Check Out the Music

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Music is not my strong “suit”.  I was always thankful when there were capable people in the congregation to assist me in choosing music used in the worship services.  I seldom questioned their judgment because I recognized their musical abilities far surpassed my abilities.  However this past week I questioned the content of one of the “praise songs” sung at the church I attended.  Perhaps I am wrong but I ask you as reader to give me some advice.  The song is “Indescribable”. In describing God with many characteristics it included in that list that God is “untameable”.  I never heard of that attribute and am not certain as to what that means.  In fact as I type the word in this document and have the “red line” to indicate improper spelling; spell check does not have any suggestions as to the spelling of “untameable”. 

One of the tasks of the consistory according to Article 52 is, “The consistory shall see to it that the synodically approved Bible verses, liturgical forms, and songs are used, and that the principles and elements of the order of worship approved by Synod are observed”.  I admit that since I retired from ministry I am not as aware of what Synod has approved concerning worship and specifically music as I was when I was active in ministry.  So I wonder about the “Praise Songs” sung in many of our churches that have their origins in a different theological background than our Reformed background?  I wonder to what extent consistories are involved in reviewing the words for theological correctness in the “Praise Songs”?  Specifically, I wonder is it correct to describe God as “untameable”? I would be the first to admit that when involved in a church plant in Chandler, AZ, I failed to challenge the consistory to review the content of the “Praise Songs” used in our worship services.  I have a suspicion that is true for many of our churches.  Right or wrong?

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In the context of the song, untameable means that we do not control God.  We cannot limit God to our specific desires, comforts, preconceptions.  God is not our servant.   God is not our trained pet.   As we read in the book of Job, did we make creation?  Did we make the horse, or leviathan, or the behemoth?  Can we control everything that God made?  Can we dictate how God should act?  Can we limit God?   No, but God is supreme over us, not the other way around. 

Some of Louis Giglio's video presentations show this concept in a marvelous way. 

I really do not think that is the best word.  It has implications of being out of control like a wild horse.  Lack of concern for anyone else.  God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind.  It is a relationship so I find it to be a questionable way to discribe God.  But that is just my opinion as to how I interrupt the word.

Well, yes, words have different connotations for different people.   This is what makes poetry and poetic prose interesting, and what also makes it a bit different from confessional and legal documents.   For people in tune with nature, the zebra, the wild lion, and the hippopotamus are wild, untamed.  Untamed nature like the Rocky mountains, or the Rain Forest, is majestic, natural, directly God-created.  While some lions and hippos and elephants have been tamed in spite of their size and strength, the contrast is with the independance and majesty of the untamed.   Untamed means beyond our control, beyond our beck and call.  The essence of our relationship with God is that we cannot lead God around on a leash.  God is not tamed by us.   But, it is not the only word that the song uses to describe God, is it?  I agree that it is only one of the attributes, one  related to God's omnipotence, and that the other attributes of Love, omniscience, eternity, omnipresence, must be described with different adjectives. 

Good points - I guess my overview point is, are we as consistories monitoring the music in our churches as mentioned in the church order?  It just struck me as a bit odd when we were singing it but really I did not object as much as the blog may have indicated. 

Well yes, good question.  And I don't know about other consistories in general;  only a few.  It has been said that heresy creeps into the church quicker thru music than in any other way.   Sometimes it is not just whether a song is technically correct theologically or not.  Sometimes a very popular song only expresses a very limited aspect of our faith, or of our christian life, and gives us a lopsided christianity.   So we need to have a good balance of songs, which is why it is good to have many to choose from.    The amount of monitoring also depends sometimes on the spiritual maturity or experience or education of those who choose the songs, and the consistories confidence in their theological background.  But I know I tend to have a subconscious evaluation of most songs, trying to evaluate their spiritual impact.  But other times I just sing them, especially if they are familiar.  I can't be analyzing all of them all the time;  it leaves little room then for praise.   I mean, just think of some of the Psalms, if someone wrote stuff like that today;  parts of Psalm 38, 39.  Pslam 40: 12, 14,15.  and others.  But it all has a place, part of our prayer in song.  

I am wondering about our over-riding concentration on "relationship", particularly relationship with God.  It seems to be a theme that reduces almost everything else to insignificance.  Our ideas about God, about people, about concepts, principles, policies, ideologies all seem to get subjected to the principle and idea of "relationship".  But is this not a bit of lopsided Christianity? 

While relationship is very important, is not God bigger than just relationship with us?  Is not there more to God than only relationship? 

