On Hating Songs and Reflections on “The Blessing”

One thing that most denominations hold in common is that they all tend to hate how someone else worships. If you want to experience this try clapping at a Presbyterian church or suggest a liturgical service to a Baptist.

I remember one story I heard from a missionary. This particular missionary was an ethnomusicologist (someone who studies and preserves a culture’s ethnic music). If I remember correctly they went to South America, to a tribe that missionaries had already visited. They had a church and played music in their worship services but there was something really strange about it… these people used a saxophone. The ethnomusicologist was justifiably confused. How did these people, who usually just played drums, get a saxophone and why were they using it in worship? Well, it turns out the original missionaries had said “You can’t use those drums and that singing to worship God! You need to use this!” Then because their ethnic music wasn’t written down, the passage of time and introduction of the saxophone wiped out the memory of what they used to do.

Now how we worship God is important, just ask Nadab and Abihu, but that is a post all in itself. Just know that there is no New Testament prescription for what instruments are used in worship. The clearest prescription, when it comes to worship music, is that we are to not be drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:18-19). I want to point out two important things about this command. First, being filled with the Spirit is the opposite of drunkenness. Where drunkenness disables our self control, steals our inhibitions (and thus our ability to be kind), and makes that which is not worthy of praise look worthy of praise, the Holy Spirit produces in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self control…” (Gal 5:22-23). Beware those who claim to be filled with the Spirit but exhibit the fruits of drunkenness. Those filled with the Spirit will produce the fruits of the Spirit. Now the second thing: one of the ways we exhibit a Spirit filled life is we address or encourage one another using Psalms (the Psalms), hymns (other songs within Scripture), and spiritual songs (songs not found in Scripture but ones that still accomplish the Spirit’s mission). Even within this command there is allowance for a variety of styles or genres. The perquisite is that it must encourage Christ’s bride to be filled with the Spirit.

So if I may offer some advice: Don’t hate your brothers and sisters in Christ for their taste in style and genre. Don’t belittle them for what instruments they like or how they like to hear the truth of the Word spoken or sung. Rap can teach the Word just as well as four part hymns. It’s a matter of content not of style and we need to encourage one another to live a Spirit filled life, not tear one another down and create divisions over superficial, fleshly, preferences (and yes, your desire for a certain style of music is not divinely inspired. It is the result of being born at a certain time in a certain culture and experiencing those events that are unique to your life. If you were born in another time and place you wouldn’t even use the same 12 notes that modern, Western music uses!).

But now we come to the reflections on the latest hit song “The Blessing”. These reflections I offer not to tear down but to encourage the church towards a deeper knowledge of God, His word, and the Spirit filled life. Remember, music teaches content so what we sing is important.

One thing I appreciate about “The Blessing” is its use of the traditional Levitical blessing in Numbers 6. It reminds me of Lutkins “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” and if all we had was the verse and chorus then it would be a great benediction. However, 12 minutes is a bit long for a benediction and what comes next concerns me. In the bridge they sing “May His favor be upon you and a thousand generation and your family and your children and their children and their children… may His presence go before you and behind you and beside you all around you and within you He is with you He is with you…” supposedly drawing from the covenant reminders in Exodus 20:6 and Deuteronomy 7:9. Now I appreciate that they are drawing from Scripture for their lyrics but I have to ask, when we sing this, do we know what those covenants led to? Because these are conditional convents! They are only good for those who love Him and keep His commandments! And let me tell you, Israel utterly failed even though they saw the Lord go before them and guard behind them. Even though they ate mana from His hand and drank water that He drew from solid stone the people of Israel still abandoned their God for idols. Consider this!

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Just so will I destroy the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have gone after other gods to serve them and to bow down to them, let them be just like this waistband which is totally worthless. 11 For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for [b]renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’

Jeremiah 13:8-11 (NASB)

Or the book of Malachi where God brings His own priests to court

“And now this commandment is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the Lord of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart. Behold, I am going to rebuke your [a]offspring, and I will spread [b]refuse on your faces, the [c]refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away [d]with it. Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, [e]that My covenant may [f]continue with Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of [g]reverence; so he [h]revered Me and stood in awe of My name. 6 [i]True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and [j]men should seek [k]instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble [l]by the instruction; you have [m]corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. “So I also have made you despised and abased [n]before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the [o]instruction.

Malachi 2:1-9

and again

13 “This is [r]another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the [s]offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

Malachi 2:13

Now just this morning I received an email from Praisecharts.com that I found to be eerily relevant. In this email they showcased two songs. The first is “The Blessing” and they say The Blessing is the fastest song in the history of PraiseCharts to go from the writer’s room to full orchestration. This song, penned in partnership with Steven Furtick, Chris Brown, Kari Jobe & Cody Carnes, was written on a Thursday and sung the following Sunday. Exclusively posted on YouTube, it has already seen over a million views. We are so excited to share this song of benediction with you.” The second song is “Christ Our Hope In Life and Death”, a hymn from Keith and Kristyn Getty from their upcoming “The Life of Christ Quintology” (FYI, for one week you can download the audio and chord sheet for free)

Back in October my wife and I had the pleasure of singing in the choir with the Gettys in Trenton, NJ. We had been practicing the music for months and then the day before the concert we got an email that we might be singing a new song called “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death”. At the conference before the concert we got to hear Matt Papa play it and explain the meaning behind the song, but we didn’t sing it at the concert. It needed more time. So as it would seem, for the past four months or so, this song has been refined to encourage the church and remind them that even in the face of death we have nothing to fear because Christ is our hope.

Yet this song won’t get 1 million views in five days. It might not even get 1 million views in 5 years. Even though it preaches the Gospel it seems that Christ’s church would rather rejoice in the old covenant. This is what I find so concerning: We sing scripture but do not understand it. We ask God to be near us but we do not seek to know Him. We prefer the feeling of faith to the substance of faith. If I can cast my prediction now, “The Blessing” will follow “Reckless Love”, “Good Good Father”, and countless other popular hits into the vast sea of forgotten history while songs like “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” will minister to Christians for generations to come. One day, hundreds of years in the future, someone will dust off an old songbook and find that those rich words still minister. Those words will be set to new, culturally relevant music, and they will go on like “Be Thou My Vision” has continued for us.

Remember, eternal life is knowing God (John 17) so in our reading, in our singing, in our prayers, and in all that we do we should be seeking to know Him more and more. Do not be satisfied with feeling close to God. Instead, relentlessly pursue a deeper knowledge of Him and His Son every day.

P.S. Even a short lived song can have a positive influence on the church. My main concern here is that “The Blessing” must be justified using material outside of the song’s lyrics. Those who know 2nd Timothy 2:11-13 understand that God is faithful even when we are faithless, or perhaps they recall Matthew 5:17-20 where Christ has come to fulfill the law that we could not, or maybe John 14:9 where Christ says “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and they connect this with “cause your face to shine upon us”. What I would love is for these connections to be in the song.

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