Newness

newness.gifSometimes, we need a change.  Whether it’s a new haircut, new clothing, new house, or even a new look for your blog–we all enjoy the effect of variety.  Our houses of worship often implement the latest in audio and visual technology so that the message of the Bible is clearly and effectively communicated.  Change can be very good.

When it comes to worship, however, change often comes to a grinding halt.  We have our traditions, passed down through at least decades and perhaps centuries, that we cling to tenaciously.  Now, don’t get me wrong–traditions can be very good.

There comes a point, two of them actually, where these traditions and methods can be very bad: (1) when they are discarded solely for the sake of relevance or (2) when they are discounted, mostly unintentionally, by their “vain repetition.”

I have a message for churches in one of these categories: you are grievously hurting the cause of Jesus Christ through your heartless worship and self-indulgence!  Your worship is heartless if you are simply going through the motions of liturgy without focusing your attention of the Object of your worship.  Your worship is filled with self-indulgence if you are consumed with the “latest and greatest” faddish- and performance-based approach to worship without consideration of the maturing of the flock of God or your Divine audience.

One of the reasons I can’t stand seeker-sensitive ministries is because they appear to obsessed with one thing: giving people what they want.  Such a man-focused ministry results in spiritually anemic believers.  These churches are great at attracting crowds and do some things quite well (like facilitating relational ministry) but so many of their people are easily shaken in their faith and have not been taught to discern.  Many of them are carnal Christians, who enjoy the privileges of their spiritual family but also like to be “of” the world.  I fear that many of them will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away from Paradise because they do not really know the Lord.  They are self-indulgent rather than self-debasing.  The issue is pride.

There is another type of ministry, however, that is more subtle in its vice.  This type of ministry looks pretty neat and clean on the outside, but their church meetings are more of a “sacred club” than an appointment with God.  The content of their liturgy and worship is theologically sound, but the expression of their worship is dead.  Stoicism is masked in terms such as “reverent” and “sober” when the reality is that there is little worship taking place.  These types of churches hold to the ancient without embracing the modern.  They dwell on what has been to the exclusion of what is.  They are afraid of contemporary culture because of their fear that it will overwhelm their congregation with its sinful attractions.  And so they avoid it–almost completely.  They take their error one step further however: they call their worship authentic and discount any other ministries who would embrace a more contemporary or relevant expression or methodology in their worship.  They believe themselves to be more holy because of their tradition.  And thus, their error is the same as the first example: pride.  They have embraced the error of the Pharisees–that tradition can rise to the same level of importance as doctrine itself.

As I survey the ecclesiastical landscape today, I see many churches falling into both extremes.  And yet, if both are indeed wrong, there must be a proper approach to worship in 2006.  I believe that approach is sourced in a single word: newness.

The Christian life has always been about its unique newness.  The Psalms are replete with mentions of the new song (Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1).  I have to stop here and correct a teaching which has permeated much of fundamentalism through a book by Tim Fisher entitled “The Battle for Christian Music.”  Before I address the issue, I want to say that Tim Fisher is a wonderful Christian man.  I have no reason at all to doubt his motivation in ministry or passion for Christ.  I thoroughly enjoy just about everything his company has produced.  However, his chapter on “The New Song Principle” offers as its premise that whenever the “new song” is used in Scripture it refers to a new quality of music, not a new kind of music.  I agree with him to a point.  The “new” rope used on Samson was not a special kind of rope.  The “new” cart used to pull the Ark of the Covenant wasn’t a special kind of cart.  They were just new, never used.  They were fresh.  However, in every illustration he uses from that point on, he uses the “new song principle” to talk about a new kind of music–a music that doesn’t remind the believer of the old way of life.   Fisher creates a paradox for Bible students: he correctly defines the Hebrew word for “new” but then uses it in exactly the way he did NOT define the word.  What is the new song principle?  Simply, that we are to sing songs that are new–not a new kind of music necessarily, but rather new compositions.  Church who are bound to traditionalism are often suspect of new compositions, even from God-fearing believers.  Churches given to self-indulgence will discard all songs of the past for the newest songs being written.  We are, however, commanded to sing both new songs to the Lord as well as the rich heritage of songs in our history.  There is a balance.

