Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Worship Language Matters

I enjoy all kinds of worship.  I really do.  But I do not easily say or sing some of the language we use in worship.  For example, I prefer to use language to describe God as non-male.  I believe that God is much deeper than gender.  The Bible was written by men in a culture when women were subjugated and often oppressed by men.  No one would say today in the UMC that women should keep silent in church.  And so I often translate and say "God" when a unison prayer mentions "Him."  But I feel more connected with God and the church when I don't have to do the work of translation.

In worship I cannot sing the blood hymns because I don't believe Jesus had to die in order to satisfy God's need for a sacrifice.  The point is that the language we use to talk about our faith matters.  It teaches.  This can be a problem when I really like the melody of a song or hymn.  I think most of us go along and sing the words without much thought because we like the tune.

This happens in many of our praise services.  People listen to Christian radio and music leaders like to sing in worship the songs they hear on the radio.  The issue I am raising is that some of the language of these songs are teaching concepts that are not receiving a full measure of our study and discernment.

I would simply encourage us all to pay attention to the language of our faith.  It would be good to do some spiritual and biblical digging to see what concepts we are promoting when we talk, sing, and pray our faith.

Grace Always,


John J. Shaffer said...

When I became sensitive to this issue, I tried to model appropriate language by what was placed in the bulletin or what words came from my mouth.

When I mentioned it in a public way, I got more push back from laity than on any other issue in my ministry. I found that interesting.

One person who criticized me apologized one year later. Thank you, United Methodist Women, for having a study program on this issue. It saved my bacon or hide or whatever is appropriate to say.

John J. Shaffer
Minister in Alaska from 1962-1995 plus 3 months in 1961 at Moose Pass.

Kenneth Brewster said...

An advantage of much contemporary worship music is that is often singing about Jesus, for whom the masculine pronouns are not an issue, or else addressed to God in second person pronouns. Thus the masculine language problem is partially mitigated. This is not true, of course, in "message music", which is a different sub-genre.

KJ said...

Have you read "Worship Matters" by Bob Kauflin? He writes at length from a contemporary music perspective about the need for theologically sound music lyrics in worship. Also the best treatment of music and the role of music leaders in worship that I have come across, applicable to both contemporary and traditional worship styles.

Kenneth Brewster said...

It seems Kauflin's books are not on audiobooks that I can listen to in the car, as I have precious little time to sit and read. Anyway, by "worship music" I mean songs of adoration to God, to Jesus. Most theology, including what I agree is unsound, comes through message music - music for Christian radio and concerts intended more for listening than for congregational singing.

dave said...

Thanks, KJ, for the book recommendation. I just now got the Kindle version and look forward to reading it.

WCroy said...

Very, very, helpful and insightful words. I'll have to remember to read your blog more often.
Thanks, friend!