Jonathan Edwards: "And the duty of singing praises to God seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only that such is our nature and frame that these things have a tendency to move our affections." The Religious Affections, page 44
Psalm 96:1-2 — "O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord and bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day."
Psalm 66:1-2 — "Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to Him glorious praise!"
Psalm 98:1 — "O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things!"
If the things above are true, then it is clear that we should be singing songs to God to praise Him for who He is and what He has done so that our thoughts, affections, emotions, minds and hearts might be stirred up to love Him and treasure Him above all things. Too often we think of singing praises to God as a religious duty we do each week with fellow believers before or after the sermon. The reasons we sing to the Lord will not be fleshed out here but the question of why we sing new songs will be addressed.
Why new songs?
The question could be raised (and legitimately), why do we sing new songs? Why don't we simply sing old hymns and songs that have been around for several hundred years?
The Container Store
After the apostle John had written his Gospel of all that Jesus said and did, he wrote this: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:24-25, italics mine). The quick and easy answer to why we sing new songs is that what God has done in Christ through the Spirit is a wonderful, awe-inspiring, glorious, deep, mysterious thing. Christ died in our place for our sins and that fact can be celebrated and sung into eternity without us ever fully exhausting the beauty of it. The gospel is a multifaceted jewel, which reveals new depth and beauty each time we look at it. New songs seek to highlight new, forgotten or neglected sides of the jewel stirring the heart with affection for God. Simply put; we cannot contain all that God is, has done and will do in one perfect song.
Time, place and culture
The Bible is very clear that God has, "determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him." (Acts 17:26-27). In other words, we are where we are, when we are, because God has ordained it to be so. To ignore this fact and its implications for the type of music we sing in church is not exercising biblical faithfulness. What I am not saying is that there is one way of doing music in church that is biblically faithful and all other expressions are unfaithful, rather we need to think critically about when and where we have been placed by God and do our best, guided by the Holy Spirit, to make choices in style and song that honor God and encourage the body.
What I believe I have been led to do in the worship ministry of The Village Church in Denton, Texas, in 2009 is not going to be normative for all churches everywhere and will probably change five years from now. I am simply seeking to be Spirit-led and faithful to my particular context. The implication then is that we will continue to do new songs written in our church and elsewhere that are biblically faithful and culturally relevant in style, melody and lyric. To constrain our expression of worship only to songs written 200 years ago would be to disregard our place and time.
We at The Village understand and believe wholeheartedly that music teaches. Lyrics of songs can be remembered long after even the most articulate sentence leaves the preacher's mouth. This is the nature of the human mind and the way it engages with song, melody, rhyme and rhythm. We diligently seek out and study new songs to ensure they are biblically faithful and theologically sound. Jesus said, "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him." (John 4:23, italics mine).
May we be such people.