Paul teaches us not to serve by the “oldness of the letter” but rather by the “newness of the spirit” (Romans 7:6).  Christ’s inauguration of the New Covenant brings in things that are qualitatively “newer,” expressed in such basic concepts as new wineskins, new teaching, new commandment, new creation, new man, new name, new song, new Jerusalem and all things new (Rev. 21:5).  According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, to the Christian all things are becoming new.  There is constant expectation of newness associated with the follower of Christ.  This must be applied to our church worship as well.  While we should not recklessly discard the good traditions of the past, we must also not discount songs that are new and reflect the qualitative newness of the Christian life.

If you are enslaved into a “only new” or “only old” mindset regarding the worship of God, you should repent of the pride which has infested your soul and interfered in the whole-hearted worship of God.  The question isn’t really whether your worship is “new” or “old”; rather, the question is why are you worshipping the way that you do?  Hearts that are enjoying the constant newness of the Christian life will find both contemporary and spontaneous expression of that newness as well as find identity and value in the hymns of days past.  God enjoys variety and desires that we find that variety in our worship as well.  Such variety is reflective of our Creator and our imitation of His attributes brings glory to Him.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Great article. Like the new look!

    Reply

  2. Well-said!

    I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time now, and you verbalized a few thoughts still vapor in my thinking.

    Good food for thought and meditation.

    If I remember correctly, the Lord’s lovingkindnesses and compassions are new each morning, the best reason for continual hope in Him. (Lam 3.22 & following)

    Our relationship with Him is indeed healthiest when it is continually “new” in the sense you describe it, and our corporate worship will reflect that reality.

    Words fitly spoken!

    Phil—

    Reply

  3. I like how you described the two extremes as being “only old” or “only new”–helpful descriptors, I think.

    I agree that God likes variety. One other point in that regard is that God has purposed that every tribe, kindred, people, and tongue will unite in worship around His throne. Since so much of what makes different musical genres & styles different is tied into culture, we should expect that God would want multiple musical genres & styles to be employed in the worship He desires.

    Also good point about how Fisher uses “new” wrongly. I find that in his book and also Garlock’s that they repeatedly try to manufacture Biblical reasons for rejecting any kind of a contemporary beat in music.

    Thanks for a well thought out piece on a controversial issue.

    God bless you richly in Christ Jesus,

    Bob Hayton

    Reply

  4. […] Newness in Music—a critique of both “old only” and “new only” positions on church music today by Brian McCrorie […]

    Reply

  5. Just thought you might be amused to find out that in a debate on music over at my blog now, when I linked to this post from my comments section, I was accused as follows: “You really pulled out the big gun when you pulled out the Greek scholar, Brian Mccrorie, and his blog as a basis for your view of ‘new.'” Yep, you’re my big gun!
    Kidding aside, I linked to this post because you brought up a good point about the word “new”. Interestingly, when I used that argument the other guy made some of the following claims: “This ‘new song’ is a ‘fresh song’ is a new interpretation….That is total revisionism….Yes, the word ‘new’ is used as in a ‘new rope,’ but it is an exegetical fallacy to apply that usage to ‘new song.’ Why not apply it to ‘new creature’ if you are going to do that?”
    In responding to him, I just browsed a few older commentaries online and was actually surprised to see how they overwhelming backed the position that “new song” is a “fresh song” or a new song chronologically, in commemoration of a new deliverance. It was really astounding how unanimous they were.
    Thanks for making this point. And I think it is clear that fundamentalists in arguing against the modern music styles, have created a new argument on the basis of the phrase “new song”. This is parallel, in my view, to some fundamentalists creating a new argument “perfect preservation” to defend their novel KJV only views. In both cases, the adherents of these views will write books and claim that their position logically flows from these “Scriptural” arguments. In fact, however, the “Scriptural” arguments were conjured up to support their preferred positions which they had held before they even considered such “Scriptural” arguments.
    Sorry to go off on a tangent here, but I thought the comment was not too off topic. And again thanks for this article.
    Bob Hayton

    Reply

  6. Brian,

    I should also mention that in the discussion, now, it has been pointed out that there are 2 Greek words for new and only one is used in the LXX for the Hebrew phrases “new song”. That Greek word (kainos) implies “different” rather than “chronologically new”. However, I have some arguments that seem to me to be convincing that the word signifies “new quality” as you stated in your post, not necessarily “new” as in “totally distinct form”. Are you aware of any thing on this definition which I am missing?

    Reply

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