Was America founded as a Christian nation? Listen to this message to learn what the Founding Fathers had to say about this. Continue the study of worshipping God through music. Hear a number of popular fallacies current today in the “worship wars” taking place in churches. See that the worldview of the culture influences music, art, and literature and that Christian music must be based on principles from God’s Word. Be aware of the danger of conforming Christian music to the pagan culture in order to attract people.
In this message Dr. Dean referenced the book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal by David Gordon.
The Majesty of God; God the Creator
1 Chronicles 15:1–16; Isaiah 6:1–4
1 and 2 Samuel Lesson #136
July 3, 2018
“Our Father, You are the God who created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that is in them. You are the God who is in control of history, moving history in the direction of the final culmination, which will demonstrate Your righteousness, and Your justice, and Your love for mankind.
“Father, we know that ultimately all history is about You, and all history is about demonstrating that Your plan is perfect, that Your plan is good, and that Your plan is righteous.
“Father, we pray for this nation. There have been so many nations over the years—some that have risen and fallen, some have been at times very devoted to the truth of Scripture—and it has not been long before they have fragmented and fallen apart. And there have been others that have been in rebellion against Your Word from their very inception.
“And Father, we pray for this nation. We pray for this President, we pray for our Vice President, we pray for those in leadership at every level of government that You would protect them from those who are being riled up, by whichever side, that they might be protected from those who would seek to do them harm, and who cannot sit down and have a civil conversation and civil discussion about the differences.
“Father, we need to have a restoration of peace in this nation, and that can only come on the basis of Your Word. This nation was founded as a Christian nation to be a Christian nation on principles that were derived from Your Word. And we pray that there might be—that You might deal with us in grace, and that there might be a restoration and recovery of a love for You in this nation.
“We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
I wanted to start off—because tomorrow is the anniversary of our nation’s birth and Declaration of Independence—by bringing to your attention an event that occurred in Dallas. This is from a report that came out on June 21, 2018. So, this was a couple weeks ago. It is titled, “Dallas Mayor Fights Church over Billboard Stating ‘America is a Christian nation.’ ”
Now you know—because you’ve been here, and you have been with me as I have studied the history of our nation’s founding again and again through the last 10 years or so—that this nation was founded to be a Christian nation. I will show you some quotes from that before we’re done this evening. John Jay, who was the first Supreme Court Justice, made that very clear in a statement that this country was founded as a Christian nation.
We have to understand what that means, but that doesn’t mean that everybody was a believer in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean that everybody had it right, that everybody was a Christian, but it meant that all of the values, the norms and standards, the thinking, the heritage, the ideals, the values, that shaped the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had their roots and foundation in the Bible. That’s been demonstrated again and again, as I’ve stated from the pulpit.
One of the most well-known studies is that of Donald Lutz, who at the time was Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, who did a study with graduate students to determine what was the source most commonly cited, quoted, or alluded to in the documents, diaries, and speeches of the Founding Fathers. He concluded two-to-one, the Bible more than anyone else. And number two, I believe, was John Locke.
So, it was a well-established study, it’s been published, and there’s been much there. But that’s his conclusion, that the evidence points to the primary influence being the Bible.
In this article, the version I have was written by Tony Perkins, who’s with the Family Research Council. He writes,
In Texas, you can advertise adult shops. It’s church promotion they find offensive. That’s the unbelievable predicament First Baptist Dallas finds itself in, after it tried to buy a billboard for a series of upcoming sermons.
What’s offensive about a message on the Christian heritage of America? Plenty, according to the Dallas Mayor.
Freedom Sunday is June 24 for one of the largest churches in Dallas, but it won’t be easy getting that news to locals. When First Baptist Dallas bought billboard space to promote it, owners of the sign company, Out Front Media, said it was inundated with complaints.
“Dallas Morning News and other news affiliates are doing stories on how it’s offensive and bigoted,” said a representative for Out Front. “Following our lawyer’s advice, we have to take them down as soon as possible.”
Apparently, the idea that “America is a Christian nation” is not only news to local liberals, but offensive.
And I would say that’s because they have been brainwashed by a secular education system, and they are mostly ignorant of any truth in American history, it has been so distorted and made to shape a liberal agenda.
The writer goes on to say,
With the help of the Dallas Morning News, Mayor Mike Rawlings launched a personal campaign to scrub the sign, insisting, “This is not the Christ I follow.”
