What Defines a Hymn?

Throughout church history there have been debates on what is acceptable and permissible to be sung at a church. I’ve read books that argue that we should only sing songs from the book of Psalms. I’ve got churches just down the road from where I live that play top 40 hits as a part of their Sunday morning worship. I’ve also got people in the church I currently serve who talk to me like the only thing we should sing on Sunday morning are hymns (generally meaning older songs). So that leads to the question: how do we define what a hymn is? Augustine, writing in the 4thCentury stated that a hymn is comprised of 3 things: “song, and praise, and that of God.” So it must be sung, it must be praise, and it must be to God. Let’s take a look at these 3, and then 3 more that didn’t make Augustine’s list.

  1. Sung

This one should go without saying, in order to be a hymn, it must be sung. It’s hard to have a hymn without singing! This obviously isn’t including instrumental music, which can also serve a role in a service, but for Augustine, a hymn must be sung.

  1. Praise

According to a quick Google search, to praise is to “express warm approval or admiration of.” In the case of a hymn, we are demonstrating admiration of God, which ties us in to the next point. My question with this, is what do you do when you are not exactly in admiration of God? I’m currently reading through Job and have been reminded how difficult life can be. I also see Psalms where they aren’t praising God, such as the imprecatory Psalms. So maybe this point isn’t as helpful in defining a hymn.

  1. To God

Finally, Augustine says a hymn must be to God. This will come up in one of my 3 points, but what about Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:19 where we’re called to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Or what about Psalms like 42 and 43, where the Psalmist speaks to his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are in turmoil within me?” Apparently we can have songs that are addressed not just to God!


So 3 more things that I would add that Augustine didn’t include in his definition are:

  1. Scripture saturated.

A phrase that I like to use is “be steeped in God’s Word.” Just as tea is made by soaking leaves in water, so should our lives as Christians be steeped in God’s Word. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Songs are an amazing way to allow the Word of Christ to soak into our lives. This is why I create Spotify playlists, and give chord charts to anyone who asks, I want our songs to affect our lives.

  1. Addressing One Another AND God

Songs can be addressed to God, but part of the reason we sing is to “address one another.” (see above) But we’re also called to sing praises to God. This is a healthy tension that we walk when choosing the songs we sing, but we are called to do both.

  1. Don’t just sing hymns

Both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 talk about singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Psalm 98:1 says “Sing to the Lord a new song.” I am so tired of the “contemporary versus hymns” debate and wish people would instead focus on the content of what we’re singing. There are some incredible hymns that are being written today, just as there were some terrible hymns written hundreds of years ago! (and bad songs being written today just as there are good hymns from hundreds of years ago) But the Bible doesn’t tell us what kinds of songs to sing, nor what instruments we’re supposed to use, nor what melodies we’re supposed to sing. So let’s sing a wide variety of Scripture saturated songs that allow us to teach and admonish one another, and encouraging each other all the more as we see the day of the Lord’s return drawing even closer!

Is It True?

I went to a small Christian liberal arts school called Taylor University in the middle of corn fields, Indiana. One of my favorite classes was a class called Contemporary Christian Belief. The class went through 5 questions that Christians were dealing with when I was in college (i.e. is homosexuality a sin, did Jesus really live, etc.). One of my favorite books from this time was ‘Is the New Testament Reliable?‘ by Paul Barnett. One of my favorite things about the Christian faith is how factual it is. The historical records show us Jesus actually lived, the Israelites were a real people, that they actually were in Egypt and the list goes on and on. I read a great article today titled ‘Christianity, the Worlds Most Falsifiable Religion‘ that talks about this very issue.

I, along with the author of this article, can’t think of any other world religion that is based on public events that can be checked. The believer’s of that faith need to take what one person said in blind faith.

Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning that they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which call upon believers to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.

The whole article is worth reading and makes me incredibly grateful that we have a God who is an intellectual God. A God who cares about us and works in history to bring about his plans for our good and for his glory.

The Wrath of God

It has become very popular in many Christian circles today to downplay God’s wrath. Many people I talk to quickly say that God is a loving God which means he wouldn’t ever punish anyone. Even Rob Bell last year questioned the existence of hell in his well known book Love Wins. In the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Keller who in a sermon titled, ‘The Dark Garden,’ talks about how he came to realize that a wrathful God is MORE loving than a non-wrathful God. For him, it all hit home in the Garden of Gethsemane .

