Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sing something sinful

During Sunday's talk I encouraged folk in the church to argue with the preacher, and one or two took me at my word, I'm glad to say. At the church door I was challenged about one of the songs we'd sung, and the fact that what we were singing simply wasn't true. The service had closed with the song 'These are the days of Elijah', which has the following line:

"these are the days of Your servant David
rebuilding the temple of praise"

which, of course, David didn't do first time round - the inference from the song is that David built the original Temple for people to praise God, and he didn't. So the song is incorrect.

The dominoes started to topple. A song which has fallen out of use, but which also sprang to mind, is 'Jesus we celebrate your victory', which has the line

"and in His presence our problems disappear"

which is wrong in a different way - our problems don't disappear in God's presence, though we may get a new perspective on them, or new grace to bear them.

The next domino was the Vineyard song, 'Hungry', one of a quite large group of songs which describes what we (the singers) are doing as we sing it....

"I'm falling on my knees
offering all of me"

be honest now, if you've ever sung that song, do you bend your legs at 90 degrees at that point? Thought not. And that's not to mention songs which speak of lifting hands, opening eyes, closing eyes, falling face down, running, dancing, and all the other language - a lot of it found in the Psalms - which talks about how we worship God with our bodies at the same time as we are offering songs and prayers.

'Ah yes, but I'm falling on my knees on the inside', hmmm, a good English cop-out?

Tricky one this: part of the way songs work is that they express aspirations, or reinforce truths, which we haven't quite reached yet but the songs help get us closer. We sing 'my chains fell off, my heart was free' and the words and the tune themselves make us feel free-er: the song itself can take us to a place that we weren't at before we started singing.

But there's a fine line between the song as a vehicle and a moulder of our spirits, and singing things we don't believe just because they're set to a good tune and we're not really using our brains. The spiritual danger is that we get used to being insincere, to declaring things we don't really believe, making promises to God we haven't thought through and don't intend to keep, and describing actions which we've no intention of taking. I'm sure this must come across as pretty strange to people who are new to our churches as well.

The story goes that the 'Soul Survivor' church in Watford stopped singing for the best part of a year because their worship itself was becoming an object of worship - people were more keen on singing along with a great band than they were on God himself. I admire that courage. I'm also keenly aware that I approve songs on the nod for use in church without really thinking enough about what they say, or the theology they communicate, or how they are moulding and shaping the spiritual life of worshippers.

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