Equipping the Saints: That Catchy Tune


I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Ravenhill, the British revivalist. Ravenhill can pack more punches in five minutes than the average megachurch pastor delivers in five years. We need more men like him.

If you listen to enough Ravenhill, the first unusual aspect of his preaching is that he continually sprinkles his messages with lines from hymns. What’s most amazing to me is that he’s probably doing this off the cuff. In other words, those hymns are deep inside him.

When we begin thinking about ways in which the Church in America can improve its education of the Body, Less drumming, more theology?most people look past music. I don’t.

“Shooting at the walls of heartache, bang, bang, I am _______________.”

If you’re over 40, I’ll bet the majority of you can fill in the blank to that lyric.  Yep, it’s “the warrior.” I have a bazillion pop/rock songs from my youth filling my head. Fact is, I wish I could get rid of most of them, but there they stick.

Likewise—and in a far more edifying way—I believe our Christian hymnody is critical to transmitting truth that sticks with people.

When I was sitting down to write this post, the first hymn that popped into my head was this one:

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation,
By water and the word:
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Frankly, that’s a theology lesson in two verses. If you know that hymn, you’ve got a solid base of truth in your noggin.

Compare that to what CCLI says is the number one church worship song today:

Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treause remains for those
Who gladly choose you now

It’s a good song. We sing it in our church. We played it just a few weeks ago, in fact. But you can’t escape the reality that just doesn’t say as much. In addition, it swaps the meaning of the word you between the refrain and the verse. I mean, just who is you ?

We could fisk old hymns and new worship songs forever, probably, but reading through old Methodist and Lutheran hymnals shows a far more rich theology than flipping through the average Vineyard, Integrity, or Hosanna worship song collection.

I believe there is a solid place for contemporary worship songs that are God-directed and contain more “emotional” lyrics. I remember the first Vineyard worship song CD collection I picked up. I was blown away. And honestly, it made me look at the Vineyard more seriously. It’s one reason why I spent 16 years in Vineyard churches.

But as is so common with American Christians, we pushed the pendulum so far the other direction on hymnody that we lost the rich base of hymns that were theology lessons in four verses and a chorus. Too much of what we sing today is devoid of theology beyond “God loves me.” Yes, that’s an essential truth, but c’mon…

One will argue that today’s songs are more directed toward the Lord, and while some of that is true, it’s missing a greater truth. A hymn like “The Church’s One Foundation” is like the stones the Lord asked the Hebrews to pile beside the Jordan to remember their crossing into the promised land. Hymns that aren’t directed right at God have a place because they remind us of who we are and what the Lord has done. They are the stones of memory that bolster our foundation in the truths we believe.

It saddens me to no end that my son’s generation will grow up oblivious to hymns like “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart,” “For All the Saints,” “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” “And Can It Be,” and on and on. I might sing them at home, but if my son hears them nowhere else, they will become artifacts, just like my dad singing opera arias is an artifact to me. My son may recall a nebulous, nostalgic mood, but the hymns will have otherwise lost their intended meaning.

I will go so far as to say that music’s staying power places it above nearly every other mode of communication. I may not be able to remember the content of a sermon I heard preached two months ago, but chances are high I’ll be able to recall and sing most of the new worship song that debuted that same Sunday morning.

And that’s why this issue of theology set to music matters. If the average Joe in the pew remembers a dozen hymns packed with spiritual goodness and depth, perhaps he’ll recall their truths in the time of testing in a way that he may not have responded based on other, less sticky, sources.

If we want to build a stronger Christian, then let’s write better songs that highlight the core doctrines of the Faith.

The Lost Worship Song


Recently, I spent a good chunk of time looking for MP3s of old worship songs. My purpose wasn’t nefarious; I’m just looking to build the repertoire of the worship team at our church.

So I went skimming through some old (read: 8-10 years) worship song listings I had from my Vineyard church in California, stuff I played to much blessing for the congregation. Good songs. Tunes that got people worshiping. Music that blessed me as I played it.

My conclusion from intensive searching online for about a dozen of those  songs? They may as well have never existed. They’re just gone.

Out-of-print albums. Missing entirely from iTunes or any other site. No Last.fm, no Pandora. No streams existing anywhere. I can’t even find a snippet in any form for my team to listen to, much less the particular arrangement I’d like to mimic.