So Al, your statement that "God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind. " is theologically and confessionally true, but it is not soley God's purpose to only consider our own opinion of our best interest.  Sometimes God's purpose is mysterious, unknown, and we can only trust His answer to our prayers, when we don't understand it.  God answers even the prayers we have not yet uttered, the prayers that contradict the other prayers we make.  God answers in ways much superior to the ways we would think are best.   In that way, God is not tamed to our control, even though he promised to answer our prayers.  God is out of our control, but not out of His own control.  God is greater than the relationships He has with us, which makes his relationship with us even more amazing, more loving, more cherished. 

I really appreciate Al raising this, and creating some healthy dialogue through a specific example. Clearly the debate isn't really about this particular Chris Tomlin song, but the example provides a good vehicle for more general discussion, so I'll continue to use it.

"Untameable" is clearly not a traditionally orthodox descriptor for God, but as John comments in the context of the song it is clear that what is being said is that we cannot "tame" God, we cannot cut Him down to our size, and we cannot control Him. Christian songwriters (and hymnwriters) have always faced a challenge to ensure theological orthodoxy, faithfulness to the intent of traditionally accepted language, and at the same time (and sometimes in apparent conflict) the use of language that will be understood by contemporary singers and will evoke the desired spiritual and emotional response in worship of God. This is a difficult tension (as an occasional songwriter I struggle with it). This particular song has been very widely used in worship (several times in my own church) and evokes a sense of awe, of God's holiness and greatness, and of humility before Him. The use of this rather shocking word "untameable" is powerful for the very reason you are concerned about it - it is unexpected and pulls us up short. That doesn't make it right in general of course - sometimes words are shocking because they're wrong. But in this case I would defend it.

Nevertheless, the consistory does have a difficult task. Most non-professional elders do not have the depth of theological training, or language skills, let alone the musical skills, to judge the songs we're singing. This has been discussed elsewhere on this forum. Even as someone who is both a worship leader and an elder, I also don't have (or don't make) the time for the depth of review I'd ideally like.

Perhaps what we need is a CRC or Reformed forum or some other resource for worship leaders and their elders to raise questions about particular popular worship songs and hymns, with an easy indexing mechanism that at least lets us know questions have been raised that would cause us to take a closer look at a particular song. If as a worship leader I could bump my planned list of songs for Sunday against this list, it would be much easier to look more closely at any song that needs to be rethought. Any takers?

We sing that song in our church in New York City.  From the World English Dictionary (@ www.dictionary.com), the word means "not capable of being tamed, subdued, or made obedient."  I'd say this is an apt way to describe God.  God cannot be tamed, that is, no person can subdue or control God.  He is not accountable to us and acts in his own way, as he pleases. He's like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: "he's not safe, but he's good." The word is not in the Bible per se, but lots of words we use to correctly describe God fail to appear in scripture. Does that mean we are not allowed to use them?  For example, God is "triune."  God is "spectacular" - also not found in the Bible.  God is "immense," but that word is not used in the Bible to describe God. And so on and so forth.  

To your other issue, whether or not councils should be doing "quality control" when it comes to the music we sing, I totally agree.  The issue is not whether or not a song "comes out of our tradition" as you say.  A congregationalist or pentacostalist could write a perfectly legitimate worship song. (In fact, Balaam, a renowned pagan sorcerer sang inspired lyrics in Numbers 24). The issue is whether or not the music is true and appropriate for Christian worship or captures a legitimate part of the worship experience.  

Appreciate all of the comments and clarification. Good dialogue.

al

You're right. Too often Consistory empowers the worship committee to organize the service and there's little if any, diligent monitoring of praise song content. It is not unusual for praise songs  to reflect Arminian beliefs..

  

“Untamable”?

I sure would like to hear the other words to the song and try and put this into context. However more importantly we must acknowledge who God is. We should not be treating him or addressing him as our best buddy. He is God the Alpha and Omega. The Creator and must have the respect do him. We must speak of and to him reverently.

“Untamable” infers that we think God should be tamable.  Sorry I think this is a respect issue, and I don’t feel comfortable with this lyric.

Just my opinion but the interpretation of the lyric could be very confusing

The song "Indescribable", written by Chris Tomlin, available on the internet to read and/or listen to.  Untameable is kind of the opposite of "best buddy"...   Untameable is also the opposite of treating God like a pet.  It's theopposite of "tameable". 

To elaborate a wee bit more.... when someone says that untameable infers that it should be tameable, I think we are getting words and inferences mixed up.  Untameable does not infer that it should be tameable.  The word "Untamed" might infer that, or might suggest that taming is still possible.  "Untameable" is different than untamed, and  means that no matter how much you might try, no matter what the circumstances, God (or some animals or some people) are not controllable by others.  It says nothing at all about whether they "should" be controllable. 

As people, we often think or act as if God follows our lead.  If we pray the right prayers, sing the right songs, read the bible and the right books, then God will give us the life we desire, and the eternity we desire.   That is poor theology.  Our confessions express the exact opposite, that God chooses us before we ever choose Him.  That God's ways are greater than our ways, and His knowledge and understanding are far greater than ours.  

