DiM | Modernity and Tradition are Irrelevant

Presentation1Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship. As this is a new feature here at Faithful Stewardship, I wanted to make clear that this is an exercise in Biblical Discernment, not in favoritism or piety. Traditional Hymns do not “get a pass”; modern music isn’t preemptively condemned. To demonstrate this, we’ll be looking at a Hymn that seems a bit confused and a modern hymn that is absolutely phenomenal in my view.

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that there is plenty of room to agree/disagree on issues of taste or flavor. Personally, I find the sound of an organ to be most unpleasant, especially if it is front and center in the music. That’s a matter of taste. I’m not here to tell you what you should like or dislike. My purpose here is strictly to look at the lyrical content of these songs and to determine their Biblical soundness. Whether or not you still “like” a song that has been demonstrated to bear little-to-no Biblical value, remains between you and the Holy Spirit. There are secular songs that I enjoy hearing, but I know full well the lyrics are not in any way Biblically sound. One such song I have mentioned before is “I’m feelin’ good” by Michael Bublé. However, that I like to listen to that song is a far cry from me considering “Christian” and would in no way serve as an endorsement of that song being played in a Praise and Worship setting. Similarly, songs labeled “Christian” need to be tested for conveying a Biblical Message. A “Christian” song being elevated to “Praise/Worship” status most definitely be tested/scrutinized according to the Scriptures. We dare not engage in public confession of false doctrine/teaching or misguided praise and worship.

Hymn 1: Christ, or Else I Die

Link: http://hopehymns.bandcamp.com/track/christ-or-else-i-die
Words: William Hammond, 1745
Music: Drew Holcomb
Arr: Tim Johnson and Matt Patrick

Lyrics
Gracious Lord, incline Thine ear;
My request vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy:
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou dost freely save the lost;
In Thy grace alone I trust.
With my earnest plea comply;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou hast promised to forgive
All who in thy Son believe;
Lord, I know Thou cannot lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

The problem with this Hymn, is one of confusion. Beginning with the Title and the closing line of very stanza, “Give me Christ, or else I die“, we have an odd declaration that sort of rings of a “give me liberty or give me death” vibe (though that famous quote dates back to 1775, while this hymn was written in 1745). If the statement being made her is “Without Christ I will die”, we have a doctrinal problem with this statement. If we are speaking of physical death… all die, with or without Christ.

Hebrews 9:24-28 (ESV) 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

If we are speaking of spiritual death, then we are speaking of it in the wrong order. Without Christ, we are already dead.

Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV) 2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

One might argue “artistic license” to keep it “singable”, but I give no license for changing truth for the sake of a melody. Now, the audience of this song is God the Father. So, the entire song is an appeal to God, “give me Christ, or else I die”. Well, then… so is this the song of a believer or an unbeliever? I matters not, really… since God has already given us Christ. We saw in the Hebrews verse already that Christ died once… was given to us once. He declared, “It is finished“. But let’s look also in John 3

John 3:16-21 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christ was already given, all that remains is that we believe in Him. Now, if we took the first sentence (first to lines) of every stanza, we’d have a solid hymn (thought it wouldn’t have the same ring). However, with the inclusion of the closing phrase, what remains of the hymn is total confusion. It is an old hymn, but it wasn’t always an old hymn. At one time, it was cutting edge. When we exercise discernment in the lyrical content of modern songs, understand that the same method holds true and should be exercised regardless of when the song was written.

Now, the folks over at TGC (The Gospel Coalition) launched a project a while back to write Gospel-centered Praise and Worship. I do not simply accept that every song they write is sound, but I applaud the Gospel focus in the endeavor. After hearing the hymn above, I then heard the following hymn (modern hymn written in an older style), “Not in Me”.

Not In Me

Words and Music by Eric Schumacher and David L. Ward, “Not In Me” Songs for the Book of Luke by The Gospel Coalition. ©ThousandTongues.org
Source: http://www.wogmagazine.com/2013/06/not-in-me-by-the-gospel-coalition/

No list of sins I have not done, no list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with you.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only you.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.

No separation from the world, no work I do, no gift I give
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands,
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again. The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me and merciful in Christ alone.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus death.
My weary load was borne by him, and He alone can give me rest,
And He alone can give me rest.

Great song. The first verse echos Ephesians 2:1-9. We were all dead in sin. Our salvation is by Grace through Faith, not by works so that no one can boast. Solid verse. The second verse addresses piety and good works as not being our assurance of Salvation. Our assurance is in the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, not in our own which echoes Romans 3:21-31 well. The next verse echoes the previous verses, but I’d like to include Romans 8:1-11. The final verse echoes the same truths throughout, but also notice the references to rest. There is much to be said of entering God’s rest, but a good place to see it condensed a bit would be Hebrews 4:1-10. For the sake of this song, let us look at the concluding verses:

Hebrews 4:9-10 (ESV) 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.

Conclusion

I absolutely loved the second song (Not In Me), lyrically. I’d love to hear it performed in every popular musical style imaginable (provided the music doesn’t drown out the lyric). Wonderful song. The first song, is confused. I think the writer sacrificed accuracy for poetry, and I’d rather not sing it. It isn’t so wrong that I’d levy a formal complaint with the pastors or elders, but if asked, “what do you think about this song” my reply would be simply, “I think it’s a confused song”.

Today, I wanted to refute the notion that I simply rejected all things new and grant preferential treatment for “sacred” hymns. There are good hymns that sound great, there are good hymns that sound awful (to my ears at least) and there are confused hymns and other hymns that are just biblically unsound. I will not actively seek those out, because I’m not trying to create lyrical punching bags here. The goal of these posts is to practice Biblical discernment in music. From here on out, my focus will be on what is currently “popular” within Christendom, because that is what we are consuming in large quantities. Let us make sure it is spiritually healthy food.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ,
Jorge

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s