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Posts Tagged ‘hymns’

The Active (versus Passive) Christian Life

November 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Lately I have very little time for extra study, and what study that has occurred involves glimpses of several different topics.  Among my scripture meditations and book reading, the theme of persecution, and what Christians in other countries have faced (and still endure) has been prominent: Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home (a novel about persecuted Chinese Christians), material from Barnabas Fund regarding current persecution in several countries, and Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey Through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace (a previous ChristianAudio free book of the month) are all good reading, ways to remember and pray for the persecuted church.

Another topic (though at least somewhat related), from various reading in the Bible, Christian articles, sermons, song lyrics and podcasts, is the Christian life and experience — in terms of how the Bible describes it, versus the idea taught in some hymns and bad theology.  Again I think of song lyrics, which are great for teaching Christian doctrine—whether the biblically correct kind or false views.  Yet many hymns and praise songs direct us to the passive experience of life, such as the Keswick “Let Go and Let God” hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

I appreciate Andy Naselli’s writings on this topic, found in his book as well as several articles online, regarding the problems with “higher life theology,” such as this article from The Gospel Coaltion.  Simply put, the “quick fix” approach doesn’t work with Christianity, and doesn’t provide an answer for the real trials and disappointments of life; the Keswick idea sounds great and “spiritual,” but as well explained in this above-linked article:

What’s really frustrating is when you think there’s a quick fix that will catapult you into a higher region where this cycle is no longer necessary, and you think you’ve entered this region already, only to find yourself sinning again. Come to find out you only thought you had consecrated yourself! Better try again . . . actually, don’t try . . . but you get the point.

That’s the good news Naselli gives us. The gospel actually does transform us into holy people, even if gradually. There actually is a higher region where the sin-cycle no longer burdens us—it’s called heaven, and Jesus is going to bring it down with him. And there actually is a quick fix coming one day, and it’ll be really quick: “We shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52).

Until then, in the words of Packer, let us not “let go and let God,” but rather “trust God and get going.” Or in the words of Hebrews 12:1–2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”

Hymns from an earlier era, back to the 18th century, reflect the more accurate experience.  “Take my life and let it be” will disappoint time and time again.  Instead, “through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…”  As Alistair Begg, teaching on Habakkuk 3, observed:

Our (unbelieving) friends are not drawn by the idea… ‘I have a dreadful problem, I went to God, I don’t have any more problems; therefore, we’re having a picnic, I will rejoice; we will rejoice, and we would like you to come over and see what it is like to rejoice.  Well you’re flat out not telling the truth.  Eventually the picnic is in heaven, no doubt about that, that will be untrammeled joy, that will be unmitigated praise and wonder.  But right now, all hell lets loose against us:  fightings outside of us, fears within us, doubts, disappointments, cancers, broken relationships, children that drive us crazy, and I’m only running through the first little section.  And everybody goes, ‘that’s right, that’s right’.  …. So, how do you get to ‘I will rejoice’?  .. he says ‘I will rejoice in the Lord’.  I will be joyful in God my Savior. … ‘Sovereign Lord, I have cancer; Sovereign Lord, my uncle is in a wheelchair, Sovereign Lord, my kids are killing me.  Sovereign Lord!’  This is the Christian experience.  Through many dangers, toils, snares, I have already come.  Tell your friends that, that’s believable.  Tell your work colleagues that, they’ll identify with that.  Tell them, when it all hits the fan, and you feel like running for it, the answer is not in the transformation of circumstance, but the answer is in the revelation of God in and of Himself, in His word the Bible.  I have nothing else to hold on to.

Charles Spurgeon is another great source for inspiration, regarding the importance of Christian work and effort (not a passive experience), as with a few excerpts from sermon #914:

When the Holy Spirit descended, there were two signs of His Presence. The one was a rushing mighty wind, the other was the tongue of fire. Now if the Holy Spirit intended to do all the work Himself—without using us as earnest instruments— the first emblem would have been stagnant air. And the next might have been a mass of ice, or what you will, but certainly not a tongue of fire. The first emblem was not only wind, but it was a mighty wind, and not only that, but a rushing mighty wind, as if to show us that He intended to set every spiritual sail in the most rapid motion.  . . .

there is no illustration used in Scripture to set forth the heavenly life which allows the supposition that in any case Heaven is won by sloth. I do not remember ever finding in Scripture the life of the Christian described as a slumber. To the sluggard I find a warning always—thorns and thistles in his garden—and rags and disease in his person.

