Chapter 728b: Singing to the Oldies


When does a new church song accord the privilege of making the noble transition to becoming one of the "oldies"? I recently was able to hear a comment from our worship song selection in which my sibling in Christ expressed frustration that we only sing new songs. They were frustrated because they only knew two of the selected songs for the morning and had to quietly sit through all of the other selections. The statement shared with me was "What is so wrong with all the classics and older songs!" So here's my song selection for the aforementioned day - I have also listed the year in which the song was written for your consideration. We Place You in the Highest Place (1983 - 31 years old) The Greatest Commandment (1993 - 21 years) Lamb of God (1985 - 29 years) Step by Step (1991 - 23 years) In Christ Alone (2002 - 12 years) Thy Word Is a Lamp (1984 - 30 years) Softly and Tenderly (1880 - 134 years) The Battle Belongs to the Lord (1985 - 29 years) Almost every song on my list was between 25-30 years old in church usage. Bringing some high-end math to the discussion might help some here. The average age is 38.625 years. The median is 29 years. The mode is also 29 years. And so I pose the question before you again. How old does a new church song have to be to accord the privilege of getting to be "one of the oldies"? What criteria should we use? What filters and demands should we place on these songs so that they can be released from the burden of a juvenile life? When do they mature and become recognized as a classic? Some of these songs are two and three decades old! That's a third of a lifetime. Time in which grandchildren are founded. Time in which a career is measured and pens are given to celebrate retirement. So what are the criteria? Is it any song that has established at least 10 decades of use? Does it have to be sung at a minimum number of funerals? Is it ante-civil war? Does it need a 1920's Depression context? Is it somehow tainted if it has roots in the civil-rights movements of the 70's? Is it disqualified if you can possibly clap to it? Does it get an automatic bid if the copyright is by Stamps-Baxter Music? Is it whether or not the lyrics to the song are actually in the Bible? I'm pretty sure we overlooked that criteria a LOT! Ironically, many of the newer songs we are singing are LITERALLY straight scripture from the Bible. I could proof-text all day on this one - and simply devolve my point into a silly side-argument. That's not my goal. My goal is a bit deeper in scope. My goal is to get us to re-frame a little bit. To think a little more clearly about whether we, as God's church, are so hooked to our past that we forget others have a past also. We can't freeze time and stay in it. The temptation to become nostalgic and wistful of our past creates a dangerous platform in the church. It forces separation between points of view based on the rationale of rite-of-passage, tradition, earning your way, and seeing your own position as more imperative than others. I'm glad God didn't do that with me when He could have. It's like the old guys who all sit together at the local coffee shop. They are friends. They have been through the wars (literally). They have bled together. Their stories are theirs. And their stories are important and sacred. They have earned the right to sit at that table. They are the greatest generation. They don't care about the newest iPhone or whether you have 3G or 4G. Try to sit in at their table sometime. Try to tell a story. Try to share your life. Your battles. Your struggles. Your losses. Your victories. Your faith. It's just not the same. For some reason, it doesn't matter as much. Your 30 years weren't the same as their 30 years. But it matters to you. It matters to the last 30 years of your life. It matters because of the thousands of hours you have spent in prayer trying to honor God, glorify Him, and seek His will for your time. It matters because you don't HAVE another life. Much less, one like theirs. You don't get to be called the "greatest generation" - it's already taken. You are just the next one. The one overwhelmed with political-correctness, tolerance, post-modernism, and technology-overload. The one where you strive to destroy the impact of racism, massive consumerism, and television. You get to struggle and battle and scrape with your own time. With your 30 years. There's nothing wrong with singing the classics. As long as the classics don't become the goal. There's nothing wrong with singing someone else's classics either. It's good to sing someone else's classics. But in the greater picture - it doesn't matter whose classics are being sung - should it? Because it's not songs we are singing. It is a STORY that we are singing. Not our story. God's Story. The story of what HE has done in our lives. Because 30 years - no matter who they belong to -weren't too classy-looking until God did something wonderful with them. "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long." (Fanny J Crosby and Mrs. Joseph Knapp, 1873)

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