In a post-lapsarian world which is increasingly dark, with headlines such as, “Transgender Man Gives Birth to Non-binary Partner’s Baby with Female Sperm Donor,” it can be surprising to find out what really bugs some folks—and I mean this sincerely, as in, ‘haunts the consciences of some’—in various Christian environments. This post is about something that truly does hurt and anger some Christians, and as a person who has felt this, I wanted to make a post on it. It’s largely applicable within my faith heritage, known as the Restoration Movement, and more specifically, the Churches of Christ. While the post is meant to be light-hearted, and not to be used as a dart, randomly thrown as thrown at anyone we disagree with, I do believe that it is an important way to “think about our thinking.”
In the Restoration movement, we put a great deal of emphasis on Ephesians 5:19, which reads, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” To ancient readers, this likely would have conjured up thoughts of a similar passage, which is also about singing with the heart—that is, singing with all of your being. That passage is Psalms 108:1-2, which reads, “My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre!” Read them both; they’re almost the same. One happens to have a disturbing reference to physical objects attached, though it indicates that these things are for “singing” with one’s heart.
At the top of the page, I attached a picture that shows how broadly God uses the word “sing.” Please notice that “sing” does not mean “sing, but without instruments.” Notice that “sing” is not in opposition to “play.” In fact, God makes certain that we understand that singing can incidentally have instruments as being from the heart; the being.
- Old Covenant Use: 1 Chronicles 25:6-7
All these were under the direction of their father to sing* (sometimes rendered “for song”) in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. Their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288.
- New Covenant Use: Revelation 5:8-9
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying…
In talking with a man recently, he said that we need to show that “sing” didn’t change meaning from Matthew to Jude, because they are “the other side of the cross,” and God’s use of “sing” in prior times needs to be re-proved for the period of Matthew to Jude. (Astute readers will have noticed the precision with which he picked his books, although much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John shouldn’t “count,” either.)
It is my belief that God communicates through language, and as such, His use of words does not change based simply and arbitrarily based “the side of the cross.” If the meaning He was conveying with words changed based on Covenant/side of the cross, we’d be entirely unable to understand what He loves and desires. It would be shocking if we one day woke up to find that, without notice, the definitions we’d all known were suddenly incorrect.
As an example, we don’t have have the following internal dialogue:
“Well ‘angel’ seemed to mean something like ‘a created being often used as a messenger’ in the Old Covenant, but what does it mean in the New Covenant? Perhaps it’s a type of rat? Perhaps it’s a creature whose mother was a hamster and whose father smelt of elderberries? Perhaps it’s a graven image? Man, we really need to find definitive proof that ‘angel’ still means something close to ‘heavenly, created being, sometimes used as a messenger,’ or we really can’t know what an ‘angel’ is in the New Covenant.”
The same goes for singing. We know how God uses singing prior to the New Covenant. We should not expect that God pulled a “gotcha” and changed the meaning, and then try to find proof that God didn’t change the meaning. And we really shouldn’t then worry that God might change the meanings again, without explaining the change, as is the supposition when one says, “Well certainly singing might have included instruments up until Matthew, but then the definition changed. Well, until it changed back again, in Revelation.” When God tells us to come and reason together with Him, it’s based on the knowledge that He is true, and faithful, and not like shifting shadows, and will not change such basic things on unexplained, unwritten whims.
With love, always,