I remember it like it was yesterday…worship was about to begin and a young man probably 20 years old sat down next to me. He told me it was his first time at church in his entire life. That morning worship was different to my eyes and ears. Instead of just singing through the songs, taking the Lord’s Supper, reflecting, listening, etc I started wondering what all this must seem like to someone who had never been in church before. One of the songs that morning was Night with Ebon Pinion and I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about that. I don’t believe he ever came back. He may not have anyway and I don’t know that we need to cater everything we do to outsiders. But I think it is important to at least consider how accessible our worship is to those who are seeking.
Do we really think about what we are singing? In 1 Cor 14:15 Paul says that he will sing with both his spirit and his mind. It is so easy to sing right over doctrinal issues in songs, words we don’t understand, or to sing a song in a spirit that is opposite the words in the song. One humorous example is the word “Aye” in songs. Have you ever noticed when that word comes up in congregational singing there is a hiccup in the service? People don’t know if it sounds more like the letter “A” or “I”. Anyway, here are a few examples.
There’s a Royal Banner (vs 1 &3)
There’s a royal banner given for display
To the soldiers of the King;
As an ensign fair we lift it up today,
While as ransomed ones we sing.
When the great commander from the vaulted sky
Sounds the resurrection day,
Then before our King the faint and foe shall die
and the saints shall march away!
This song is chocked full of military imagery that wouldn’t sit well with some. That language is very archaic but that doesn’t really bother me too much (see Night with Ebon Pinion below for more on singing songs we don’t understand). I just don’t care for how joyful this hymn seems to be of the faint and foe dying. It almost seems gleeful that some will go to hell. The same is true of the next song.
Jesus is Coming Soon
Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear,
Freedom we all hold dear now is at stake;
Humble your heart to God save from the chastening rod,
Seek the way pilgrims trod, Christians awake.
Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon,
Many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound;
All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the sky,
Going where no one dies, heavenward bound.
Troubles will soon be o’er, happy for ever more,
When we meet on that shore, free from all care;
Rising up in the sky, telling this world good-bye,
Homeward we then shall fly, glory to share.
Here is that same old heaven is up high in the sky over there theology that just doesn’t fit well with what scripture has to say about heaven and earth. It also has the same gleeful tone of the first song about the judgment of the lost. We sing these lines with big smiles and sing right over some of the most serious words one could speak without a thought.
Night with Ebon Pinion
Night, with ebon pinion, brooded o’er the vale;
All around was silent, save the night wind’s wail,
When Christ, the Man of Sorrows,
In tears, and sweat, and blood,
Prostrate in the garden, raised His voice to God.
I get what this song means but how many people in the pews do? The language is very beautiful and the metaphors powerful when they are understood. But songs should need commentaries. Songs shouldn’t need in depth explanation. Songs need to be sung and understood at the same time! Who would have thought. That doesn’t mean all older songs should be left out. It may mean they need an update just like any good Bible translation that eventually becomes a little archaic and in need of language that reflects changes in language over often a several hundred year span.
Just so you don’t think I have it out for old songs, thinking all the new songs are perfect here are two examples from newer songs.
You Are My King
I’m forgiven because you were forsaken.
I’m accepted. You were condemned.
I’m alive and well, your Spirit lives within me
because you died and rose again.
Above All (Chorus)
Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Both these songs have the idea that God had forsaken Jesus on the cross. I believe that is an unbiblical take although I can certain understand how someone would take Mark 15:34 at face value. In context it does not seem that God ultimately had forsaken Jesus on the cross. Read this post for more on that.