praise and glory and honor to Jesus Christ.
- I must clean and purify my heart and motive before I begin to worship the Lord God musically. HOW an offering is presented is as important as WHAT is brought to the altar, as only One Sacrifice “can… make the comers thereunto perfect.” (Hebrews 10:1) Before song must come salvation.