Sunday, July 13, 2008

Musical Evaluation (easy-reading version)

Evaluating Christian music, especially that which is used during the Divine Service, is important but difficult. It tends to devolve into a battle over “taste”, which no one can win. Musicians can explain until they’re blue in the face how the argument of “variety in worship” doesn’t really support the use of Christian pop/rock, which tends to be the same four or five guitar chords repeated ad infinitum or ad nauseum. The lyrics are usually more about us and what we are doing than any mention of who God is or why (Incarnation, blood atonement, Gospel) we are worshiping, loving, etceteraing Him. This, by the way, would also be an argument against using songs without clear doctrinal content for “seeker services”. What do you want the seekers to know? In most praise songs, they hear repeatedly about an attributeless (save vague descriptors like powerful and awesome) God or Jesus whom we love and adore for no apparent reason. It reminds us of the episode of The Simpsons where a CCM musician bemoans the loss of her band to regular rock music. The transition was simple; all they had to do was change “Jesus” to “baby”. For those who enjoy CCM, these are unsatisfactory arguments against its use, because, well, they like it. And shouldn’t the church play and sing what they like?

First of all, if you really like CCM or Lutheran chorales or Slovak folksongs or themes from Star Trek or any other kind of music, no one is stopping you from singing to your heart’s content in the shower, in your car, in your home, or with your friends. The issue is what is appropriate for public worship. This does not apply just to today’s Christian popular music. It applies to historic Christian music too. Older does not mean better.

With that in mind, we propose an evaluation tool for judging the doctrinal content of your suggested worship song. Take a modern or historic Christian song and swap out the words for God (God, Lord, Jesus—only replace general words which are standing alone, do not replace Trinitarian formulas; if your song has one, it’s already better than most) with the name of a false god found in the Bible. It helps if the name of the false god has the same number of syllables and similar emphasis to the name of God it is replacing. For “God” or “Lord”, we suggest “Baal”. For “Jesus”, we used “Chemosh”. Now, sing your song with the new lyrics. If the song is so void of doctrinal content that it can also work as a praise song to Baal, Chemosh, Ashtoreth, Artemis, or any other idol, your song is not appropriate for public worship but may still be sung in the shower or in traffic (with the permission of your carpool).

Here are some examples where making the substitution makes no difference. These songs could be sung to any god of anyone’s choosing, and because of that, are not appropriate for public worship in a Lutheran church.

I love You Baal (Lord), and I lift my voice
To worship You, O my soul rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what You hear;
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.

Chemosh (Jesus), Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.
Chart and compass come from thee;
Chemosh (Jesus), Savior, pilot me.

Open the eyes of my heart, Baal (Lord), open the eyes of my heart;
I want to see You, I want to see You.
To see You high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your power and love as we sing, Holy, holy, holy. I want to see You.

What a friend we have in Chemosh (Jesus),
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to god (God) in prayer!

Here are some examples of songs where the substitution does not work. The text here is too rich to allow for idolatrous rewritings. The words are so full of Biblical doctrine that a name change alone will not make them praise songs for the deity of your choice. These are appropriate for public worship in a Lutheran church.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in his hand
Christ, our God, to earth descending,
Comes our homage to command.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human likeness,
In the body and the blood
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

All mankind fell in Adam’s fall;
One common sin infects us all.
From one to all the curse descends,
And over all God’s wrath impends.
But Christ, the second Adam, came
To bear our sin and woe and shame.
To be our life, our light, our way.
Our only hope, our only stay.

Before anyone complains that these are all “old”:

The infant Priest was holy born
For us unholy and forlorn;
From fleshly temple forth came He,
Anointed from eternity.
The body of God’s Lamb we eat,
A priestly food and priestly meat;
On sin-parched lips the chalice pours
His quenching blood that life restores.

O sing of Christ, whose birth made known
The kindness of the Lord,
Eternal Word made flesh and bone
So we could be restored.
Upon our frail humanity
God’s finger chose to trace
The fullness of His deity,
The icon of His grace.
What Adam lost, none could reclaim,
And Paradise was barred
Until the second Adam came
To mend what sin had marred.
For when the time was full and right
God sent His only Son;
He came to us as life and light
And our redemption won.

N.B. This post is about lyrics/text only. We hope to deal with instrumental accompaniment and musical style sometime in the future. So, don’t comment on it here.


Anonymous said...

Here are some good examples in CCM that are appropriate for worship. I believe these songs (and others like them) pass your "test". Just for a little balance.

Beyond Me by Deb Drumm

How You can be a million places at one time
How You can hear every thought in my mind
How You can be three persons all into one
How You could sacrifice your only Son, for me

It is beyond my understanding,
How someone such as You
Could love someone such as me
I don’t know
Don’t think I’ll ever comprehend it
It’s far too much for me
To really see - It’s so awesome
It’s overwhelming
And it’s beyond me

How You can be a holy God
And yet a man
How You could come up
With such a perfect plan
How You could walk down
That road to Calvary
How You could want to go
And die on that tree, for me

How You rose from the dead
How You came back and said,
Just believe
And you’ll rise again too
Now with faith I believe
That someday I will see
All the beauty that’s waiting
For me, for me, for me

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by Stuart Townend

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

You Gave Your Life Away” by Paul Baloche

You spoke and worlds were formed You breathed and life was born
You knew that one day
You would come

So far from Heaven's throne
Clothed in human form
You showed the world
The Father's love

You gave, You gave Your life away
You gave, You gave your life away
You gave, You gave Your life away
for me

Your grace has broken every chain
My sins are gone
My debt’s been paid
You gave, You gave Your life away
for me - for me

You lived a sinless life
Yet You were crucified
You bought our freedom
on the cross

Forsaken for our sins
You died and rose again
Jesus, You are the Lamb of God

You gave, You gave Your life away
You gave, You gave your life away
You gave, You gave Your life away
for me

Your grace has broken every chain
My sins are gone
My debt’s been paid
You gave, You gave Your life away
for me - for me

Just Shout'in

Angry Lutherans said...