I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago, when I first began serious study of theology.  I understood the basic message then, as his very strong response to the Keswick passive sanctification teaching idea then introduced.  It is probably time to read it again, for the greater appreciation that comes with greater maturity and understanding of God’s word.

Hymns and Poor Theology: Holy God “Became Perfect Man”? (Modalism)

June 8, 2015 7 comments

It’s time again for a topic I occasionally write about (see previous posts):  Hymns and wrong/bad theology.

At least some churches now frequently sings a simple, one paragraph song called “The Gospel Song,” with the following lyrics:

Holy God, in love became Perfect Man to bear my blame
On the cross He took my sin. By His Death I live again.

No doubt the people singing it understand the real doctrine of the trinity, and just don’t think about what song lyrics actually say – and might claim I am being too picky. If so, I am in good company, following the example of the late S. Lewis Johnson, who often pointed out the wrong theology in hymns, as for example with one of the phrases in the chorus of “One Day” (“living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away, Rising He Justified, Freely forever”):  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death.

The simple “gospel song” above has a much more obvious problem, in that by its simple lyric, leaving so much of Christian truth out, it actually teaches modalismHoly God … became Perfect Man(?)

The early church, responding to the many errors and heresies regarding the nature of God and Christ, would have found such a song quite unwelcome. Modalism — one God who becomes different members of the Trinity at different times — appeared by the early 3rd century and was strongly denounced by early leaders including Tertullian. The Church, in its creeds and confessions, carefully worked out its statements about the Triune nature of one God in three persons, and Christ having two natures in one person.

Of course local churches like to introduce new songs, especially ones that have a simple tune and simple words. But why not, instead, provide a song with lyrics of actual confessions or creeds from the historic church, such as the Apostles’ Creed (itself a fairly brief statement, yet far more correct and comprehensive than the above “gospel song”). Indeed, two of my favorite Christian rock groups from years past, Petra and Rich Mullins, have tunes with the lyrics from the Apostles’ Creed, as noted in this interesting article.  The Rich Mullins song stays close to the original wording of the Apostles’ creed; and put to song, this creed is easily learned — and a much better alternative to a four-line “gospel song” which omits too much, to the point that its statement about God denies the Trinity for the teaching of modalism.

Creed, by Rich Mullins

I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth,
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified and dead and buried.

CHORUS:
And I believe, what I believe is what makes me what I am.
I did not make it, no it is making me.
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man

I believe that He who suffered, was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and on the third day, rose again.
He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at God’s mighty right hand.
I believe that He’s returning to judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men.

CHORUS

I believe in God the Father almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
and in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, Our Lord.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, one Holy Church, the communion of Saints,
The forgiveness of sin, I believe in the resurrection.
I believe in a life that never ends.

Bad Theology in Hymns: “The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow”?

January 23, 2014 18 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often pointed out the bad theology in the hymns we sing in church, observing  that hymn writers would “get to heaven as by fire.”  Expanding on this point, he would mention specific hymns and the wrong theology, including one song he especially disliked, “One Day,” which includes in the chorus, after the words “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away,” the phrase “rising He justified.”  As Dr. Johnson pointed out (as in this message from the Romans series), we were not justified at His resurrection:  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death. 

I was reminded of the bad theology in hymns again this last week when the local church sang Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace” (“My Chains are Gone.”)  The last verse is from John Newton’s poem (the origin of the bad theology here), but not in the traditional “Amazing Grace” hymn:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow;
the sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

That lyric has bothered me for the same reason SLJ mentioned concerning other hymns: it’s not biblical. The earth will be renewed and continue forever: a renovation of the earth, but the earth itself will not be destroyed or dissolve into nothingness.  Reference also this post here from a few months ago, Robert D. Culver’s exposition of 2 Peter 3.

