Keeping Your Hymnal Isn’t Good Enough

KYH

[This article is a response to Tom Raabe’s article over at The Federalist. You can read his article here.]

Let me state my position right out of the gate, I’m in favor of using hymnals in church. The only time I think we should use screens in church is if the pastor wants the congregation to learn a hymn or worship song that isn’t already in the hymnal. My purpose in writing this article is two-fold. I want to point out the fundamental flaw in Raabe’s argumentation, the fundamental flaw being that Raabe is presenting an opinion as fact, and my second purpose to show that because he is presenting his opinion as fact, his conclusion has some very large gaping holes in it that a post-modernist could easily toss a basketball through.

For example, at one point, he says that we shouldn’t use screens in church because “they’re ugly.” His opinion is subjective. This is like a 4 year old protesting eating his greens because “I don’t like it” even though you know good and well he’s never tried them. It doesn’t matter how correct your conclusions are if the basis for your conclusions is nothing more than your subjective opinion, then all it takes for you to go down the wrong is for someone to convince you to change your opinion.

I could easily tell you that it is my personal opinion that grass is green, and while my opinion may be correct, the fact that it is my opinion doesn’t make grass green.

Part 1: When Your Confirmation Bias Doesn’t Reflect Reality

First of all, Raabe is using old data to make a claim that the worship wars are over and that contemporary Christian music industry has won. The data he is using spans from 1998-2012. 2010-2014 is the time when millennials started branching out and finding their own churches (assuming they even stayed in church), and as a result the data changed.

Thom Rainer points out in a 2014 article that millennials aren’t really as concerned about modern worship styles as Raabe would have you to believe.

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.

  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.

  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Now, the evidence doesn’t look so bleak, does it?

Drawing from my own experience, I remember being out of town for a couple of weeks and my wife and I visited a church that had both a traditional and a contemporary service. We decided to go to the traditional service for the first week, and then go to the contemporary service the next to compare and contrast the difference between the two.

We noticed immediately that the traditional service had twice as many people as the contemporary service and more than half of the congregants were 18-35 year olds. The contemporary service had half as many people as the traditional service and most of the congregants in that service were in their 50’s or older.

I’m a millenial and I am a pastor so I can tell you that what millennials are looking for is a worship experience that is grounded in the history and tradition of God’s people. We long for a history that doesn’t just go back 50-200 years because that’s not good enough. That’s not ancient enough. We crave meaning from a tradition that goes all the way back to the early church. We want to worship with the Apostles.

Part 2: Careful, Your Theology is Showing

Even though Raabe insists that we keep our hymnals, one thing he’s not taking into account is church’s that have shoddy hymnals. I’m not going to blame him for that because he probably comes from a background where he’s never encountered a bad hymnal. If that’s the case, then he’s obviously never attended any small rural churches in the Bible belt (which again, isn’t necessarily his fault).

I grew up in and pastor in a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to sing whatever you want as long as it comes out of the hymnal regardless of whether or not that song has any theological leg to stand on because after all, our hymnals are infallible, right? Wrong.

The reason songs like “If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again,” “America,” and even our own national anthem still have a place in our hymnal and are still being sung in our churches because one of two things is happening: we’re either assuming that our hymnals are infallible and therefore, all songs are acceptable or we just don’t care enough about what the songs are implying to give a hoot.

  • On a completely separate note altogether, it’s interesting that most of the people who sing songs about Mother in church on Mother’s Day (If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again) and sing songs about God allegedly shedding His grace on a country that He didn’t show to any other country (America the Beautiful) on the Sunday before July 4th are the same people who bemoan the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church because they kiss statues and pray to saints. But again, that’s another sacred cow for tipping over at another time.

Keeping your hymnal and training those coming up in your church to sing the songs that you sing instead of using modern music and screens only works if your church intentionally sings the truth about who God is and what He is doing in the world through His people therefore, simply keeping your hymnal isn’t good enough if you’re hymnal isn’t any good.

