[From the archives.]
I grew up in a liturgical church that sang songs out of a hymnal. A hymnal, kids, is a book containing songs written before you were born. A book is something people would read before the internet.
One Sunday morning the choir director – that’s someone who led music before we had worship leaders – one Sunday morning the choir director said we were going to sing a song that wasn’t in the hymnal. A Christian song. I didn’t know there were any Christian songs that weren’t in hymnals.
It sounded different. It sounded like it wasn’t written a hundred years before I was born. It sounded almost – not quite, but almost – like a song you’d hear outside of church.
The song? We Are One In The Spirit. Its chorus is all about how much love Christians have for each other and how this shows the world we are, you know, Christians. I don’t want to give the wrong impression about that message. It’s awesome, because it’s based on something Jesus told his friends in their last night together:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)
You can’t go wrong with the words of our Lord, right? Right. But why did the song writer have to take such a hopeful and joyful message and write the music in a minor key? It ends up coming across as a dirge, for crying out loud.
Bad Doctrine – bad, bad doctrine!
You know what’s worse than singing a dirge with joy-filled lyrics. Singing a happy little tune with doctrinally abysmal lyrics, yet that’s what we got when the choir director introduced a second song not found in the hymnal. Back then I didn’t know enough to question the Scriptural basis for church songs, but when I heard Lord of the Dance on the radio yesterday my doctrinal Spidey-sense started tingling*.
v. 4 – I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
v. 5 – They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
There are real problems with those lyrics.
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
Even allowing for poetic license it’s hard to see anywhere in the four gospels where Jesus can be said to have the devil on his back, let alone that this impeded his ministry in any way. In fact, just the opposite is shown.
- When Satan tried to take Jesus on directly, Jesus merely spoke and Satan left in a hurry. (Matthew 4:1-11.)
- Again, all it took was a word from Jesus and demon after demon fled. Not much of a struggle there. (Matthew 8:16.)
- Even at his crucifixion, Jesus was the one in control. (John 19:10-11.)
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me
Also, there’s nothing in the Bible to support the proposition that Christ’s living in us is predicated on our first living in him. Quite the opposite is true.
- Jesus is not the True Vine because we are attached to him. Rather, we are fruitful branches because we are first attached to the True Vine. (John 15:1-4.)
- His ability to give himself for us is not somehow made possible because we first live in him. Rather, our life in Christ is possible because he gave himself for us. (Galatians 2:20.)
- We did not do something worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice. Rather, we were actually powerless to do anything for ourselves when Christ died for us to bring us to himself. (Romans 5:6-8.)
Some may say I’m making too much out of this, that I’m misconstruing the song writer’s words and taking them out of context.
I beg to differ. So does Sydney Carter, the song writer himself, who said that while Jesus was part of the inspiration for the song so was Shiva (a Hindu god):
I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.
I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance.
“Dubiously Christian” – finally, something I can agree with.
Questions to ponder:
Do you scrutinize the lyrics of songs presented to you as being appropriate for worship?
What do you do when you hear unsound doctrine in a song at church?
*Copyright 1963 Stainer & Bell Ltd. London, England. The questionable lines show up in verses 4 and 5.