Sometimes I wonder if King David had existed in the New Testament time, what would have the Psalms looked like then? I mean, all he had was basically the first few books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth, as his own story takes place in Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles and he wrote most of the Psalms. There’s a lot in the Bible that hadn’t happened for him to rejoice over, be angry about, or seek after God.
What if, he had witnessed the events of the New Testament? The miracles, the martyrs, the mission, and the rest of it? How would he celebrate that?
Those who are familiar with the Worship Wars often see two sides to the problem:
“The way it’s always been done is the way it’s always worked. God inspired these hymn-writers mostly in the 1800s (some before, some after) and the popular works were bound in book-form for congregations to sing.”
“This new stuff is great – I can understand the words, it’s really singable which is good because I never learned how. It’s the sort of sing I’d sing walking down the street, something really connects with me.”
And there are the countless complaints about the other side:
“It’s love songs! It’s entirely inappropriate and I feel embarrassed singing those words to almighty God!”
“Those songs are old and boring and difficult to sing and they make me want to cry. I don’t get what’s so great about them.”
Let’s straighten something out now:
The oldest Christian hymn ever discovered dates back to the end of the 3rd Century A.D. – the Oxyrhynchus hymn. It was not drawn on Bible passages or the Bible for that matter, these are it’s surviving lyrics translated into English:
together all the eminent ones of God / night nor day let them be silent let the luminus stars not / let the rushing of winds, the sources of all surging waters cease while we hymn / Father and Son and Holy Spirit let all the powers answer “amen amen strength praise / and glory forever to God the sole giver of all good things amen amen
The other oldest hymn is called the Phos Hilaron – you might know it as O Gladsome Light as it remains in use in some churches and it’s nearly as old:
O Light gladsome of the holy glory of the Immortal Father / the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, O Jesus Christ / having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening / we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. / Worthy it is at all times to praise Thee in joyful voices / O Son of God, Giver of Life, for which the world glorifies Thee.
All of the older original hymns are lost to time. But God seems to consistently inspire each new generation to create their own music – so it seems logical that He would continue to do so until people ran out of new songs to sing. King David use the words “new song” in his Psalms six times – so clearly he wasn’t one to repeat his praises to God indefinitely in the oldest most traditional format he had ever learned.
So I would think that if King David had lived in the New Testament era, he would write 150 new Psalms celebrating Jesus. Which is why I think that God didn’t just quit inspiring praises in the 1800s. I don’t think He’s anywhere near being done. So why do Christians like to put a stumbling block before others? Sure, hymns are great for their place and time, and so was the Oxyrynchus hymn, but God replace that with the hymns that were sung in the 600s, the 800s, and the 1000s, each older batch eventually being forgotten. Thanks to our ability to write down the vast majority of our songs, they will endure in one form or another, but let us not forget new songs – they honor God just as much as the old ones and do deserve to be sung because of that.
One other great thing is that there are many new songs that based in the Bible; Chris Tomlin’s ‘Forever’ outright quotes Psalm 136. But he also has quite a few less well-known works that are equally as Biblical, such as “Psalm 100”. I can see where one would get the conclusion that they are love songs – King David loved God, it’s written all over the Psalms; and it’s in these songs.
But what they mean is that, it puts us in a “love” love relationship – that’s why there’s been such emphasis on fearing God – because its the other kind of love – the good kind. But the “love” kind is bad. If King David thought so, it’s not in his songs of praise:
“Your great love” / “Your unfailing love” / “I love you, Lord, my strength” / “He shows unfailing love” / “the unfailing love of the Most High” / “surely Your goodness and love …” / “Your great mercy and love” / “according to Your love, remember me” / “I will be glad and rejoice in your love” / “the wonders of His love” / “the Lord’s unfailing love” / “his unfailing love” / “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens” / “for great is Your love” / “I will sing of your love” / “his love endures forever” / etc.
King David seemed to be consumed with love for God, he poured out his love in his psalms and danced exuberantly in public and he was known as a man after God’s own heart. I wonder, are we more like the people that God warned us about?
“3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” – 2 Timothy 3: 3-5
Perhaps what we really need is to sing and pray the Psalms to become people after God’s own heart. The good news is that many new songs are really old songs – and they’re lovely.