It is possible to disagree with people whom we respect. I had that experience earlier this year when I heard a speaker try to defend several aspects of contemporized Christianity. His name doesn’t matter, but what he said does. While I genuinely appreciate some of the leadership that this speaker has shown, his remarks in favor of current worship trends require evaluation.
To be fair, I should note that this speaker had recently taken some personal criticism, particularly over the kind of heavy-thumping rock-and-roll that he was using for worship. He evidently felt that he needed to respond to some of that criticism. He framed his response as a series of sound bites, delivered as an aside during a sermon on a completely different topic. Here is the first one:
What’s God’s Word teach about worship? Sing a new song! Sing a new song! Sing a new song! You know what I teach my people? We’re not singing new songs?, we’re in sin. ’Cause my Bible teaches me, “Sing a new song.”
The speaker was obviously thinking of scriptures like Psalms 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1, Isaiah 42:10, Revelation 5:9, and 14:3. Not all of these passages make singing a new song an imperative. In some cases, the biblical writer testifies simply to having a new song. In others, the writer observes someone other than himself singing a new song. Still, the point seems obvious: if the Bible both commands and commends the singing of a new song, does that not justify worshipping to the latest (newest) musical idiom?
I think not. Here are some reasons.
First, this argument misunderstands the use of the imperative verb in the phrase “sing a new song.” The speaker assumes that the imperative communicates a command. Granted, the imperative mode is often (usually?) used to issue commands, but that is only one of its several uses. Another is to extend an invitation. For example, you knock at your friend’s door, and when he opens it, he says, “Come in!” He is not barking out an order; he is extending an invitation—but he uses an imperative verb. You are not disobeying him if you decline the invitation, because invitations do not require obedience. When the psalmist says to “sing a new song,” he is inviting us to sing, not ordering us.
Second, this argument fails to consider the context. If singing a new song really were a command, then we would be obligated to obey the other imperatives in the immediate vicinity. For example, while Psalm 33:3 says to sing a new song, the previous verse says to sing with a lyre and a ten-stringed harp. Not a nine-stringed, nor an eleven-stringed, let alone a forty-seven-stringed pedal harp, but a ten-stringed harp. Imagine the speaker declaiming, “If we’re not singing to a nebel, we’re in sin.” Think anybody would be persuaded?
Third, the speaker failed to appreciate the use of the phrase “sing a new song” in Scripture. Its significance can be seen clearly in the passages from the book of Revelation, where we are told that someone sang a new song, and then we are given the lyrics to the song that they sang. The “new song” is exactly the song that appears in the text.
The same is true in the book of Psalms. The psalmist invites us to “sing a new song,” but he is not telling us to invent a song or to seek out one that was created by our contemporaries. He is pointing to his own psalm: it is the new song. For him to say, “sing a new song,” is to invite us to participate in the singing of his song, the song that he has newly written, the song that appears in the sacred text.
Finally, the speaker commits a logical fallacy. His argument is a classic case of affirming the consequent, a rather elementary error of logic. The rhetorical strength of his sound bite rests upon something like the following syllogism:
If we are to obey God, then we must sing a new song.
We are singing new songs.
Therefore, we are obeying God.
What this argument overlooks is that God might require something of our songs besides their simply being new. If that is so, then one might sing a new song and still be disobeying God. Everything would depend upon the song.
The speaker was not simply defending new songs. He was trying to justify a particular kind of new song: the kind that requires electrically amplified guitars and trap drums. That is certainly not the only kind of new music being produced by conservative Christians. New songs are coming from Soundforth, from New Hope Music of Minnesota (partly in cooperation with Deo Cantamus), from the Wilds, from Church Works Media, from Paul Jones Music, and many more. These publishers are all offering new songs that are quite different from the sort that the speaker was trying to defend.
In short, the real question is whether every musical form or idiom can be used to express Christian truth, or whether some forms and idioms actually contradict Christian sensibility and are therefore incompatible with loving God as He ought to be loved. My purpose at the moment is not to answer that question, but simply to point out that the speaker assumed the first answer without ever pausing to defend it. The whole business about singing a new song is really no more than a shallow way of distracting the inattentive from the real issue.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
I waited patient for the Lord,
He bow’d to hear my cry;
He saw me resting on His word,
And brought salvation nigh.
He raised me from a horrid pit,
Where mourning long I lay,
And from my bonds released my feet,
Deep bonds of miry clay.
Firm on a rock He made me stand,
And taught my cheerful tongue
To praise the wonders of His hand
In a new thankful song.
I’ll spread His works of grace abroad;
The saints with joy shall hear,
And sinners learn to make my God
Their only hope and fear.
How many are Thy thoughts of love!
Thy mercies, Lord, how great!
We have not words nor hours enough,
Their numbers to repeat.
When I’m afflicted, poor, and low,
And light and peace depart,
My God beholds my heavy woe,
And bears me on His heart.