The Song Police
I love my kinsmen in the Lord. But some of them tip the balance with slightly more zeal than knowledge.
Because of the indisputable liberalism that significantly has invaded the church in recent years, there has been a swinging of the pendulum towards the opposite extreme. Some appear to be searching for some “issue” to dispute, and not infrequently they find one — even if it is without significant substance.
One area that has come under particular scrutiny involves the songs that many congregations choose to sing. One gentleman has written a little book in which he catalogs numerous songs that we are told must be discarded because, allegedly, they are “unscriptural.” While there obviously are some songs in some of the books used by Christian people, that cannot be harmonized with biblical truth, they are far fewer, in my opinion, than some suppose.
The flaws in the thinking of some well-meaning (though misguided) brothers are two-fold. First, their knowledge of the Scriptures is not as precise as it could be. Second, they appear not to understand the legitimate use and value of poetic language. Let me illustrate.
(1) One person contends that we may not sing the third stanza of “Praise Him! Praise Him!” because the song affirms that Jesus “reigneth forever.” It is alleged that Paul affirmed that the Lord’s reign will terminate at his return (1 Corinthians 15:25).
While there is a sense in which Christ will cease to “reign” at the time of his return (e.g., in his present mediatorial capacity as our Advocate when we sin), it also is a fact that there is another sense in which the Lord shall reign forever in an endless kingdom (see Luke 1:32-33).
In the book of Revelation, an angel proclaims: “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15; cf. 1:6; 22:1; Ephesians 5:5). I.T. Beckwith observed that though the subject of the verb is God, “the joint sovereignty of Christ is implied in the preceding words” (The Apocalypse of John, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979, p. 609).
(2) Another sincere soul opines that we may not sing the second stanza of “Hand in Hand with Jesus,” because it affirms that “Jesus heard and answered prayer.” If Jesus does not hear, and respond to our prayers, how does he function as our Intercessor (Romans 8:34), Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and Advocate (1 John 2:1; cf. John 14:14 ESV)?
Was Stephen unaware that God’s child is forbidden to speak to the ascended Lord (Acts 7:59-60; cf. 1:1, 24)? A devout brother recently argued that an appeal to Christ was permitted in Stephen’s case because the situation was “miraculous,” but that such is not allowed Christians today. Since when did a “miraculous” environment sanitize that which is wrong intrinsically?
(3) A critic has objected to the song, “Night, with Ebon Pinion,” because the lyrics assert that when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of his crucifixion, “all around was silent, save the night wind’s wail.” He declares that one cannot know whether or not the wind was blowing that night.
If we only had the weather report for that fateful eve! Has the dear brother never heard of reasonable poetic license — not to mention the fact that Mediterranean breezes commonly flow eastwardly across Judea’s rolling landscape in the evenings?
But if one is operating in the “objective mood,” he might as well protest the words “night with ebon pinion.” A pinion is a wing, and “ebon” stands for “ebony” — black. The song, if literally pressed, would suggest that the night was as dark as a raven’s wing. This cannot be correct, however, since there was a full moon at the time of the Passover. There was, however, a moral darkness that shrouded the scene that night.
Too, the strict literalist would have to object to the sentiment that the meek and lowly Savior “bowed his head in prayer.” Actually, the Scriptures do not say that Jesus “bowed” his head in the Garden. He “fell on his face and prayed” (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35), and at another time “kneeled down” (Luke 22:41).
He did “bow” his head on the cross (John 19:30), but not in the Garden, so far as the record is explicit. Must we be such “nit-pickers”? The Pharisees, in all their glory, were not as meticulous as some of our sweet brethren.
A Concluding Word of Caution
Before we assault a song leader, or a congregation, therefore, for leading and/or singing a song that we deem to be “unscriptural,” we should:
(a) be sure that it is not our own knowledge that is lacking; and,
(b) be certain there is no possible room for poetic liberty in the lyrics.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.