Know Your Bible

VOL. 7                           April 6, 2008                           NO. 11

A Taste Of Heaven?

    Have you ever attended a large group of brethren gathered for a 'singing'? If you have, you might have heard someone say afterwards, "Can't you just imagine? I think that's what it will be like in heaven. Why, that singing was just beautiful!" Maybe you have said it yourself? I have heard it several times and I have yet to hear anyone disagree. Usually, the one who said it gets a few 'amens' and upward looks as if they can just picture it right then and there.

    Then again, maybe you have had the occasion to sit next to someone while trying to sing and it was obvious that they couldn't carry a tune in a bucket and couldn't keep time if they had a pocket watch in hand. Their singing was out of step with everyone else and maybe you just decided to quit singing because it was simply too unpleasant or too difficult to try to keep up with everyone else. Maybe you threw a few disapproving looks his way or quietly thought to yourself, "I just wish he would quit sing-ing!" You don't really consider your thoughts to be out of line because, well, you're thinking of the others who are having a hard time singing, too.

    On another note [no pun intended], have you ever had the occasion where you heard a speaker/preacher and afterwards heard someone comment about how good he was or how good the lesson was? Maybe he spoke on the sacrifice of Jesus, and told it in such a way as to bring tears to your eyes and had everyone pulling out their handkerchiefs and tissues because he told it with such emotion that anyone with a heartbeat would have been moved to tears. When all is said and done, the praise had nothing to do with the content of the lesson, but was all about the speaking ability of the man. Maybe you have made such comments?

    On the flip side, maybe you have heard someone deliver a lesson whose manner of speaking was not exactly polished. While his points were Scriptural and applicable, few ever ask this man to speak for them [unless everyone else is booked solid until 2012] because his delivery is not quite 'up to par' with other well-known preachers in the brotherhood. Some might simply be too embarrassed to have him speak for them lest a visitor think they are backwards and/or uneducated.

    I appreciate good singing just as much as the next brother or sister and I am edified by good lessons just as much as anyone else, but I think we must be careful in what we are saying and thinking - and what we really mean when we say these things. I fear that many brethren who say these things have never stopped to consider what exactly it is that they mean by these words, and this is a dangerous path to be traveling. If what we mean is, the quality of the singing is more important to us than the content and the sincerity of the one singing, then we are greatly mistaken; if what we mean is the quality of the speaker is more important than what he says, then we are greatly mistaken.

    Now, before you jump all over me in vehement disagreement, let me first say a few more things before I move on. I understand that a poor song leader can negatively affect a congregation's mind set and ability to worship God with a clear and focused mind, and someone sitting nearby who is off-key or behind in the song will affect your ability to focus on the song and you might be distracted. I also understand a speaker who cannot clearly expound or elaborate on the meaning of a text or make it applicable to the audience will not be beneficial and sometimes just plain ineffective and detrimental to the hearers. I am all for doing the best we can in all that we do for the Lord, but that is not my point of contention.

    In the last decade or so, I have noticed an increase in the number of brethren who have told me plainly or in general conversations that they chose their place of worship or chose the congregation with which they worked strictly on the basis of the quality of the singing. The brethren who said this did not make any indication about the congregation's ability to contribute to their spiritual growth, its work in the community, or its firm stance on God's word; it was all about the quality of the singing. For a much longer time, I have noticed that among churches in this country, many times the reason a particular speaker is chosen for gospel meetings or to work with the congregation is based on his personality and name recognition and less to do with how well he can go to Scripture and give a relevant, applicable lesson for all who hear him. It seems fewer and fewer brethren [including these churches' leaders] care about the evangelist's ability to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:12-14), but care a whole lot about what the general public [especially possible visitors] might think about the church if someone with a less-polished delivery was speaking.

    Brethren, are we so superficial that we are only concerned with the outward appearance - or at least more concerned with the outward appearance - that we care little or nothing at all for what comes from the heart or the content of the sermons we hear or the songs we sing? If I remember correctly, Jesus saved His severest rebuke for men who did just that (cf Matt. 23). They were all about appearing "just right" to those around them and putting on the appearance of righteousness while inwardly they were "full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (v. 28). Am I saying anyone who is concerned so much with the quality of singing or the speaker's ability to move us to tears is full of hypocrisy and lawlessness? No. But, brethren, if that is our focus, I can guarantee that is the end of the path we travel. When the outward is the focus, the inward begins to be neglected and the heart is no longer involved in worship or service. The next step is vain [useless] worship - and that is plainly unacceptable to God (cf. Matt. 15:8, 9). If you doubt this, let me just change a few words in that scene so that you may understand how close some are to the hypocrisy and superficiality of the first century religious leaders. Consider the following scenarios:

-- A group of 'concerned' brethren suggest certain young men do not lead songs during the gospel meeting because it doesn't present the best image of the congregation to possible visitors.

-- Another group of 'concerned' brethren suggest the current preacher be replaced because he has no Degree in Bible from the brotherhood university and doesn't have the name recognition of other possible candidates.

    In those scenarios, what is the difference between their 'concerns' and those of the Pharisees? None. All are concerned with outward appearances and voice no concern whatsoever with the heart [others' or their own] or how they are helped to grow spiritually. More and more, some brethren among us are trying to please those with worldly tastes and are offering less and less spiritual nourishment but a whole lot of entertainment value. Based on what God's word says, I don't see that He is too concerned with whether or not I hit exactly the right pitch or sing at just the right tempo. I imagine heaven will even have some saints singing off-key, too. And how will we react?

    So next time you sit next to someone who sings a little off-key, or next time you hear a young man struggling to get through his lesson, just remember God is listening to the heart of the singer and He is more concerned with what is being said than whether or not the audience will be moved to tears. Let us each examine our own hearts because that is what matters to God.

---Steven Harper

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