Comment Replies and Worship Music

I received a comment on a blog entry from January. In that entry, I’d mentioned a chorus sung at a church I visited. The chorus: Jesus, Be the Center (I hope that was the clear title) left me quite a bit foggy in the head about what it was trying to say. A anonymous commenter thought I needed to “open up my theological boundaries” a bit since it was clear to him or her that “you are the wind in my sails” was pointing to God empowering everything I do.

Well, that was the problem… it wasn’t clear. When Bette Midler sings, “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings” I think I get it, but not being a student of poetry, I have to work a bit harder at these things. Plus, in this kind of secular pop song, if I miss the intended meaning, so what? But if I’m worshiping my Creator, I’m convinced from Scripture that not just any old thing will do.

I have three main criteria I use in choosing hymns, choruses and songs at our church:

1. Direct Scriptural quotations: always the best; can’t go wrong using God’s Word directly.

Example: I’ve begun introducing Psalm singing to our church. Using the Trinity Psalter, we’ll sing directly the words of Scripture. Other examples might include, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” from Psalm 23; Greater Is He That Is In Me from 1 JOhn 4.4; 1 Peter 5.8 and Acts 2.2; or, “Worthy is the Lamb, directly from Revelation 5.12.

2. Strong Scriptural allusions: not a direct quote, but the reference is so strong, if you’re familiar with Scripture, you know where the thought is from

Example: In the Christmas hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” there are strong allusions, pointing us right to Scripture without directly quoting from Scripture: “glory to the newborn kind (Luke 2.14); “late in time” (Galatians 4.4, the fullness of time); “offspring of a virgin’s womb” (Isaiah 7.14; Matthew 1.23)

Bad example: using the same genre, Christmas hymns, here’s a bad example – “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. Beautiful phrases, heart-warming story, but no clear allusions to Scripture. Some will take exception to this, but I think it’s because this is a Christmas song that we’ll work even harder to make the connections that really aren’t there without all this hard work.

3. Scriptural formulations: doctrinal expressions, or personal experiences based upon Scripture, not simply personal warm fuzzy feelings.

Example: “Rock of Ages”, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

Bad example: “In the Garden” which seems to be a tremendous evangelical favorite, but is so sappy, syrupy sweet with no quotation or allusion that I marvel at it’s popularity, except we’re driven far too much by our experiences and not by God’s Word. I only allow this song to be sung at the request of a family for a funeral.

Here are just a few other examples from each category:

Scripture Quotations: “Seek Ye First” (Matt. 6.33; 7.7; Deut. 8.3b); “Behold, What Manner of Love” (John 15.15); “The Cares Chorus” (1 Peter 5.7); and “Create In Me a Clean Heart” (Psalm 51.10-11).

Scriptural Allusions: “His Name is Wonderful”; “Jesus, Name Above All Names”; bad examples – “Cause Me to Come” and “Isn’t He?”

Scriptural Formulations: good examples – “Lord, I Life Your Name on High” and “Thou, O Lord, Art Exalted”; bad examples – “Spirit Song” and “Praise You, Father”

I won’t get into the music end of this matter; my one driving criterium there is that it be singable (okay, perhaps also that you find yourself singing it later or humming it to yourself later and knowing how to put most of the words to it; there are becoming way too many choruses that are simply unsingable by a congregation and that, I fear, is part of the cost of our churches losing their hymnody).

I don’t know if this will stir things up; that’s not my intent. I simply wanted to reply to one brother’s/sister’s comments.


3 Responses

  1. I don’t know if your post will stir things up, but I will go on record as saying that it is good to see it posted. Too many people take lightly the words they use just because they’re singing them in church. Even if people disagree with the points you bring up, these are things they should take some time to think about! I have found myself considering songs using very similar criteria.

    Some of the things you mention are very subjective, however. For example, every once in a while I’ve come to realize that a song I had thought did not meet any of my criteria did in fact do so–it took growth in me to realize just how deep the words really were! That doesn’t mean I should have been singing it all along, though: I think it only makes sense for me to sing a song when doing so expresses my heart’s desire to glorify God.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

    Psalm 108:1

  2. This is one of the things I really appreciate about Cornerstone!

  3. I happened upon your website trying to find the story about the person who “chose” scripture to solve problems by simply letting the Bible open where it will and following whatever he/she read there. This little exercise led in its finality to a person hanging himself. Was not very inspiring or uplifting or responsive to my way of thinking. But, that is how I came to your site.

    Your comments about “sappy, syrupy. . . sweet”ness of “In the Garden” reminded me of my own supercilious attitudes as a youth. YUK, I (and my best friend Karen thought). Now that I have gained QUITE a few years I understand what hymns of this sort can mean. This hymn gives comfort, reassurance of God’s presence in time of dire need (and I guess you have to live a few years to realize exactly what circumstances can enter your life that no one but God can resolve to “get it.” If for no other reason, in spite of your own personal taste (or theories), regarding hymns, please show your elders enough respect to let them have this comfort and reassurance in their last years.


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