The New Sound - The New Song
Dr. N. A. Woychuck, a Dallas Seminary graduate, is Executive Director of Bible Memory Association, International, a systematic Scripture memorization program involving extensive camp ministries at home and abroad. Many assembly Christians are active in this splendid work which is a real thrust among the young people of our day.
God intended that the singing of hymns and spiritual songs in the Spirit should unite us together and draw out our hearts in worship and adoration of our blessed Lord. Today the “new sound” is confusing Christians, and the problem is quite serious.
Advocates of the “new sound”
Leaders of the “new sound” movement tell us that there is no problem with adult audiences but that in order to reach and hold the young people in this new age we must “locate the wave length to which kids are tuned, translate ideas into a vernacular they understand, and then transmit. Then they will listen and get the message.” Advocates of this questionable music vary their methods and emphases but, in general, they endorse the “folk-rock,” the “pop” and tell us enthusiastically that the “way-out” young people can best be reached “to the music that is rocking this world.” That’s where the action is; that’s where the crowds go; that’s where you experience “loads of enthusiasm.” This kind of music is what “this generation has chosen to call its own,” we are told by its zealous promoters who defensively plead for understanding and acceptance; this type of “music evangelism” appeals to young people, they say, and “grabs hold of their ears.” Many evangelicals are confused. Although they find it distasteful, they admit somewhat apologetically that their young people really like it.
Giving the young people what they think they want
This is the falacious idea that we are helping the young people by giving them what they think they want. We must use their kind of music and their kind of language, and even their kind of dress and appearance in order to identify ourselves with them and presumably help them. It’s a misinterpretation of Paul’s word to the Corinthians, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Paul never deviated from the glorious Gospel of Christ even in those extremities when no man stood with him.
But is this what the young people really want? Is this indeed what the young people in our churches need? Or are we merely imposing our own ideas upon their questioning minds and insecure emotions? Dr. F. M. Hechinger, Education editor of the New York Times, says in his book Teen-Age Tyranny, “American civilization tends to stand in such awe of its teen-age segment that it is in danger of becoming a teen-age society, with permanently teen-age standards of thought, culture and goals. As a result, American society is growing down rather than growing up. This is a creeping disease, not unlike hardening of the arteries. It is a softening of adulthood. It leads to immature goals in music, art and literature …” And in a concluding chapter Dr. Hechinger sums up thus, “The fault is not with youth; the errors are those of adult society. Teen-agers behave exactly in the way they have been brought up to behave; they evolve the attitudes that are implicitly expected; they aspire to goals and ideals which their elders inspire, or fail to inspire.” That’s sound reasoning and a searching indictment! Are we not in danger of “growing down” our young people by simply giving them what they think they want when they scarcely can be expected to know what they really want by the very fact of their youth? They need to have leaders and parents who are willing to be unpopular with them sometimes and who will steadfastly lead them according to those unchanging precepts God has given us in His Word.
Giving the young people what they need
The “new sound” music must not all be placed on the same level, nor must the motives of its authors be impugned. They mean well. Some of their songs have merit. But as a whole they tend to be subjective and focus the attention on man’s inner struggles, his emotions, his sentiments and his social predicament. Such songs may be the rage for a season, but fortunately the songs of shallow thought die young. Those which really bless the hearts and which survive more than a season or a single generation must grow out of some great verity of the Christian faith and extol the Lord. Searching young people want a satisfaction to their minds and hearts, not a sop to their emotions. Their inner beings are crying out, perhaps unconsciously, as did the Greeks of old, “We would see Jesus.”
They need loving assurance; they need authoritative instruction from the Word of God; they need experienced direction. Many of these young people are in churches where they are not instructed and grounded effectively in the Word of God, and this, combined with the spiritual failure in the home and the atheistic teaching in the schools, has driven our young people into a state of frustration and rebellion which soon manifests itself in bizarre dress, ungodly morals and “way-out” music.
The message of salvation, expressed in the words of divine revelation, is always relevant — for every age, for every generation — and does not have to be garbled or watered down in the language of the unregenerate crowd. Music for the young people of this generation does not have to be in a depressive mood and with the intoxicating beat. Mr. Frank Cook, of HCJB, Quito, Ecuador, in a discerning, unpublished article, writes, “I believe we are mistaken if we think that they want the Christian message in the same music forms that they like in their secular world … To use, therefore, their music forms is to identify with their negative life, their frustrations, rather than to bring them assurance and real freedom.” Such music may excite young people but in the end it pulls them down, as the disturbing Malcolm Boyd in his book Are You Running with Me, Jesus, admits, “This record sends me Jesus, but the magic doesn’t last. It gives me a big build-up and then it really tears me down to the foundations all the way.”
