Thursday, April 06, 2006

Issues Learnt from Colson and "Draw Me Close to You".

I've found a blog that has much more to say on the rather disturbing event where apparantly Colson shouted down a worship leader because of his dislike of a song. Initially when I read Sam Storm's response to Colson's behaviour, I thought it was merely a matter of somebody else taking a pot shot at this precious song of worship - but the blogger manages to extract some more issues that need thought and dealing with. For example;

1. Who is 'In Charge' of a Time of Worship - the Worship Leader? Or the Pastor?

This was actually raised in the comments section and it is well worth addressing. For somebody like myself who worships in a charismatic church, the suggestion can be given that it is the worship leader who is 'in charge' - because they are the one at the front with the guitar or the piano or the microphone, and the pastor only appears when the singing is quietening. Actually I am quite a fan of the style at my home church in Dunstable where the elders would sit up on the platform along with the singers. Just as similarily at Stoneleigh or at Brighton. It presented a more visual symbol as to who was leading the meeting.

Oops I've given my view away - I would support the view that a 'governing elder' should take overall responsibility for the meeting, but the worship leader should have freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit and take the meeting anyway he or she feels fit. I don't agree with the principle that a worship leader should have to get an 'approved' list of songs before the meeting.

Anyway less of my comments and what I think - here are some examples of the discussion:

One man commented: "Albeit unorthodox for Pastor Colson to respond the way he did I believe he has clearly shared why he responded in the way he did and his actions are clearly justified. Anytime a worship leader challenges the authority of the Pastor they have violated the chain of command clearly defined for the church and as such, were church discipline followed, and it seems it is more often ignored than followed, a meeting should follow and the issue should be resolved in private if possible".

Fair enough. But it seemed that gentleman had gotten confused. Colson was in no position of authority at all when he called out against this song.

The blogger comments: "I'm not sure why you're bringing the issue of pastoral authority into this issue. I think you're confused. Chuck Colson is not the pastor of this church, he is a parishoner. If the pastor wanted to step in during worship; that's his perogative; and something that I, as worship leader, would be open to. But people in the congregation shouting NO to the worship leader during the service is not acceptable. (as is people who shout 'it's too loud' or publically put both hands over their ears. It's called rudeness".

The original commentator had the grace to apologise but had a challenging question to consider: "Again my apology for the mistake in positional authority, but nonetheless what if a pastor did this to any worship leaders here, how would you respond? Would you accept the open rebuke or would you challenge the ranks?".

Yes. Is it EVER right to behave like Colson did and stop a song? Or a prayer? Or a spiritual gift? Of course, if it were heretical I have no qualms whatsoever. But I would be interested to hear from any elder or pastor who would feel confident enough in his ability to 'discern the spirits' to go up to someone and tell them to be quiet.

2. Worship through teaching? Or Worship through Music?

One man commented: "I couldn't believe what I was reading. I've admired Chuck Colson for many, many years for his defense of absolute truth and for perpuating a biblical worldview but his actions were out of line. A disruption of a worship service is never acceptable. Colson seems to be confusing relevance with preference. He is showing a bias towards worship through teaching over worship through music. Both are offerings to God and if offered with excellence and purity of heart neither should not be questioned as "unauthorized fire".

But indeed there is a divide (0r a 'convergence' if you are Sam Storms) between choruses or love songs and theological hymns. This is nothing new. It's been present since the Psalm singers looked down on the Wesley's for introducing their 'new-fangled' hymns. A commentator noticed a helpful similarity though:

"Some of the "ancient hymns" had 18 verses filled with wonderful imagery of God, our need of him, his awesomeness, and so on. Probably none of us has ever sung all 18 verses. Contrast that to many (the majority?) of the praise choruses of the 80s and 90s - usually 2 verses and a chorus, if that. In the "worship music movement" of the past 6-10 years or so, I've noticed a move back toward more expression in the lyrics; i.e., more words/verses.

