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We Sing Junk

Compare the Christian reading matter and you’ll know that we’re in pretty much the same situation. The Germans, the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, the English, the Americans and the Canadians all have a common Protestant heritage. And what did they read, these Protestant forebears of yours and mine? Well, they read Doddridge’s The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. They read Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying. They read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War. They read Milton’s Paradise Lost. They read the sermons of John Flavel.

And I blush today to think about the religious fodder that is now being handed out to children. There was a day when they sat around as the fire crackled in the hearth and listened to a serious but kindly old grandfather read Pilgrim’s Progress, and the young Canadian and the young American grew up knowing all about Mr. Facing-Both-Ways and all the rest of that gang. And now we read cheap junk that ought to be shoveled out and gotten rid of.

Then I think about the songs that are sung now in so many places. Ah, the roster of the sweet singers! There’s Watts, who wrote “Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and Zinzendorf, who wrote so many great hymns. And then there was Wesley, who’s written so many. There was Newton and there was Cooper, who wrote “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and Montgomery and the two Bernards—Bernard of Cluny and Bernard of Clairvaux. There was Paul Gerhardt and Tersteegen, there was Luther and Kelly, Addison and Toplady, Senic and Doddridge, Tate and Brady and the Scottish Psalter. And there was a company of others that weren’t as big as these great stars, but taken together they made a Milky Way that circled the Protestant sky.

I have an old Methodist hymnal that rolled off the press 111 years ago and I found forty-nine hymns on the attributes of God in it. I have heard it said that we shouldn’t sing hymns with so much theology because peoples minds are different now. We think differently now. Did you know that those Methodist hymns were sung mostly by uneducated people? They were farmers and sheep herders and cattle ranchers, coal miners and blacksmiths, carpenters and cotton pickers—plain people all over this continent. They sang those songs. There are over 1,100 hymns in that hymnbook of mine and there isn’t a cheap one in the whole bunch.

And nowadays, I won’t even talk about some of the terrible junk that we sing. They have a little one that is sung to the tune of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” which goes like this:

 

One, two, three, the devil’s after me,

Four, five, six, he’s always throwing bricks,

Seven, eight, nine, he misses me every time,

Hallelujah, Amen.

 

And the dear saints of God sing that now! Our fathers sang “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and we sing junk.

This tragic and frightening decline in the spiritual state of the churches has come about as a result of our forgetting what kind of God God is.

— The Attributes of God

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Towards Conservative Christianity.

3 Responses to We Sing Junk

  1. Todd H. says:

    Speaking rhetorically — and at the risk of sounding reductive in argument — I submit the following for consideration: would it be safe to say that God's Protestant Church in America has largely (i.e., maybe 60 percent, maybe 80 percent) replaced what I'll call "hymnody", and replaced it with what I'll call "CCM", having replaced . And therefore, I submit that "modern", "cutting-edge", "rock", "hip", "contemporary" is the norm: perhaps a plurality; but perhaps even a majority. And if a plurality (or a majority) of our Lord's Protestant Christian Church in America were convinced that "rock" or "contemporary" were the best music — or at least better than hymns — then perhaps it *were* best.

    The Church is the Bride of Christ. Surely, the Bride of Christ as a whole could not become so wrong, could it? Surely, Christ's Church could not as a whole be so wrong?

    I realize that the Galatians in the NT had become very corrupt — but Galatia was only one of many churches at the time.

    Please again note that I am speaking rhetorically.

    Moderator(s): If I have commented in the wrong category or subject, please feel welcome to move my comment to a more appropriate category. Thank you for allowing me to post.

  2. David David says:

    Todd, thanks for the question.

    I can't speak directly to the North American situation, since I don't minister there or experience it firsthand. But I think it is probably safe to say that in evangelical Protestantism, CCM is mainstream, and at least part of the average Sunday morning service, at some point.

    If I understand your reasoning correctly, you are pointing out that the majority of God's people use it, God's people are Spirit-led, ergo, how could it be wrong if so many people on the right side of religious matters use it?

    If you'll allow me, I think that's a dangerous approach to evaluating the worth of something: how many people like it or use it. To be sure, we must not dismiss a kind of consensus amongst God's people. The problem is, at various points in church history, the consensus was wrong. Arianism once predominated over Trinitarianism. Legalism once predominated over justification by faith. Transubstantiation once predominated over celebrating the Table in remembrance of Him. Priestly and professional rites and songs once predominated over congregational participation.

    At these critical junctures, men like Athanasius or Martin Luther were criticised as lone voices, opposing what had already fallen into common use and established practice. Nevertheless, they do show that the church has entered periods where the Gospel seemed almost in eclipse, and where both orthodoxy and orthopraxy were 'heretical'.

    I am of the opinion that we live in the ruins after a cultural collapse, where the church largely chose to secularise. People are slowly waking up to how secular their churches are, and, among those, a minority is beginning to detect how the forms they use contradict the orthodoxy they profess. The culture is apostate; to use its forms to imagine God can only end in tears, down the road.

    It is certainly now an established practice to use CCM. Whether this reflects a natural development of good worship, or whether it represents another dark age for the church, church history will decide. In the meantime, we need to evaluate all music and songs, new and old, by some standard of what is good, true and beautiful.

  3. Yes, David. Good reply.

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