Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Did God create Hell?

Biblegems #36
Today’s question is, ‘Did God create hell?’
I suspect that behind the question is another question—“If God did create hell, why?”

Most English translations of the Bible loosely use the term “hell” to frequently translate the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek words “Hades” and “Tartarus.” For example, in 2 Pet. 2:4 “Tartarus” (trans. “hell”) is not hell at all, but a holding area for rebellious angels awaiting the Day of Judgment and their final condemnation to hell. And in Luke 16:23, “Hades,” mis-translated “hell,” actually refers to the realm of the dead who are also awaiting the Day of Judgment. “Hades” is roughly equivalent to “Sheol,” the Old Testament Hebrew term for the realm of the dead.

Hell, according to Jesus, was prepared specifically as a final punishment for the devil and the angels with him who rebelled against God early in creation history. Unfortunately, as Jesus indicates in the following passage, there are many human beings who will also be cast into this eternal fire that was never designed for them: “Then he (Jesus) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

The Bible describes hell as a lake of burning sulfur, where the fire never goes out. The “beast” and the “false prophet” of the book of Revelation are thrown alive into this lake (Rev. 19:20), where they are joined a thousand years later by the devil. There they will all be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (lit., “into the ages upon ages”)—a hyperbole for eternity.

Some claim that while the fires of hell may be eternal, those who enter there are annihilated, not imprisoned. In other words, the fire is eternal, but the torment is not. This, however, contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10). Not only is the fire eternal, but the suffering is as well. The “second death” is not a synonym for ceasing to exist. The sad truth is that this is a place of unending torment (Rev. 19:20).

Hell is not only described as an eternally burning lake of fire, but is expressly referred to as “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). It earns this moniker because here death itself will be destroyed: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15).

It is from this horrible end that Jesus came to rescue mankind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Music In Worship

Biblegems #35
Question: Could you address the historical / biblical role of music in worship?
The subject of music in congregational worship is huge, and there is no way it can be adequately covered in a 500-word Biblegems blog. So this article will be longer than most, yet still insufficient to cover the topic adequately. But I will attempt to present some highlights, which will hopefully spur interest in additional personal study.

As part of the Protestant Reformation, worship music composed by Martin Luther often took non-musical liturgies originally composed in Latin and translated them into the common language (German). He then put them to music, sometimes applying them to a familiar tune used by the Catholic church, sometimes using a Gregorian chant style, sometimes creating his own original melody, and often utilizing popular German folk tunes that the people already knew. To use a contemporary phrase, his desire was to make the music of worship “user friendly” to the people of his day.

In contrast to this, John Calvin, a contemporary of Luther’s, did not approve of Luther’s creative approach to church singing, but believed only Scripture put to music, with no harmony and no instruments, was appropriate for congregational worship. He was apparently unaware of the rich biblical heritage and instruction regarding the use of musical variety and creativity in worship.

Biblically, the purpose of corporate singing in worship is to provide an avenue or channel for people to enter God's presence—heart, soul, mind, body and spirit—in both reverential awe and joyful adoration.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs (Ps. 100:2).

Music stirs the emotions. It is supposed to, even in a worship service—perhaps, especially in a worship service. An important aspect of this is the use of musical instruments together with vocal praise:
Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD (Ps. 150:1-6).

In the New Testament, God’s Word says we are to… Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19; cf. Col. 3:16). The verb “to speak” (laleo) refers to singing as well as speech, and even is used of the sound created by instruments. So the Bible is telling us to fill our times together with all different kinds of music—psalms, hymns, and songs. (Arndt & Gingrich’s Greeek / English Lexicon, in loc.)

Music was an important part of New Testament worship, both congregationally and spontaneously (Matt. 26:30; 1Cor. 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9). “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” actually allude to types of music practiced by the early Christians.

Psalms” refers to the Old Testament Psalms, which were integrated with Christian worship from the earliest days. The verb “to make music” (Eph. 5:19) is psallo, from which we get our English word “psalm.” Literally, psallo means “to pluck,” a reference to stringed instruments or praise songs to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. (Ref., EBC, Frank Gaebelin; Arndt & Gingrich’s Greeek / English Lexicon).

Hymns(‘’umnos: “songs of praise”) was a term used in pagan worship to praise some god or cultic hero. Christians adopted the word to describe songs that exalted the name of Jesus or God. Examples appear in the both the Old Testament (Ps. 40:3) and the New (Phil. 2:5-11).

“Spiritual songs” (odai pneumatikai) is a term intended to distinguish Christian music from secular music that may have sounded very similar. The term odai (“songs”) originally referred to secular music. The New Testament adopted the term to refer to songs of praise to God or Christ. “Spiritual songs” can also designate spontaneous singing in the Spirit.

Much of what the Church today considers “hymns” were once the “spiritual songs” adopted from the secular music styles of the day. “There Is A Fountain” and “Yesterday, Today, Forever” are both prime examples of 18th-19th century English & American traditional / folk styles that have been immortalized in our hymnals. The well-known Christmas carol, “Go, Tell It On The Mountain,” is an African American Spiritual of the same period. “O Sacred Head Now wounded” comes from the “Baroque” style of the 17th century, while “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” reflects the classical musical style of the 18th century. “What Child Is This” was taken wholesale and adapted from the Medieval folk song “Green Sleeves.”
Music in worship has always reflected the cultures and styles in which believers have found themselves. Worship music has been the music of the people because it is the music these people grew up with, knew and loved. What could be more natural—or spiritual— than to “baptize” the music of their time with their newfound love for Jesus?

God desires that worship be heart-felt and sincere, not defined by human traditions (old or new) that reduce worship to liturgical patterns (or the lack thereof) or styles or instruments or language preference:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men (Is. 29:13).

Some forms of music and types of instruments are especially well suited for arousing emotions of excitement, joy, adoration, directing those emotions to God. Worship music in Bible times included a great variety of instruments: Horns (Da 3:5, 7, 10), Cymbals (1Chr. 15:19, 28; 1Cor. 13:1), Flutes (Gen. 4:21; Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15), Gittiths, possibly a stringed instrument (Ps. 8; 81), Harps (1Sam. 10:5; 16:16, 23; 1Chr. 16:5), Lyres (1Chr. 16:5), Pipe (1Sam. 10:5; Is. 30:20; Dan. 3:5, 10, 15), Sistrum (2Sam. 6:5), Tambourines (i.e., drums with bells. Ex. 15:20), Trumpets (Josh. 6:4) and Zithers (Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15). All of these and more provided a lively, energetic background to the crescendo of praise pouring from the hearts and lips of God’s people.

The sheer volume of voices and instruments can stir the emotions and elicit a sense of awe appropriate to engaging people in the worship of God:
Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the LORD with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose (1 Chr. 23:5; 1 Chr. 23:5).

It is with such vibrant, loud and exciting music that the saints of all the ages will gather around the Throne of God and of the Lamb, declaring their love and adoration throughout eternity:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns (Rev. 19:6).