My conclusion is the Christ that you follow isn’t the Christ of the New Testament.
Reminding people of America’s Christian roots is “Not the Dallas I want to be.” Rawlings told the newspaper. “To say things that do not unite us, but divide us.”
See, that shows a significant presupposition that, as far as his speech is concerned, we have to all unite, and just do away with whatever we disagree with. But that only works on one side of the aisle, as we know. If you don’t agree with the liberals, then they’re going to throw a pity party, and they’re going to hurl the vilest hate speech they can against the President and against members of Congress. They are offensive, they are vile, they are profane, and they are degrading.
This does not help solve any problems. It does not contribute to conversations, and it does not contribute to solutions. All it does is stir up a lot of anger and resentment. But that’s his thing, is we need to say things that unite us. But from his perspective, those things that unite us are only those things that fit the liberal worldview.
He goes on to say,
“I never heard those words, that voice, come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe, ‘Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine.’ ”
How does the statement that America is a Christian nation diminish anyone? Only if you have a false view of Christianity.
And so Tony Perkins goes on to write that,
The liberal left continues to push their radical agenda against American values. The good news is that there is a solution. To appease the mayor, the church offered to add a question mark at the end. “America is a Christian nation?” But that was rejected as well. “We were told that the title was anger-provoking, rather than thought-provoking.”
Well, I learned a long time ago that when people respond in anger, it’s because they’re not getting their way. It has nothing to do with the factuality or the truth of something, they just don’t get their way. And when people are, according to Romans 1, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness,” which is the default position of the unbeliever, then the reaction is going to be hostility.
But this was not the view of the Founding Fathers.
In fact, the verse I want to open with—we will get to our lesson, continuing our study of worship—but I want to point out a few things first.
Proverbs 14:34, which was quoted by Abigail Adams: “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.” But if you don’t have a biblical worldview, then you don’t believe in sin. You believe that everything is equally good or equally bad; therefore, anything that you do would exalt a nation. It destroys the value system.
Proverbs 29:2 states, “When the righteous rule, the people rejoice.” Generally that is true.
Let me give you some quotes, some statements, by those who signed the Declaration of Independence, those who were deeply involved in establishing the independence of the United States. You can judge from their statements whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation.
In a prayer, George Washington prayed,
O eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words, and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in Thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ.
It is very clear that George Washington believed in God. Nobody can dispute that. There’s controversy over his depth of conviction of Christianity, and I’ve read a lot on this. I can’t say I’m a scholar or expert on it, but I believe that on the basis of some of his clear statements—and we must always interpret the unclear by the clear—that he was a believer who understood the gospel of justification by faith alone.
Samuel Adams, who was someone who was quite a firebrand in his youth, later became governor of Massachusetts. He said, regarding the fourth of July,
We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. [That is God—he’s talking about God, not the king of England.] He reigns in Heaven, and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His Kingdom come.
He also said,
The rights of the colonists as Christians … may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the Great Lawgiver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.
They advocated—the Founding Fathers of America—advocated and promoted Bible reading and biblical teaching in the public schools.
In fact, in 1782, Congress authorized a Bible to be printed for America. Up until that point, Bibles were printed in England and were imported. In their statement they said,
The United States in Congress assembled … recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States … a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.
Then they passed a resolution that said,
The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.
John Adams, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as our first Vice President, and later he was the second individual elected to the presidency—he died the same day Thomas Jefferson died on July 4—both of them signers of the Declaration of Independence. He said,
The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.
So how can anyone who is knowledgeable and educated and informed say that this is not a Christian nation?
He went on to say,
The general principles on which the founders achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.
Patrick Henry, who made a famous speech concluding with the statement, “Give me liberty or give me death,” said,
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Since they happened to be there at the time, I think their firsthand testimony gives us a pretty clear understanding of what their beliefs were.
John Adams—we’ll conclude with a quote from him—said,
[The Fourth of July] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
What he means by that is, it ought to be a time of worshiping God and giving thanks and praise to Him for delivering us from a system of tyranny, under the British Empire, to a new government that would be founded upon biblical principles of liberty and freedom.
To mark that, we’re going to study the Word of God again tonight. Open your Bibles with me again to Isaiah 6. And we’re going to continue our study of worship.
There’s so much that I’m working on. I planned on doing five or six lessons on worship, coming out of our study of 2 Samuel 5. But the more I’m reading, the more I’m studying, this is more than five or six. We’re already at ten sessions on worship, and there may be 10 more, because it’s so important to ground our understanding of worship.
