And They Sang A New Song
by Rick Shrader
I saw in my dreams that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from his shoulders and fell from his back and began to tumble till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in and I saw it no more. Then was Christian glad and lightsome and said with a merry heart, “He has given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
Jonathan Edwards once said, “I love the doctrines of the gospels: They have been to my soul like green pastures.”1 Surely the testimony of our Christian faith ought to be the absolute joy of resting in the truths of our redemption! It is that thrill that prompted C.S. Lewis to write, “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books.”2
There seems to be a flood of devotional thought today, coming from any and every religious affiliation. It is “religiously correct” in that it does not offend anyone nor promote one religious “expression” over another. These devotional bytes are so encompassing that they do not even require a personal testimony of salvation in order to find spiritual application. Our area newspapers carry regular columns on the ecumenical virtues of all religions, especially any that claim to be “Christian.” The goal is obviously to apply religious belief to oneself, not to apply oneself to religious belief. In this way the individual becomes the standard of truth while belief is an item on a buffet that can be taken as one desires.
Is all worship valid just because it is worship? John Flavel, a fifteenth century Puritan, wrote, “Carnal men rejoice carnally, and spiritual men should rejoice spiritually.”3 It is no secret that lost people may speak when we speak, or laugh when we laugh, or sing when we sing, or say amen when we say amen. But are they doing the same thing we are doing? Or we might ask: If we form our worship by asking the lost person what he desires, will we be worshiping or merely sharing generic devotional religion? One pastor and author who promotes the “seeker-sensitive” format admitted, “I learned that it is imperative to keep seeker-sensitive services and traditional services separate. They do not mix.”4 Is there not a reason the two approaches do not mix? And isn’t that reason more than the usual proffer of cultural relevancy?
There is no greater biblical text describing worship than Revelation chapters four and five. We often sing a chorus from 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” This song expresses a truth that can be sung by all: believing saints (as here), angels (5:12) and creatures (5:13). But chapter five creates a sadness in heaven because, though all recognize God as God, there is not a “man” (5:3) who has “prevailed” (5:5) to open the special message of the seven-sealed book. When Jesus Christ appears as a lamb slain (5:6) who is “worthy” to open the book, a new song is sung. But it is a song that can only be sung by the saints. Their song cannot be sung by the angels nor the creatures. It is a “new song” which says: “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (5:9). The only other place a “new song” is mentioned is 14:3 where the tribulation martyrs are described as “redeemed from the earth.”
The one requirement for participation in worshiping through the slain Lamb is to be redeemed by His blood. I am not advocating that the unsaved should be kept from singing in our worship services. I am saying that they have no reference point for advising us on worship. They should be invited guests who observe the worship of the redeemed and the Holy Spirit should be relied upon to translate the message of redemption to their needy hearts. Albert Mohler wrote, “Although worship may be contemporary and remain authentic, it cannot be ‘seeker-oriented’ and remain true to the biblical concept of genuine worship. True worship focuses on God—our gracious, loving holy Lord—the Trinitarian God who delights in the praises of His people.”5 And His people are those who have been “redeemed.”
In a biography of Francis Schaeffer, L.G. Parkhurst, Jr. writes about Schaeffer’s break from the Presbyterian church because of the liberalism that had taken over that denomination. Schaeffer lamented that with all the pomp of the Presbyterian services, so few cared at all about the great doctrines of the faith.6 Schaeffer’s turning point came when “he learned what the finished work of Christ meant in his present experience . . . He recognized that his own lack of the reality of the presence of God in his life was related to his ignorance about the meaning of the finished work of Christ.”7
The “new song” is a song about redemption, the finished work of Christ applied to the believing heart. J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “The Christian belongs to what he is to become; not to what he has left behind.”8 Our worship must be the new song of a changed life which others can only stand and observe. Why do we think such worship is powerless? The fact that a lost person may be uncomfortable could be the greatest compliment that could be paid.
It is a misnomer to say such worship is “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” C.S. Lewis said, “Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.”9 The most “progressive” Christian thinker should be the one who, having observed the plight of his generation, heralds the one message that can bring about true change. “And they sang a new song!”
Notes: 1. Ralph Turnbull, Jonathan Edwards The Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1958) 70. 2. C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s, 1970) 205. 3. Mayo Hazeltine, Ed, Orations from Homer to McKinley, Vol 4 (New York: Collier and Son, 1902) 1599. 4. Ed Dobson, Starting A Seeker Sensitive Service (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993) 43. 5. Albert Mohler, “Evangelical: What’s In A Name,” The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996) 40. 6. L.G. Parkhurst, Jr. Francis & Edith Schaeffer (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996) 77. 7. Ibid, 74-75. 8. J. Sidlow Baxter, Christian Holiness (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 39. 9. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986) 80.