I’ve watched a few episodes of American Idol the last few weeks, especially the Final 36 competition. The three songs that I remember most were “oldies”: one from the 80s and two from the 60s. Two of the songs, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (1966) andÂ “Bette Davis Eyes” (1981), were deemed “too old-fashioned.”
These comments remind me of worship services in churches today. A song from one or two years ago would be judged too old, if people even remember it. This is fallen human nature, ever craving for new things, as when Paul was asked by the Athenians if he had any new teaching to introduce to them (Acts 17:19).
The appetite for new songs in churches is never satisfied. Why not? The Bible even commands us to “sing a new song to the Lord” in many places. Taken at face value, this would seem to justify the weekly new song introduced by the worship team.
But what does the Bible really say about “new songs”? In the Old Testament, “new song” was “always an expression of praise for God’s victory over the enemy, which sometimes included thanksgiving for his work of creation.1 In Exodus 15:1, Moses sang a new song of praise to God because God saved Israel from Egypt. In Psalm 40:3, David wrote a new song because God heard his cry for help. Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 98:1 and Isaiah 42:10 command God’s people to praise him for his marvelous works in creation and salvation, while Psalm 144:9 and 149:1 tell people to sing a new song because of God’s victory over his enemies.
Consider the souls under the heavenly altar that John saw in Revelation 6:9-11. They had been slain for the word of God and for their witness, so they cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” They sing an old psalm of lament:
How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me? (Psa 119:84)
After they had finally been redeemed by God from out of all the nations of the earth, they sing a “new song” in a heavenly assembly (Rev 14:3). But what “new song” do they sing? In addition to a “new song” of the Lamb (Rev 5:9), they sing the song of Moses â€“ an ancient song becomes new! (Rev 15:3)
All of these mean that whenever a new period of redemptive history is inaugurated, God’s people sing a “new song,” whether it is actually new or old, fit for their new feeling or situation.
Since this age of ours will not end until he returns, we don’t sing a “new song.” We already have an inerrant song book in the Psalter, all 150 songs written under the inspiration of God himself. This song book includes the old song of Moses that we will sing anew in our heavenly worship. To be sure, everyone who has been rescued by Christ from sin will have a new song in his heart, because he will now desire to sing spiritual songs of praise to God, and not songs of worldly desires.
Again, consider a man whose girlfriend left him. He would be singing a lament, “I’ll be searching everywhere just to find someone to care.” But when he finally finds that “someone,” he then switches to a “new song” which could actually be older, singing, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day… Well, I guess you’ll say, what can make me feel this way? My girl!” (1964). Whenever our feelings change, do we actually write a new song? No, we come up with songs that we already know that would fit the change in our emotions.
Here in the Philippines, in addition to the above misuse of Scripture texts that mentions “new song,” I frequently hear the lamest alibi for this craving for new songs. People say that the old hymns are from the Western culture, and Filipinos should be singing new songs that fit their own culture. But go to any evangelical church on any given Sunday, and what would you hear? You would hear songs from Maranatha, Integrity, Hosanna and Hillsong! You would hear rock, hip-hop, rap and pop, among other things. Where is the Filipino culture in these kinds of songs?2
In the early church, the Psalter was the only song book, and maybe a few songs written in the New Testament. The first uninspired hymns were written by Gnostics, Arians and other heretics to defend and promote their heresies. The true churches responded by writing their own hymns. But all the way to the 18th century, metrical Psalms were almost exclusively used in the church. Note also that throughout history, uninspired hymns were written by the learned clergy, unlike today when any idiot can write his or her “new song.”
What is the result of the use of these uninspired hymns? Compare these two videos:
|This is the performance by one of the finalists, singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (1965). I also noticed that this 1965 song was not too old for the judges, which means that the popularity of a song does not depend on its age, not even on its beauty, but on the taste of the audience.
This is easily seen in churches, because when Christmas comes, the people do not feel the Christmas spirit if “Silent Night (1818),” “Joy to the World!” (1719), or “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (1739) are not sung. Perhaps some people think that these songs are part of Contemporary Christian Music!
|This one is a “praise and worship” (or whatever abomination you might want to call it) in a “church.” In response to the world’s enticement, “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated,” today’s churches say, “We welcome your assimilation!
Anything similar between the two? Yes, both show pagan entertainment. What about differences? The difference is that the “praise and worship” exceeds the paganism of the American Idol program.
Also, the Idol judges saw that some contestants picked songs that didn’t fit their personality. In contrast, churches show no discernment in choosing what is fitting and what is not for the worship of God!
What is true worship like? It is with reverence and awe, as well as joy (all emphasis added):
Serve (worship) the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling (Psa 2:11).
Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
Heavenly worship is nothing like the videos above. In fact, it is the extreme opposite:
And the twenty-four elders t who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God (Rev 11:16; cf Rev 4:10; 5:8; 5:14; 7:11; 19:4).
Let us then be reminded of the prayer of Jesus, Paul’s teaching, and John’s warning:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world (John 17:14-16).
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace… But all things should be done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:33, 40).
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the worldâ€”the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessionsâ€”is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
1 G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 1102.
2 A few Reformed churches use Tagalog translations of the Psalms, still a work in progress. If you want to get a copy of this song book, please send me a note.