Restoring Worship: An Example


My post on Atheist Worship has elicited a lot of spirited feedback, all of it positive. I want to step out on a limb a bit and give a practical example of what I’m thinking about with regards to integrity and growth in the lyrics we sing.(Obviously, there is another dimension to this conversation–that of the aural/musical component of our worship-in-song. But I’m no musician; I’ll leave this to those who are.)


Segue: How did I end up an assistant worship leader in the 1990s if I’m not a musician? I can’t really sing, either…I think it was a combination of a.) Desperation–God bless ’em–and b.) I made a really big songbook. At that point, I was on denomination 3.5 (having previously been Southern Baptist, independent charismatic, and Assemblies of God Pentecostal–the culture shock of PCA Presbyterianism was great but that’s a whole ‘nother post), and I lamented the mutual ignorance of different denominations of the full flowering of songs each had. They were rather daring for a suburban conservative Presbyterian church in the South, and were willing to sing some of my crazy Vineyard tunes, et al. But I digress…

One observation Brian had in his open letter to worship songwriters is “if an extraterrestrial outsider from Mars were to observe us [Christians gathering for worship], I think he would say either a) that these people are all mildly dysfunctional and need a lot of hug therapy (which is ironic, because they are among the most affluent in the world, having been blessed in every way more than any group in history), or b) that they don’t give a rip about the rest of the world, that their religion/spirituality makes them as selfish as any non Christian, but just in spiritual things rather than material ones.”

I began to feel uneasy about one song favorite in my present church. Now before I get to it, let me say that in our stream of house churches, we write alot of our own songs. Often times we’ll have a rich season of gatherings and practices that inspire a rash of new writing. Which I think is pretty cool. And many of our songs do, in fact, speak to me more than the Pop Christian Top 40 Worship Tunes.

But one song that we sing–which we inherited from a sister house church community–has been bothering me for awhile now. So I’ve drafted a proposed rewrite, for my church and for all of you (even though I’m quite certain you’ve never heard the original). First, let me present the original, sung as a rousing anthem:

There’s a Life That’s Living

There’s a life that’s living on the Earth today
The life is Christ…in all His own.
He’s alive in spirit. He’s the Life in us.
We’re in the Life! We’re on the throne!

We’re on the earth
We know our life’s not here
We’re in Christ…we’re not below
We’re alive to God and not to men.
We’re on the earth, but on the throne!

There’s a message coming from the church today
To have a life…but not your own.
Life not from your body
And not from your soul
Another life! That’s from the throne!

There’s a battle raging on the earth today
To live by life, but not the old;
For the battle’s won by life that overcomes.
Upon the earth, but from the throne.

So it starts off well-enough: “There’s a life that’s living on the earth today.” But then it moves off-planet to enthroning us (which is true enough, spiritually speaking–we are seated in heavenly places with Christ) as opposed to those “men” “below” where we’re “not”…not really. Then it moves on to denying body and soul in our spirituality, and transitions into a warfare mentality, which–given the context–can only be interpreted as hostile to all those “below” who, I dunno, must be another species or something. It seems to me deeply dualistic and this-life denying, almost gnostic, in its present incarnation…we’re not fundies but I think this song’s lyrics are leftover from our post-Brethren roots as a movement. It exhibits fundamentalism’s retreat from modernity, as well as a more general human aversion to the difficulties life can bring. I cringe every time this song is suggested, as it goes against the grain of how I’ve experienced God’s character and purposes on earth. Surely, there is a more integrative vision that can make sense of the full scope of the Spirit’s work among us.

And so, without disrespect to the original composer(s), I humbly submit a rewrite:

There’s a Life That’s Living (Remix)

There’s a life that’s living on the Earth today
The life is Christ…in all his own.
He’s alive in spirit, he’s alive in us.
We’re in the Life–we’re on the throne.

We’re on the earth
We know our life’s right here
We’re in Christ…through him we know
We’re alive to God and fellow men;
We’re on the earth, and on the throne!

There’s a message coming from the Church today
To have a life…but not your own.
Life pours through our body
And flows through our soul
Another life…that’s from the throne!

There’s a battle raging on the earth today
To live by life, but not the old.
For the battle’s won by life that overcomes.
Upon the earth, flows from the throne.

I’ve kept the “battle” motif of the third stanza,even while weighing Brian’s recommendation that “in an era of Columbines and Islamic fundamentalism, [could] we be careful about the language of jihad and holy war? I suppose there is a time and place for that, but I don’t think this is it. We all need a strong dose of Anabaptist peace right about now, in my opinion.”

I agree. And ironically, if we speak of “the battle” raging today as one of living by God’s ever-present divine life, we’re speaking of the struggle to live creatively in the peaceable kingdom Jesus shows us, subverting the metaphor. (The seeds for this were in the original, not my rewrite.)

So…whaddaya think?

11 Responses to Restoring Worship: An Example

  1. Jenny August 30, 2007 at 3:59 pm #

    Welp, I love it. And I never deeply thought about those questions you raise, which are good ones. I’ve come across so many new songs, well house church songs, that it seems better not to analyze them. hehe. (Do you ever feel like being thoughtful about something can be a curse? Ay, ignorance is bliss..)

    The ONLY remaining problem in your rewrite is the word “men.” 😉

    P.S. Seek the Great Wiki with your edits!

  2. brotherjohnny August 30, 2007 at 9:25 pm #

    Yeah, you know I get it, bro.

    Perhaps seeing our life as no less than being IN Christ is the meaning behind the “below” in the old version.

    Makes sense to me.

