I stumbled upon this quote by an Anglican pastor in which he offers criticism of “new Christian music” and I thought it was worth sharing:
“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous. The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the established style. Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances; people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money making scene and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”
The Anglican pastor’s name is William Romaine and his critique was featured in An Essay on Psalmody. It was written in 1723. The “new music” he was referring to? The hymns of Isaac Watts.
It’s really easy to criticize new music, idolize old music, and demonize what you don’t like.
A few words of caution (and these are just as much for me as they are for anyone else):
Every song is new at some point
When Isaac Watts wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, the church was primarily singing the Psalms. This song was radical in several ways. It was new. It was in the first person. It wasn’t strictly sung scripture, meaning it was of “human composition” and highly controversial.
It’s now considered one of the greatest hymns ever written.
Christians are encouraged by scripture to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
Paul’s encouragement to the church in Colossae teaches us a good deal about how we should sing. One thing to learn is that we should sing different kinds of songs, written by different kinds of people, and written in different times. The “psalms” were just that – the same Psalms we read and sing today. “Hymns” probably referred to songs written and sung in the New Testament church. And “spiritual songs” were most likely songs unique to each congregation.
Anyone who postulates that we should only sing one kind of song from one time period is not basing that argument on scripture, and that’s dangerous.
A song doesn’t have to last hundreds of years in order to be worth singing
There is a school of thought that says we should only sing songs that “have stood the test of time.” I would disagree.
While the Psalms have been preserved for us, we’ll never know (until we get to heaven) what “hymns and spiritual songs” Jesus sang with his disciples (Matthew 26:30), or the New Testament church sang when they gathered together.
While Jesus did sing the Psalms that have lasted even until today, there were “hymns and spiritual songs” that did not last, yet were still good enough for him and the New Testament church to sing. If Jesus could sing songs that only lasted for a while, we can too.
Yes, we should sing songs that have stood the test of time. But we can also sing “hymns and spiritual songs” that the Holy Spirit has inspired for certain seasons.
God “mocks proud mockers”
One of the most chilling warnings against pride is found in Proverbs 3:34. It says God “…mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble”.
It’s a good thing to develop healthy and scripture-based discernment with respect to what songs are worth singing in church and what songs are not. Many that are written today are not. But it’s not a good thing to develop a prideful and preference-based mockery of songs that you don’t like.
If you’re choosing and leading songs while prideful about how good they are and how bad others are, you may very well face God’s opposition (James 4:6).
I pray that God would keep me humble and discerning, and protect me from proud mocking.
The point isn’t the song. The point is the Savior
We should not be primarily interested in preserving a certain library of songs, protecting against an invasion of new music, persuading people that what they like is bad, or advancing our own musical preferences.
We should primarily, secondarily, and thirdly be interested in magnifying the greatness of God as revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ. If we can best do this with an old Isaac Watts hymn, then let’s do it. If we can best do it with a song written yesterday and found on iTunes, then let’s not hesitate.
If our focus on song style blinds us to the primacy of God’s glory, woe to us.
Lord, help those of us who lead your people in singing your praise to be humble, wise, discerning, filled with a passion for your glory, and filled with your Holy Spirit.