You can tell what a church believes by listening to what they sing. If they avoid the hymns that speak truth about God’s judgement or holiness and sing only songs about flying away to some sweet by and by then that’s a sign that the church is assuming a problematic eschatology that stems from an even more problematic view of God and His people.

Singing about Heaven and the eschatological consummation of all things is perfectly fine as long as you’re assuming the same vision of the consummation described in the Scriptures as opposed to some dispensationalist nonsense view of Heaven dreamed up by John Darby, C.I. Scofield, and more recently John Hagee.

Part 3: The Climactic Finish

A while back, my church and I was challenged by our Wednesday Night Bible Study curriculum at the time to go through our hymnal and see much how often the hymns we sing reflected Biblical ideas about God.  We were limited on time (because that part was only the introduction to that evening’s study), I think if we had probed hard and had been honest with ourselves and honest with the Scriptures then we might have come to the conclusion that while a lot of our hymns have a solid foundation there are others that should never see the light of day again.

 

The Lord of Our Dance

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
– Psalm 139:14-17 [English Standard Version]

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
– Jeremiah 1:5 [English Standard Version]

“The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent andmake no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.”
– Zephaniah 3:17 [Amplified Bible]

“Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!”
– Sydney Carter, The Lord of the Dance

Today in church, I heard a hymn that I’d never heard of before, The Lord of the Dance. As I sat and listened to words, I thought about how much God loves us. As a matter of fact, it occurred to me, God doesn’t just love us, He’s in love with us. We are His creation. He thought about each and every one of us long before creation and even now. He thinks of all of us and according to David and Jeremiah, the thoughts that he thinks about us are good thoughts of peace, prosperity, joy, and loving kindness. I know this sounds like a subject that Joel Osteen would preach on but stick with me here. Think about it, we’re sinful human beings. Sinful to our very core. About our nature, The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states the following:

“Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body…From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”
– London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Looking at that, I wonder how God could possibly love me much less want to dance with me. I’m humbled when I remember that even though I am sinful, He sees me sinless through the blood of His son, Jesus Christ. There’s a song that I used to sing in church that says “When He sees/He sees the blood of the Lamb/He sees me as worthy yet not as I am/He sees me in garments as white as the snow/For the Lamb of God is worthy and He’s washed me, this I know”. God sees beyond our fault and looks to our need. When He saves us, He brings us back to life with his dance of irresistible grace and after that we are forever His and He is forever ours.

“The sheep that are My own hear and are listening to My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never lose it or perish throughout the ages. [To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed.] And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand.”
– John 10:27, 28 [Amplified Bible]

Thanks for reading, and remember that you are loved by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

It’s All About Jesus, Part 2: The Praise Hymn, Part 2

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,  to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” – [Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV]

In the last post, we left off talking about the nine things that God has done for us through Christ’s blood.

1. He has blessed us (Eph. 1:3)
2. He has chosen us (Eph. 1:4)
3. He has predestined us (Eph. 1:5, 11)
4. He has made us accepted (Eph. 1:6)
5. He has redeemed us (Eph. 1:7)
6. He has poured grace on us (Eph. 1:8)
7. He has made known unto us the mystery of His will (Eph. 1:9)
8. He has given us an inheritance (Eph. 1:11, 14)
9. He has sealed us (Eph. 1:13)

Before we get started on Predestination, I want to finish up my thoughts about being chosen. We’ve already established that this word ‘chosen’ is an active choosing. It implies that God has chosen us out of a group. We know that the elect are chosen. What find interesting is the word for ‘chosen’ is an active choosing and the word for ‘church’ is ekklesia is ‘ones who are called out’. This is an active calling. Think about it. God has His thumb on you and He’s calling out to be separate from the influence from the world, separate from the negative influence of the culture, separate from the negative influence of society, but even an even greater scale than that, I believe that this is referring to your divine destiny. You are called and chosen to do something great for thing Kingdom of God for such a time as this. What a profound thought that everything that has happened to you whether it is good or bad has been setting you up for great things in God. You might ask me, “How can you say that something bad that’s happened to me has been setting me up?” In Romans there is a promise that all things will work together for good.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – [Romans 8:28 KJV]

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – [Romans 8:37 ESV]

I like where Paul says at the beginning of verse 28, “we know”. He’s saying that “we are confident; we are fully convinced that God is always working and operating for the good of His people.”

