A Song of Protest: a call for prophetic music

INTRODUCTION

I was deeply moved recently by reading a book about early Christian devotion to Jesus. In his letter to the emperor Trajan the Roman official Pliny (c.112 A.D.) records torturing and executing Christians who confessed that they “meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god”. Such devotion under pressure is common in scripture.

reformation in Christian music

David authors psalms whilst being pursued by enemies (ps 7, ps 27, ps 31, ps 34, ps 35, ps 52), Jesus and his disciples sung a praise hymn on the way to Gethsemane (Mark 14:26), beaten and placed in a dungeon “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

The climactic musical book in scripture runs with the blood of the saints; Revelation is punctuated with hymnic material  (Rev 1:5-6, Rev 4:11, Rev 5:9-10, Rev 7:11-12, Rev 11:17-18, Rev 15:3-4, Rev 19:6-8).

Such worship is deeply inspirational in a way grossly lacking in our churches.

I will never forget coming out of a Pentecostal Church as a new Christian and commenting, “We say ‘Hallelujah, Praise the Lord’ but our lives are not changed.”

I had recognised a disturbing disconnect between my public spiritual performance and holiness of life. Something weird often happens when people sing. During an internship placement whilst at theological college I was amazed to hear the congregation happily sing from a hymn I knew they would never consent to doctrinally. All this points to a need for a reformation in Christian music.

THE PROTEST OF PRAISE

The note I find to be almost completely absent from popular contemporary Christian music is one of protest. My thinking about praise as a protest was first triggered by reading an account of student revival in Ethiopia in the 70’s when that nation was under an anti-Christian Marxist dictatorship.

The believers started to write their own songs, some of which were designed to help them overcome the evils of materialism and secularism.

Such an ethical intent is usually absent from our normal congregational experience. Why aren’t our contemporary song writers exhorting us to beware the temptations of consumerism and immorality?

The answer is found in the exhortations of Paul about corporate praise; Eph.vs.15walk, not as unwise but as wise….be filled with the Spirit, vs.19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…. Col 3.vs.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Eph 5:15, 18-19: Col 3:16-17).

The vertical dimension of thankfulness to the Lord is practiced in our churches, but the horizontal dimension of exhorting one another to godliness through song is absent because we lack godly wisdom.

Imbibing a culture which teaches happiness is to be desired and unhappiness avoided our song writers and “worship leaders” cannot impart a godly wisdom grounded in holy fear (Prov 9:10).

They lack the faith to teach us how we are to overcome the world (1 John 5:4).

Despite popular convictions of a renewal in Church worship the steep decline in holiness of life in Western Christianity testifies otherwise. In our spiritual infancy we must return to the teachings of scripture (1 Cor 3:1-3).

LAMENT AS THE PATHWAY TO PRAISE

Sixty seven psalms are defined as songs of lament1)Themelios-42-1.pdf pp.89ff..  

These are significant for us because they prophetically anticipate the sufferings, and subsequent glory, of Jesus (1 Pet 1:10-11). The psalms of lament must ultimately be understood as the words of him who “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5:7).

However, Jesus’ songs of sorrow are a pathway to his song of praise. This is very clear from his use of Psalm 22. Christ’s ultimate lament, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is a quote from Psalm 22:1.

His joy in presently praising God in the Church, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (Heb 2:12) is a quote from Psalm 22:22.  The brothers of Jesus are intimately bound to his way of suffering and glory (Luke 24:26).

The only way to experience the riches of Christ’s glory is to walk the way of his suffering (Phil 3:10).

This great gospel truth must be expressed in songs of lament-praise in the Church. Christians under pressure have always understood this.

SHARE IN THE PROTEST OF THE CROSS

By exhorting, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name”, Hebrews 13:15 advocates a difficult and glorious way of life that denies the final authority of evil to impede the purposes of God.

Believing this is why I always begin my day with a song, however I’m personally feeling (cf. Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18).

This lifts me up to share the perspective of heaven.

Revelation’s “new song/song of Moses and the Lamb” is sung by those who have “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Rev 14:3; 15:2-3).

The original beast was the Pharaoh of the exodus deliverance (Ex 15:1) and many beasts still roam the earth. 

Secularism, post-modernism, capitalist materialism, hedonism, sexual libertinism seek to devour God’s people.

So the Church today urgently needs a release of prophetic song that is a refutation and denunciation of the powers of evil in their cruel rule over human souls.

We need to have inspired words resonating with biblical truth to sing as an edification and protest against the spiritual harlotry that has so deeply infiltrated Western Christianity (cf. James 4:4; Rev 2:22; Rev 17:1-6). I desperately need this, and so do you!

CONCLUSION

Missionaries have long diagnosed Australians culturally conditioned apathy to ultimate issues as our most resistant stronghold to the gospel.

To be free from deep and painful concerns about eternity is deemed a positive attribute in our society.

Listen to the music and you will see that this spirit is running riot in our churches

Something encouraging however is stirring in the spirits of God’s. I recently received an email that read, “I struggle with how willing people are to be lukewarm.” Let me finish where I begun.

Pliny tortured and killed Christians not as criminals but as members of a “depraved, excessive superstition” uncompromising of the tolerant religious pluralism of his day.

The “Only Jesus is Lord.” people were politically incorrect in the worse possible way.

They were protesters against a worldview and form of civilisation whose agitations threatened to undermine everything of value to the Empire.

Time would prove Pliny’s verdict on uncompromising early Christianity to be correct.

I long for a time when the boundaries between world and Church will be so starkly visible once again (Mal 3:18).

But to facilitate my protest, and yours, we must ask the Lord to raise up gifted musicians who will give us songs of suffering-and-deliverance filled with genuine spiritual power, baptising the Church in the lament of the cross and the ecstasy of the resurrection. This will herald the dawn of a great revival. 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 11th Jan, 2018 |

Author: Dr. John Yates


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References   [ + ]

1. Themelios-42-1.pdf pp.89ff.

One Comment

  1. Good points. I would suggest that far too much of the music being used in Church’s is derived from the patterns of our ‘consumerist pop culture’ where performance is highly valued eg Pop concerts as well as audience size. Congregational signing is not encouraged as the performers dominate. A good measure of this can you hear the others in the congregation singing.

    During the 60’s, the Folk music revival was in part crying out for justice etc as well as serious questioning of the way the War in Vietnam was justified and carried out . See also “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

    Consider the role of house churches and home groups in the spread of Christianity for the first 300 odd years, or in Post revolutionary China. People need to not to to be spectators, but participants.

    While some decry the role of singing ‘doctrine’, a good song is built to have both content and enjoyment. The structure keeps the message intact, while the music maintains that structure.

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