The melody of Jesus is always beautiful
“The air of Jesus is still beautiful even if the Christians sang out of tune.” I love this line from Australian church leader and historian John Dickson, who was one of the guests featured on the second episode of my podcast Rebuilding Faith.
“The composition is beautiful: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who mistreat you— which is not just an arbitrary ethic. This is the whole arc of the story of Jesus’ life, the very logic of the Christian faith.
jesus christ is sung
This analogy of Christianity as a melody to play or a song to sing resonates with me. I point it in The thrill of orthodoxy. It’s not a new analogy – it has an old pedigree – but we need it right now.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius writes:
“In your unanimity and your harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. Now you must join the choir, each one of you, that being in harmonious harmony, taking your tone from God, you may sing in unity, with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, that may also hear you and recognize you through your good deeds, being members of his Son.
In the love of the church, jesus christ is sung.
How’s it going ?
spoil the melody
When we look back we see how Christians have often drifted into beliefs and actions that do not do justice to the melody handed down from the apostles, whether it is the discordant dissonance of warriors committing atrocities in name of Christ or the ostentatious displays of wealth and favoritism so manifestly contrary to the instructions of our Saviour.
But “Christians behaving badly is the report of the minority”, says Dickson (and shows in his book Bullies and Saints). “I would say that in most church centuries, most Christians have sung the tune recognizably.” Even today, when pastors or church leaders sin in a way that scandalizes the church, the majority of Christians are shocked and disappointed, perhaps even more so than people in the world. Why? Because “they sing the melody, they awkwardly go, trying to believe the gospel and trust the gospel, and they are spectacularly disappointed.”
Regardless of the era, you will find Christians mutilating the melody and others singing it beautifully. Sometimes you can be amazed to hear a Christian leader sing one verse perfectly while missing the next completely. We’re a clumsy bunch of believers, after all. None of us are going to get all the right grades all the time, and we may be more like an untrained children’s choir trying to stay on key than the choristers of Westminster Abbey. But humility continues to bring us back to the song as we seek to honor the melody.
Fortunately, we are led by the Spirit as we sing the gospel tune. Basil the Great wrote,
“It is impossible to maintain a life of holiness without the Spirit. It would be easier for an army to continue its maneuvers without a general, or for a choir to sing on key without its director.
Back to melody
When the church is rocked by scandal and riddled with sin, when there is rot in the house and renovations become necessary, the answer is not to destroy the building. When Christians sing the horribly wrong gospel tune, the answer is not to change the song.
You can take a song and remix it, remaster it, or adjust its tempo, like singers sometimes do when covering other people’s songs. But if you change too many things in the song, you end up with a completely different melody. You cannot reconsider, revisit, redefine, revise, or rework the faith forever and still be committed to the faith. Remixing, remastering and rearranging an old song can bring out the beauty of the original, with flourishes and instrumentals adding a new effect. But once you no longer submit to the melody – once you change the lyrics or modify the melody – you lose the original song.
When the Church is plagued by sin and scandal, the process of renewal can only begin when, as John Dickson says, Christians return to the Gospels and the New Testament, re-read God’s Word and suddenly realize: “We doesn’t look like this!” And God stirs those embers until they ignite, gripping the hearts of believers determined to recapture the essence of Christianity and display its beauty in our churches. That’s when we seek out the melody and sing it to exalt the Savior who gave it to us.
Towards the end of Calvin Miller’s classic book The singerthe first singers of the song given by the Troubadour are freed and charged with spreading the music throughout the world:
“The song is all that matters.
You may have to sing it
where the crowd will shout to you
down and ask for your legs or your life. . . .
Some will hate you for the song you love.
They will seek to stop your singing.
But no matter how they treat you
Remember that I suffered everything
Before you. . . .
“Again, the singer raised his
bearded head and sang, ‘In the
the beginning was the song of love. . .’
And through the trees the Fool
a loud voice sang back, ‘And
here is the new redemptive melody, the
only song that can set Terra free. ”
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