28 Feb 2013

Nothing but Faddish Songs! A Musical Meditation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Church History, John Newton, Music, Worship

He had not been brought up in a church-going family. In fact, his life prior to conversion had been, using his own words, that of a “profligate and libertine.” Indeed he was one of the most despicable kinds of folk on the planet – a slave trader! Yet he was found by God even in that blackness. He was forever grateful to the Messiah for his grace. He had a lot of growing to do in the Lord.  Some of his old evils were shed more slowly than others.  And he, like us, made excuses but change he did.

He became a non-conventional proclaimer of the Word of Christ. Because of his background he was inclined to minister to those looked down upon by proper church folk. Part of the power of he developed in preaching was directly traceable to the fact that he courageously broke with with preaching conventions of the day and spoke freely of God’s power in his own life.

You know him through the rich spiritual treasure he has left western Christianity. What you probably do not know is that his music was as cutting edge, and contemporary, as was his preaching style. Against the formal ‘high church’ tradition of the Church of England he put the good news in simple everyday language.  He sang that message to what were considered “pop tunes” that people would sing in the local bar with intoxicated friends.

While preachers like George Whitefield left the Anglicans, John Newton stayed.  For that, he endured frequent harsh criticism from traditionalists for his preaching and musical innovations. He was the subject of denunciations for tampering with sacred worship practices and traditions and promoting irreverent worship styles.

You no doubt remember many of his irreverent tunes.  Today, ironically, they are no longer thought of as faddish or unfit for congregational worship as they were in his day.  Now they are considered the classical style for hymnody, the kind that many traditional church members find comfort in. He no longer offends as he did 250 years ago.

Newton gave us such cutting edge, and irreverent, hymns as “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” and “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.” Perhaps the most well known song in history comes from his pen and was considered unfit for worship in his day: “Amazing Grace!”

Sometimes we wonder if the people of God, the church, have learned anything from its history.  How different Newton may have been viewed in his own day if his contemporary critics could see into the future.  We often resist the blessings that God sends even when they show up with ribbons!  We live in a time when beautiful and moving music is being written afresh in honor of the the Triune God.  Sometimes these very writers are accused, like Newton, of tampering with our worship traditions.  But perhaps God does not simply want to hear the same Top 40 year after year.  He wants to see the creativity of his people thus he blesses us with artists who give us new songs …

Sing God a brand new song!
Earth and everyone in it, sing!
Sing to God – worship God!
(Psalm 96.1, The Message)

2 Responses to “Nothing but Faddish Songs! A Musical Meditation”

  1. Randall Says:

    Thanks for the lesson Bobby. I am not that concerned with the style of the music, though like most of us I do have my preferences. I am more concerned with the theological content of the lyrics. Thus I salute Newton, especially for Amazing Grace.

  2. Jenny Says:

    Yep, many people have a difficult time remembering that every style was new once.

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