Musicians Share Their Art-Christians Their Offices and Gifts


When They Ring The Golden Bells 

(Daniel de Marbelle,1887, French Folk melody, public domain)

There's a land beyond the river,

That we call the sweet forever,

And we only reach that shore by faith's decree;

One by one we'll gain the portals,

There to dwell with the immortals,

When they ring the golden bells for you and me.

Natalie Merchant has an iconic earthy voice that calls down the truth and beauty of heaven. 

She adapted the hymn above for the capstone of her 2012 Ophelia release (Elektra).

She sings this grand song (Lorretta Lynn also did in 2007) as a duet with a gal named Karen Peris (formerly of the Innocence Project) who is charged with background vocals throughout this Ophelia project.

Having broken away from the Ten Thousand Maniacs in the 1990's, Natalie Merchant is the definition of a solo artist. With a lead voice as distinct and attractive as hers, she could go a whole career without sharing a song with anybody, and nobody would call her on it.

Yet and still, she did so by not only using Ms. Peris' angelic and heavenly voice on this last track- When They Ring The Golden Bells- but featuring it.

Why is the song so good?

Well what do I know about music, but Merchant's lovely voice calls our humanity up to God, while Peris' calls Him down to us. These two, parallel, totally distinct voices, coming from different dimensions of the universe, end up unifying it.

It's great art-but before it could be that- it had to be great generosity on Merchant's part. Two souls sometimes make better music than one alone.

As a pastor and a Christian, I especially pay attention whenever musicians share for the beauty of the art itself. Willie Nelson has made a career of this, like when on his 2004 Live album he made the perfect , an apparently spontaneous call to let Shania Twain have one of his most famous songs, Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, all to herself.

Like his sharing his Still is Still Moving To Me with Toots and The Maytals. Willie Nelson is more famous and effective as a musician because he shares all he has on behalf of them and everybody. 

I'm preaching from Ephesians these days and Chapter 2 verse 10 says (Jerusalem Bible): "We are God's work of art [His graceful doing, fashioning]."  The apostle's point here is if we are this new humanity, his new workmanship, then acting gracefully is baked into who we are.

His grace, his generosity, his good deeds, his new humanity just comes out of us.

But then I again I often see musicians sharing their God-given art, way better than we "Christians" share our God-given ministries.

What's up with that?

Natalie Merchant knows her music. She knew that Karen Peris' contrasting heavenly voice would make When They Ring The Golden Bells 100% better than if she sang it solo.

Ephesians 4,11 says there are four-five offices in the one, Spirit-filled body of Christ. Apostles (catalysts for the new way and for the spread of the gospel ); Prophets (visionaries and priority-keepers to whom God always reveals himself, Amos 3,7); evangelists (who know how to tell the story of Jesus); local pastor-teachers (men, who shepherd God's local flock, and have the last call on all that effects the local community); and deacons-deaconesses (who serve wherever, doing whatever).

There is no such streamlining of our one biblically based church whereby we rank out apostles and prophets, or evangelists, or deacons (1Timothy3,13). It's a living and functional Spiritual body with many different parts that withers unless all the offices are filled, and every person's gift is used. While I realize that mainstream evangelicals presently do not accept modern day apostles and prophets, the Spirit has been saying, for at least 100 years, that we do in fact need them.

Who else but prophets and apostles are going to take Jesus and his gospel out to the highways and bi-ways, and to a modern culture that is increasingly hostile to any Christian testimony in public at all? Pastors have churches, praise God, but who is going take the gospel message to our modern culture, outside the church doors?

Who else is going to interpret the end time events from the book of Revelation but prophets?

The Lord got me figuring- what percentage of us "Christians" have ever heard a bona fide apostle preach? Not a corporate functionary, but a real church-planting and church inspiring man of God? Mayby 2%?

What percentage have even heard from a true prophet, someone hand-picked by God like Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or Amos. Without interest in much else than pleasing God? Mayby 1%?

How many have heard from a proven soul-winning evangelist? Say 15%?

How many have heard from a born again, day and day out servant pastor, a man after the heart of God? Mayby 40%

So what we are left with- I'm not judging. Mostly the voice of pastors. God love them, we need them, but many of  are not born again, while the word says there are at least four other officeholders that also share the responsibility of preaching the gospel.

Did the voice of the the Apostles and Prophets go silent after they wrote the entire bible?

And what's up with also ranking out the voice of women, baptized in the Holy Ghost, in His body?

This could prove to be a historic error when anyone who ever been in a vital and living local church knows that women do more than their share of the water carrying. 

1Corinthians 11,5, says women were prophesying and praying in public, and this was fine so long as it is "veiled", under the headship of their pastors if single, and their husbands, if married. They were not teaching, but prohesying under male authority.

If woman under authority can prophesy, the greater and arguably the greatest gift,  then why would anyone silence women evangelists, also under authority, who are vital for spreading the gospel?

What we all see happening in the church now is that there is tremendous worldly pressure to allow women to pastor, but it's not biblical. This pressure on women to pastor, and firstly be heard, is all the greater because much of the church is only allowed to hear the pastoral preaching office, which is by biblical definition male.

So we see this today. A great women evangelist is forced to either go in for the "women's ministry" thing, or step out of the biblical norm and call herself a pastor. I'll refrain from naming names, of prominant women evangelists (perhaps some of them  would be "prophets", if we were really listening) who are in this man-made bind.

All this concentration of ministry in the church, as if it were mediated through the office of pastor, isn't allowing Jesus, our one mediator, to share his generosity and power with all his people using all his given offices and gifts.

And so sometimes in our beloved church, it sort of looks and sounds like there's one guy up there, singing alone.

If musicians share their best for the sake of art, why don't we share our best for the glory of God?

And as we know from Natalie Merchant's rendition of "When They Ring The Golden Bells," even the best voices in the whole world, sometimes sound better when accompanied by someone else.   

Br. Tobin










Preaching Hour TV weekly on Cox PATV Channel 15 in Cheshire, Southington and Meriden CT and on VCAM Channel 15 10pm Fridays in Burlington VT.



Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.