Our closing song several Sundays ago was “In Christ Alone.” At the top of the score was this subtitle: “10th Anniversary Edition.”
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years (14, actually) since Stuart Townend and Keith Getty wrote “In Christ Alone.” I remember learning it for the first time, convinced as I was at the time that all songs for the church were either deep or new, but not both. This was a fresh, powerful expression of doctrine wedded to a simple, singable tune. It was thrilling every time I sang it.
But now it’s no longer new. Yes, I know a decade isn’t long in the context of church history. But our church has sung “In Christ Alone” eleven times in the past two years. The point is that it’s not new to us anymore. The current revival of hymnody seeks to make old songs new (which is wonderful)… but what happens when new songs grow old? It forces us to evaluate several things.
Are you wondering whether an exciting new song is going to wear well? Take away the music and meditate on the lyrics alone.
No guilt in life, no fear in death –
This is the power of Christ in me.
We sing “In Christ Alone” – and we’ll sing it for a long time – because it’s worth singing. The lyrics are rich and the tune is sturdy. These are timeless, faith-strengthening, soul-comforting truths. Sometimes the excitement of a new song makes it difficult to objectively evaluate its value. But time helps with that.
Of course the church should always be writing new music. Our creativity is a gift from God and a reflection of His image. But newness is not in itself the goal. If a church is constantly and exclusively demanding newness in worship, it’s probably a sign of spiritual immaturity – and it will result in musical presentation that quests for novelty, not edification (Eph. 4:11-16).
On the other hand, there’s great value in allowing some songs to wear deep furrows into our soul. Often the greatest poignancy comes from those songs with which we are most familiar.
Be still, my soul! The winds and waves still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
When we’re deciding whether to keep a song or not, we should remind ourselves why we gather and sing. Corporate worship is intended to prepare believers for eternity. If we’re determined that everything we sing is for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, we’ll make musical decisions based on that goal – not based on what is currently trending.
Even the most moving experience, when constantly repeated, loses its initial thrill. We are finite, mortal, limited, and sinful. The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “He has put eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end” (3:11). Although we have a longing for the eternal, we can’t grasp it. Our constant change and our desire for newness set us at great distinction from “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). As G.K. Chesterton said, “It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them” (Orthodoxy, p. 60). But unlike God, we cannot maintain this degree of sameness.
So when we sometimes tire of even the most beautiful and Christ-exalting songs, it’s a time to confess our sin. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge that we are just dust. And it’s a reminder that right emotions will follow from right thinking and faithful obedience. Even the weariness of our lives causes us to look to Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).