Songs that Teach

With my new job as a worship leader and after thinking about the last blog I thought that perhaps I would expound on the whole good writing and bad writing thing. We had a discussion about the lyrics and quite frankly this is great practice to do from time to time. I had another experience similar to the last with the song Jesus Messiah.  I am glad these kind of discussion are happening. Jesus Messiah has a lyric in verse two that says:

The body the bread, the blood the wine
broken and poured out all for love
The whole earth trembles and the veil was torn
Love so amazing
Love so amazing

Now at first glance, the verse is totally fine and I would agree even after the second glance that it still is just that, but a pastor friend of mine pointed out that the second line wasn’t theologically correct. I immediately knew what he was talking about.

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19)

As much as I agree that theologically none of Jesus’ bones were broken and that this is actually really important to the fulfillment of scripture prophecies I do not think that is what Chris Tomlin was doing. In other words, I have never understood this song to be communicating against scripture. I have always taken it as a two-fold metaphor.  Let me explain

The line of the song is as much a reference to the Passover dinner and what will later become our own communion ceremony as it is to the crucifixion. In this account Jesus referring to himself metaphorically says:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying,“Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mathew 26)

Jesus says the bread is a picture of his body and then he breaks it. We are told to do this in remembrance of him. This brings up a similar issue if we want to be so wooden literal all the time. Would we say to a Pastor when walking through a line at receiving communion “Hey Pastor don’t say the body was broken for me, didn’t you know that none of Jesus’ bones were actually broken?” He would probably just look at you and smile, hopefully, and later refer you to Mathew 26. Also when Paul recounts this story with teaching on how to receive the communion with the community he does say broken for you, some ancient manuscripts do say it that way and some do not, however, I do not think Paul misunderstood the theology and made a mistake. So when this episode played out before me I wasn’t too worried about the song but I understood the concern. We talked about it and in the end, we came to the conclusion that the writing was fine. But this brings us a different issue.

When we were talking about this I first said that I believed that the writing was poetical. In other words, I believe that saying the body was broken is an appropriate picture albeit falling terribly short of what actually happened. But it is an apt metaphor that helps us understand the pain and suffering that Jesus went through. A poetical metaphor is simply a reality of musical writing and hopefully, we as receivers of the music and lyrics understand this. This is why I don’t demand my pastors say “given for you ” instead of “broken for you” because honestly they both work.

During our discussion, it was said that music is so memorable that the lyrics should be correct. I would agree with this as well. It is often easier to remember the refrains from the songs sung rather than all the points of the sermon. This is the nature of music and why it can be so powerful. Sing something enough times and you have committed it to memory, when something is committed to memory your mind will go there as a foundation, so wouldn’t it be wise if that foundation was a solid one? This is both the privilege and the challenge of any worship leader. To make sure the song selections both builds up in the faith and are true to the word of God. The third area is if they are musically pleasing, but this gets into many personal preferences and we have already gone that route before. Worship Wars

This is a task that I take seriously, the songs should be him focused not us focused. This can be difficult at times whereas songs sometimes are singing about God based on what he has done for us so the cross-over is inevitable. But the question is where is the song going? Is it going towards offering honor and glory to him or is it more reflecting on how it makes us feel? This is a good question to ask as are all questions because we always have to come back to the goal. Honoring God. Because of the nature of music and the imprinting on our memories it can and often does develop into our theological understanding, people often just assume that the words in church songs are Biblically sound.

While I would try to teach away from this practice of relying on the songs to teach us, frankly, they do have a point. The songs we sing should reflect the truths of the Bible but we have to understand that there is a place for a poetical license. Writers should be able to write poetically (this is how we get away from all our songs sounding the same) They, after all, are all taking from the same source material. So while we shouldn’t expect our church music to be all Bible it should still be all true. As writers and singers let’s have grace for the music to lead us to God without having to have a chapter and verse referent. Songs shouldn’t need a bibliography at the end.

Songs should accurately reflect the realities of God. The realities of God should then naturally lead us to the worship and praising of God. Our posture should be of one who recognizes our need to humble ourselves because we understand who it is we stand before. Let’s worship God knowing that he is vastly superior to any of our descriptive languages and far more deserving than us simply singing about how he makes us feel. This is a lesson from Job, he may make us feel good or he may cause us to go through a desert, he may allow us joy or allow a tragedy, do we recognize that despite all this he is holy and good? Do we bless his name anyway? because our music should always bless his name.

Colossians 3:16 Let the words of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

One purpose of having the music reflect him truly is because it would be easy to not sing. It would be easy to sit and think about all the tragedy and all the suffering and all the like that affects us personally. It is very easy not to sing, or perhaps to change the tenor of the song so that it reflects how we are feeling. Now the Psalms do recognize the reality of the individual but they always come back to praise. But this is a great thing about worship. We have the choice and the invitation to leave all that behind and come and sing to the one that there is nobody else like. To the one that causes all that to fall away. Who he is, brings peace in the storm. He is that arresting, he is that resetting, he is that consuming, he is that rejuvenating, he is that Good!

I don’t believe that all the singing to God in heaven we hear about is because the only thing to do up there is going to a concert. All the singing is due to simply coming face to face with God. Standing or trying to stand before the being that has so much power so as to speak and cause a universe into existence, so much knowledge to know every single one of us intimately and the workings of everything in the created order and so much love to intervene in his creation and save us from our destinies in hell will be overwhelming, to say the least. You cannot help but sing. After all, we love him because he first loved us.

God has told us what is true, so let us sing what is true because one day we will be with him who is true. Truly.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Great note, Gabe! May “new songs” (no matter how imperfect), flow to our Father from our humble, childlike hearts continually!!


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