Why do I say this? Because I think we can do the congregation an injustice when we simply repeat the same few words over and over and over - regardless of how "theological" those words may be. "Our God is an awesome God" - how true! But to sing only the chorus of SCC's song can become little more than mindless repetition, which God has said is not pleasing to him.
I am NOT saying that we should never repeat songs or choruses. Repetition can not only aid learning, it can help to move our thoughts toward a real, heartfelt agreement with the words we are repeating

Yes. Repetition is a helpful friend and a dangerous enemy. Two songs immediately spring to my mind that I have sung over the last three years. One was quoted by the commentator, the other was called the "Gospel Song" and it was indeed not lacking in theological content but was quite short. They were sung on many occasions and never particularly evoked an emotional response in me. On that count I guess I might have felt some affinity with Mr Colson. Yet would he have actually been happy because the chorus was full of theological content? So then surely the issue is with repetition rather than content? Or are we in fact pursuing something deeper in our times of worship? Are we indeed seeking to evoke a response of the spiritual affections?

3. The Key Issue at Stake.

This to me is the crux of the matter as seen by a commentator: "Hmm...I say let's not end up making Chuck's mistake of over-analyzing things here. He was rude. Period. He actions embody the selfishness that is so predominant in our culture today in that he showed no concern for how his outburst effected his pastor, his fellow "worshippers" and his own wife!".

Furthermore I think the blogger shows some remarkable discernment into what is displayed in this whole matter. This isn't a clever celebrity moment to chuckle at the "wooliness" of a song. But rather we should be asking ourselves this:

"I wonder how God feels when He looks down and sees someone singing "You're all I want, You're all I've even needed" and then sees someone standing stoically with their teech clenched thinking "this song has no theological value". I know who I'd rather be. Perhaps it would be better for Chuck to find a church that better fits his worship philosophy rather than waiting for something to 'break the camel's back' and for him to lose it publically in a worship service".

I too know who I'd rather be. Because in this comparison I see hideous similarities with the Pharisee standing in the courts and the Samaritan beating his chest and asking for forgiveness for a sinner such as he. I cannot end such a post without our beloved phrase; "Jesus is my boyfriend" ;). It actually appeared in the comments section of this blog! The lady begins by taking a similar stance to individuals I have addressed before on this. But then notice a subtle change.

"I too am a little uncomfortable with what my husband and I call "Jesus is my boyfriend songs" (and I'm a female...) but have continued to use them in our worship repritoire because so many responded so deeply to these songs. I didn't understand this until shortly after discovering the repeated sexual abuse our two oldest children had gone through at the hands of a good friend. After taking some time off it was just the second time I had led worship since we had learned of the abuse and we were singing the song "In Your Hands" by Ruben Morgan- a song I inherited from the previous worship leader. As I sang the song, ever word touched and connected with me at a time when I was angry, broken, hurting, afraid, helpless, felt trapped and grieving. Through the words "So close, I believe You're holding me now In Your arms I belong, You'll never let me go. You gave Your life, Your endless love, You set me free and showed the way- now I am found"

I had permission to have those feelings and still be reminded I was not alone even while my attention was on God. They were a far cry from most of the hallow words of comfort from those that didn't know what to say. And for me it was healing to realize that though worship isn't based on my feelings, my feelings are part of my worship of Him and singing to Him in that intimate way was an invitation to healing that I longed for. The words of that song even helped me have hope for my daughters- it wasn't just for me but reminded me how He saw them and how He would hold them through all their pain".

Some more thoughts to ponder!

"...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have DRAWN YOU with lovingkindness..."- Jeremiah 33:3 -

"Greater love has no one than this, that he LAY DOWN his life for his FRIENDS..."- John 15:13 -


Baxter's Boy said...

I've found the initial offending Colson article - it deserves a reading here as well because I am all for a balanced, evidential opinion! ;)

Musical Mush
Are We Impairing Our Capacity to Think?

February 6, 2006

When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, "Draw Me Close to You." The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, "Let's sing that again, shall we?" "No!" I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.

I admit I prefer more traditional hymns. But even given that, I am convinced that much of the music being written for the Church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.

