An Open Letter to Christian Song Writers

The first reading is taken from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 5, beginning to read at verse 1.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart; I shall see God …

Wait, that isn’t what he said.

No. No, it isn’t.

It isn’t what he said, and we may be on course for my grumpiest blog post ever. (Welcome, everyone. Turn to your neighbour and tell them they’re looking beautiful today.)

The second reading is taken from the lyrics of a song based on the Beatitudes, recently introduced to Sunday morning worship at Hillsong churches.

O blessed are the ones who call Your name

And blessed are the ones You save

O You bless the pure in heart

We will see our God, we will see our God

We will see our God?

Admittedly I have been allergic for some time to first person pronouns in worship songs, excepting only, of course, those songs which conveniently happen to express exactly what I personally wanted to say at that moment in time.

I am young and free and grumpy.

I am young and free and grumpy.

Still, I submit that the small change from ‘they will see God’ to ‘we will see God’ in a song based on the Beatitudes has no rightful place on the Sunday morning SongPro presentation.

Jesus didn’t use ‘I’, and if Jesus Himself didn’t turn towards himself in a saying about the pure in heart, then maybe we should think twice before we do.

Oh look, mountains! OK Hillsong, we're friends again.

Oh look, mountains! OK Hillsong, we’re friends again.

He also didn’t use ‘you’; the only part of the Beatitudes which he applied directly and immediately to his disciples was the last part, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Again, if Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to imagine their own selves into the ‘pure in heart’ category, then maybe we shouldn’t do it too hastily either.

But it encourages people.

Encouragement is a Good Thing, but encouragement isn’t worship.

It’s a declaration of truth.

Which is also not worship.

It’s Biblical! It’s taken right out of the New Testament! What more could the evangelical snob in you ask for?

Worship.

And a serious commitment to what the New Testament actually says.

That second bit is you being a snob.

OK. Just worship, then.

Well, worship is all about the heart, isn’t it? Look at all these people. You’ve planted yourself in the back row again, so you can see them all. Look at them jumping around. Look at those pure hearts.

Yes.

Yes, I know.

I’m afraid I need good words. Since I am not pure in heart, but I want to worship Jesus, I need the words of the songs to be objectively and in actual fact worshipful. I need the words to help me bless his name. And the more often the words turn out to be about me, about us, the more plausible it seems that what I’m singing is not a worship song but simply a song, a lucrative, well marketed, over-amplified song.

So.

Dear Christian Song Writers and Worship Leaders,

A short note from those of us who are standing at the back, as far away from the amplifiers as we can get, to protect our eardrums. And from those of us who nitpick, and from those of us who are not feeling terribly full of faith or particularly adequately surrendered or noticeably pure in heart. Despite all this, we still want to worship Jesus. Only Jesus. We like it when the songs are really worship songs. When the words are about him and lead us to him. For all the songs that are like that, thank you. We do appreciate it. It does make a difference.

Yours, etc.

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3 Responses to An Open Letter to Christian Song Writers

  1. Nicholas Denyer says:

    I always get irritated by “The rushes by the water We gather every day.”

  2. A worship-song from quite a while back goes something like :
    I choose to be holy, set apart for you, Lord
    My comment, in preaching, is that God chooses us to be holy…

  3. A Brown says:

    A good point, well made. I would suggest however, that the use of “I” is an expression of intimacy and that there is not only a place for that in worship, but that intimacy is a unique form of worship only given to mankind out of all creation. We may join the angels and declare his glory or the join the animals and display his glory through using our faculties, but only a man could say to God, “You know all things, you know I love you,” as Peter did. Just a thought. The problem, I think, is that intimacy must be cultivated and not issued as an expectation.

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