By now you may be wondering what’s up with me. Two weeks ago I launch into a tirade about how worship is not just about singing in church. If I think worship isn’t just about song, why do I give a basic course on songwriting for the church the following week?
Since the songwriting clinic at our last service I have written yet another song: The Good Shepherd (Eb). I showed it and the one resulting from the “clinic” to a pastor friend from a different language and culture. His first question was, “Aren’t there enough songs in your hymnal?”
I answered, “Well, yes… and no. Encouraging new songs is about encouraging people to begin exercising the spiritual gifts God has given them. The traditional church in North America is going the way of the dinosaur, and we will eventually need to figure out how to become an underground church, like the one in China. Short of finding English-speaking Chinese underground church leaders to teach us how to do this, I feel I have to learn by trying to encourage the full use of each person’s spiritual gifts. Learning to write spiritual songs is probably the simplest way for us to begin learning about what gifts the Holy Spirit may have given us.
OK. So why do I seem to think that songwriting may be a spiritual gift? I have found a few clues in Scripture that at least some songwriting is connected to at least one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament.
In Exodus 15:20 Miriam, Moses’ sister, is described as a “prophetess” as she leads the women in singing a new song composed earlier in the chapter. We are not told that she composed the song, but it is interesting to see the term “prophetess” used in the context of sung praises to God. In no other context is she called by that term.
In Deuteronomy 31:19 God gives Moses (the prototypical prophet) a song to sing to the Israelites. Why? God had just told Moses that the Israelites would, in the future, rebel against him so completely as to be ejected from the Promised Land. He wanted them to learn this song so “that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.” [NKJ throughout] In other words, this song was prophetic. By Deut. 32:44 Moses writes the song that very day and begins teaching it immediately.
In 1 Samuel 10:5 Samuel tells young Saul that he will meet “a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them, and they will be prophesying.” In other words, Saul would be meeting a band of prophetic troubadours (not unlike Medieval minstrels or bards in their mode of operation). They disseminate God’s word by word and music to keep it memorable and interesting.
In I Chronicles 25:1 several descendants of the Levites are said to “prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals.” Asaph, David’s choir leader, was a composer (Psalm 50 and Psalms 73-83), and a prophet (1 Chron. 25:2).
I hope by now that we have established that songwriting in church may be one manifestation of the gift of prophecy. It may manifest other gifts as well. It may surprise us to note that when scholars come together to discuss the Biblical books of wisdom, one mentioned almost universally is the book of Psalms. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon all make extensive use of Hebrew poetic structures to get their points of wisdom across, as noted in the first paragraph of this introduction to wisdom literature.
So in Matthew 24:33, when Jesus mentions that He is sending “prophets, sages and scribes to witness against Jerusalem, He could be including songwriters in any of those categories.
Writing new songs in the Spirit need not be trivial or frivolous. Songs written even by non-professionals in the congregation might be just what Jesus intends to use to correct a congregation, witness against sin or injustice, discern spirits, or teach wisdom to the people of God in our present generation.
As our North American societies embrace an increasingly anti-Christian stance, we need to prepare a people who will hear and respond to the lead of the Holy Spirit. A new kind of “dark ages” seems to be on the horizon, where suppression of Christianity will be conducted in the name of “tolerance.” At that time those trained in recognizing and excercising the promptings of the Spirit will be able to remain bold in their Lord and Saviour.
There is no time like the present to begin training to be the underground church. Writing new songs for the church may be one way to explore and perhaps revive the gift of prophecy (among other gifts) within a church that now faces increasingly challenging times.