Beautiful · Church · faith · life · Singing · Songs · Worship

The eye of the beholder

I see Your face in every sunrise
The colours of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You’re beautiful

I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now you are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

I see Your face, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
I see Your face, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
I see Your face, I see Your face
I see Your face, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

This is currently one of the vogue songs at CC@WW it is especially loved it seems by some of our younger members, but across the board at our service this song is being picked up. It I think was made popular at some of the summer conferences this year.

Last Sunday morning as I sat as a member of the congregation at our 9:30 Service I found myself pondering the words, (not for the first time).

I really, really dis-like this song. I find it impossible to worship to, I find myself incensed by the words, the theology and the laziness of the song writing. This is, in my opinion the worst type of Christian song writing – it has a catchy tune, but no real sense of depth in terms of worship. It is real ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ type of song writing.

The problem I think stems out of the desire to be edgy in terms of Christian music. The desire to take on and respond to the prevailing winds in secular song writing. This in itself is OK as far as it goes. I am not advocating a return to the bad old days when all Christian worship songs were 100 – 200 years out of step with contemporary song writing.

But we do need to be very careful about what we sing in Church, because to do ‘worship’ sung or otherwise, badly is dis-respectful and dis-honouring to our God.

My feeling is that Worship of any kind should be honouring and as a rule I think that the naming of the God we worship is an important part of that worship. Beautiful talks in general about a force or possibly a being that is perhaps recognisable as Christ. Certainly the lines about ‘Hanging on a tree’ are clearly meant to reference Jesus. BUT here is the beef: I do not think this is clear enough for congregational worship. Beautiful is a fine Christian pop song for singing along to in the car, and I do not want to undermine it’s potential for speaking into the spiritual lives of believers as part of a private devotional.

But sung worship in church should be clearly Christian, clearly about God and unapologetic in naming the persons of the Trinity.

I do not mean to appear to be picking this song out for criticism – it is an example of a lot of songs at the moment – particularly songs that seem to have come out of some of the summer conferences like New Wine this year. In fact during one session I attended at the CSW New wine event we managed to sing an entire set of 5 songs, led by the Trent band, without mention once the name of the God we were there to Worship.

Now I do not want to get legalistic about that – it is good a proper that musicians can use imagery and and some poetic cultural license in Worship songs – Amazing Grace for example has stood the test of time as worship, but uses imagery of the chains falling off – no one I know takes that literally to mean that John Newton was cast in irons – despite his connections to the slave trade.

The problem lies in too much imagery and not enough theology – we seem to have bred a generation of musical Worship leaders who have little understanding of theology. again I need to qualify this, I do not expect our modern worship songs to be dripping in eschaotological theology or for us to be singing songs based on a vast a thorough exegesis of Mark’s gospel. Neither do I expect Worship song writers to go out and get a Phd. in theology before putting pen to paper – but there should be some theology behind their writing.

If you look at the works of Matt Redman you can see his own understanding of theology shining through. His songs may not always hit the mark, but I can’t think of any one that I felt as strongly about as I do some of the current crop of songs.

Theology should not be the end product of song writing, but it should be part of the process!

Part of the fallout from this lack of theology in song writing seems to me to be the loss of true Trinitarian worship songs. Out of all the most recent worships I think you could count on one hand the number that mentioned god the Trinity. the vast majority will focus solely on the Son, with the odd one where the lyrics are about the Father or the Spirit. There is some logic behind this, we do tend to focus on the known aspects of God and these are often to be found in the person of Christ more obviously than the Father or Spirit.

But none-the-less this trend is worrying, it is skewing the way we worship and it skews the popular understanding of our faith. Much of what folk learn in church is learnt in what we do other than the sermon. these days for a lot of folk there introduction to biblical study comes from the lines of worship songs or the liturgy. In Churches like the one where I serve, where liturgy is minimal, we need to be extra careful about the messages we allow to be conveyed by the sung worship.

I am encouraged by the thoughts of one commentator who said that true worship lies not in the words but the attitudes of our hearts as we worship (sung or otherwise). So we can take heart – that songs like Beautiful are not bad, and the attitude of most folk when singing these songs is better than my own as I get grumpy about the words.

But I do think we as the community of God for whose worship lives these songs are meant to encourage, need to see beyond a good tune, and start thinking about the words others put in our mouths. We need to think before we sing!


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