by Dr. Brad Strait, CCPC Lead Pastor
When I survey the wond’rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but Loss,
And pour Contempt on all my Pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the Death of Christ my God;
All the vain Things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.
See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such Love and Sorrow meet,
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown!
His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o’er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.
Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.
This is one of my favorite songs of all time.
It often brings tears to my eyes (especially with the “lost” fourth stanza). It helps me die to the Globe, and see Jesus more clearly. It is from 1707, by the writer of over 600 hymns—“the Father of English hymnody”—Isaac Watts (1674-1748).
The legend goes that one Sunday afternoon the young Isaac was complaining about the deplorable hymns that were sung at church. At that time, only metered renditions of the Psalms were intoned by a cantor and then repeated (in near boredom, Watts would add) by the congregation. “It doesn’t connect to anyone alive!” he would say.
The pastor of the church (who was also his father) rebuked him: “I’d like to see you write something better!” Young Isaac retired to his room and appeared several hours later with his first hymn, and it was enthusiastically received at the Sunday evening service the same night. It is what God did. A new song.
The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. (Psalm 40:3)
“I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you, my God. (Psalm 144:9)
Once this classic hymn was a new, contemporary song. The Isaac Watts story clearly illustrates the point that the songs of the church need constant infusion of new life, of new generations’ praises. God is a God of new things, too. The Bible commands us to “sing a new song” over a dozen times. And do we forget that the Holy Spirit, with a young shepherd boy, wrote 150 new songs called Psalms for us? Have you noted that in Revelations we will sing not only old favorites, but several “new songs?” Is Jesus only glorified in some kinds of music? I would say clearly, “no.”
What should we sing at church? Canted Psalms? Organ only? Black spirituals? Ten-stringed lyre? Rock music with a fog machine? Classic hymns? K-love Christian? Perfect soloists or choir? Christian country? Handel’s Messiah? Bluegrass? Did you know that Jesus is praised in Christian Rap and Heavy Metal?
Christian music is found in so many genres that is, according to one music magazine, it is “the only type of music defined by its content, not its style.”
But what church music is best?
Isaac Watts, Johnny Cash, Larry Norman, Amy Grant, Gaithers, Rebecca St. James, MercyMe, DCTalk, Switch, TobyMac, Hillsong. Music holds a deep meaning for us and for each generation. The power of God to do new things knows no bounds. If we are honest, we must admit that our answer to “what music is best” is simply personal preference. It is what WE learned on. It IS what we know and what we like. Musicologist Nolan Gasser writes:
A lot of it has to do with where you grew up and what kind of musical influences are in the air, but we participate in so many subcultures of affinity…which provide us with access to music because you’re a part of a group, and that group means something to you.
At CCPC, we understand this, and we work with different styles of worship so that all people can connect to God in their way. You belong to this church, and your preferences matter. But for Christians, “I like what I like, forget the rest,” is not a godly statement. It is one of selfishness. We are a multi-faced church, and we are called to sacrifice for each other. It is not just about you. I am called to pick music to help you worship. And you are called to ask for songs that help others worship.
I love “When I survey the Wondrous Cross.” Still, at Cherry Creek, especially in this on-line season, we will keep singing lots of styles in worship. One day, we will get back to more focused worship styles. But honestly, if it glorifies Jesus, it is Christian music. Enough said.
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
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