One of the most common phrases I hear about contemporary worship songs is that they lack the depth and richness of hymns. While I would strongly disagree with that statement, I don’t hear the same argument being made for the sermons that are preached or (for most people) the Bible translations we use. When David penned the words, “Sing to the Lord a new song” did he actually mean it, or was it just a cute phrase he penned to mean something else?
One of the things I’ve been reminded about God recently is that we will never fully understand him. His ways are so much superior to ours that we need an eternity with him to be able to adequately understand him (Isaiah 55:8-9). That means that while the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, it isn’t complete. If God can never be fully grasped, then all the ink and paper in the world could never adequately describe him (John 21:25). Every book about God will fall short in some area. This is one of the many reasons we continue to meet together on a weekly basis in the church: each week we’re reminded of who God is and what he’s about: redemption. The focal point of our time together on Sundays is generally the preaching of the Word which is, hopefully, an explanation of what the Bible is saying and how that applies to our lives today. While the preacher should preach Christ alone, he will still preach through the lens of his own life experiences and understandings, and no two preachers will sound the same. If they don’t preach exactly the same way through the texts of Scripture, can both still be right and faithful to the words of the Bible? I think, and really hope, so! Until Christ returns or we are called home our ideas of God will be skewed and will need to continually be honed and sharpened. We need the church and our family in Christ to continually point us back to God and to the glorious riches offered to us through Christ. We need a new word preached in a new way every week so our hearts of stone can be turned into hearts of flesh. Yet I don’t see the same logic applied to music.
Because God is completely superior to us, all the songs in the world would never be able to adequately describe him. That means we need new songs to be written that can help us to be reminded of who God is and what he is like. As we continue to be made more like Christ through the songs we sing, new understandings of God’s character will emerge and we’ll be able to relate to him in new ways that require new words. I would hope that our faith is an ever growing faith that moves us on to depth and maturity in faith. Yes, we cling to the words of Scripture as the primary source of truth, the norma normans (the rule that rules) while the songs we sing are the norma normata (the rule that is ruled).
So why don’t we hear people say, “These new sermons aren’t like they used to be,” or “These new sermons are so lacking in depth,” or “If only he would preach more like John Calvin”? Yet so many people will say these things about the songs we sing. No-I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and never sing hymns – there is a legacy there and helps to keep us grounded in the tradition of our faith (just as a side note, that’s why I think reciting creeds as a church is helpful). But that doesn’t mean we need to demonize new songs or new styles within music. God is a God of innovation as he calls each new day into being. Instead of harkening back to a “golden age” of music or church (which I don’t think existed), be grateful for new ways to worship the God who can never be grasped. And in all that we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all to the glory of God.