One of my pet peeves is when the church is led to sing bad theology. Songs, for example, that plead with the Lord not to take his Holy Spirit from us ... or, songs that plead with the Lord to come and be among us. I can almost hear the Lord saying, "I told you where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst. Are you delibertly trying to provoke me by calling me a liar?"
Anybody else find the words of church music disturbing at times?
Mmmm, sometimes. It's a tough one. For example, once we had a song in our church about being embraced in the arms of God, and the last line of the chorus sang, 'Never let me go ...'
Yes, it's poor theology from a logical perspective -- by asking God to never let us go, we're implying that He can, and He can't without violating His own nature ... yet, perhaps God might look past a foible like that and hear instead the cry of a person bearing the wounds of having been 'let go' by lots of people in the past. I believe it gives voice to our need for His 'never-letting-go' love much more than it draws a person to an erroneous theology.
You're right, though -- singing poor theology is dangerous because these worship songs become the language with which we relate to God. Hence, I believe there's a heavy responsibility on church leaders to think long and hard about the words of songs that they're considering introducing to the church.
OTOH, it's also possible to get legalistic about it, and forget that we're broken people trying to relate to a perfect God we can't fully comprehend this side of heaven, stuttering and grasping for words to help us get a handle on Him.
You could take it right the other way, and say that even the songs that seem theologically sound to us and sing nothing but praise to God are in fact imperfect, because He's so much greater that those songs don't do Him justice. It's a tough gig being a songwriter for church ;-).
Still, as a church leader, I'd MUCH rather have a group of passionate people singing borderline theology than have a group of legalists who stop singing every time a song reaches a line they question. You can take action to correct poor theology with good teaching (and revising your songlist as needed), but correcting legalism and a religious spirit? Painful ...
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
These words, the inspiration behind one of the songs you're talking about ("Create In Me a Clean Heart"), were written by David shortly after being confronted by Nathan over his affair with Bathsheba. You want to tell me that this is "bad theology?" It's the heartfelt attrition of a broken man of God; this is a place that we could all all stand to visit from time to time.
As a worship leader, I have no problem with leading my congregation in songs that ask God to never let us go, and to never take His Holy Spirit from us. As David (Findlay) mentioned, worship music is supposed to be the honest cries from the hearts of imperfect people. We're not teaching theology with the worship service, per se; rather, we're expressing our hearts' adoration and concerns to Almighty God. Don't tell me that you never falter in your faith and need reassurance from God that He'll never let go of you. Just read through the Psalms; how many times do the various Psalmists cry out to God, asking for Him to renew His promises and remind them of His faithfulness? It's about honesty and vulnerability, not posturing.
What you see as "pleading," I see as "affirming." It's like turning to your wife during a rough patch in your life and asking her to reiterate that she'll always be there for you. You may know it intellectually, but you still need to be assured in your heart. The worship service should a time of communing your soul with God's, honestly and openly. If you're just reciting words without connecting to them in your heart, then it's not really worship.
That works well for a mature believer like yourself but many who are singing are babes and untaught and are unaware of the context or that the theology that is being sung no longer applies. Hence, they take the words they are singing at face value and are taught things by them that actually damages their relationship with God rather than enhance it. If though, the song or worship leader commented on the song before hand what it was about, where it came from, and how we believers today can benefit by singing it and that the Holy Spirit now indwells God's people permanently ... I would certainly see the value in singing it. Apart from that, however, it is leading many to sing bad theology.
That says more about the church's teaching (sermons, Sunday school classes, small group studies, etc) than the song service. If new believers are relying on the song service for their teaching, they're already doomed to a shallow, unfulfilled walk as a Christian.
I understand your point, to a degree, but I don't think every song should have to come with a disclaimer as to how each line needs to be interpreted. I know people who have gotten in a huff over the line in the song "Days of Elijah," where we sing, "These are the days of your servant, David, rebuilding a temple of praise." They say, "David didn't build the temple; his son Solomon did! That's inaccurate!" But if you really think about it, David really did build a temple of praise to God through his Psalms and throughout the majority of his life by (usually) praising and submitting to God in everything.
There's a song on the radio now by one of my favorite new bands, Tenth Avenue North. I think it illustrates my earlier point pretty well, that music and poetry are meant to express our hearts' deepest yearnings, not to teach the letter of the law.