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that I came finally to grips—I made my peace, as it were—with the wrath of God. Now, it might shock some of you that…a preaching minister was struggling with the very idea of a God of wrath, a God who sends people to Hell…. And then it was studying the Garden of Gethsemane when I finally came to peace with it because I realized this: The reason why people get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath is because they want a loving God…. They say, “I can’t believe in Hell and wrath because I want a more loving God.” And I came to realize in the Garden of Gethsemane that if you get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath, you have a less loving God.

You can read some more thoughts from the sermon here. I am grateful that Tim Keller took a stance on this issue and is willing to say that God is a wrathful God! He cannot tolerate sin, for he is a holy God. Praise God that through Jesus, we have a way into the presence of God!

Envy in the YRR

I have often identified myself as part of the Young, Restless Reformed movement (YRR, see this book by Collin Hansen). I am grateful for the many people my age who have caught a vision for reformed doctrine, rooted in the Scripture and glorifying to Christ. Yet this movement is not without its downfalls, which a blog written yesterday at Desiring God points out titled, ‘Why Envy Is a Danger for the YRR.’ So many times I have even found myself listening to some people who get accolades and get to speak at the various conferences and think, “I could do that much better than they could.” But that’s not what God has for me now! And I regularly need to remind myself to be faithful in the small things God has given me!

One of the main points I appreciated in the article was,

Where Christ increases, John is content to decrease. But are we? Are we content to decrease, when Christ increases through the ministry of another? Do we even acknowledge that Christ is increasing in the ministry of others? Or do we attribute their success to some other factor: their ambition, their compromises, and in our worst moments, to the efforts of the devil?

May everything we do give glory to God and continue to shake the gates of hell!

We Are Not God’s Gift to Earth

One of the things that has frustrated me about modern young Evangelicals today is a certain amount of theological arrogance. I’ve talked to many people my age who are convinced they are God’s gift to the church, that they have all the right answers and that they are going to bring about a new reform in Christianity. My problem is that they too often forget about the thousands of years of believers who have gone before them and dealt with some of the same issues we’re facing today. Homosexuality, yep, that’s been going on since Genesis. Drunkenness, look no further than Noah. Tattoos? Yep, that’s in there too (but not necessarily to say Christians shouldn’t have them as many people say today).

The Gospel Coalition has a fantastic blog today titled ‘We’re Not the Ones God Has Been Waiting For.’ In the article he offers 3 reasons why we tend to think we’re far better than those who have gone before us:

1. We make an idol of cultural acceptance.

2. We think we can do ministry better than our fathers.

3. We put too much weight in our own abilities.

The saying goes, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” This is also true in the church. Starting in the 90s we had a rise of a new church movement called the emergent church. Relevant, a magazine I subscribe to recently said,

(The emergent churches’) critique of rigid pietism and narrow theology devolved into a less interesting, rehashed theological liberalism. Driscoll and Seay fled the movement, and those who remained were either marginalized among evangelicals or became a a small avant-garde sect of mainline Protestantism. The emergent movement’s rise and fall remains a warning against reform movements that lack a theological center.

Again, it seems to me that the emergent church forgot about the thousands of years of church history and tried to rebrand the church as something new, but it’s all been done before. I’m grateful that despite a changing culture and a church doing its best to keep up with that changing culture, there is a solid rock who has never changed and never will. I hope and pray other church leaders my age will not neglect to study church history and read from other people who are much smarter than we are as we do our best to lead the churches God has called us to.

The Pope Is Probably the Antichrist, Part 2

Yesterday I posted a blog ‘The Pope of Probably the Antichrist‘ and pointed people to another blog with the same title. While my blog was meant to be taken with a grain of salt (I wan’t actually saying the new Pope is the antichrist), the blog I linked to was very helpful in thinking through what some of the Reformers thought about the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

The main issue I see with the Roman Catholic Church is with justification (see John Piper on what he would ask the Pope). If the Catholic church says that they do not teach that we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone then they are teaching a heresy. I do not think Christians today are willing enough to call people out for theological issues. Many people will say they don’t agree with someone else but people within the church are too often willing to allow many false teachings to slide by without properly confronting them.

My response when people ask about the Catholic church is that yes, there are many people within the Catholic church who are not believers, just like there are many people within the E Free Church, who are not believers, and the same can be said about every other denomination in the world. The world does not need Christians who just go to church on Sunday and leave it at that. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” If a brother or sister claims to be a believer but is not acting as the Bible commands, they should be confronted of the sin in their lives, and if they are not willing to repent there should be questions about their faith.