I don’t mean to go all Joel Osteen on you or anything but sometimes you’ve just got to determine within your heart that everything is going to be good in the end because God loves you and He might allow bad things to happen but in the end it will all be good.

3. He has predestined us. (Ephesians 1:5, 11)

Again, this is a touchy subject for Calvinists and Arminians alike. After all of the research and studying I’ve done on it I feel like I should side with Finis Jennings Dake on the issue:

“It is God’s plan that He has foreknown and predestined, not the individual conformity of free wills to the plan. He has called all people and all are free to accept or reject the call (Jn. 3:16; 1Tim. 2:4; 2Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:17). All who do accept, He has foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son that His Son might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Those who reject the plan, He has foreknown and predestined to be consigned to eternal hell as an everlasting monument of His wrath on rebels (Isa. 66:22-24; Rev. 14:9-11; Mt. 25:41,46). This is the sum of foreknowledge and predestination.” – Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible

For me, personally, the issue of predestination and election is something that I keep in the open hand. I can take it or leave it. What I mean by the closed hand and open hand metaphor is this: if someone were to put a gun to my head and say, “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins?” I said “Yes” and take what was coming to me. If someone were to put a gun to my head and say, “Do you believe that man can choose whether he is saved or not?” I’d say, “Wait a minute. Let’s talk about this.” I’m willing to die for Jesus but not over my position on predestination and election. Moving on…

4. He has made us accepted. (Ephesians 1:6)

“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” – [Ephesians 1:6 KJV]

I absolutely love Scofield’s position on this verse.

“Adoption (huiothesia, “placing as a son”) is not so much a word of relationship as of position. The believer’s relation to God as a child results from the new birth John 1:12, 13 whereas adoption is the act of God whereby one already a child is, through redemption from the law, placed in the position of an adult son. Gal 4:1-5 The indwelling Spirit gives the realization of this in the believer’s present experience Gal 4:6 but the full manifestation of the believer’s sonship awaits the resurrection, change, and translation of saints, which is called “the redemption of the body” Rom 8:23; 1Th 4:14-17; Eph 1:14; 1Jn 3:2” – Scofield Reference Bible

I don’t care if you’re Pentecostal or not, that ought to make you want to shout and run laps. We are not just adopted but we are made to know that we are accepted by God’s Holy Spirit that causes us to cry ‘Abba, Father’. Sometimes in families where the child is adopted they can’t sense that they don’t belong. Their adopted parents might treat them well and love them dearly but the child knows that there is something different. It’s like they have an innate feeling that those are not their biological parents but with God there is no vacant feeling. He makes feel wanted and when we become saved he plants the Holy Spirit inside to make us know that we are one of His own.

I hope this has helped you an encouraged you today. You are loved by the King of Kings! Be blessed!

 

It’s All About Jesus, Part 1: The Christ Hymn

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” – [Colossians 1:15-20 NIV]

This section of Scripture found in Colossians is often referred to, by many Scholars, as ‘The Christ Hymn’ because many scholars believe that it was sung during worship in the early church. The origin of this hymn is not known but some think that it came from various sources ranging from the Stoic persuasion to the Hellenistic-Jewish persuasion. Regardless of it’s origin, it declares the preeminence and supremacy in Christ in all things. What we have here is one of the finest descriptions of who Jesus is that we can find in the Bible. In one of his sermons, Louie Giglio calls this the hymn of all creation.

