Question #227

Encouragement and Constructive Criticism about Songs

I would like to let you know that I appreciate your work on the website regarding the hymnal “Songs of Faith and Praise.” Sensitive as I am to musical and literary quality in our songs, I agree that many of our songs fall horribly short of what can and should be said in the worship of the Lord, both among old and new songs. Bad songs have been around as long as bad poets have written them. In the interest of helping your work, I would point out a few oversights in a couple of your song critiques.

You wrote: “Follow Me” by Ira F. Stamphill (1953) "If just a cup of water I place within your hand, then just a cup of water is all that I demand." The author of this song must never have read the parable of the talents! If just a single talent I place within your hand, then just a single talent is all that I demand.

I have to point out that this image is scriptural:

Matthew 10:42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

Mark 9:41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

I believe your problem with the song springs from a misreading of the poet’s intent. I think what he’s saying is that even if all that we have been given in the world is a simple cup of water, even that may be demanded of us.

Again: “We Bow Down” by Twila Paris (1984) This song incorrectly suggests that Jesus is not presently the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It also states that we have crowned Jesus king, making one wonder who is bowing down before whom!

If you carefully read the text of the song, it says, “You were Lord of the Heavens before there was time, and Lord of all Lords you will be. Likewise, King of Creation. It isn’t saying that he isn’t currently king, if you take line as a whole rather than dividing it, you will see that it is a new way of saying that he always was, is, and shall be Lord. Or if you like, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. However, I agree about the awkwardness of the second chorus, “We crown you the king.” I believe this song can be sung in good conscience if we simply sing the first chorus both times. I do have to point out that if we completely reject imagery of Christ crowned by the church, we have to throw out not only “We Bow Down,” but also “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.

Anyway, I say all of this not because I was angered by your site, nor as a gotcha, but so that others who view your site might not see what might be perceived as errors and therefore ignore your important message about taking care with what words we use in praise and edification.

The Answer:

Thank you for your letter and for the spirit in which it was written. It is not surprising that everyone does not agree with every objection that is made to a song. What is surprising and unfortunate is that many people sing any song assuming that if it is in the song book it must be scriptural. We all need to be attuned to the fact that songs need to be “vetted” just like preaching and teaching. Each of us needs to be a Berean in that respect. Acts 17:10-11.

As for “We Bow Down,” please see the answer to Question 225. Not much more can be added. While it does say that Jesus was Lord of creation before there was time and that He will be Lord or Lords, that language leaves a possible gap in the middle. The chances are that the author was trying to write a song that praised Jesus – a worthy goal indeed. However, careful attention needs to be given to how ideas are expressed. It is not possible to know the writer’s intention; it is only possible to know what the writer says. Poetic license does not extend to saying things that are unscriptural. Even assuming that one interpretation of the song is scriptural and another is unscriptural, if the song is sung how can it be certain that only the scriptural interpretation is in the minds of the worshippers? An explanation could be given before the song is sung to eliminate the unscriptural understanding, but that is something that is rarely, if ever, done.

As for “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name,” it is not on the list because the song is ambiguous about who is doing the crowning. It is certainly possible, if not likely, that the crowning is being done in heaven after the ascension. Notice that in the final verse where “we join the everlasting throng” that we do not crown Him; we praise him.

The same thing may be said of “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” The crowning seems to be done as Christ ascends to His Throne. That was God’s act, not ours. The song appears to be recognition of God’s crowning; man does not crown Him king, but hails or praises Him as king.

The purpose of this section is not to parse songs in a manner that leaves very few songs that can be sung, it is to challenge people to carefully think about what they are saying as the worship in song and to be certain that what we sing is not tainted by ideas that are at best questionable and at worst unscriptural. Each of us may have songs that we as individuals cannot sing but that others may. For example, I cannot sing “Showers of Blessing.” That expression comes from Ezekiel 34:26. It is in the context of the coming of the Son of David; it is a Messianic blessing. In the first place, that blessing has already come. But in the second place, assuming that the author is using the phrase it a different sense, and I believe that he is, I still cannot sing it. The Lord has been so good to me that He long ago passed “mercy drops,” and has bestowed showers, yea floods of blessing upon me. How can I plead for that which the Lord has already given me in abundance? Others may even in this sense be able to sing the song because they have had an abundance of hardship and difficulty. Those of us who have been abundantly blessed have an opportunity to assist in providing showers of blessing.

“Follow Me” may fall into this category. I understand the scriptures that you cite regarding just a cup of water. However, in our day and age and in our country even the poorest among us have more than that. If nothing else there is a danger of leaving the impression that that is all that is required even when we have more than “just” a cup of water. For most, if not all of us, the parable of the talents is more apropos.

As you lead in worship may the Lord bless you in every good thing.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)