That’s what we do every Sunday. Every week we go to worship service on Sunday morning. We worship on Tuesday night and Thursday night, when we’re here at Bible class. We should worship individually every single day, as believers. And as such we should study worship.
But sadly, many churches don’t study worship for, I think, a couple of reasons. Reason number one is it’s a difficult topic, because worship brings together the threads of numerous doctrines and passages of Scripture.
Therefore to really drill down—and I’m not doing a drill-down on worship—but to truly drill down on worship and think it through, you have to be in control of a lot of Old Testament theology and Old Testament practice, because that’s the foundation for the New Testament.
One of the things I often say when we celebrate the Lord’s Table—I talk about Passover and I talk about the Lord’s Table. Passover was the key communal, community worship event in the Old Testament, celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was their “July Fourth”. It was their Independence Day, as they were delivered from slavery in Egypt.
When they observed Passover from that time on, it had two aspects to it. It looked back to the time when they were delivered by God in 1446 BC, and it also looked forward to the time that the types, and the shadows, and the elements of the Passover would be fulfilled in the promised Messiah.
When that happened, and Jesus celebrated the Passover—that Independence Day celebration of Israel—when He celebrated the Passover with His disciples, it’s the night before He went to the Cross.
And on the Cross, we have another Independence Day—the ultimate Independence Day—because, as Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ came to set us free.” That’s our ultimate freedom.
That’s why all freedom ultimately must reside on the biblical principles of spiritual freedom, because sin, ultimately, is the great enslaver.
Like the Passover, like the Seder, the Lord’s Table looks back to what Christ did on the Cross. We focus on His humanity, “This is My body which is given for you …,” in the unleavened bread. And the cup, which is “This is the new covenant of My blood, which is shed for you.” That is the foundation for salvation for all generations.
Jesus said beforehand that He would not eat or drink until He came in His Kingdom. So, He clearly perceived the Kingdom was future, and when He comes, there will be the great wedding feast that occurs when He establishes His Kingdom in the future.
It’s not already here, it’s not barely here, it’s not almost here. It’s not any of those things that are said by theologians. It’s not here yet. It’s been postponed. We’re in the Church Age. We are members of the body of Christ. That’s something distinct.
But we look back and we look forward. Worship itself is something that, if we’re worshiping God, has both of those elements. We are looking back to what God did in Creation. As we’ll see this week and next week, Creation is fundamental to worship. That’s why it’s such an attack doctrine. And I’ll go through some things related to Creation as we go through this, because it’s truly foundational.
Eden—what God created in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2—becomes the referent point for God’s presence on earth. That is depicted in the tabernacle, and then it is depicted in the temple. Today the temple is you and me. We are the temple. God the Holy Spirit has created a temple in us for the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.
Then there will be a future temple in the Millennial Kingdom. And then we’re told that God the Father, and God the Son, and the Holy Spirit will take up Their dwelling on the earth in the new heavens and the new earth, and there won’t be a need for a temple anymore, because the whole earth becomes that future temple.
We see this thread runs all the way through history. So we need to come to understand that, and it all boils down to the majesty of God, and understanding truly who God is. When we understand who God is and what He has done, it’s like what we’ve been reading in Isaiah 6.
When Isaiah sees God on His throne, he collapses before Him. We see this same response other times when God allows the few to see Him. They fall on their faces. It is an overwhelming vision.
Too often in our culture the way we worship is to trivialize God, and to use clichés again and again, as if they communicate some deep, profound understanding of God.
Last time we looked at a couple of examples of hymns, contemporary choruses, that have been written based on Isaiah 6. We looked at a very popular contemporary chorus called, “Open my Eyes, Lord” by Michael W. Smith, and we began by looking at the words.
All hymns—anything a congregation sings—should be thoroughly vetted, thoroughly evaluated. The content of the words, just evaluate them. They should have—if we’re to do all things to the glory of God—then it shouldn’t be cheap poetry. The words in a hymn should reflect a high aesthetic value, a high value of beauty.
It’s not just the content of the words that is important. We saw that the content of his words fell short of biblical truth, and so that the ideas and the doctrines that undergird that particular contemporary chorus were pretty shallow.
Then we looked at the aesthetics of his words, just as poetry, and saw that there was no special beauty to his lyrics. There was nothing aesthetically compelling about the language that he used.
