Ben J. DITZEL
Truth, Not Taste
'It does not stem from a personal preference in musical styles.'
This is what I told countless people who looked at me, confused, when I described my journey in lyrical discernment. Then their faces cleared and they stated, 'Oh, you like hymns & organ music. That's cool.'
It is not a matter of opting for hymns instead of contemporary worship songs simply based upon orchestration, melody, or artist. This is far more than the type of music I enjoy. The following is a clarification on ‘Lyrical Discernment‘.
I have received feedback from my previous article entitled ‘Lyrical Discernment‘ which seems to show that many recipients of this challenge simply chalk it up to a style choice; that I prefer the sound of hymns and slower music as opposed to a faster, rhythmic, or contemporary sound of much of today’s praise & worship or Contemporary Christian Music. However, my reasons for urging lyrical discernment reach far broader than a superficial orchestration preference, genre, composition era, or a like of one group or writer’s instrumentation over another’s.
This is a challenge for a church-wide return to meaningful Biblically grounded music that teaches truth rather than repeating self-focused similes (often sung countless times in a chorus until the memory of the meaning is totally lost)!
As I wrote in my article ‘Lyrical Discernment’,
‘This didn’t feel good nor was it fun to differ from friends and relatives on something I had agreed enthusiastically on in the past. As I cut to the core, some of my favourite artists over the past 10-15 years were falling headlong into the Biblically deficient music category.’
While it is true that I love many hymns, there are also several hymns that are just a damaging as the contemporary songs that are riddled with false doctrine such as Holy Spirit (Battistelli) & What A Beautiful Name (Hillsong). The traditional hymn ‘And Can It Be That I Should Gain’ has a wonderful and stirring melody but we must remember that the words, not the tune, are what matter, right? And the words here state that Jesus ‘left his father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace, emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race. In order to avoid any misconception that Christ was not still fully God and fully man, songwriter Aaron Keyes adjusted the words to read, ‘emptied Himself for all for love’ to correct this theological error. Even the beautiful hymn Blessed Assurance can be damaging. One might feel that once we are saved, all will be happy and blessed and we shall experience perfect submission to our Lord’s will. But believers know that this is anything but the case and our sinful nature vies against God’s will in favour of our own. Dan Phillips describes the difficulties and stumbling that can stem from these words:
The effect of all this was that I was constantly taking my spiritual pulse, constantly checking within, freezing up, paralyzed, spiraling down into deeper and deeper morbid introspection and depression. In the name of “looking to Jesus” (revealed in His Word) I was constantly looking to myself, within myself. (Phillips, The World-Tilting Gospel, 251-52)
I still enjoy and share Blessed Assurance because I understand this to be a song depicting the assurance of Christ but it must be taken cautiously and with an existing background and knowledge of our Saviour & the rest He gives. Mike Leake says this about Fanny Crosby’s beloved hymn.
‘So where do we get our perfect delight from? This hymn would say it comes from perfectly submitted. A naïve reading of these words could drive us into ourselves to find assurance. But the Scriptures drive us to the finished work of Christ and not into analyzing the level of our submission.’ Leake, M. (2020, July 01). 6 Hymns That Have Been Teaching You Bad Theology. Retrieved November 09, 2020, from https://www.crosswalk.com/slideshows/6-hymns-that-have-been-teaching-you-bad-theology.html
These are potentially minor issues in the study of hymnody. There are many more examples of hymns and old songs that are damaging in their doctrine and even more that can be misleading or are simply not edifying nor Christ exalting, Gospel saturated, or rich in theology. These are grounds that should be used when choosing songs both in church worship through song as well as listening enjoyment & instruction on a personal or family level. It is for this reason that I can also love, not only many traditional and modern hymns, but also many songs with Christ exalting lyrics that do not fall into the category of hymns.
In a further clarification, many of the songs that I have grown to love may, in fact, not be set to a preferred musical style, instrumentation, or quality. And yet, I have grown to love these songs for their truth content and sincere worship to our holy God!
I pray that everyone who reads this would examine their own music choices and be reminded that intake of musical lyrics is not passive. Absorbing music that is not edifying or is deficient in the truth is never harmless. At best, it is a waste of our time and it dulls our senses to the solid food of the Word; at worst it impresses upon us lies about our Saviour & His attributes while damaging our testimony and representation to the world of the one & true God.
Dear church, this is not about the sound, instrumentation, age, or author of the music we sing. This is about the words they teach us, this is about the Gospel they preach to us, this is about the Christ they describe to us, this is about truly exercising lyrical discernment in every song we allow into our minds and let pass from our lips.
Challenge: Can your music choices both in church and personal life be described as falling in line with both of the attributes in 1 Cor. 14:15b? ‘I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.’ #WorshipThroughSong