By Elizabeth Prata
My church service in Sundays goes from 2-2:45 (Sunday School), then the main service from 3:00-4:30. I love the afternoon schedule. It gives me time to prepare my heart in the morning, arrive unrushed at church, and enjoy the day in a different way than the usual10-12:30 timing of other churches.
On the way home from church one Sunday I stumbled onto a radio station which I had not heard before. Driving home from a sweet service filled with good music, I want to keep that atmosphere going. It’s hard with today’s radio programming.
In being frustrated one day with the quality of radio stations I had set on my buttons, I took some time to really search around and found WWQE “The Life”. It’s a Dove-award winning station. During my drive home there is a particular show called Gospel Vinyl Gold. These are Southern Gospel songs from the 50’s onward that are considered classics.
I love older Southern Gospel songs, I always have. That is strange because I didn’t grow up in the South and I didn’t become converted until I was 42. Even as a newbie I liked these older songs. The radio station played some good ones.
Newer songs are good too. Matt Papa and Keith Getty write good lyrics. Some of these are included in the new hymnal John MacArthur and others created called Hymns of Grace. I am not against new songs. But oftentimes newer songs leave out important doctrines.
I wrote previously about a song I heard back along while driving that struck me so much I had to stop the car. It was a song of eschatology, where the rapture happened and a father was left behind. The man turned out to have been having a dream, but the song focused on the scripture from Matthew 7:21-23 where (in his dream) he discovers he is a false convert. He faces Jesus and Jesus tells him ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’ When the man in the song awoke to discover it was only a dream, he hastened to fall on his knees and really repent.
How often do we hear a doing like THAT these days? How often do we even hear a sermon like that? Rarely. The essay I wrote about that song was titled “Sorry, I never Knew You” – Should we Sing Songs of Judgment?”
My pastor friend posted this morning from Patheos (a site I don’t generally recommend for women) and the section of that online magazine called Church for Men. The article was titled, Where did the Call-to-Repentance Songs Go? by David Murrow.
The author is reminiscing about singer-songwriter Ketih Green. Murrow says,
As my wife and I listened to Green’s music, we were struck by how strange his late 1970s lyrics sounded to our 2019 ears. Green employed a lyrical technique that used to be common in Christian music, but is virtually absent today: the call to repentance, or CTR. CTR songs are designed to convict the singer of his own sin. Here are two reasons CTR songs sound so out of place today:
1. While most contemporary worship songs focus on comfort and assurance, CTR songs point out our shortcomings. CTR songs are anything but positive and encouraging.
2. While most of today’s praise songs are sung from the perspective of the disciple, CTR songs are sung from the perspective of God (or a prophet). In praise and worship, we are the speaker, telling God how we feel about him. With CTR, God is the speaker, telling us how he feels about us.
CTR songs are sometimes hard to listen to. Too much CTR can lead to discouragement and even legalism. However, I can personally testify to their effectiveness. Keith Green’s songs were the slap in the face I needed as a young believer.
Slap in the face is a good way to put it. When I heard Sego Brothers And Naomi’s song Sorry, I Never Knew You, it WAS a slap in the face. I was dumbstruck. Lyrics like that catch your attention and re-orient the mind toward eternal things, holiness of Jesus, and our own sin. It’s good to get back to that occasionally.
Bible Studies aimed at women, the publishing industry aimed at the female demographic, the songs aimed at ladies these days, tend to focus on phrases and concepts that assure women of their worth, that they are loved, that they have power and abilities, that they are esteemed, and so on. Where are the songs that call us sinners to repentance? Remind us that we are sinners? Remind us of the eternal consequences of sin? Largely absent.
I agree with Murrow that a steady diet of call-to-repentance songs would lead to dispirited attitudes and/or legalism. But a stead diet of affirming-only songs also isn’t healthy. Those simply puff us up and don’t always point to the real hero, Jesus. We must forget what is past but also remember we are sinners called to daily repent – as the Lord’s Prayer says. (Philippians 3:13-14; Matthew 6:12). We look forward to eternity but examine ourselves now to see if we are in the faith. (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
I told the Lord that I had been
A Christian all the while
But through his book he took a look
and sadly shook his head
then placed me over on his left
and this I heard him say,
“Sorry, I never knew you.
I find no record of your birth.”
Oof. A gut punch.
Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters wrote a few essays that I enjoyed on this topic. Here is his essay, Should we sing songs about God’s judgments?
Songs that Reference God’s Judgments, is Mr Kauflin’s follow up to the previous.
Don’t avoid songs with hard truths. Ones that sing of the blood, redemption from sin, salvation. Here are a few:
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
There is a Fountain
The Old Rugged Cross
Alas and Did My Savior Bleed
When we survey the wondrous cross
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!