Thinking Out Loud

January 7, 2018

Worshiping a Generic ‘God’ vs. Worshiping Jesus

On Thursday we looked at the trend in vertical worship and how it has moved us away from songs of testimony and songs of proclamation. I ended with the question,

In your church, do you think there is thought given to the horizontal-vertical dichotomy? Or the distinction between “I” and “we”?

which produced a handful of responses both on and off the blog.

One of these was from Kaybee, a freelance writer herself, former missionary, longtime reader here, and personal friend of ours. (I hoped we could catch her between assignments so that she could flesh out her comment in greater detail but that will have to wait!) She wrote,

Not an answer to your question – but I have always felt it important to specify in hymns and songs just exactly which God we are worshiping. In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour. They need to know it is Jesus we are worshiping, not just any god. Out of your list of 12 hymns/songs – so inspiring for those of us who know Him and love Him – if my calculations are correct, 9 do not explicitly mention Jesus’ name.

I had not given this much thought. What distinguishes the music at our gatherings from something that could be sung at a Unitarian service? (I’ve been to one; they did sing.)

My wife Ruth responded,

I agree to a certain extent, but as a “worship leader”, I have to embrace and acknowledge the whole personhood of the Trinity. Choosing songs that only speak of or to one of the three seems lacking. This is part of the challenge we face: touching on the multi-faceted nature of individually and corporately singing to and about an ineffable and complex God. No song is ever going to be theologically complete and no Sunday service is long enough, so it falls to the “worship leader” to choose wisely and lead well.

There’s merit in that, but I think Kaybee’s comment is addressing the times when perhaps none of the Godhead are being referenced. Besides the religious pluralism now present in Western society, why is that? I have one answer.

Where the traditional hymns had an advantage it was in the multiple verses. The more words written and then sung, the more specific the God being addressed, right?

Not always. Consider this song, pretending you just walked into the “Community Church” for the first time and as a unchurched person have no idea as to their theology and values:

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!

O measureless Might, unchangeable Love,
whom angels delight to worship above!
Your ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
in true adoration shall sing to your praise!

If we truly can abandon our Christian perspective for a moment, the God addressed is only clear in the context of other hymns sung at the service, and in the prayers, the scripture readings and also the sermon. By itself, it’s not entirely clear.

Even the classic How Great Thou Art is not initially clear:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul…

That second verse is immensely vague, don’t you think? But the piece is redeemed in the third verse,

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

as well as the fourth.

Think about it. I think the best way to end this for today is to repeat Kaybee’s words one more time:

…In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour… not just any god.


Somewhat related:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones


Lyrics from Hymnary.org and Sharefaith.com. Never trust the results appearing on the Google landing page for any research you’re doing; in this case O Worship The King is attributed to Chris Tomlin. (And these computers want to drive your car.)


Homework:

Make a list of your twelve to twenty favorite all time hymns and then rank them in terms of

  • vertical or horizontal
  • “I” vs. “We”
  • specificity of God worshiped
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July 30, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Amish Gone Wild T-Shirt Design from Kaboodle dot com

By the look of it, this “internet” thing could be really big someday. Here’s this week’s highlights:

Remember, every time you share the link list on Twitter or Facebook, an angel gets its wings.

Paul Wilkinson hunts for devotional writing each day at C201, rants at Thinking Out Loud and tweets to a vast army of followers. (They keep leaving the “K” out after the number.)

May 7, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Religion Soup at Naked Pastor

Post something amazing online and you could find yourself here next week! Click anything below and you end up at PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today; from there, click the story you want to read.

That’s it for this week. Between now and next Wednesday, join me at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and on Twitter

Congratulations to Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor on Episode 100 of the Phil Vischer Podcast! Click the image, sent in by listener Kyle Frisch to listen/watch.

Phil Vischer podcast episode 100

Songs with substance: Enduring worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

May 21, 2010

Church Without Belief

Filed under: cults — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

Erin has been blogging at Decompressing Faith since 2005.   This past week she went to a Unitarian Universalist church to hear her brother perform a musical number.

It’s an experience I had myself in my last year of high school, and it also involved a musical performance.   I would echo her observation:

I have never understood why people will go to all the trouble to have church, with all the semblances of a mainline service, but wipe it clean of any core belief system. I don’t mean that as a disparaging remark against UU’s. I understand the sense of community and the value of the power of that community when they come together. I also value and respect the concept of acceptance and non-conformity. I get it all; as much as any outsider can.

My point is this: the service was decidedly like a mainline service. I don’t mean in content, but in presentation. The invocation, the homily, the benediction…they were all there. They have a hymnal, very much like any traditional hymnal. They have responsive reading and a doxology. You get my drift. Yet, it’s all been purged of almost anything that identifies with any particular religion or belief system. And what I wonder is why, if you’re going to do something subversive and liberal, why do it exactly the same as something traditional and conservative? Is it a tribute to what we might have known as children? Is it for comfort? Or is it tradition simply for the sake of tradition?

Why indeed?   Erin goes overboard to say her intention is not to cause offense, she’s just got questions:

Why work so hard to make it seem like “church”, when it’s not “church”?  And why call it “church”, giving it a distinctly traditional tone and flavor, but having it actually be something else entirely, with a vastly different mission, content, and core? …Why wear a label that doesn’t fit, or follow a pattern that doesn’t do us justice?

In the end, she challenges the UU Church to come up with something original.   Not the conclusion I would make.

Are we, as a religious humanity, really that incapable of doing something truly new? Must we always keep one foot anchored in the old thing in some manner, while timidly stretching beyond the borders of it? What are we afraid of out there in the wild blue yonder? Why pretend to be something that is still within the confines of “acceptable”, even as we venture out beyond convention?

Rather, I would conclude that there is something deeper taking place in those services; a longing for something that was, and is, so very much anchored, so absolute, so very secure.   There is some comfort in dogmatism, but if you can’t abide the belief, the heart longs to fill the void by keeping the forms.

But maybe, at that point, like the children on summer break, you’re simply playing church.

Let us pray.

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