When we looked at the melody, and added it—of course, we realized that the only thing that gave this song value was the music. For many people it is that music that was attractive because it was upbeat, it was emotionally engaging, it drew people in, so that they were tapping their toe, or swaying, or they just got in line with the beat. It creates a lot of pleasant emotions for some who enjoy that kind of music.
But all of that is not the result of the words and the content. It’s the result of the music that runs contrary, I would say, to the message that the words were attempting to communicate.
We looked at that contemporary version of a way of talking about the holiness of God. We also looked at another one using the same language, “Open my eyes,” which comes out of Psalm 119:18, which reads, “Open my eyes that I may see great things in Your Word.” The focus is understanding the Word, not having a personal experience with Jesus.
We looked at this other chorus that first came out on a Maranatha eight-track tape. Some of you have no idea what an eight-track tape was. It came out on an eight-track tape. I had one back in about 1974.
“Open my eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus.” Think about these words. I didn’t make all my comments last week. “Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch Him, and say that I love Him. Open my ears, Lord, and help me to listen; Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus.”
We need to ask three questions. What does this say about Jesus? How does it--what do we learn about the Jesus in this hymn? Do we know who this Jesus is? Does it say anything about His person or His work? Who is He? And why should we want to see Him?
Knowing that I am a little bit facetious, how do we know that this isn’t some lyric written by a pseudo-parent separated from a child entering the country illegally, and the child’s name is Jesus, and they are looking for this lost child.
See there’s nothing there to distinguish it, because it means nothing. It is vacuous. It is insipid. It is empty of all meaning. All you have here is just wallowing in personal emotion about someone called Jesus.
As I have said for 40 years as a pastor that the problem with most Christians, like the mayor of Dallas—I’m assuming—I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s a Christian—is they’ve created in their own imagination a false god they’ve labeled “Jesus.” That’s whom they’re worshiping. This is what happens in a lot of congregations.
So we went through that last time, we looked at some—and compared those lyrics to some great lyrics of great hymns that have lasted for centuries, and saw that the difference—in terms of doctrinal content, information about Jesus, information about salvation—is profound.
What I want to do today, before we go forward with our conclusion of Isaiah 6, is just a reminder of some basic things that we should think about when we think about worship and music.
First of all, there’s this big debate that’s been going on for at least 30 years, probably 40 years, sometimes called “the worship wars.” Usually it’s framed wrong. Like most debates, you have to be careful how the topic is shaped, and you will find that many people who haven’t read much about it, or thought profoundly about it, have bought into some of the presuppositions that have been set forth about this debate.
It’s not about old versus new, traditional versus contemporary. It’s about fulfilling biblical principles for worship and music. It’s not about saying all this new music is bad. There have been things written in recent years that are chronologically new that are rejected by the contemporary-worship philosophers. So I want to go over some of these popular fallacies.
You’ll often find—especially in some older literature, and I’m talking about some of the things that were written back in the 60s—some things that were said where they were really focusing on non-issues. As a result of their focusing on non-issues, it sent the argument—sent the discussion—in a wrong direction.
It’s not about the beat. It’s not about syncopation. There are some who have said that all syncopation is inherently evil. That’s just not true.
It’s not about the beat. It’s not about syncopation. And so for those who want to caricature the side that is viewed as traditional, these are easy targets, low-hanging fruit, because it’s basically a false argument.
It’s not about how fast, or how slow, the music is. It’s not about when it was written. Some people have said, “Well, you’ll go to a church where they won’t sing anything written after about 1930.” And that’s just not true. The problem is that as you advance through the 20th century, there are fewer and fewer good things that are written that meet a biblical standard.
Fifth, it’s not about the theological associations of the writer. Charles Wesley wrote hundreds of hymns, and some of them are absolutely outstanding. Even though as an early Methodist, he did not believe in eternal security, and he had some other things that we would quibble about in his theology, they are not present in his hymns.
Although one of my favorite hymns—“And Can it Be?”—there are a couple lines in there that need a little tweaking, which we have done in our hymnal, so that the weak theology has been straightened out.
Sixth, it’s not about how it makes me feel. Don’t confuse feelings with worship. Because you can come into church anywhere, any time, and depending on a lot of factors going on in your life, you may feel crummy when you get there. You may feel crummy when you leave. You may have gone out and had a wonderful party the night before, and you’re hung over from 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock the next day. It’s not about how you feel. It’s about God. It’s always theocentric. It’s always about God.
