Monday, October 27, 2008

A God/Christ Centered Focus in Congregational Singing

John Fonville in the Gospel Driven Blog points to “the God/Christ centered nature of the gospel and the Scriptures.” He rightly points to the self-centeredness that often characterizes our approach to the Bible (see his post below).

This started me thinking about how we tend to have this same self-centered approach in worship too! Let me give you an example from my own experience last Sunday at the church I attend.

One song we sang was called, Lord, I Give You My Heart. I didn’t know this until writing this post, but this song comes from the Charismatic oriented church in Australia known as Hillsong. Here are the words:

"This is my desire: to honor You.
Lord with all my heart I worship You.
All I have within me, I give You praise.
All that I adore is in You.

Lord I give You my heart,
I give You my soul, I live for You alone.
Every breath that I take,
Every moment I'm awake,
Lord have Your way in me."

We repeated these words about three times, and as I sang I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable with the words. While I agree that offering our bodies to the Lord in response to God’s mercy is truly worship (Romans 12:1), where in this song does it speak of God’s mercy? Singing a song in which almost every sentence “I” is the subject, seems somehow inappropriate for Christian worship.

The next song we sang, however, was much better. It was the familiar song, Fairest Lord Jesus:

"Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine."

Notice how the subject throughout this song is the Lord Jesus Christ. Although I still declare my devotion to him in this song, the grammar keeps Christ as the subject. The song also tells me about Jesus---who he is and what he has done. It is much truer to the New Testament’s definition of worship in Romans 12:1:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Here the Lord defines worship. First, spiritual worship presents “the mercies of God.” Second, spiritual worship responds to that mercy as we offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice.”

If we must sing a song like Lord, I Give You My Heart in our corporate singing, it would be good to preface such a song with a song that tells us the good news of God’s mercy in Christ. This would prime the pump of our hearts to sing a song of self-offering. Unfortunately, in the gathering I was at last Sunday, this song was sung without much of a preface of God’s mercy.

I also wonder, if when we sing songs that are so me-centered, we inhibit congregational singing? The fact is, the congregation I was with Sunday sang Fairest Lord Jesus robustly, while it sang Lord, I Give You My Heart rather half-heartedly. Could this half-hearted singing stem from an uneasy Christian conscience that instinctively knows there should be a God/Christ centered focus in our songs, and a self-effacement in our singing?

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