Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hymn Lyrics for John 10:1-21 and a discussion of Praise Songs in Public Worship

A few months ago, I had an email discussion with a friend, who was critical of the hymns I've written because of their use of the third person in praising God. The contemporary trend is to address God in the second person, but the older trend is to use the third person, and this is what the hymns I've written tend to do. Were the older hymn writers wise in using the third person or is the contemporary trend to the second person better in our praise songs because it is more personal?

I would argue that there is wisdom in the older way of praising God in the third person. Here are my arguments:

  1. Worship is communal, so it makes sense that we use the third person when we refer to ourselves, which should not be often since praise is supposed to be about his person and work, not ours. This is why hymns of praise and acclamation in the Psalter often turn into hymns of proclamation!
  2. Reverence toward God is enhanced by the predominant use of the third person when we speak of God. There is a "reverent indirection" in the hymnbook that God has given us, which is the Psalms. As Hughes Old points out, "few of the hymns of praise in the Psalter address God in the second-person singular." Here is the fuller quote from Old: "The praises of the Psalter are indeed formulas of praise directed to God, but many of these formulas are marked by what might be called a reverent indirection. It belonged to oriental court etiquette that one addressed the king indirectly. This would explain the fact that few of the hymns of praise found in the Psalter address God in the second-person singular. Other psalm genres address God in the second-person singular --- the votive thanksgiving psalms and the lamentations, for example --- but it is different with the hymns of praise. It was somewhat the same way as it is today in Germany, where it is considered a mark of respect to address someone in the third-person plural, that is indirectly." Since the Psalter is the inspired book of praise to God, we might do well to take this observation seriously.
  3. I worry that we make liars out of people with some of the stuff we sing at church these days. When we sing, "Praise the Father and the Son, love for us beyond amazing," no one in the congregation is lying for at least two or three are truly praising God! But when we sing, "I praise my Father and my Lord," we make a liar out of lots of people, who are not yet converted. I thought these words from James McDonald in this short youtube video, describe a proper attitude of care church leaders need to take, so that we don't sing things that are not true of us quite yet. Give it a listen, it is only 3 minutes:

Feel free to disagree and explain to me my error. I am trying to learn, and obviously there is much I don't know.

In the hymn below from John 10:1-21, I try to touch on a number of themes in this rich passage:
  • Jesus as the only way to true life.
  • Jesus' people's ability to hear his voice while rejecting false voices.
  • The intimacy Christ's people have with him and the Father.
  • The food and drink Jesus gives us in the wilderness of this world as we jouney to our heavenly home, as well as the provision of the Spirit.
  • Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, which points to the love of God for us.
  • The danger of false teachers and blessing of good pastors who point us to Christ.

Jesus Is the Gate to Life

To the tune: LIEBSTER JESU (click on From Eternity, O God, 411). Based on John 10:1-21. Words: William Weber, 2011.

v. 1
Jesus is the gate to life,
all must enter only through Him.
Speaks the words that give men life,
all His sheep will surely hear Him.
Follow not the voice of strangers,
listen to the one true Shepherd.

v. 2
Jesus knows the sheep by name,
saving them and giving pasture.
Life to give is why He came,
knowledge of the Son and Father.
Knowing Jesus is our treasure,
fellowship that’s truest pleasure.

v. 3
Jesus feeds with finest fare,
bread of life, the food of heaven.
Gives His life for us to share,
flesh and blood by faith partaken.
Streams of water in the desert,
Christ the fountain of the Spirit.

v. 4
Faithful shepherds point to Christ,
Son, belov-ed of the Father.
For our sake He gave His life,
earned forgiveness, grace and favor.
Teachers false from Christ they turn us,
they refuse the words of Jesus.

v. 5
Praise the Father and the Son,
love for us beyond amazing.
In our darkness called to come,
to our Lord whose death was pleasing.
Died for us Love’s substitution,
takes away sin’s retribution.

1 comment:

  1. If praise has to be in the second person, then you have to throw out half of the 23rd Psalm.


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