Thinking about this lyric in “Amazing Grace,” I found this blog article, from someone else who sees the doctrinal error here.  Here is his suggested re-wording of that verse, a true expression of biblical teaching:

The earth shall be redeemed by God;
the sun will forever shine.
And God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

All the Fitness He Requires? Spurgeon the Evangelist

July 12, 2012 5 comments

Steve Lawson well described Spurgeon the Evangelist, as in this message from the 2012 Shepherd’s Conference.  Through the last few years of reading Spurgeon sermons that has been the biggest impression of Spurgeon: sermons that show true Calvinism with its great evangelistic zeal, as in the well-known sermon, Compel Them to Come In.

Spurgeon Sermon #336, “Struggles of Conscience” from September, 1860, is another interesting one that shows Spurgeon’s great zeal in tearing down any obstacle in the way of a person coming to Christ, including the thought that a person doesn’t “feel” the greatness of their sins, doesn’t feel a particular type of repentance as was characteristically defined in the Puritan age.

In our day the evil has taken another, and that a most extraordinary shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous after quite an amazing fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. Many hundreds do I meet with who say they dare not come to Christ, and trust Him with their souls, because they do not feel their need of Him enough; they have not sufficient contrition for their sins; they have not repented as fully as they have rebelled! Brothers and Sisters, it is the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and I think a more crafty shape. Satan has wormed himself into many hearts under the garb of an angel of light, and he has whispered to the sinner, “Repentance is a necessary virtue. Stop until you have repented, and when you have sufficiently mortified yourself on account of sin, then you will be fit to come to Christ, and qualified to trust and rely on Him.”

While reading along I thought of the well-known hymn “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”, sung often at the local church.  One verse ends with the line “all the fitness He requires, is to feel your need of Him.” The teaching at the local church, in the standard Reformed Baptist tradition, occasionally points out that part of that hymn, and how this is the only fitness necessary to come to Christ.  Spurgeon at this point was clearly going further, arguing against any “standard” of what we must feel when we come to Christ.

In the very next paragraph Spurgeon answered my question about that hymn, with the full story even there:  that particular hymn only includes the first part of the line.

Let me counsel you, then, to never quote part of a hymn, or part of a text—quote it all!—
“All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of him—
This He GIVES YOU,
It is His Spirit’s rising beam!”

So that particular misunderstanding has been with the church for some time (that particular version of the hymn dates to 1759). The modern-day gospel-lite evangelical view is probably in the opposite direction from Spurgeon’s day, but (at least some) Reformed churches today continue the Puritan tradition of reacting in the opposite extreme.

Spurgeon’s point here is well-taken, a clear distinction in understanding the “feeling” someone has upon coming to Christ:

And I think I know the reason of its great commonness. In the Puritan age, which was noted certainly for its purity of Doctrine, there was also a great deal of experimental preaching, and much of it was sound and healthy. But some of it was unscriptural, because it took for its standard what the Christian felt, and not what the Savior said—the inference from a Believer’s experience, rather than the message which goes before any belief. Those excellent men, Mr. Rogers, of Dedham, who has written some useful works, and Mr. Sheppard, who wrote The Sound Believer, and Mr. Flavel and many others give descriptions of what a sinner must be before he may come to Christ, which actually represent what a saint is, after he has come to Christ! These good Brothers have taken their own experience—what they felt before they came into the Light of God—as the standard of what every other person ought to feel before he may put his trust in Christ and hope for mercy.

There were some in Puritan times who protested against that theology, and insisted that sinners were to be bid to come to Christ just as they were—with no preparation either of feeling or of doing. At the present time there are large numbers of Calvinistic ministers who are afraid to give a free invitation to sinners. They always garble Christ’s invitation thus—“If you are a sensible sinner you may come.” Just as if stupid sinners might not come! They say, “If you feel your need of Christ, you may come.” And then they describe what that feeling or need is, and give such a high description of it that their hearers say, “Well, I never felt like that,” and they are afraid to venture for lack of the qualification.

Mark you, the Brothers speak truly in some respect; they describe what a sinner does feel before he comes, but they make a mistake in putting what a sinner feels, as if that were what a sinner ought to feel! What the sinner feels, and what the sinner does, until he is renewed by Grace, are just the very opposite of what he ought to feel or do! We are always wrong when we say one Christian’s experience is to be estimated by what another Christian has felt.  No, Sir, my experience is to be measured by the Word of God! And what the sinner should feel is to be measured by what Christ commands him to feel, and not by what another sinner has felt!

