Worship music may be a bigger problem than you think.
This was going to be a quick facebook rant, but the more I thought about it, the longer it got, until it ended up being less of a rant and more of a reflection. It is a reflection long in the making – one on contemporary worship music.
It started in church this morning. The first song was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which is one of my favorites. Of course, guitar and drums had been added, which I quite enjoyed (hymns get a little dry after three or four verses with only piano). We came to the second verse.
“I love this verse” said the worship leader as the music built up.
“Me, too,” I thought. I was expecting these words:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
Instead I found these:
I was lost in utter darkness;
‘Til You came and rescued me;
I was bound by all my sin, when,
Your love came and set me free.
Now my soul can sing a new song,
Now my heart has found a home;
Now Your grace is always with me,
And I’ll never be alone.
It was like having cold water splashed in my face. The interpolation was made more obvious by the fact that they didn’t even bother to match the pronouns from the first verse and, you know, the title – i.e., ‘thou’ instead of ‘you.’
Why?! The original was perfect! What is people’s problem with multisyllabic words and complicated sentence structures? Has the Christian population of America been reduced to a fifth-grade reading level? Do we no longer read enough of the Bible to know what an “Ebenezer” is? (To be fair, it’s a little obscure. It’s an Old Testament reference, if you’re wondering. Eben is the Hebrew word for rock; ezer is the word for help. It’s the rock of help.)
I have this problem with many songs. For instance, a new popular one says:
Oh, God, the glory is yours,
The kingdom is come,
And the battle is over.
Sorry, but if the kingdom has already come, why do we have a Lord’s prayer that says “let your kingdom come”? If the battle is over, why do we still need the armor of God? Did the apocalypse come and I somehow didn’t notice? Also, is it too much to ask that you figure out how to make your lines scan right without adding an ‘oh’ every time you need to fill space?
Now, some of these songs are very catchy, and I am not saying that they are incorrect. I am simply saying that they are not very rigorous either intellectually or doctrinally. They don’t expect you to know any of the Bible. They don’t expect you to need to grasp the gospel in order to understand them. If I were a non-Christian who wandered into church during one of these songs, I doubt I would know what is so special about Christianity; it sounds pretty generic. The verse of “Come Thou Fount” I mentioned above could be part of a love song completely separate from Christianity, except for maybe the mention of ‘sin.’
Recently I drove nine hours from Florida up to Virginia, and for most of the ride I switched back and forth between two radio stations (I have satellite radio, so certain stations you can listen to anywhere). One was a country gospel station. One was a contemporary Christian station. Both had their strong points. The contemporary Christian obviously had much more variety, and I knew a lot more of the songs. They were, on the whole, catchier. But I couldn’t help but be struck by the enormous amount of Biblical knowledge and Christian doctrine crammed into those gospel songs, often completely absent in Christian contemporary music.
“Alright, enough ranting, Lauren,” some of you are thinking. “We know you care about these things, but the ordinary Christian goes to church to worship, not to think about doctrine.”
Just stop and think about that sentence for a second.
Why do we think worshipping and thinking are two different things? Jesus told us to love God with all our minds. Paul tells us, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” Are we thinking about what we are singing? Are we engaging with doctrinal issues, or are we as Christians skating by intellectually, still breastfeeding on easy truths without biting into the meat of substantive issues in Christian doctrine?
And while we’re at it, why do you think the secular elite see Christians as anti-intellectual and illiterate? Why do they think we don’t know what we believe, or that we aren’t thinking critically about our beliefs? Why do you think they don’t want us teaching students? Some of this, of course, is prejudice. But maybe some of it is true. Maybe singing shallow songs is stunting our intellectual Christian growth. The matter deserves some critical thought.