How much polish does God’s altar need?

During the initial stay-at-home orders associated with the COVID outbreak, there were a number of things that went around social media “to keep us busy.” Now that my college is fully virtual for the foreseeable future, believe me, I’m busy! Teaching online takes lots more time. But I digress. One of the activities keeping me busy at the time was the twenty-day music challenge. The idea was to post one album cover per day for twenty days. Each album cover was from an album that was significant to me. So the twenty-day music challenge had me digging into some music deep in my memory and record bin. I even pulled my vinyl out of storage. But replaying some of the albums, I returned not just with nostalgia but a more seasoned musical ear. It was interesting and enlightening.

Since much of my musical life was in church music, I returned, hopefully, with a more mature theology also. My son, who is interested in church music, and I often discuss current songs, their musicality or lack thereof and their theology. I had those same conversations internally also as I returned to the music of my youth. (Stop laughing, yes, I was young once.)

I hear now the nuance and ever so slight deviation from Biblical truth in well-framed and well-intended songs that I grew up listening to. Now to be fair, song lyrics are often analogy or glosses of scripture. So it isn’t fair to overly criticize them. (And I split the infinitive on purpose – This is English, not Latin). Gross error cannot be ignored, but near misses may be the nature of encapsulating a message in a pop song genre or even a hymn, though hymns generally do a better job.

On the other hand, error, even slight, for the sake of art would not have passed muster with our American (OK, English transplant) Puritan forebears in their Bay Psalm Book who for the sake of truth over artistry boldly proclaimed that “God’s altar needs not our polishing.” While a caricature of the Puritans is that of backward and ill-educated, in fact, many were well-educated, enough so to take on a translation of scriptures from Greek and Hebrew to create songs for their new home in America. But they refused to sacrifice doctrinal purity for the sake of meter or rhyme.

So what’s my point?

Lots of things, including we old timers need to get the musical log out of our own eye before we criticize the youngsters… although our music was clearly better.

But more importantly for believers, if you’re getting your theology from your songs, you’re courting disaster. Read the Word, search it, study it, know it, and “hide it your heart.” Why hide it in your heart?

That’s an allusion to a passage of scripture. Look it up! Then go back to singing, but not before.

Published by

Stephen Rizzo

I am a Christian who is flawed but forgiven. I am a father who is blessed beyond measure with two amazing children. I am an educator who is fortunate to get paid for doing what he loves. I am a musician who really needs to practice more.

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