The trend is also true of Christian radio, historically an important source of in-depth teaching. Many stations have recently dropped serious programming in favor of all-music formats. For example, a major Baltimore station dropped four talk shows to add music. A respected broadcaster recently dropped "Focus on the Family," claiming it had become too focused on "moral issues."

When a Cincinnati station replaced "BreakPoint" with music, I told the station manager that believers need to think Christianly about major worldview issues. Her reply? Younger women want "something to help them cope with life."

This view was confirmed by a Christian homemaker during a TV special on evangelicalism. She is so busy, she explained, with her kids, Bible study, cooking, and all, that she does not even get to read the newspaper. Church for her is getting her spirits lifted. Now admittedly, modern life creates enormous stress, but can't the Church offer comfort and help people confront the culture? Of course, music is important in the life of the Church. But it cannot replace solid teaching.

The decision by Christian broadcasters to avoid moral controversies could result in the Church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago. The great strength of radio, as with books, has been to present in-depth teaching that engages Christians cognitively. Unfortunately, thinking analytically is something Christians find increasingly difficult. According to a government study, the average college graduate's proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent ten years later. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences.

This is horrifying. The Gospel above everything else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life. Sure, the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. But if you want to study doctrine and worldview, you need the capacity to engage ideas cognitively. Doctrine and biblical teaching does not consist of dry, abstract notions. It is the truth that must be carried to the heart and applied. And there is no escaping that it is truth that must be learned.

When Postman published his book two decades ago, he feared television would impair our capacity to think. He was right. But can we learn from this—or are we destined to follow suit, with the Church blissfully amusing itself into irrelevance?

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. It's amazing you just published this as I was just coming onto your blog. I've seen similar divided opinions over this - some who do support Colson, most don't and see him as a cranky rude old man. Consider this quote as an example:

I love contemporary worship, insofar as it glorifies God and contains a modicum of theology, but more than half the songs we sing test my patience. It just seems like most music from the past 20 years is designed to entertain, not glorify. That’s silly and dangerously close to profane. We don’t exist to gratify our own emotions, and our worship should serve a much higher calling than whipping up an emotional frenzy".

Now ...

I would ask - WHEN was the last time anyone has EVER seen ANYONE "whipped up into an emotional frenzy" in most contemporary charismatic culture? I do think that Colson and his fans are getting a little paranoid here.

Dr S A J Burgess

ollie said...

So ... I'm guessing "Draw Me Close to You" won't being sung at the TG4 Conference then ... ?

ABPWD said...

Yere we've been following this in the USA quite closely. I think it's sparked off the 'worship wars' again - if they ever even settled down. You will like these two blog comments I found I think.

The first concerned manners. Blogger said:

Judith Martin has some good things to say about this practice in Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Warner, 1982). The general rule is “Rudeness that is introduced under the name of informality or intimacy is still rudeness” (p. 208) ... Martin observes that “such usage is not only undignified, but makes a sham of the ideas of friendship and equality. There is no such thing as instant intimacy” (p. 76). What we have here is in fact an invasion of privacy, an unthinking reduction of the dignity of another human being, and the forcible taking of something that may be given as gift—and which even on occasion should be in humility returned when offered. It harms true and right hierarchies by ignoring them, and harms true and right equalities by presuming upon them".

Well ... I must say I think I can be forgiven for thinking he was going to pass comment on Charles Colson and his rudeness in shouting "No" during this time of worship.

Alas no ... here is the Colson comment:

"Charles Colson's Breakpoint commentary takes on an issue with which many of us struggle: the vapidity of much worship music ... I'll have more to say about this later, but I commend Colson's lamentation".

A regrettable juxtaposing of articles ... or is it just me!? ;)

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks for those quickfire comments. It's nice knowing that when I'm doing a night shift I have friends who are just getting up over the sea! :) There are some important issues here, which is why I am pursuing this.

It isn't for the sake of a chorus - although this chorus is one of my favourites.

But I do think that blogger I quoted had an important point. When God looks down and sees one singing, "You're all I want, you're all I've ever needed" and another stoically gritting his teeth - what does HE think?