As human beings, we know we can tame many animals, we know we can control even ant colonies and bee colonies, and capture animals such as giraffs, snakes, frogs.   We can cut down forests, drain land, plant crops, re-route rivers, move mountains, explore the moon, maybe even change climate.  We have a lot of control, and can apparently tame or control most of this earth in some ways.   But we cannot do that with God, because God is greater than us.   Therefore God is untameable, uncontrollable by us. 

That doesn't mean that God does not keep his promises.  God is still faithful and true.  But God is our Lord and Master, which means that ultimately God is the initiator, not us. 

I take "untameable" to mean "wildly imaginative"!  I LOVE thinking of God in that light!

If we're going to question praise songs, we should also question our hymnbook.  My congregation recently sang "God of Our Fathers".  I questioned the line "Let true religion in our hearts increase."  Really?  Religion?  Or do we mean faith? 

One can find criticisms for many songs.  However, I feel that as a true aspect of worship, each song SHOULD feel personal for each member.  If one feels that to think of God as being "wildly imaginative" helps to blossom their faith, that's wonderful.  If one feels that "religion" IS very important, then that song speaks to them.

If we examine each song with a fine-toothed comb we could cause brothers and sisters to stumble as well as give ourselves a LOT of extra work.  I say let our unique songs lead unique individuals!

I think it is possible to question the judgment of others in picking songs.  The Hymnal has a history of scrutiny and approval by way of Synodical decisions.  I am not certain each individual has the collective theological wisdom to scrutinize songss as well as the collective mind of the entire body (CRC).  I know I don't.  However the bigger issue is the role of consistories in giving leadership to our worship services and I am not sure that much time is spent in consistory meetings on the issue of worship.

I agree with that response. 

Al-I have many thoughts re: this topic. I'd like to talk offline if you are willing.  [email protected]

My main concern is that there is an overall lack of leadership and seriouls guidence between Elders and worship/praise teams (whatever they may be called at the local churches).  I share a very similar concern about the worship music that has made the way into "mainstream" worship and, in my humble opoion, made hymns something young children will never learn.  Hymns (though not exclusively) have deep and power lyrics, while some (perhaps many) of the newer worship songs seem to simply repeat lines over and over.

That is just the surface of my thoughs on this matter.  At current, I have served as a Deacon for just over 2 years and am serving as deacon chair for the next year. 

I am a bit surprised that we did not receive more comments on "consistory supervision" of music, words, worship service in general.  They seem to delegate without oversight.

One last try at "untameable".  It means to me no control - God is controled by his own righteousness in which he wants us to be righteous as he is righteous.  Love our neighbor as he loves us, etc.

In our church, the music leaders are responsible enough to choose songs - or alternatively to change words if necessary.

Fortunately they are all approachable for positive comments.. This saves the consistory from continually discussing hymns and songs in their meetings and avoids the time taken to draft directives to the music leaders. Consistory members are chosen for their spiritual leadership - not their musical knowledge.

I am just pointing out what the church order states.  I don't think you need to know music to check out the words of a song.

Back to the bigger question--not just whether "untameable" is appropriate--but WHO gets to decide that for our churches?  What are the lines of communication, trust, learning and decision-making?  I asked some of these questions a year ago in a similar blog--if you have time you can find it here http://network.crcna.org/content/worship/role-elders-worship .

Have Elders in our current churches abdicated their leadership roles in making these choices?  Have worship leaders/musicians been left to select their own music without guidance?  Have professional worship leaders wrested control of worship services from the Elders?  What connection do musicians have with preachers?  with Elders? on topics of planning and praying together?  Whether Elders or non-Elder worship leaders are making the choices, do they all have criteria or guidelines that help them make those choices?  

Pre-deterimined criteria can help both Elders and musicians select worship songs while avoiding personal biases.  These guidelines are especially helpful if the Elders are expected to be involved in worship decisions.  Typically one-third of the Consistory is new every year.  If there are no existing criteria for worship planning and song selection, then the worship style/structure/content will shift every year based on personal preference of the Elders.   If there are no established guidelines for song selection, the default principle becomes 'personal preference' and then--look out!--we start to defend our personal preference as more biblical/theological/missional/appropriate/reformed/pure/righteous... (whatever word will help us get our way without 'fessing up that we just personally like our song better). 

As both a preacher and a worship leader and musician, I appreciate prayerful interest and the investment of ideas and support from other Worship Planners and Elders in the difficult process of worship planning, rather than critique after-the-fact.  There are always things that can be improved on, and we who do this kind of work regularly are often reminded that something could have been better--better song choice, better sound technology, better musical style, etc.  It is more helpful when we work together, mutually respecting gifts and responsibilities, using agreed-upon criteria to plan and lead worship with our congregations.