I've been so afraid, afraid to close my eyes
So much can slip away before I say goodbye
But if there's no other way I'm done asking why
I'm on my knees, begging You to turn to me
I'm on my knees, Father, will you run to me?
One tear in the driving rain, one voice in a sea of pain
Could the Maker of the stars hear the sound of my breaking heart?
One life, that's all I am; right now I can barely stand
If You're everything You say You are, would You come close and hold my heart?
So many questions without answers; Your promises remain
I can't see but I'll take my chances to hear You call my name
Of course God will "come close and hold my heart;" that's what He's promised, time and time again. Does that make it wrong or "bad theology" to ask if He will? I don't believe so. I believe that it simply accentuates the fact that everything we know about God, we take on faith. We all have these questions, and we all have doubts, but our faith is what keeps us going through them. That's honest worship.
Thanks to Jamie for the answer that this is a direct quote from the Bible. If it's in the Bible, there's no *way* I'll call it bad theology.
I was troubled by "I love to tell the story." It seems to be bragging: *I'm* so religious! (And if it seems like that to me, however the author meant it, that's a good reason for me not to sing it.)
Can't think of any others.
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know 'tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story,
'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.
2. I love to tell the story;
more wonderful it seems
than all the golden fancies
of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story,
it did so much for me;
and that is just the reason
I tell it now to thee.
3. I love to tell the story;
'tis pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it,
more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story,
for some have never heard
the message of salvation
from God's own holy Word.
4. I love to tell the story,
for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting
to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
'twill be the old, old story
that I have loved so long.
A big reason we emphasize music so much in church is because it's such a powerful way of bringing out our emotions and connecting them to stuff -- and this gives us a great opportunity in churches to connect people's emotions to spiritual truth and make it real for them in a way that simple, cut-and-dried teaching can't do -- BUT this works both ways, and leads down an undesirable path if you're very pleasantly singing spiritual UNtruth (connecting the right emotions to the wrong content), or if spiritual truth is presented in music that's so tragically bad it makes you agitated, angry or deeply grieved (connecting the wrong emotions to the right content). Some people think it's all fleshly, but for my money pure technical musicianship is underemphasized in the church -- we ought to be the leaders -- the world ought to take their artistic cues from US, and WISH they could express themselves through music as powerfully as we do. Because of what we sing about, the church is no place for sub-par music... (*stares dreamily into the distance ... then looks down to see the soapbox -- oops*). That, plus a deep personal knowledge of God and His Word, ought to help us connect the right emotions to the right content.
There's something appealing to us about 'honest worship', which expresses our deepest emotions -- the hopes and dreams as well as the fears, hurts and regrets. Sure, sometimes we all feel small and afraid and inadequate -- kinda like 'grasshoppers' in the sight of whatever challenges we face (Numbers 13). But, I'm starting to think that it's not right (or constructive) to give a voice to your 'grasshopper side' -- certainly not in such a powerful form. Intentionally ignoring those feelings to focus on God in the songs we write isn't 'dishonest' worship -- it's simply preferring a higher and more powerful truth over what we perceive to be our current reality. If anything, it's more honest than music which expresses some kind of fear or lack -- it recalls and emphasizes who we are in Christ (our true selves), rather than our needy human nature.
Think about which part of the Sunday service is still drumming around your head on Thursday or Friday? Probably not the sermon -- but the music gets stuck in your head at different points throughout the work week and becomes part of your everyday Christianity. Hence, these songs NEED to be ones which communicate nothing but truth about God, and who we are because of who God is, etc. Anytime we mention our own hurt or need or smallness (in the sense of being vulnerable, which is a good thing in worship), it needs to be followed by a really big, obvious 'BUT GOD ...'.
Oh -- Will, I almost agree with you. It's hard to go wrong writing a song when it quotes verbatim from the Bible, but plenty of atheists got their poor theology(?) from the Bible too. We ought to make sure that the context is right -- unless we're writing looooong songs, the passages we use need to be able stand on their own without any qualification. That, and adding stuff like 'but we're under grace so it's different now' makes for clunky songwriting ...
Thanks David. Those are some penetrating thoughts. I always think of Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:18-19 in relation to church music which links our singing to the Word of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,"
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