So ultimately, do I think the Pope is the antichrist? No. But I do think the Catholic church teaches some things that are contrary to Scripture and I look forward to the day when Christ will return to right all the wrongs that have gone on in the world today.

The Pope Is Probably the Antichrist

I’ve said before that the only virtue praised in America today is “judge not, lest you be judged.” This includes people within the church, yet the Bible commands us to help each other in our struggle with sin (see Galatians 6:1-2, James 5:16, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:25, James 5:19-20) and that includes “judging” as many people tend to use that word today.

There was a very interesting article on judging written at the Cripplegate today on the Catholic church and their election of a new pope. He brought up some points that I had never heard before, that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Edwards all condemned the pope as being an antichrist. The article ends by saying:

And if calling the Pope the antichrist seems like a very unchristian thing to do, I assure you that it is not the theology of the thing that has changed in the last 50 years.Today’s reluctance to make that connection says a lot about how far our evangelical culture has drifted, and very little about the Pope.

The whole article is worth reading, and a good check of where we as the church have been and continue to go. How can we continue to hold true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ dying for our sins and raising to life on the third day, now sitting at the right hand of God until he will return to judge the living and the dead in our current culture?

“Christian” Music

I so often struggle with “Christian” music. I grew up at a time where “good” Christians only listened to music by Christians, and one of the first CDs I ever got was ‘Jesus Freak’ by DC Talk. I still really enjoy that CD, and still regularly hear the title track on the radio…it came out in 1995. If I listen to non Christian radio I’ll hear the top tracks from today, yet the “most current” Christian radio station still plays songs from when I was 7. If that’s the best Christian music has to offer, we’re doing something wrong.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that everything we do should be done to God’s glory, which means we should do the best we can for him. I think this applies to music as well! Christians should be on the forefront of musical trends and setting the example for others for how to do music well! Yet too often I see Christians copying whatever the latest trend is (Eminem gets popular, and we get KJ-52, Black Eyed Peas get big and we get Group 1 Crew). Granted, there are some people, like Lecrae, who are on the forefront of their musical genre and using it as an opportunity to spread hope, but overall we seem to be stuck in a rut musically.

This isn’t something I have a quick and easy fix for how we can get better music, and I’m still working through all the ramifications of this as well. But my overall sense is that Christians are greatly failing in so many areas to do things to the best of their ability. I’m honestly tired of the charts that compare “secular” artists to “Christian” artists – if the music is good, listen to it and use it as an opportunity to talk about different worldviews.

Lenten Reflections

Lent is something I’ve often heard of as I was growing up, but never really took a look at what it was or where it came from. Generally I just heard friends in high school who would give up things during Lent season, but didn’t have any idea that it was anything beyond that. Thanks to a recent post on the Gospel Coalition website, I learned a little more about what it is.

Lent (from the Latin for “fortieth”) begins on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. In a devotional guide to Lent, Kendal Haug and Will Walker say “Lent, therefore, is about living out of our union with, and identity in, Christ. Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.” What a great thing to celebrate and practice! Letting the Good News of the Gospel make its way deeper into our lives!

You can access this devotional guide through the Gospel Coalition blog or clicking here. I plan to go through these devotionals myself as I prepare for the celebration of the best news on earth: Jesus Christ dies for my sins, was buried, and on the third day he rose again, and now sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf!

Chronological Snobbery

I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Narnian‘ that is about the life of C.S. Lewis. It’s been an interesting journey into Lewis’ life from his young life through his adult years and I have just reached the point where he became a Christian. (interesting side note, we have 1 remaining recording of Lewis’ voice reading what would eventually become ‘Mere Christianity’ that you can hear here.)

One of the things Lewis was most concerned about was the way he saw his students completely dismissing anything people from history said. I’ve talked a couple times on this blog before about the importance of remembering where we’ve come from, and this book reminded me again of how important it is to maintain perspective. Lewis called this “chronological snobbery” where because we now know that the earth revolves around the sun we dismiss anything said or written during the middle ages because they believed the sun revolved around the earth. We should not be so quick the throw the baby out with the bath water, but instead should look at what they wrote that was good and see how it applies to our lives and times today. Lewis said of the old books, “The great books of the past, then, if we read them properly and carefully, can be mirrors into which we see the sins and limitations of our own period.” This especially goes for the Bible too. No, the Bible writers didn’t know of molecules and planets and cells like we do, but God used them in their time and their place to write down his very Words. Let’s not be so quick to dismiss any thoughts from history, but instead weigh them carefully in light of our own generations blind spots.