And seventh—and I overheard a conversation not long ago where I thought this is what they were talking about—I just wanted to put this in here—it’s not about which instruments are used. It’s not about whether an organ is used, or a piano is used, or a guitar is used, or a lyre is used, or a tambourine is used.
Some of these instruments were present at the time that David wrote, and that the choir sang in the temple. It’s not about what kind of instrument is used, and that’s also been often portrayed as, “Well, you just don’t want to have church unless you have a piano, or an organ,” and that’s not necessarily so.
What are the answers? First of all, it is about the worldview of the music. Music always represents a philosophical system, whether it is the music of the blues and jazz that came out of a cultural context, that reflects a worldview.
You look at older music that is sometimes referred to as “classical music.” That came out of a culture. You look at Bach. What was the culture that informed Bach? It was a theocentric, Christian, Lutheran culture that informed Bach. That is important to take those things into account. It’s about the worldview of the music.
Plato said, if you want to change a culture, change the music. That’s how influential music is. You can change the music, and it will change the culture. The fact is, it’s really a circle, because as you change the worldview, it will change the music.
For example, you can go back to the worship mini-series that starts around lesson 97 in Revelation, where I went through a lot of history in music. But if you look at the early church period, you go to the period from about 200, 300 to about 600 or 700, it was dominated by the idealism of Platonism and Neoplatonism. As a result, the music is very ephemeral.
The idea in Platonism is that only the ideal has value, not the concrete. So if you look at the art of that period, it’s two-dimensional. You think about a Byzantine icon and maybe an icon in the Greek Orthodox Church, it’s very two-dimensional. It’s not a real person. And the music is the same way. You listen to Byzantine chants, and they’re very ethereal—they’re taking you to this ideal world. It’s not concrete.
But then by the time you get into the middle of the Middle Ages, and later Middle Ages when Aristotle is discovered, you have a shift from idealism to realism. And the music shifts, and the art shifts, and all of the aesthetic disciplines—drama, literature, everything—shifts.
All of a sudden with Aristotle, the emphasis is on the earthy, what’s here and now. For Plato, the body—anything material—was evil; therefore, the concrete is evil. But for Aristotle the body, the physical world, is all good. And so there’s a total shift in the worldview from that which is ideal to that which is real.
That changes art; it changes music. So all music, all art, all literature reflects the worldview of the artist, whether they are a playwright, or a poet, or a novelist, or whether they are an artist, whatever. And so music, as music, reflects a worldview.
It is about the content of the lyrics. So it’s about the worldview of the music, and it’s about the content of the lyrics. What is being said? How is it being said? That how it’s being said brings in the 11th point, that it’s about the beauty and the aesthetics of the song.
When God created, He created a universe, and an earth, and a garden, and Eden, and a Garden in Eden, that was beautiful. It was designed down to the most minute particles of an atom, sub-molecular particles. Everything has an incredible design that is not only functional, but is beautiful. So, when we come to art—whether it’s visual art, or whether it is music—it should reflect those values that God built into His Creation.
So, number 12, it is about the correct form for expressing the content. So you can have hymns that are extolling the holiness and majesty of God, and the music needs to conform to that message, not override the message.
I think that when I gave the example of Michael Smith’s song last week, “Open my Eyes, Lord,” the other song, that when I played the music, it just overrode whatever the words were. In fact, in some cases, you couldn’t hear the words.
Sadly there are many churches, I think, that self-condemn today, because (they don’t know that they do)—but when you go into some of these churches, the music is so loud that you can’t hear the congregation sing. A lot of them don’t sing anymore because they really can’t follow the melody line of the chorus. So, they’re just watching entertainment.
Recently I was at a church with the whole worship band up there, and it was all about them. You could tell just from the way they were playing. They were into themselves and their own entertainment of the audience.
So, the form of the music needs to be in the background. In fact, last week I got a text message from someone who’s a regular listener, and is informed in theology. I believe he taught at Tyndale Seminary before. He made a comment about a couple of doctrinal churches—actually it relates to a couple of doctrinal churches, but he was just talking about one—that back in the 80s and the 90s, they were playing all of this contemporary music from the time, and he was a drummer. He said, “We were so loud, and we were all into our music, and it was so loud that you could never hear the congregation sing, even if they did.”
