The following article is taken from the music workshop, “Moving Music Forward in the Church” which was held on November 23, 2019. You can view the whole series with the tag MW2019.
In the first post of this series we looked at 5 issues around the doctrine of songs and why it matters. Now we will focus on the lyrical content of songs to consider when choosing what your church should sing.
The debate of specific words and phrases in hymns and modern songs is endless. Opinions fly fast and people try to justify their view with scripture or principle.
My personal attitude towards words is this: if the word or phrase is not directly against scripture then I will give some space for the author to express meaning.
If I can put myself in the author’s position and see it from their eyes it gives me more understanding as to why a word or phrase fits.
Let’s take the song Reckless Love (Oh no, not that one!). Much debate, heated I might add, has come from this song. I have heard arguments for and against the choice of this word. To be quite honest I would not have chosen the word “reckless” if I was writing the song, HOWEVER, after listening to the author’s own intention I can sing the song and not cause division. (https://www.songfacts.com/facts/cory-asbury/reckless-love)
This article could be filled with dozens of examples. The bottom line for me is that I want to make sure my attitude is in the right place before I cause division over a word. If I can see why the word might have been used then I can accept it even though it wouldn’t be my preferred choice.
This is another hot topic and I respect the views of those on either side. Do we change words to make them more relevant to the current language we use? My response is yes and no.
If a word is so outdated that only a few people in the church know what it means then I believe it’s best to update it. For example in one of our hymns we sing, “Oh, trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.”
The current meaning for the trysting place is a planned secret meeting place and time for lovers. While we could stretch that to mean our love relationship with the Lord it’s a term commonly used for something mostly secret and inappropriate.
What about Thee and Thou?
Please don’t shoot me on this one. I personally feel that where it’s easy to replace these words we should. Firstly, the use of these phrases is often wordy in sentences making it more difficult to sing.
Secondly, if we are going to see precious hymns last for another few hundred years it makes sense to put them in the language of today. It will connect a young generation with the wonderful lyrics of the past.
Understanding poetic language
This is where I feel many fail to see the author’s poetry of songs and cause division over them. Music is an art. It is meant to stir the heart and emotion. Songs are just poetry set to music.
This fact gives much freedom to the author when expressing the emotions of the heart. Take for example the old hymn “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain.” We all know that such a mountain doesn’t exist. It’s poetry meant to convey meaning.
Or take the phrase, “Your blood flows through my veins.” We shouldn’t take that literally but when we understand this is a poetic way to see how God dwells within us we can sing it without being too critical.
Let’s give songwriters, as well as poets, some grace and see their work as a form of expression that often doesn’t have a direct connection with the real world. By the way, the Old and New Testament writers, including the Lord Jesus did this as well.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.