John Chrysostom, (see our last newsletter) often wrote of the church's responsibility regarding singing psalms and hymns. As you remember, Chrysostom lived in the fourth century, a century that was dominated by a theological rift perpetuated by the early Christian theologian, Arius. (His followers were called "Arians".) Arius regarded as error the church's teaching of the full divinity of Christ, that is, Christ was "co-eternal with God." In 323, the Council of Nicea met and overwhelmingly decreed that Christ was "co-eternal with God the Father." Christ always was and always is God. This remained one of the most important rulings in church history and supposedly, resolved the issue.
But in reality, the controversy would simmer for the rest of the century and in some churches, it is still with us today. Surprisingly, music played a significant role in the conflict. The view that Christ was not fully God was perpetuated by hymns-hymns that denied Christ's deity and were sung by the Arians! Their music was so popular with "ordinary churchgoers" that they increasingly became ensnared in this heresy.
The story is told of how on a Sunday, the Arians pushed their way into John Chrysostom's own church and shouted derisively:
"Look at the fools who believe that three make one!"
The Council of Nicea had affirmed the truth of the Trinity, but many of the "common folk" were beguiled the music of the Arians.
Thankfully, God raised up a dynamic hymn writer to successfully counter these divisive hymns. His name: Ambrose of Milan, a poet, preacher and an apologist for the full deity of Christ. While only a few of his hymns remain today, at least one or two are found in most modern hymnals. His hymns were a powerful force for truth and made a real difference in this titanic struggle. One of the hymns, "Maker of All Things" ends this way:
Christ with the Father ever one,
Spirit, the Father and the Son,
God over all, the mighty sway,
Shield us, great Trinity, we pray.
Thankfully, God used the hymns of Ambrose to help turn the tide against the popular but misguided theology.
Today, the Church is again caught in a great struggle. In many parts of the world, the strong truth of Scripture, is being replaced by a tepid, emotion-clad gospel. And once again, music seems to be at the forefront of this deception. Church after church is rejecting strong hymnody as they yield to the dangerous disease of weak music and poor theology.
What are Christians to do? The answer thunders from the "golden mouth" of that giant of the fourth century, John Chrysostom:
Sing! Sing psalms [and hymns] that purify the mind and [allow] the Holy Spirit to descend swiftly upon the mind of the singer. For those who sing with understanding invoke the grace of the Spirit.
Singing great hymns is as critical for today's Christian as it was for the fourth century church. For God still uses the hymn as a powerful tool to train the mind to focus on theological truth and to invoke the "grace of the Spirit.
We want to challenge you to check out the hymn for this week. Read the words, then sing along with our choir. Your mind will be strengthened and your heart lifted with the melody of this great hymn!