    Yes, in general, I believe that, in certain circles, there has been an overemphasis on the “spiritual” (notice the quotation marks there…)coupled with an unhealthy apprehension of the physical.

    ‘The Christian Escapist Mentality Syndrome’

    Truly I think it was born out of good intentions,…an intentional shift in thinking in hopes of finding balance between the earthly and the heavenly realms.

    We are all finding balance, although we do tend to try too hard sometimes…resulting in just more falling on our faces.

    We live and learn…

  3. zoecarnate August 30, 2007 at 10:15 pm #

    Commentators from my previous and present church experience–wonderful!

    You offer great thoughts, Johnny. I hope you don’t think I was *totally ripping* what’s come before. I think we as a family of house churches have worked with what what we’ve had in our background–we’ve gained a lot of ground, considering our roots in fundie Baptist, Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel, Calvinist, et al., circles. Affirming that God has any kind of eternal purpose that doesn’t take place in the sweet by-and-by was a quantum leap forward for us. Our spirituality affirms that eternal life begins now, not just (or even primarily) in the hereafter. But sadly, we’ve insisted that the Church is the visible outpost of the Kingdom on earth…nowhere else.

    But it’s a new day…we don’t have to only affirm a disjointed way of looking at our life in God, or the world. We can see our instrumentality as leaves from Life’s Tree for the healing of the nations, without becoming blunt instruments in thrall to some kind’ve religious regime in the process. I suggest this humbly, and willing to see revision.

    I see this passage in Holy Writ as particularly instructive for us in this season(I am referring to my “genre” of house church particularly but anyone reading this can go ahead and apply it to yourselves as well):

    “For long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds but you said, ‘I will not serve’…Why then do my people say, ‘We are free?’ Are they so free that they no longer press in hard after me?”
    Jeremiah 2:20, 31b.

    And Jenny, yes–being a reflective person can give one many bruises in this life. But I’d rather be a “wounded healer” than the “blind leading–or following–the blind.” Hopefully we can all help each other compass more fully the reality that is God’s action in our world.

  4. brotherjohnny August 30, 2007 at 10:48 pm #

    Nah…you’re not ripping, just reacting, which is what we are supposed to do.

    A big ‘AMEN’ on your last sentence.
    The dynamic of all voices being considered is key in keeping men and their agendas at bay.

    Praise God, brother!

  5. Brittian Bullock August 31, 2007 at 12:59 am #

    Awesome Mike…I love the REMIX…I will definitly have to suggest those to the friends here in Vancouver. And I love that verse in Jeremiah, it was what started the journey of the last year for me. It’s one of those plaque kind of ones.

    Thanks for your thoughts on song writing and worship. Sometimes I find that its easy to slip into trite coventions when writing a song to the Lord and rather thoughtlessly proceeding with things one doesn’t really relate to any longer. As if you have a new nationality but hardly speak its language in anything but sparce sentences barely strung together. I guess we’re all searching for the language that we lost, the language now inside many of us, and the language that still longs to come out…can even now hear echoes of its melodies and music…

    Till all is revealed we will reach higher and stretch further…all from the Life that’s in us, on the Earth, and on the Throne.

  6. Gunnar August 31, 2007 at 8:34 pm #

    I think the same kind of thing you think about songs. They bug me. Lately, I try not to annoy my fellow song-singers as they sing the words “I, me, my'” etc…and I change them to “Us, we , our, ” etc.

  7. Mark Golding September 2, 2007 at 7:45 am #

    Half the problem Johnny is to do with what the church has inherited from its forefathers, the mega-narrative that has been handed down like an heir loom.
    Did you know that as soon as the Roman authoritires realized in the first century that their citizens were turning to Christ in large numbers it behove them to write doctrines that would culturally bind these believers to Rome? I firmly believe a contrary spirit created much of what was being said and done under the auspices of Roman authority at that time and the consequence today is a Christendom worshipping the Bible instead of Christ. For, within words of sinners that have been lifted up by the Romans to be co-equal with Christ as Truth there are cultural and very human portrayals of God that are an anathema to Christ’s life and testimony.
    To be succinct. If Christian worship were to be inspired by an adoration of Christ instead of an admiration of the words that talk about Him (i.e. the Old and the disciples’ personal esoteric testimonies) then the theological question about the mind, nature, will, purpose and character of God would come into focus more and might perhaps bring back an emphassis on the pronoun ‘You’ instead of ‘Me’ ‘Us’.
    I worship Christ for Who he IS, not for what I get. At the moment I am dead broke, infact bankrupt almost, but I worship Christ as much as I would if I had a job and loads of dosh. For this I would be called a heretic by some who would argue that this witnesses to a God unable to ‘bless’ his people. But what are riches if they govern of measure worship of God? ‘Oh, brother, how can you worship a God who ‘makes’ you poor?’
    As various power groups in the world flex their secular and spiritual muscles God is calling us back to a place of worship that goes beyond the Roman canon and the call is an urgent one. The abomination in the Holy Place is when people put themselves upon the throne in the Holy Place and they have been doing this since the Bible was created by a contrary spirit that often hunted down and martyred those who resisted its demand for conformity and allegiance.

  8. brotherjohnny September 5, 2007 at 2:39 am #

    Hey, I hear ya about the bible worship.

    As far as the songs go….

    Maybe there are different kinds of songs for different kinds of things.

    Where did the idea of ‘worship songs’ originate from anyway?

    I love songs that glorify God, that speak of and to Him, but then again I also like hearing the gospel songs too…the ones that, by delivering to our ears the gospel message, transport us into a state of worship.

    I think it works either way.


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