Anticipating heaven's music

The future of every Christian is destined to be filled with the sound of music. Those who sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb while standing on the sea of glass will have prepared by developing a musical taste here on earth that will make the songs of heaven enjoyable. The days of the world's music are numbered.

Clinton A. Valley is pastor of the Laventille Seventh-day Adventist church, Trinidad, West Indies.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not just another church. This church has come into existence in fulfillment of prophecy to be God's last-day instrument in the worldwide proclamation of the good news of salvation through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No other church has arisen so precisely according to prophecy; no other church answers the qualifications of the remnant church of Revelation 12:17 so definitely; no other church preaches the whole truth of God in the context of the three angels' messages. Herein lies the uniqueness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

All those who accept membership in this church are called upon to conform to its ideals and objectives. Their lives must be as distinctive as the message they bear. This calls for total commitment that will affect every department of church life and will certainly influence the music used by the church in fulfillment of its God-given commission.

Music is one of God's great gifts to man, and it is also one of the most important elements in a spiritual program. It is an avenue of communication with God and "is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (Education, p. 168). Song has wonderful power —"power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort" (ibid.). "Music was made to serve a holy purpose, to lift the thoughts to that which was pure and noble and elevating, and to awaken in the soul devotion and gratitude." Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 97, 98.

Music has amazing vitalizing and therapeutic value. Jesus knew this. As a youth "He expressed the gladness of His heart by singing psalms and heavenly songs. . . . He held communion with heaven in song; and as His companions complained of weariness from labor, they were cheered by the sweet melody from His lips. His praise seemed to banish the evil angels, and, like incense, fill the place with fragrance." —The Desire of Ages, p. 73.

Heaven is a land filled with the sound of music. At Creation the angels burst forth in songs of praise and shouts of joy. Of the Creator Himself it is written, "The Lord thy God . . . will joy over thee with singing" (Zeph. 3:17). The joy of real living—be it in heaven or on earth—is ever and always reflected in the sound of music.

At the core of all this is the unassailable fact that the God of heaven is an appreciator and lover of beauty. Therefore all those who desire to be one with God will also want to develop their.aesthetic appreciation. It is no wonder, then, that music and music appreciation has gained such a central place in the life of the Seventh-day Adventist Christian.

But for him there can be no aesthetics without ethics. The music that is accept able to the Adventist Christian must be socially suitable, ethically unquestionable, and theologically sound. Those who select music for the distinctive purposes of this church must exercise a high degree of discrimination in their choice. This is necessary and vital because of the presence in the land of that skillful charmer who makes music "one of the most alluring agencies of temptation" (Messages to Young People, p. 291). He well knows the power of emotion and the effectiveness of certain classes of music in arousing temptation. A former choir leader and a bold composer, he guides the production of innumerable tunes and songs that degrade taste and allure into sin. Some of these, as in the case of the music used by Balak to seduce Israel at Baal-peor, can even be termed delightful—except for the far-from-delightful final results.

Musicologist Paul E. Hamel provides some striking information in his article "A Psychology of Music for Christians." "The physical changes that occur within our bodies as we listen to music have been measured. Music actually does raise or lower blood pressure, depending upon the type of music.... Brain waves are altered from their usual pattern, pupillary reflexes change, and a host of other physiological changes take place as we listen to music." —The Journal of True Education, April, 1961, p. 12.

The same author suggests that one can judge music by the company it keeps. He states that he does not want in his home the type of music played in gambling houses, night clubs, and brothels, and then remarks, "I don't believe that a Christian in his home, in his room, or in his car has any business inviting into his being music that is so much at home in places of ill-repute." —Ibid., pp. 12, 13

Thus far civilization has survived rock-and- roll, Presleyism, and Beatleism, acid rock, punk rock, and disco music, though some are wondering whether it can take much more. Be that as it may, the days of such music are numbered, as Christians know, and if we cultivate a taste for it we inevitably exclude ourselves from the land where rock-and-roll and other such music would be incongruous.

Much of today's music, however, does not fall so definitely and distinctly on one side of the fence or the other. Most tends to be debatable, and thus more than human wisdom is needed to determine that which is acceptable music from that which is not. Some guidelines are therefore necessary.

Of all the musical elements, rhythm or the beat evokes the strongest physical response. Satan's greatest successes have often come through this appeal to the physical nature. Showing keen awareness of the dangers involved in this, Ellen White said, "They [the young] have a keen ear for music, and Satan knows what organs to excite to animate, engross, and charm the mind so that Christ is not desired. The spiritual longings of the soul for divine knowledge, for a growth in grace, are wanting." —Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 497. Jazz, rock, and related hybrid musical forms are well known for creating this sensuous response in masses of people. It must be pointed out, nevertheless, that this is a problem not so much of use, but of misuse and abuse of rhythm.

Also, important as rhythm is, a number of other equally important factors vitally affect the musical work as a whole. Therefore there must be an intelligent consideration of all factors in evaluating the religious or irreligious nature of any given composition. We must always bear in mind also the vital factors of association and connotation. In this respect jazz, through its long association with the undesirable elements of dance halls, theaters, and night clubs, has become totally unfit for use in the church. It is thus very clear that connotation is a most important factor in this question.

In our considering the text or lyrics, first of all, they must be in harmony with scriptural teachings. Such songs and choruses as "Being in Abraham's bosom," "If you get there before I do, tell all my friends I'm coming too," and that stanza "I'll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death" would be excluded on this basis.

Second, the text must ennoble, uplift, and purify the Christian's thoughts. This disqualifies, among others, trivial ditties, shallow pop-Christian songs, and meaningless soul music. Also, the communication of the message should be of paramount importance, and this should not be hindered by overpowering musical elements.

What is all this saying to the Seventh-day Adventist Christian? He must recognize that he has been placed in this life to determine his fitness for the future life. He is therefore in this life primarily for the purpose of character development. In whatever he does, this objective must be kept clearly before him. Therefore, part of his development must include the training of the emotions to respond to the good, the refined, and the beautiful. A Seventh-day Adventist Christian cannot like what the world likes and still claim to be looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. There must be a difference, and this difference must be clearly evident to all.

The future of every Christian is destined to be filled with the sound of music. When Christ returns, with anthems of celestial melody, the holy angels, a vast, unnumbered throng, attend Him on His way.

Then, arriving back at the city of God, the angelic choir strikes the note of victory, and the redeemed all join in a mighty anthem that proclaims, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." And of the pulsating, onward-moving ages of eternity it is said: "The prophet caught the sound of music there, and song, such music and song as, have in the visions of God, no mortal ear has heard or mind conceived." —Prophets and Kings, p. 730. The Seventh-day Adventist Christian who is planning for heaven with its music must begin aright by giving heavenly music its rightful place in his heart and in his life now.


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Clinton A. Valley is pastor of the Laventille Seventh-day Adventist church, Trinidad, West Indies.

June 1981

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