Now that raises a whole range of questions. Firstly of course, it is God and God alone who sees into our hearts, so outward manifestations don't have any validity as true signs of worship. The one with their arms raised could be worshipping as little as the one gritting his teeth.

But it reminded me of something Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones made reference to in his series on "Revival" - where he was speaking of "Dead Orthodoxy". His comment was unapologetic. "Perfectly orthodox - perfectly useless!". He wasn't saying that orthodoxy is something we shouldn't pursue!

But he was making the comment that orthodoxy can lay us open to the danger of not pursuing God. And that brings me round a full circle to the question I was trying to hint at: What is the CRUX of the issue in worship? What are we trying to DO? If it's God we seek, how do we find Him?

Does anyone see where I'm going?

ollie said...

Yere I appreciate what you're getting at Dan. And I don't think we plebs can do better than repeat Sam Storms's words:

"There isn't a sentiment or syllable in the song that isn't found somewhere in the Psalms as an expression of legitimate, biblical, heartfelt worship. For example, "But for me it is good to be near God" (73:28a). "My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord" (84:2a). "I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you'" (Ps. 16:2). Why? Because "in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (16:11). "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (42:1-2a). "O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (63:1). "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (73:25). Perhaps it can best be summed up in the exhortation of James 4:8a, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

That is one powerful summary of how that is one precious song to be used and sung as a tool. And what you are getting at? Is nearness to God. What is the crux of worship? To get near to God. To experience Him. To touch His glory.

As you said Dan, I know where I'd rather be. With Storms. Oh and the Psalmists ;)

Dr Annette Walker said...

Yes I think the real issue has been touched on here. The question is are we going to chuckle at Charles Colson's eccentricities because he is a celebrity? Does being famous buy him immunity from being called to account by all? Just as Dan wrote a few blogs previously - what buys SGM immunity from comments? Absolutely nothing. So we are not going to chuckle at Colson's outburst.

Yes many may think of the embarressed worship leader - but I can't help but think of God - the centre and focus of it all and wonder, just wonder what He thought. Let me ask - what glory was brought to Him from that outburst? Did He proudly look around heaven and say - ah look, there ... my servant is making sure that I don't get bored through vain repetition? I doubt it. I rather think He was walking among the candlesticks and that outburst caught His eye ... and not in a good way.

To me this is coming right down to the wire - right down to the whole issue again, of what Dan wrote concerning Pioneers and Settlers. Settlers see truth as something that must be defended at all costs. Pioneers release truth. They set it free.

I don't think truth was particularly defended by what Colson did. Nor do I think God was particularly pleased.

JamesB said...

Comments do indeed seem divided over the whole blog thing. I would support the trend of what is being touched on here I think. None of us support or desire banal trivial worship - of course we don't. I don't quite know anyone who in their right mind would. But on the other hand one does also not need Grudem's ST to be able to understand all the songs that we sing. It's okay to be real I think!

Ollie said...

Challies has developed some interesting thoughts on his site using a test for songs. The site ref is here:

They are relatively good. But one particularly concerned me and I think. He said;

"The Understanding Test - Fail. The song is schmaltzy in its lyric and many people, especially men, will object to the romantic overtones".

Maybe this is true. But is it right? Songs such as "Draw Me Close to You" are being "failed" by people because MEN will object to the romantic overtones of a song!?

What about the Song of Solomon!? Will they object to that!? That's Scripture. This concerns me deeply. And I'm not sure what to make of all this.

James B said...

I don't want to raise your blood pressure unnecessarily ;) but have you seen that Bob Kauflin has weighed in with his opinion on the Colson-Draw Me Close debate??!

Would be interested in your thoughts. The link is here:

Baxter's Boy said...

Hi James,

Yes I've read the Kauflin entry. No surprises there hey!? It's interesting how he starts off by saying that he liked the song and sung it with all his heart ... but then grew "concerned" with it. Is that an applaudable growing up into maturity? Or just cynicism.

It saddens me - but it doesn't surprise me.