Thursday, November 20, 2008

Does Anyone Listen to What They're Singing Anymore?!

Okay this might be one of those points that could sound like a small moan ... maybe. But I hope my point will come across. It was prompted by the purchase of the latest Brighton "Together on a Mission" worship CD - "Salvation's Song: 2008 Live worship from TOAM & Mobilise". It's always hard to listen to a live worship CD and "connect" to the sense of worship there when you weren't actually at the conference yourself. I always find Newfrontiers live worship CD's the easiest to try though - because I've been to more conferences than not, I can imagine pretty well what it was like. But would I rave about it? Because you've probably figured out I am one of those people who can't be lukewarm about anything - I love it or I hate it! Whereas this CD - I'm lukewarm. I love some of the songs (more later) ... I always love Lou Fellingham and Simon Brading's wonderful worship leading ... but ... I don't have the memories to bring it to life!

The one song that has confused me somewhat is Lou Fellingham's recent; "Once I was dead to You (Promised land)". And here's where the whole "hymnody" musing arose. The song (while sang beautifully by herself and the gathered thousands) has the line in it:

"Through Your suffering, I’m forgiven, Pressing onward to the promised land ... His name is Jesus, sent from Heaven, To take us homeward to the promised land".

I have to ask - why did the Fellinghams chose the words "Promised Land" to describe what they clearly mean as heaven? Because in doing so they have abandoned a clear fundamental restorationist type of Old Testament teaching (absolutely central to Ern Baxter's Dales Bible Week 1977 series) and have adopted a more popular but misguided conservative evangelical type - seen in hymns every now and then. Essentially that teaching - as Lou Fellingham sings - is that the "Promised Land" is a spiritual type of heaven and our eternal rest.

But as C H Spurgeon asks:

"It has generally been considered, that the passage of the Jordan by the Israelites is typical of death, and that Canaan is a fitting representation of heaven. We believe that in some sense it is true, and we do fondly cherish the household words of those hymns which describe our passing through Jordan's billows, and landing safe on Canaan's side; but we do think that the allegory does not hold, and that Jordan is not a fair exhibition of death, nor the land of Canaan a fair picture of the sweet land beyond the swelling flood which the Christian gains after death.

For mark you, after the children of Israel had entered into Canaan, they had to fight with their enemies. It was a land filled with foes. Every city they entered they had to take by storm, unless a miracle dismantled it. They were warriors, even in the land of Canaan, fighting for their own inheritance; ...

But when we cross the river of death we shall have no foes to fight, no enemies to encounter. Heaven is a place already prepared for us; out of it the evil ones have long ago been driven; there brethren shall await us with pleasing faces, kind hands shall clasp ours, and loving words shall alone be heard. The shout of war shall ne'er be raised by us in heaven; we shall throw our swords away, and the scabbards with them. No battles with warriors there, no plains besoaked with blood, no hills where robbers dwell, no inhabitants with chariots of iron.

It is "a land flowing with milk and honey;" and it dreams not of the foeman of Canaan of old. We think the church has lost the beauty of Scripture, in taking Jordan to mean death, and that a far fuller meaning is the true allegory to be connected with it".

Does it really matter you may ask? It's "poetic license" and it makes the song sound nice. Well how about I give another example from the more cessationist side of things before drawing my conclusions.

I remember shortly before I left my home church in Dunstable, the new pastor (and successor to Dr Stanley Jebb) was receiving rave reviews from most of the congregation mainly because he was choosing "lively choruses" during the worship - whereas for the last few years in Dunstable, the worship had been restricted to hymns. But I was rather staggered when he proceeded to preach a sermon from 1 and 2 Samuel about Saul prophecying with the prophets - and drew an application from that, that the gift of prophecy did not and could not exist today ... and closed and asked us to stand and sing; "I Hear the Sound of Rustling"!

For those who are not aware of the chorus - "I Hear the Sound of Rustling" was a very popular chorus that was sung during the Charismatic Movement at the Dales and Downs and our own Anglia Bible Weeks. The lyrics included a charismatic theology (that the new pastor of my home church had just spent half an hour trying to dismantle!) including words like this;

"The Spirit of the Lord has come down on the earth
The church that seemed in slumber has now risen from its knees
And dry bones are responding with the fruits of new birth ...

And all around the world the body waits expectantly
The promise of the Father is now ready to fall
The watchmen on the tower all exhort us to prepare
And the church responds-a people who will answer the call
And this is not a phase which is passing
It's the start of an age that is to come ...

A body now prepared by God and ready for war
The prompting of the Spirit is our word of command
We rise, a mighty army, at the bidding of the Lord
The devils see and fear, for their time is at hand ...".

I personally love the song! But there again - I believe fervently in restoration! Why on earth were we singing that chorus after an essentially cessationist sermon in a reformed evangelical functionally cessationist church?! Can that be called "poetic license" too?

And here again we come back to my problem. Are we really listening to what we are singing? One of my favourite historical books charting the Charismatic Movement (or more accurately the Restorationist Movement) is by Professor Andrew Walker and is called; "Restoring the Kingdom". Professor Walker made the point that in his opinion Graham Kendrick was probably the most influential "theologian" of charismatic life in the United Kingdom - purely through his choruses and his songs. So on the one hand songs DO matter! But then on the other - do they?