Here are some very practical helps from the Calvin Institutes of Christian Worship's site: 

http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-worship-planning/

Thank you for your response and information.

1. You state that Article 52 gives the elders the responsibility to make sure synodically approved songs are used in worship services. Does this also apply to the synodical endorsement of new hymnals? When Synod approved of the new hymnal this summer, did each delegate to Synod read and study every song in the hymnal? Or did they rely on the expertise of the committee assigned the task of putting this hymnal together? When church councils assign people to be a part of the worship committee, do the elders still need to go over every song the committee approves? While it is the committee's responsibility to report to the council, should it not have the support of the elders and shouldn't it be trusted to use appropriate material without having to worry that everything they do will be second guessed? If the council does it's work properly, they will make sure that there are people on the committee who have some musical experience and knowledge of appropriate songs. I know in our church, the worship committee is made up of an elder, who chairs the committee, the pastor, the music director and the praise leader, among others.

2. In regards to Chris Tomlin's song, Indescribable, this is a beautiful song of worship which honors the creativity of our Creator. Taken in this context, the description, untameable, is most definitely appropriate. God's ability to create this world along with all the galaxies and all the atoms that make up everything that exists cannot be tamed. He is indescribable, uncontainable, all powerful and untamable, as Chris Tomlin writes. When we are reminded of how awesome our God is in the words of this song, we can't help but be reminded of Psalm 95:1-7. I belive Chris Tomlin saves the best for last. In the first part of the song we are reminded of God's handiwork around us. In order to accomplish what He did, He has to be a big and powerful God. Yet, in spite of His greatness, we are reminded, "You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same." Praise the Lord!

If I am not mistaken the Synodical delgations from each classis begins at the local level delegating to Classis and then delegating elders to Synod. So Elders at Synod make the final decision. Prior to that happening the proposed Hymnal is asked to be reviewed by the churches for feedback. So the whole process still places emphasis on "elder supervision and approval".

I mentioned in an earlier comment I was not completely against the word "untameable" but I still maintain it is not the best word to describe God. However to each his own interpretation of the word as used in the song. 

At our church, ALL songs are selected by our liturgy team, NOT our PW team.  This liturgy team consists of our lead pastor, our Director of Worship, one worship team member, and various members of the congregation. 

Song ideas are discussed with their relevance to that particular worship service's theme.  And while our Director of Worship will have a lot of input regarding songs, our pastor always has the final say.

Re:  August's comment and Al's response:  I think that spiritual leadership includes keeping an eye on the songs, particularly on the wordings of the songs, but also on how and when they are sung, and on who is leading the singing.  A song leader must also exhibit spiritual leadership;  they should not be living lifestyles that contradict either the songs, or the spiritual message that is presented every Sunday.   However, there is not just one way of monitoring or evaluating the songs.  In our worship we have a number of songs chosen by a song leader or praise team, and a number of songs chosen by the preacher.   We also usually have a couple songs early on after the children's story, which is just before the main service, which are sometimes favorites selected by the children.   Usually this works out okay, but sometimes they select songs which are questionable.  Sometimes they are sung, sometimes the leader will divert to a different song.   For example, some very young children will sometimes ask for "Twinkle, Twinkle little star", which to me is a bit, well... infantile..   but then they are very young children, after all.   But Twinkle, twinkle little star can end with the line, "God has placed you where you are."   Which brings it into a worship context.   The problem is that if we revert to the older familiar "How I wonder what you are", then we have missed the point, and are missing an opportunity. 

I would suggest that children's songs can be as much of a minefield as anything, partly because we want to humor the children, partly because we don't seem to expect as much from them.  But every incident and every song is an opportunity for teaching, and if we miss that, then we are inadvertently hurting our children.   And children can learn good songs just as easily as they learn bad songs and ditties.   So maybe we should start there. 

As a side note, we have a twelve year old girl who plays the drums and cymbals in accompaniement along with the piano and the singing, for almost every praise song and congregational hymn that we sing.   She has a knack for making it blend and fit, and it is neat to see and hear. 

Participant

Very interesting and excellent comments.  We have a worship leadership team that reviews new songs we'd like to sing. Regardless of how catchy and easy to sing the song may be, if the lyrics are questionable as to our reformed theology, we may choose not to sing it.  But others we may choose to sing even if they don't speak about God.  But we agree to always include a caviat before the song that puts it into biblical perspective.  For example, the song Breathe, we usually read a psalm or other passage or say something that reflects our need to fully depend on God and his Word.

Thanks for all the feedback.  Coming up next my "take" on Church Discipline.