That seems to me to be an enormous loss to the Christian community.

Sure, I might be able to find a copy of an old CD on eBay for $10, but I can’t afford that kind of dough to amass a stack of old CDs when I’m only after one song here and there.

Why is it that we still can’t get access to a lot of the backcatalog of some of the Christian recording companies who have all this music locked up? I complained about this before, but I find it even more amazing when genuine worship music, the kind church worship teams would play, goes MIA. I mean, if it was great 10 years ago, why would it not be great now? What’s wrong with rediscovering a classic for a new generation?

It seems to me that we’re gutting our own heritage by letting good music vanish into the ether.

I went looking for Cindy Rethmeier’s “Processional” and Kevin Prosch’s “(Even) So Come” and struck out everywhere I looked. An old Crystal Lewis version of the Prosch tune exists in video format on YouTube, and that may be what I have to go with, though the audio quality is poor and it’s hard to make out all the instrumentation. The Rethmeier tune, a lovely and anthemic song, is vapor.

Maybe this is a stupid beef. I don’t know.  In the past, you cut a track to an LP and good luck when that LP went out of print.

Still, I would think we could do better in preserving our heritage in music, especially since it is now so easy to store music digitally.

So how about cutting us worship teams a break when it comes to access to old worship songs? If the CDs are out of print, what’s the harm in putting a lower bitrate MP3 on the composer’s site so someone can at least hear how the song goes? And don’t even get me going about the lack of availability of some of this stuff on iTunes. I know I would definitely pay $1 to download some of these songs just so the people in the pews can be drawn into a soul-stirring worship experience through old music that stirred us once and can do so again.

“Eat His Body, Drink His Blood”


Christians today think that the worship song “revolution” that we are experiencing is something new. But for those of us who have been firmly planted on the Earth while it has gone ’round the sun forty times or more, this trend is nothing new.

Catholics like Ray Repp brought a new folk mentality to worship music around the time of Vatican II. This trickled over into Protestant churches a few years later, especially within liturgical denominations. Songs like “I Am the Resurrection,” “Lord of the Dance,” “Pass It On,” and “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love” all were big hits when I was growing up in the Sixties. We sang them regularly as kids and even saw a few of them creep into the adult services in the Lutheran churches I was a part of at the time.

Despite the fact that I routinely sang Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” the one song that always seemed the strangest to me was “Sons of God”:

Sons of God, hear his holy Word,
Gather ’round the table of the Lord,
Eat His body, drink His blood,
And we’ll sing a song of love,
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah!

As a young person, I found this song (very Catholic, but heartily sung in our Lutheran church at the time) always hinted at a mystery far beyond what I understood whenever the communion meal was served. But now that I am older, I find the whole thing very eerie.

As I mentioned, I grew up Lutheran. And despite the fact that no one in the Lutheran Church today will agree on this, I was taught a consubstantiation position on communion. This differs from the Catholic transubstantiation in that the bread and wine were not “magically” transformed into the body and blood of Christ before the communicant partook of the elements, but rather “something mystical” happened to those elements after they were consumed. At least that is how I understood all this in my younger days.

Later, I wound up in the Presbyterian Church. I found that their take on communion—simply a remembrance done out of the command of Christ—to be highly lacking in any sense of the transcendent, unlike my Lutheran experience. This is not to say that I grasped what I’d been taught, but the evasiveness of responses to my pressing questions to older Lutherans was bothersome. I never did get a complete handle on the Lutheran view, and if any five Lutherans of varying ages were pulled off the street in your town today, they’d all have a different take on communion, I’m certain.

Now I am not of the cannibalistic sort, but despite the fact that I’d probably get a knot in my stomach singing “Sons of God” today, something has been lost in evangelical and charismatic ranks when it comes to communion. I’d love to see us come to some higher treatment of the communion meal. It deserves more than we are giving it.

I am firmly convinced that in many ways we have simplified too greatly the entire idea of communion. A complete meal hosted in the home is more what I hope to see, and some house churches have gone this way, but I also hold out hope that an invocation and celebration of the wine and bread would entail more than the casualness we bring to it. We have lost too much mystery in our meetings, and where better to restore it than in communion?

What is your take on communion? What are your reminiscences and joys over the communion meal? What would you like to see done differently? And lastly, do you feel that we have lost something in the transcendence of the meal itself?