I must state my profound admiration for SGM and in particular Bob Kauflin at this point. I've made no secret of the fact that I have many problems with some of their ecclesiology. But thanks to songwriters like Bob Kauflin - SGM are 100% consistent in what they believe and in what they sing. I could be wrong but I doubt you will find an SGM-written song promoting a theological viewpoint that they don't believe in. I remember years back Mark Altrogge wrote a number of restorationist songs (because we sang some of them back in Dunstable in the days before I had even heard of C J Mahaney or Larry Tomczak!). I doubt they are sung anymore in SGM circles - and again I applaud the consistency with the changes in theology.

So back to the song that started this "moan" - Lou Fellinghams; "Promised Land". I suppose in the grand scheme of Kingdom New Covenant life - it really doesn't matter whether I sing a song about heaven being like the Promised Land or not. But I think C H Spurgeon has got the ultimate and final point. Are there going to be giants in heaven with cities to take? I sincerely hope not - if Scripture is to be believed. So why then are we singing about it? Does it signify a drift away from Newfrontiers traditional restorationist beliefs or is it really as simple as the line fitted the song quite well? Or does no one really care?!


jul said...

Dan, you're back! You sound more like yourself in this post.

I picked up on that in the promised land song as well, not so specifically as you but I just felt it didn't go far enough or something, a bit of old covenant mindset maybe though I haven't studied it or thought about it much (having heard it only a couple of times). But this brings me to more concerns about the direction of Newfrontiers. I have no business I guess giving my opinion except that I love many people in NFI and have personally been blessed by them and grace teachings of Terry many times, critical times.

And lately it seems to me that every time I read Terry's blog there is a spirit of 'bringing balance' to the grace message, and also a self-protective tapestry of tradition being woven around certain pet doctrines (such as authority) that is not submitting to closer examination or corrective revelation of the Holy Spirit. I say this from what I'm sensing as I've read more than what is actually there in black in white, though it is subtly there in black and white as well. I've been praying for Newfrontiers because I can see they they are at an important crossroads with important decisions about which way to go, their decisions will have far-reaching consequences for many.

Hope you don't think I'm crazy writing all that!

Also, I will have to disagree with you about SGM singing what they believe. I've often lamented the fact that SOME of their songs are filled with great truths they do not actually believe. Many others do reflect what they believe, but there are some great songs about the true gospel of grace, no condemnation, etc... that they sing without experiencing in their lives. When I listen to some of these songs from time to time, my heart starts to break for the people and I ask the Holy Spirit to annoint these songs and open peoples' spiritual eyes and ears as they sing, that the veil will be lifted long enough for them to see Jesus and his love!

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Before reading today's post..which I so loved I put a shout on my blog...anyhow this morning these thoughts about you came while tuning.
Maybe God. Maybe just parameters to be aware of.... maybe the effects of the cornflakes.

Do you remember Rob stating that he could never live in a high rise...because his spirit tends to pick up on its surroundings?

When I was amongst the German Christians in 78, they used to talk about "Lasttrager" ...or burden bearers. Now the problem with these people is that this gift or tendency can overwork. Clearly Rob avoids certain situations for this reason. I just wonder if you need to be aware of this in that you are fully aware about how you personally work. Other than that I've got no specific God direction for you. And Like I just wrote to Ursula, I wouldn't encourage you to just up sticks...and avoid any of God's specific training for your life. But , just as Rob knows what does or doesn't work for him...maybe that is something for you also to be aware of.
Much love

Dan Bowen said...

Hey Julie, thanks for your constant encouragement!! I do have to agree with you about Terry ... as a matter of fact, Scott and I were discussing him (as much as it pains me him being my hero and all) about how his preaching has gone through subtle changes, and it definately seems like he's putting the breaks on the "danger" of grace. Not good.

I do take your comments re: SGM on board - fair point! I love it when you disagree with me (you or any of the other girls here!) - because it makes me think.

Chris ... very fascinating points and ones that I have taken seriously. One of the reasons why Julie sensed that I'm more "back to my old self" is that the purposes of God are becoming clearer and the location is an issue, where God wants me etc. I'm just praying and hoping He keeps speaking!

There's some very exciting days ahead - particularly I think Glory and Grace in Hong Kong in March!!

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Dan finally got the hayling seabaptisms out of cybershot mode into Windows for You tube

dave bish said...

Spurgeon doesn't say we can't use it does it though? More that there would be a wrong way to mean it... and we have to do something we the 'rest' language of Hebrews 3-4...

Our inheritance isn't the giant filled land they went into, but that points to what we have. I reckon, with care, we probably can sing of it - but with care...

Thanks for making me think tho.

Dan Bowen said...

No - thats a fair point. He's not saying we can't use it - but I guess the point is whether we are consistent in our typology and use of Scripture.

It's easy to get all misty-eyed and romantic about "The Promised Land" and the river Jordan equalling death. But ... then it falls apart when we start considering the giants there! So I guess it's how literal you take it.

I like that - we can sing of it but with care. If we are like the noble Bereans then we should do everything with care and consideration! Even dancing undignified like David .... hmm!