So just because it’s a church that emphasizes sound doctrine and teaching doesn’t mean they understand what that means. This was a very sad example of that. I’ve seen that in some other churches, because the pressure from the culture is to conform to what these churches are doing. And the message that you keep hearing is if you keep singing traditional hymns, or biblically sound hymns, if you don’t shift to contemporary Christian worship, then you won’t attract anybody.
Well, there’s a fallacy there, and the fallacy is that we would have more effective evangelism if we changed our methodology. That’s just fallacious on any number of levels. It is God, ultimately, who is the Sovereign Executive of evangelism.
The way that Paul approached it—Paul did not go out and say, “Wait a minute. We’re going to wait a year before we go to Lystra and Iconium, and we’re going to make sure we have a complete demographic study, we want to make sure we understand what kind of music that the young people there like, and we need to understand what they’re doing when they go to worship at the pagan temples, because we don’t want to jolt them too much with something that is contrary, or different, or strange to what they’re doing all the time.”
Do you think he did that? Well, when he walked into the synagogue and he taught a little bit, they kicked him out. He wasn’t too concerned about conforming his message and his method to that which was culturally comfortable. And yet that’s what drives church growth today.
So we have to have forms—music forms—that communicate the message of the words.
Then last, it’s about glorifying God through utilizing our very best creativity to produce art that reflects our Creator. We are created in His image and likeness, and one of the ways we demonstrate that is through our artistic creativity. That is what God did in the six days of Creation. We’re going to learn a lot about the six days of Creation, the seventh day of rest, as we go forward.
There’s a wonderful book—a short book—if you’re interested in reading something that is engaging and insightful. It is by David Gordon called Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal. He has some great insights in there, and he says,
Today we have a generation that not only thinks it is preferable to only sing songs written by their generation… [That’s the new song fallacy.] …but that they must only sing songs written by their generation.
And I’ve had a conversation with Randy Price within the last year (he’s a professor at Liberty University), and he commented, “Robby, do you realize that the students coming into Liberty now have never sung “A Mighty Fortress is our God?” They’ve probably never heard it. They’ve never sung “Amazing Grace.” They may have heard it. They’ve never sung many of the traditionally, biblically solid hymns. They’ve never sung a hymn in their lives.
Indeed, [Gordon goes on to say] when people talk about “contemporary” music, they are not, in fact, referring to the date of the composition. The people who promote contemporary music, for instance, are not promoting the hymns of a twentieth-century hymn-writer such as E. Margaret Clarkson (b.1915; d. 2008) …
There are a few other people who are writing hymns. A hymn is an art form, a music form, a genre. The contemporary music people just don’t like hymns. And so, they never promote even a contemporary hymn. Clarkson died in 2008.
… whose hymns, though recently written, do not sound as though they were recently written. Nor are they [that is, the contemporary Christian worship crowd] promoting the fourteen hymns cowritten by the late James Montgomery Boice, who died in 2000, and Paul S. Jones.
James Montgomery Boice was the pastor for many years—he was reformed lordship—but he was pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia—a very, very well-known expositor of Scripture and theologian—although I would not agree with him on many of those areas.
David Wells—he’s just absolutely brilliant. He has a great critique of postmodernism in the church, of multiculturalism in the church, and its impact on contemporary Christianity.
I tried to get him to come a few years ago as a speaker for our Chafer Conference, but he said he’s too old to travel anymore. He was the Distinguished Research Professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary.
He analyzed several contemporary chorus books several years ago, and traditional hymn books. So, what he’s doing is, “Let’s evaluate the contemporary music and the traditional hymns, and see what we discover.”
His conclusions are:
Almost 65% of all choruses had no doctrinal development or content whatsoever.
Two thirds of them had no doctrinal content or development—that’s like the one I pointed out earlier, “Open my eyes, I want to see Jesus.” Or “Open our eyes, I want to see Jesus.”
It’s almost impossible to find a hymn with no doctrinal development or content.
That’s a huge contrast. All hymns have doctrinal development and content. Even though some may not be the best, they do have it. And his study, I note, did not focus on the accuracy of the doctrine, only the presence of doctrinal development. So that, in and of itself, is a tremendous indictment of the entire contemporary Christian worship industry.
Second, it’s not only about the words. See, a lot of people can say, “Well, I can understand what you’re saying about the words, but isn’t music neutral?” There is nothing in this earth, since the fall of Adam, that hasn’t been touched and corrupted by the Fall.
