The Song Police

Some songs certainly are unscriptural. But we should be sure that we do not irrationally object to songs based on our own misunderstanding of the Scriptures.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

I love my kinsmen in the Lord. But some of them tip the balance with slightly more zeal than knowledge.

Musical Extremism

Because indisputable liberalism has significantly invaded the church in recent years, there has been a swinging of the pendulum towards the opposite extreme. Some appear to be searching for issues over which to dispute. And not infrequently they find one — even if it is without significant substance.

One area that has come under particular scrutiny involves the songs that many congregations choose to sing.

One gentleman has written a little book in which he catalogs numerous songs that we are told must be discarded. Why? Because, allegedly, they are, in his opinion, unscriptural.

Obviously, there are some songs in some of the books used by Christian people that cannot be harmonized with biblical truth. But in my opinion, there are fewer of such than some suppose.

The flaws in the thinking of some well-meaning though misguided brothers are two-fold.

First, their knowledge of the Scriptures is not as precise as it could be.

Second, they appear not to understand the legitimate use and value of poetic language.

Let me illustrate.

Alleged Examples of Unscriptural Songs

One person contends that we may not sing the third stanza of “Praise Him! Praise Him!” because the song affirms that Jesus “reigneth forever.” It is alleged that Paul affirmed that the Lord’s reign will terminate at his return (1 Cor. 15:25).

It is true that there is a sense in which Christ will cease to reign at the time of his return. His present mediatorial capacity as our Advocate when we sin will end. But it is also is a fact that there is another sense in which the Lord shall reign forever in an endless kingdom. Read what Gabriel, an angel of Jehovah declared regarding Jesus.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Lk. 1:32-33).

In the book of Revelation, an angel proclaims:

“The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15; cf. 1:6; 22:1; Eph. 5:5).

I. T. Beckwith observed that though the subject of the verb is God, “the joint sovereignty of Christ is implied in the preceding words” (609).

Here is another case.

A sincere brother opines that we may not sing the second stanza of “Hand in Hand with Jesus,” because it affirms that “Jesus heard and answered prayer.”

If Jesus does not hear and respond to our prayers, how does he function as our Intercessor (Rom. 8:34), our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), and our Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1; cf. Jn. 14:14 ESV)?

Was Stephen unaware that God’s child is forbidden to speak to the ascended Lord (Acts 7:59-60; cf. 1:1, 24)? A devout brother recently argued that an appeal to Christ was permitted in Stephen’s case because the situation was “miraculous,” but that such is not allowed Christians today.

Here is a thought question. When does a “miraculous” environment sanitize that which is intrinsically sinful?

Literalism Run Amock

Another critic has objected to the song, “Night, with Ebon Pinion,” because the lyrics assert that when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of his crucifixion, “all around was silent, save the night wind’s wail.”

He declares that we cannot know whether or not the wind was blowing that night.

If we only had the weather report for that fateful eve! Has the dear brother never heard of reasonable poetic license — not to mention the fact that Mediterranean breezes commonly flow eastwardly across Judea’s rolling landscape in the evenings?

But if we are going to operate in the “objective mood,” we might as well also protest the words “night with ebon pinion.”

A pinion is a wing, and “ebon” stands for “ebony” — black. The song, if literally pressed, would suggest that the night was as dark as a raven’s wing. But this cannot be correct since there was a full moon at the time of the Passover.

There was, however, moral darkness black as ever that shrouded the scene that night.

Too, the strict literalist would have to object to the sentiment that the meek and lowly Savior “bowed his head in prayer.”

Actually, the Scriptures do not say that Jesus “bowed” his head in the Garden. He “fell on his face and prayed” (Mt. 26:39; Mk. 14:35), and at another time “kneeled down” (Lk. 22:41).

He did “bow” his head on the cross (Jn. 19:30), but not in the Garden, so far as the record is explicit.

Must we be such “nit-pickers”? The Pharisees, in all their glory, were not as meticulous as some of our sweet brethren.

A Concluding Word of Caution

Before we assault a song leader or a congregation for leading or singing a song that we deem to be “unscriptural,” we should: be sure that it is not our own knowledge that is lacking; and, we should be certain there is no possible room for poetic liberty in the lyrics.

  • Beckwith, I. T. 1979. The Apocalypse of John. Grand Rapids: Baker.