Song Story: “To Every Generation”

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Song Story
“To Every Generation”
By Bill Batstone
With Jeremy Armstrong

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  Psalm 90:1-2 (NIV)

People deeply identify with their ways of communication. If you need proof of that, ask any teenager about their favorite playlist on their personal MP3 player. Or for that matter, ask someone from the Greatest Generation why the classic hymns should still be sung in the Church. We are so connected to the communication styles that we are accustomed to, that sometimes the medium can be more important than the message. So in the Church, if the gospel is shared in a form that is alien to our communicating “style,” we have difficulty hearing the truth. And while this will always be a struggle in the Church, when Bill Batstone wrote “To Every Generation,” the generational divides were nearly as wide as possible.

For the first time in history, TV was allowing a generation to see themselves. They could watch the important cultural events, like man walking on the moon, or national tragedies such as the assassination of a president. The media also fostered a distrust of the government through coverage of scandals like Watergate and it’s political aftermath. This generation even saw the proposition of radical change through the artists who went against the mold like Bob Dylan and his fellow counterculture comrades. And then there was rock ‘n’ roll. Music became a way to communicate like it never had before. 

The Church was right in the middle of this change. And “To Every Generation” was certainly a cry of unification that was sorely needed, and is still needed today. Bill Batstone has penned, and co-penned, numerous songs that are part of the Church today (“I Waited,” “Let the Walls Fall Down,” among others) and today is part of the worship team for Franklin Graham and Greg Laurie’s church, Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.

“I think that this next generation of worshipers is a lot different because there was such a radical departure from musical taste and culture from my parents and me,” says Batstone. “Whereas now, my kids and I sit in the car and blast the same songs and enjoy the same music. I know it’s not that way in everybody’s house, I mean some kids might be into death metal or whatever, but at least in my family, my kids and I both agree. There are certain things that I carry musically that they hate, but they are pretty tolerant of my music and vice versa.” 

The Times, They We’re A Changin’

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When praise choruses were first brought into the church, it was different than the musical differences we often see today. Many people felt hurt and disturbed, and there was not a clear road that a church could take to bridge the gap between the communication styles.

“When I wrote ‘To Every Generation’ we were working on modern worship music. And I look at the worship music of today and I see that it really connects. It’s a little different stylistically, but it still feels pretty close, pretty comfortable to me. That’s very different than my parent’s church.

Churches soon saw vast divisions on the issue of music. There was little middle ground, and the rifts that it caused among believers ultimately left people divided. At best it became a live and let live attitude. “It used to be really maddening,” explains Batstone. “I could not for the life of me understand it; I couldn’t get it. I mean I could understand the musical style but I thought that the faith we had in common would transcend us.”

Long line of Christians

Batstone feels that it was the Scriptures that eventually, at least for his family, brought a little understanding that transcended the styles. “The one thing I have in common with my family is faith. That’s what has kept us together. Whenever I travel a lot, I always seem to run into extended family and the only reason we are still together is because God has kept us together and given us a thread of faith that has kept us all together.

He first wrote the song for an album that Maranatha! Music was making called Psalms Alive. While writing songs for that release he had a great uncle that passed away. “My father spoke at his memorial service, and he spoke from Psalm 90,” shares Batstone. “The first verse of Psalm 90 is ‘You have been a shelter from generation to generation.’ It was very emotional coming from a family of faith like I do. You know? Generation after generation of people. And the reason they originally came here from various countries was to start churches. Basically the theme of Psalm 90 is that God is eternal and man is not. There’s even a verse that says, if you’re lucky maybe you’ll make it to 70 years old.” 

What stays the same?

The Word of God is alive. And not only does it have the power to change lives through the Spirit, it has the power to unite people who may feel they have nothing in common. When he began playing the songs that were birthed straight from the Bible, his family began hearing the message that they too loved. And the style became secondary. 

“I can remember playing these songs for my older relatives and other people in their eighties, and I knew they didn’t like the music necessarily. But the look in their eyes—they knew what I was talking about. They looked at me felt it was an extension of what they believed, too. I’m in my fifties now, and I look at my nephews and nieces who are now in their twenties and starting families and everything, and it’s the same. The same thing is transferred; they know what I’m talking about. Their style is different than mine, the kind of music they like, but God is continual, despite the transience of our lives. 

“The Scriptures are timeless. Isaac Watts wrote “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” based on Psalm 90, the same thing as ‘To Every Generation.’ There’s a beauty in that. And I’m sure somebody did it well before him. I’m sure they preached the Psalms and wrote music to it. And there are songs that are yet to be written on this. And that’s all going to change, but the Text is timeless. 

Apply it:

Write a worship song straight from Scripture.

Create a worship set list made completely of Scripture songs and explain how the Word of God unites the generations.

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