Pastor's Blog

Traditionalists complain that contemporary worship music is too much about “self” and “personal experience”.  But I demonstrated last time that hymns – even some of the most famous and best-loved hymns – are also about personal experience and self.

That shouldn’t be surprising.  Evangelicalism is a reaction against dead orthodoxy;  it’s primarily about personal religious experience.  So we should expect its music, both old and new, to reflect that to some degree.

The problem is that our experiences with God – or at least our perceptions of our experiences with God – differ, because no two of us are exactly alike.  I know the place I struggle is when a song is written from a perspective that I don’t share or an experience that I’ve never had, and I’ve found that to be the case with both hymns and contemporary worship.

One of the beloved hymns is At the Cross.  It’s a great hymn – but the chorus goes like this:

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away –
It was there by faith, I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.

My burden of guilt was rolled away “at the cross” and I did receive the sight of faith when I converted – but I’m sorry, it is not true that “now I am happy all the day.”

How about this one . . .
                Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – sweetest name I know. 
                Fills my every longing;  keeps me singing as I go.

This is not my personal experience.  Jesus doesn’t fill my every longing by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, many times he insists that I not fulfill my longings.  And I haven’t found Christianity to be a faith that causes me to want to skip and whistle my way through the day.

Does that mean the song is a lie?  Perhaps there are people who do experience the Christian faith this way.  I wouldn’t want to deny that.  It’s just that I don’t experience it that way.  So I don’t share the experience or the perspective – so the song is kind of empty for me.

Does that mean a church shouldn’t sing it?  Nope.  The church should sing it.
Does it mean that there is something wrong with me?  No, it just means that others perceive or experience their relationship with God differently than me.
Does it mean that there is something wrong with those who do have this experience?  No, it just means that I will struggle to relate to their perception and their experience.

Just as I struggle with the perspective of some of the hymns, I struggle with the perspective in some of the contemporary worship songs.  Does that mean the writer’s perspective or experience are invalid?  If it violates revealed theology I may have something to complain about – but more often than not I’ve found the problem isn’t theology;  it’s perception and perspective.  I might not share the song writer’s perspective, so I struggle to relate to the song.  But that doesn’t mean that the song is of no use to the church in worship.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit play many different roles toward us, don’t they?
They save, instruct, guide, convict, rebuke, correct, love, discipline, and care.
We relate to them as Savior, Comforter, Friend, Provider, Protector, Judge, Defender, and King.
And we can sing about all of these, and sing to God, thanking and praising Him for all of these roles.
Some songs we can sing with better understanding than we can others.
But when we can’t sing with a full heart and a full understanding – should we feel angry and ostracized, or should we listen (or sing with the brothers and sisters that we love), rejoicing with them in things that they have tasted – and which perhaps someday we will taste as well?
That takes conscious effort – but I think the latter is the approach that love takes – and loving one another is the hallmark of the faith according to Jesus.

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