Every discipline, every area of human thought, every value has been affected by sin, including music. You can’t say, “Well, music is neutral,” which is what they say—“Music is neutral. It doesn’t matter. We’ll just use whatever it takes to communicate to this culture.” There’s just a huge philosophical fallacy there.
Another fallacy is the fallacy of the “new song.” What they’ll use for justification is their claim is every generation has their own style. No, it doesn’t! Never has. Not every generation. And their claim is that every generation, therefore, sings its own music. No, it hasn’t. That’s just false.
This generation has done something that no previous generation has done, and that is they have thrown away every piece of music that was ever written before their generation. That’s the height of arrogance. That’s saying that all of those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hymns written by tens of thousands of hymn writers over 1,900 years of Christianity don’t speak to us.
Maybe the problem is they’re listening for the wrong thing. Maybe they’re not tuned to the truth. Maybe they just want something that will stimulate them emotionally, and then they confuse that with spirituality.
We have passages that talk about singing a new song. Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” Psalm 40:3, “He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.” Psalm 96:1, “O sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth.”
This is not talking about a new kind of music. As you go through life, you encounter circumstances and situations, some of which cause you to rejoice greatly and deeply in God. And if you are inclined as a poet, then you will write exquisite lyrics.
Horatio Spafford wrote, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll …” as he’s on the spot in the ocean where his four daughters were drowned. That grows out of his experience. It was a new song; it’s not a new kind of music. It was a new song because there was a new situation, and God provided in that new situation.
That’s what you see as you study through the Psalms is that there were new instances where God intervened in someone’s life, and they are praising God, thanking God, or they have encountered some difficulty, and now they are writing a new hymn to reflect that new situation. But it’s not a new style of music. It’s not a new category of music. It is a new song of the same category and type that had preceded it.
So the fallacy is that “new song” means a new generation’s style of music that speaks to it. Each generation has a different twist on the dominant worldview. And new songs will come that are popular.
We never had pop music before about 1900. Pop music is something that came in as a result of record players, and radio, and things of that nature. Before that there was just music. Often, we call it “classical music.” But it was music. There were folk songs—different things like that—but not the category of pop music like we have today.
The fourth point is that,
Everything in God’s creation should emphasize His centrality, significance, and importance.
It’s all about God. That’s what the word “glory” means. “Glory” emphasizes the centrality and the importance of God—that without Him, there is nothing. There’s no meaning. There’s no value. There’s nothing in life.
What we have in a biblical worldview is God is viewed as the Creator, which is not a secondary doctrine. It’s fundamental to all worship. And what we’ll see next time when we finally get to talking about God as Creator, is that the first act of angelic creation—of angelic worship—that we see as described in Job 38:4–7—the angels are worshiping, and singing, and praising God for His Creation.
We see it again in Revelation 4, where the twenty-four elders, who are the resurrected, raptured, and rewarded Church-Age believers, are praising God for the works that He has made.
And so, this is one of two: I find that almost all hymns rotate on two axes. Number one, it’s God as Creator, and all that He has made. And number two is redemption. Those two. And grace fits in with redemption.
So, we have God as a creator. He is totally distinct, totally other from His Creation, and He created a finite universe. He created matter/energy, and light, and vegetation, and animals, and man.
He defines who man is. He defines man’s purpose, defines his social absolutes—marriage and family, law and politics are all embedded within society—the social aspect of man and his aesthetics. Historically, evangelicals have been very weak in developing a biblical view and theology of beauty. So, aesthetics affects art, music, and literature.
Truth and beauty—if we believe what the Bible teaches about God being the only Eternal, then in the Godhead resides the absolutes of truth and beauty. Truth is not relative. Beauty is not relative. It has its archetype in the Person of God.
God, therefore, speaks to everything He creates. He created music. It’s not independent or neutral. And either He speaks to everything He creates, including music, or He speaks to nothing He creates. And that’s the problem. If you have an impotent God, who doesn’t really engage His creation, or no God at all, then there’s nothing to speak to to define that which is created.
Words we use that express aesthetic excellence: words like glorious, magnificent, majestic, splendid, beautiful, excellent. Whenever we use those words, they’re always appealing to a value. A value always relates to something that is right or wrong.
So whenever we listen to music, we say, “That’s wonderful music.” Where does that value come from? It either comes from God, or it comes from His creatures. Those are the only two options. So we have to have standards that reflect God’s character.