       1. The Preeminence of Christ in Creation (1:15-17)

Verse 15 starts off by telling of His heavenly origin. We find in Romans 8:29, Paul calls Jesus the first born among many brethren and now in Colossians Paul goes deeper and says that Jesus is the first born among all of creation. According to Adam Clarke, “The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the Supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way.”

Laminin

In verse 16, we see that the writer of this hymn emphasizes the work of creation in powers and authorities and makes it known that all of these things, whether upon the earth or dwelling heavenly realms, were created for the glory and supremacy of Christ. Everything that God does will bring glory to Him in some way, shape, or form. In Isaiah when God says that no word will go forth void (Isaiah 55:10-11) he means that everything he speaks is for a specific time and purpose and, it will accomplish that purpose in it’s appointed time. Going back to verse 16, everything was created for a specific time and purpose.

In verse 17, Paul says that Christ is before all things. This phrase reaffirms verse 15 where it speaks about Christ being the firstborn among all of creation. In the latter part of this verse shows us that in Christ all things hold together. We find here the Greek word synesteken, meaning that connotes preservation or coherence. In the RSV reading of this verse it says, “in Him all things consist.” This verse is truer than what we might think. In our bodies there is a cell membrane called, Laminin. I’ve posted about this topic before. According to Wikipedia, “The laminins are a family of glycoproteins that are an integral part of the structural scaffolding in almost every tissue of an organism. They are secreted and incorporated into cell-associated extracellular matrices. Laminin is vital for the maintenance and survival of tissues.” Without these laminins, our limbs would literally fall apart. What’s even more amazing is that these laminins are in the shape of a cross. The writer was scarily accurate in saying that in Christ, all things hold together!

     2. The Preeminence of Christ in the Church

Paul starts off in verse 18 by discussing Christ’s function as head of the church. Dr. Augustus Neander says, “The Church is His body by virtue of His entering into communion corporeally with human nature.” This proves the idea that Paul wants his readers to know that Christ exercises his authority in the universe through the church. In verse 18, Paul notes that he is the firstborn from among dead meaning that he is the only to rise from dead and die no more (as opposed to Lazarus who died a second after being raised form the dead in John 11) so that, once again Christ might have supremacy and preeminence in all things thus proving that Christ is sovereign over the living as well as the dead.

In verse 19, Paul explains that it pleased God for his fullness to dwell in his son, Jesus. When you read this verse you must read it in correlation to John 3:34-35 and Matthew 28:18:

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” – [John 3:34-35 ESV]

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – [Matthew 28:18 ESV]

The father has given all things, including the church, into Christ’s hand and he has all power and all authority.

Verse 20 is the culmination of all this, “..that he might reconcile all things …by making peace through his blood.” Everything that Christ does through the church it is so that all things might be reconciled unto Himself through the shedding of His blood. I found the Apologetics Study Bible enlightening on this verse.

“This passage does not teach universalism (all will be saved) but instead points forward to Messiah’s quelling all rebellion, bringing lasting peace to the universe. The “reconciliation” here entails a pacification of evil powers (as 2:15 makes clear).” – The Apologetics Study Bible

In the commentary for Colossians 2:15 the Apologetics Study Bible says:

No contradiction exists here between Paul’s statement that the principalities and powers have been defeated and his assumption elsewhere that the powers are still virulently active and that believers need to fight against them (e.g., Eph 6:12). The cross of Christ is the point of decisive victory over the powers of evil; believers can now be victorious over them through their union with Christ. They will be vanquished once and for all at the end of the age. – The Apologetics Study Bible

There are two realms in which this reconciliation operates: the present and in the future. The present blessing of reconciliation is that you’ve been adopted into the family of God and you are made a co-heir with Christ according to Romans 8:17. The future blessing of reconciliation is that evil work and every power and principality will be obliterated and we (the Church) will enjoy the presence of Christ and be eternally consummated to Him. If you’re wondering about the past blessing of reconciliation it’s this: there is none because the blood of Jesus Christ has washed away your sinful past. The only thing that matters is your present and your future.