Larry Kirkpatrick

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Upgrade, part 3: Singing

And now, the last segment in our series on reverence. Reverence is not a “style” among other styles. God is not worshipped according to styles, very holy here and very casual there. Reverence is either present or lacking in a church. Maybe it seems like doing this series on reverence is just preaching to the choir (this is, after all, the Mentone church.) But from time to time we need to remind ourselves where we are and for what purpose we are assembled. When have you seen reverence lost in a church and later restored? Reverence is like virginity.

Reverence is not an artificial thing or a covering; it cannot be superglued onto an irreverent church or an irreverent people. Reverence is offered by people who respect God and demonstrate so. Every Seventh-day Adventist church congregation needs to ask itself whether it will offer to heaven and to the world a concrete demonstration of reverence for God.

Today, music. This will not be a discussion of the supposed merits of “traditional” music versus “Christian rock.” We are on the same page on that question. You are not here for Christian rock. You are not here for traditional music either. We refuse to place in the past the music of the hymnal. The music in the hymnal is current Seventh-day Adventist worship music in 2008.

Our music should flow out from us automatically. It should be like our breath. We naturally exhale, we do not have to think about it, or exhale differently when in the presence of other people than we do when we are working in the garage. Jesus insisted that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (Matthew 7:17, 18). If we are reverent our music will be reverent. And so, today we are going to deal with reverence in our singing in church, yes, but also with being reverent disciples of Jesus Christ in our daily lives.

Reverent Lips

In this spirit then, open to Colossians 3:16 and read:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

There is much to notice here. First, the whole issue of singing has to do with whether or not the word of Christ dwells in you richly in all wisdom. It is not just about the word of Christ being in you; it is about it being in you with wisdom. This rules out trite little repetitions. Our worship of God should be a knowing worship, an intelligent worship. If one is skilled he may sing nonsense words with technical excellence, but if one understands and agrees with the meaning of the words, one can sing with heart.

We also notice that the singing described here involves teaching. Do our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs teach? Do they provoke worshipful thought? Or are they cold and tired and uninteresting and do they put us to sleep?

Here some make another mistake. They think that the problem lies in the music. In theory, it could; not all songs are created equal. But it has been my observation that more often, the problem is not in tired songs; it is in tired people. If we come to worship encompassed by the cares of this world, the things that we are told will choke the word (Mark 4:3-20), we will be struggling when we try to worship God. Have you ever tried singing while you were choking? For that matter, have you ever tried thinking rich, spiritually-pungent thoughts while you were choking?

If someone is uninterested because the cares of this world are choking the word, then how can changing our music to make it more like the music of the world have positive spiritual effect? If someone is drowning, shall the church labor to give them more water? It is not the music that needs changing. It is the heart.

Jesus said, “from within, out of the heart of men” proceeds that which defiles them. And I say that from within, out of the heart of men, proceeds that which defiles worship, that makes it irreverent. We are coming to worship God on our terms. How can that be acceptable to a holy Being?

Godly music teaches godliness. It reminds us where we are going and the holiness necessary to go there. Far from teaching us to enfold ourselves in the world, it teaches us to live godly in an ungodly world. It is not about feeling although there will be feeling. The lyrics of a song from 2006 included these lines: “if I can’t feel, I’m not mine, I’m not real.” I tremble to think that some apply the same valuation to Christian music. If it does not make us feel then we refuse to own it. If it does not make us feel, if it does not sooth the self somewhere, then we’re not real. On the contrary. If it does not call us to deny self, it is confirming us in unreality.