Singing the truths of salvation and the praises of God will indeed never appeal to all, but it will always touch the hearts and minister effectually to the needs of those who will but tune in to the “wave length” of the Spirit of God. Why have we forgotten this?
God has given us the “new song”
God has put in the mouth of every believer “a new song,” the theme of it is “praise unto our God,” and the blessed results of that song always follow: “many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psa. 40:3). This happened when “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa. 40:2).
A hymn or spiritual song is a meditation of rhythmical prose or verse, set to music, and the chief constituents of which are praise and prayer to God. It is the communion of the soul with God. “Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of saints” (Psa. 149:1). This verse tells us what a hymn should be. Commenting on the passage, Augustine said, “ A hymn, then, containeth these things, songs, and praise, and that of God.” This is in line with the New Testament definition. We read in Matthew 26:30, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” “Hymn” is translated from humneo, which means “to celebrate God in song” (Heb. 2:21; Mark 14:26). The Christian hymn differs from the songs of heathen antiquity — as it differs from those of heathen modernity — in its spirit and object of worship.
The “new song” which God has given us and wherein He has instructed us always exalts the Lord. The” new song” may take in our needs but it dwells on the grand particularities of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and which is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” It is the song of the redeemed. It is the song of victory. It is the song of hope. It is the song of rejoicing. It is the song of praise to the triune God.
The “new song’ in all ages
The greatest hymn book of all ages is the Book of Psalms. It was the song of the Hebrew pilgrims and it has been a living fountain of devotion and praise in all ages of the Christian church. The oldest Christian hymn known, apart from the Psalms is probably “Shepherd of Tender Youth,” by Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.). With the protestant reformation came thousands of hymns. Martin Luther published hundreds of hymns which were taken by travelling singers from village to village and sung into the hearts of the people. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth gave permission to use “any hymn or such like song to the praise of Almighty God.” Isaac Watts (1674-1748), called the creator of English hymnody, left some 875 hymns, many of which we are still singing today because, like most of Martin Luther, they exalt the Lord and are rooted in the great doctrines of the Christian faith.
Then came the Wesleys. The fervent gospel preaching of John Wesley was greatly aided by the songs of Charles Wesley. George Whitfield, who largely sang Psalms for his private devotions, revised some of the Wesley hymns and painstakingly set them to music that would be appropriate and an honour to the Lord. With the Sunday School movement and the revivals of Dwight L. Moody, God raised up more hymn writers including Sankey, Alexander, Harkness, Bliss, Whittle, Fanny Crosby and others. Many of these hymns exemplify unusual poetic gifts and abound in biblical thought and phraseology. No doubt a number of these great hymns will continue to live and bless the hearts of the saints because they magnify the Lord and proclaim God’s wonderful plan of redemption.
The “new song” is the body-guard of God’s people
The Psalmist said, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shsew the salvation of God” (Psa. 50:23). Rotherham renders the text a bit more illuminatingly thus, “He that sacrificeth a thank-offering will glorify Me, and will prepare a way by which I may show him the salvation of God.” Perhaps this could be taken as a yardstick for measuring the value of a hymn or spiritual song: 1. Does it glorify God? 2. Does it “prepare a way” whereby God may reveal some phase of His salvation?
The melody and harmony must not hinder the meaning of the words. The manner and method of singing must be “with grace” and as unto the Lord (Col. 3:16) so as not to distract from that which the Spirit of God is endeavouring to accomplish. “If the sing,” said John Calvin, “is such as befits the reverance which we ought to feel when we sing before God and the angels, it is an ornament which bestows grace and dignity upon our worship; and it is an excellent method of kindling the heart, and making it burn with great ardour in prayer. But we must at all times take heed lest the ear should be more attentive to the harmony of the sound than the soul to the hidden meaning of the words.”
“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.”
In the singing of great hymns, the soul gets its feet upon the Rock, Christ Jesus. Such hymns and spiritual songs are the body-guard of God’s people; they make ladders of light upon which we climb to Heaven; they unveil the face of our Lord and give us a view of His glory; they take us into the holy of holies, where we behold the shekinah that crowns the mercy-seat
The example of Christ
Christ was called “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), but the record does not end there. Remember why He mingled with them and how He dealt with them! He didn’t seek to please the masses. He sought out the individuals. He transformed the life of a crooked little tax collector, Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10); He sat down at Jacob’s well to offer the water of life to one sinful woman of Samaria, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water” (John 4:10).
Our Lord did not adopt the philosophies of the Greeks to reach the Greeks. He did not acquire the ways of the Romans to communicate to the Romans. He did not fall in line with the traditions of the Hebrews to please the Hebrews. He
declared to Satan and to the whole lost world, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). He simply communicated the message given Him from Heaven: “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him” (John 8:26).
This is precisely our message! It is unchanged and unchanging. It is for every generation. It is for this generation! “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2)! And sing it, too! “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3).