Christian Praise Songs: The God of Israel

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The more I read the Bible, especially the Old Testament passages, I notice disparity between scriptural language and that of modern hymns and praise songs. Certainly the church replacement theme has continued through Protestant history, as I observed previously here in reference to one current praise song with the line “Speak O Lord, till your church is built, and the earth is filled with your glory.”

A recent choir praise song, “Great is the Lord Almighty,” is another that contrasts with the language of the Bible.  It’s a great upbeat tune, with great words of praise overall, though without the depth of thought of traditional hymns.  See the full lyrics here.

The verses for this song briefly reference stories of the Old Testament:  at the drowning of Pharoah and his army at the Red Sea, and Joshua and the people at Jericho.  In each case, the lyric tells us, after these great deliverances they were singing – the chorus line,

Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord He is God indeed
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is God supreme

From my continual Bible reading, though, I observe that throughout the OT, the Israelites when they praised the Lord, used the phrase “the God of Israel,” with frequent reference to Him as the covenant keeping God of Israel.  A song with the above lines might be good enough for Gentiles in our modern times of songs lacking serious teaching, but to associate such simple lyrics with the Old Testament age is to betray vast ignorance of the strength and depth of their actual faith.

Indeed, a search in my Bible software (“The Word”) for the exact words “God of Israel” finds 201 references, mostly throughout the Old Testament.  Only two references occur in the New Testament, both in the gospel accounts (Matthew 15:31, Luke 1:68).  I also remember an old praise song, “The God of Israel is Mighty,” with other words of a more OT Israel style.

The New Testament, with a focus on bringing the Gentiles in, does not use that phrase, but several texts speak of the people of Israel, such as “the house of Israel” and “the Israel of God.”  Then Revelation 15:3 mentions the Song of Moses, and the words proclaimed by those saints who sing “the Song of Moses and the Lamb.”  Here the full purpose of God finds expression as God is praised as the “King of the nations,” the one that “All nations will come and worship.”  This is the God we worship, the God of Israel and the nations, the covenant keeping God — and we use words that convey these attributes of God instead of just simple lyrics about how great God is, yet without mention of the ways in which He is great.

Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes: Church Praise Songs

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How common it is for wrong biblical ideas to enter through songs.  From church history I’ve heard that the error of Arianism spread easily through simple songs, such as one with the line “There was a time when the Son was not.”  That is a more extreme example, but even within American churches, many of us can recall the songs about having “a mansion” in heaven — whereas the reference — John 14:3 — is referring to many “rooms” in my Father’s house.

The general theme of church replacement / supremacy is of course well represented in the classic hymns, if in a subtle way:  all the refernces to Zion, as in “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God,” or other songs where the word Zion, or even Beulah land, is used as a reference to heaven.

By contrast, apparently the only hymns with biblical reference to Israel and its great future, come from historic premillennialist Horatius Bonar.  He wrote seven such hymns, but I have never seen the sheet music that goes to those songs, nor seen these hymns in any church hymnal.

Among contemporary praise songs, the church-supremacy trend continues, as in the recent song (sung often at the local Reformed amillennial church) “Speak, O Lord.”  Most of the words are fine, and overall it is a great hymn, but the last verse includes the words “Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 

Of course, most people just sing the words and don’t really think about the words, or ask “is this biblical?”  The reference to the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord is in Habakkuk 2:14 — in the great chapter with the words “the just shall live by faith,” where we are also told of a vision that “awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie,” and describes both judgment to come as well as the great promise in verse 14:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Even amillennialist John Reisinger has expressed his doubts, realizing that this verse contains more than just the influence of the church in this age.  To say “till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory” of course suggests that the church, or the gospel going forth, is going to bring this about (classic postmillennialism), and of course is not scriptural, as something never taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible.

As shown in this blog’s title, though, I suggest a scripturally correct wording, that fits the rhythm and syllables for the song:  Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes, and the earth is filled with Your glory.