Hi Mr/s. Shout'in!

They are certainly better than others, however, remember this is only a post about lyrics. Music is still a factor, so don't count these in yet. Keeping that in mind, there are also some issues with the words here.

The first one's "Just believe" is awfully ambiguous. What does that mean? That would probably be taken by most American Christians as "make your decision for Christ."

Actually, none of them mention the Sacraments at all, not that a "good" song must, but it helps to be clear about how this forgiveness and grace come to us.

Thanks, but I authoritatively relegate these to "shower /car pool songs" (if you like them) for lack of clarity.

(Oh, unless by "appropriate for worship" you meant non-Lutheran worship. For a church that doesn't believe in baptismal regeneration or the Real Presence, these would be fine.)


Anonymous said...

Angry lutherans,

Paul could have used your help with the jailer at Philippi. When he wondered what he must do to be saved, Paul responded, "Believe." Just believe. No works. Did he leave open the door for decision theology? What's your thought on that?

The verse you quoted from "All Mankind fell in Adam's fall" fails to mention the sacraments which you acknowledged is not totally necessary, but then you take this gentleman to task for songs that belong better in non-Lutheran churches for that reason.

By your definition of ambiguous I could say the same of two phrases from the hymns you chose to promote (which I like as well), but that is a part of poetry at times unfortunately. Jesus twice says the equivalent of "just believe." (Mark 5:36 and Luke 8:50).

Your cautions are well noted, but care to not overspeak makes for a better argument.

Thank you for your time.

Angry Lutherans said...

Dear Thank you for your time,

(Sigh) Really, have you read Acts 16? I have to assume not. Here are verses 25-33. Note especially verses 32 and 33.

25And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them.

26And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's bands were loosed.

27And the keeper of the prison, awakening out of his sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew out his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled.

28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do thyself no harm, for we are all here!"

29Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas,

30and brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

31And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."

32And they spoke unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all who were in his house.

33And he took them that same hour of the night and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

Angry Lutherans said...

Also, Mark 5 in context. (Hint-you should always read more than one verse)

35While He yet spoke, there came from the ruler of the synagogue's house certain ones who said, "Thy daughter is dead; why troublest thou the master any further?"

36As soon as Jesus heard the word that had been spoken, He said unto the ruler of the synagogue, "Be not afraid; only believe."

37And He suffered no man to follow Him, save Peter and James and John, the brother of James.

38And He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw the tumult and those who wept and wailed greatly.

39And when He had come in, He said unto them, "Why make ye this ado and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth."

40And they laughed Him to scorn. But when He had put them all out, He took the father and the mother of the damsel and those who were with Him, and entered in where the damsel was lying.

41And He took the damsel by the hand and said unto her, "Talitha cumi," which is, being interpreted, "Damsel, I say unto thee, arise."

42And straightway the damsel arose and walked, for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.

43And He charged them strictly that no man should know about it, and commanded that something should be given her to eat.

Angry Lutherans said...

And Luke 8, same account, different inspired author.

49While He yet spoke, there came one from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Thy daughter is dead. Trouble not the Master."

50But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Fear not; believe only, and she shall be made whole."

51And when He came into the house, He suffered no man to go in save Peter and James and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.

52And all wept and bewailed her, but He said, "Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth."

53And they laughed Him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.

54And He put them all out, and took her by the hand and called, saying, "Maid, arise."

55And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway, and He commanded to give her meat.

56And her parents were astonished, but He charged them that they should tell no man what was done.

Angry Lutherans said...

Mr/s. time,

Repeat after me: "I will look things up and read them in context before commenting here."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for reading the context of those passages as I have done as well. Now give the same courtesy for the song where it said, "Just believe." The gospel contained in that song gives the faith to "just believe" just as the gospel worked for the jailer, both in the word he heard and then later in his baptism.

I was not disagreeing with your caution. I was encouraging you not to overspeak. The two words that Jesus spoke (it's two words in greek as well) ripped out of context and left to stand alone could be accused of being ambiguous and a bit on the decision theology side of things. Ah, but then we'd be implying that the perfect Son of God was in error.

Thanks again for reading this.

Angry Lutherans said...

Dear Thanks,

I don't think you are understanding. In context, those passages make the "just believe" clear. The song's "just believe" is not explained well in the song's context, which is my issue with it. Also, as pointed out before, even IF the lyrics were crystal clear, the music is still a factor, though one this post does not deal with. It's still car pool and/or shower music. Authoritatively. ;)


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't quite a few of the Psalms, if set to music, "fail" the test you propose? E.g., Psalm 150

Would your conclusion still hold? ("your song is not appropriate for public worship")

Angry Lutherans said...

Nope, because the Psalter is God's Word and is taken in its entirety.


Anonymous said...

>> Wouldn't quite a few of the Psalms, if set to music, "fail" the test you propose? E.g., Psalm 150

>> Would your conclusion still hold? ("your song is not appropriate for public worship")

> Nope, because the Psalter is God's Word and is taken in its entirety.

It is so indeed, and amen.

However, Psalm 150 set to music, evaluated according to your proposal, and this "song" by itself, would fail your test, wouldn't it?

Gives you no pause at all?

Angry Lutherans said...

Mr/s. Anonymous,

If you agree, let it go. If you continue to comment on this thread, your comments will be deleted. You have no point.