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You are what you eat. That’s what they say. So what would you be after nothing but a diet of jelly, custard and the odd sandwich each week? And why eat like that, when there are so many healthier and tastier options? Yet that is how many churches approach their Sunday diet of worship music. Light and often insubstantial, it is unlikely to create healthy Christians.
More than individual songs, it is the overall impact of our song content that has me worried. I doubt that our songwriters try to deceive us, but taken in bulk, the songs we sing week by week create some startling impressions – and we seem unaware of the following damaging lies that we are being told by this culture:
1. The physical world does not matter
Surveying the swathes of songs regularly used in churches, you would think that ordinary daily life means nothing.
Three songs into a block of praise music, we may be thinking about last night’s film or the dress sense of the person in front. The songs have been full of words such as ‘holy’ and ‘glory’. Yes, God is transcendent, but if we don’t give our minds tangible content to grab hold of, our thoughts will wander.
If we don’t give our minds tangible content to grab hold of, our thoughts will wander
Where are the lyrics relating faith to family life, shopping, work, character or entertainment? If the main human drivers are money, sex and power, why have we written so few songs about them? Or do we think that God’s not interested in such things?
Ordinary life was precious enough for God to invent it, declare it good and live it for over 30 years. The early Church heresy of Gnosticism tried to escape the reality of Jesus’ incarnate form, because the heretics felt that earthly matter was too debased for God to touch.
Tom Wright says, “Heresy happens when the Church forgets a bit of its teaching; somebody else picks that up and makes a whole system out of it.” He warns that our culture’s tendency to treat our emotions as if they are the core of people’s reality “reflects a kind of Gnosticism (‘finding out who I really am’) as opposed to Christianity (receiving the re-creation of one’s self as divine gift through dying and rising with the Messiah); and that this focus on ‘who I really am’ – in an emotional sense in particular – finds its way into some Christian songs.”
While our worship songs are not individually Gnostic, they get very close by avoiding tangible terms in their lyrics, leaving the impression that the everyday is too banal for God. This lie disconnects our faith from our real lives – and that’s dangerous.
2. You can watch, but not join in
Standing at the front, looking at the congregation, it was hard to miss. While everyone else was singing, Ben stood silently. He visits occasionally (his wife is a church member) but this time he looked uncomfortable, and it struck me how hard it can be for visitors to sing many of our lyrics – at least if they want to be honest in what they sing.
If visitors find themselves singing off-putting or incomprehensible words, they may leave feeling awkward and thinking that faith is for an eccentric club. It could undo any welcome or thoughtful input from the rest of the service.
Often the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs are the culprits. Men – already underrepresented in the Church by some 30 per cent, and who very rarely have to sing anywhere else in life – must sing about loving a male figure, traditionally shown wearing what looks like a dress. It’s hardly likely to get them queuing up to tweet their experience afterwards – at least, not in a helpful way.
Sometimes (as with ‘Days of Elijah’) we encode the whole song, so that it only makes sense to the well-versed insider, but is completely impenetrable to visitors. This lie alienates enquirers and blows up their bridges to faith.
3. It’s better to put up a false face than to be honest
Another discomfiting song-type is where singers are asked to promise “I surrender all” – a vow that few Christians can sing with honesty, let alone visitors.
The glib phrase barely begins to convey the experience of handing everything to God. Its simplicity makes Christians feel alone when struggling to relinquish a resistant area of life, and hides the fact that God is with us in the wrestling. Crucially, it makes the whole process of singing to God feel like a ritualistic charade.
Maybe it is splitting hairs, but I feel more honest singing, “I want to” than “I will” when I know that I will fail pretty soon – after all, isn’t that why we have confession every week? This lie undermines confession, honesty and our integrity, creating the impression that pretence is ok.
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Source : Premier Christianity
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