So, in terms of suggested standards, I have four. First of all, the right question is not, “Is there something wrong with this music?” The right question is, “Does this music bring glory to God?”
We’re not out there to pick apart every little thing that is said, and every little attempt. But we’re there to look for the best, and not that which is mediocre, or insipid, or just gets by.
Now, on the one hand, we have to recognize that there’s going to be a difference in the kind of a worship service that can be produced by a church of 2,000 people with a lot of talent, and a lot of ability, and a lot of pomp and circumstance, and a church of 100. But the quality needs to be kept at as high a level as a local church can develop.
What we’ll see in our study of the Old Testament is when you have the statements in the Psalms about, “We were glad to come into the house of the LORD,” there’s a context to that. You can’t transfer that statement to the church, or to a local church.
What they were saying was that this is Passover. It’s Pentecost. It is Rosh Hashanah. It is the new year. It is a time when God has called us to come to a central worship spot in Jerusalem to worship Him with all of the pomp and circumstance that was present at those occasions.
There were times in the spring, times in the fall, related to planting, related to harvest, when they’d worked hard, they’d been diligent, they brought in the harvest. Now the work is done, and they can take a couple weeks off, and go to Jerusalem, and rejoice in God’s blessing.
We can’t really grasp that in our type of urban, Church-Age environment. They heard choirs and heard music like they never heard back in little Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or Hebron. But that doesn’t mean that which was produced there was inferior. It just didn’t have that extra level of quality that you could produce in Jerusalem.
So, the question isn’t, “There’s something wrong with it, let’s not do it.” The question is “Can we do better?” Does this music—do these words—glorify God? Are they theocentric? Is my soul drawn to God, and His greatness, and His majesty as a result of what I am singing?
Second, does the song reflect the creative acts of God? When we think about God’s creation, there’s planning, it’s orderly, it is technically excellent, it promoted positive morality, and it was purposeful—all of those things. I’m sure you can think of many other characteristics. But that should come across in our music.
It can display simplicity, without being simplistic. It can also—at the same time—demonstrate complexity. This is what’s called unity and diversity in the midst of the harmony and all present in the music. The music has proportionality. It has symmetry and balance, and it moves towards a resolution. This is all part of good music.
Then a fourth is negatives. It can be unstructured. If it is designed for congregational singing, then it should be easy for a congregation to sing. That’s really just overlooked. I’ve been to many, many churches—many, many contemporary services over the years—it’s not like I live in a vacuum. I have no clue what they’re saying, how they’re saying—if they didn’t put the words up on the screen, I’d have no idea what the words really were, but I can’t sing the tunes.
You know, I don’t hear them enough. But you just listen—a lot of hymns are marches, they’re waltzes, they’re tunes and melodies that can be easily learned. So that violates the whole principle of corporate worship, if the people can’t really learn it and sing it.
It’s nice to be spontaneous, but often spontaneity falls flat. It comes across as disorganized and shallow.
We don’t want it to be simplistic, or trivial, or banal, trendy, or mediocre. That’s what we have in most churches—following the same trends.
So that gives us something to think about and to use as a starting point. There are several books—one I would recommend, along with the one on Why Johnny Can’t Sing, is a book by Scott Aniol, who spoke at our Chafer Conference a few years ago, called Worship in Song. He is quite insightful. Now he’s got his PhD from Southwestern Baptist Seminary and is teaching in their Music and Worship department.
So those are excellent sources. There are many, many others that have come out, and you would think that there’s been no criticism of the contemporary Christian worship scene. But there’s been a host of really well-informed, educated, musically sound, musically—I’ve got one book, and I can’t read half of it, because I’m just not that musically educated, even though I have a pretty decent music background in education.
But he gets into a lot of music theory, where I’m weak on musicology and music theory. But it’s just outstanding stuff. And yet it doesn’t attract the masses. And so you have the purveyors of false teaching and shallow teaching who—it’s all about the numbers, not about creating believers and disciples for Jesus.
“Father, thank You for this time to look at these things, think through Your Word, the implications of Your Word, that we may worship You, for You are beyond our comprehension. Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways, but You have lowered Yourself in such a way that You can communicate to us, and You have loved us in such a way that You sent Your only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“And Father, for that we worship You. We honor You. We would glorify You. We want to make You the center of our lives, and that is our service of worship. We pray that we might never grow lax in our understanding of our divine calling. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”