Ambassador of Reconciliation
6/15/15 at 08:29 AM 28 Comments

Why Aren't We Allowed to Believe What We Sing, Say, and Pray? Part 1

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The other day I read an article by Corrie Mitchell entitled “Let’s Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs,” in which she maintains that some of the most popular Christian songs aren’t worth singing. Mitchell says, “Some of these songs on this list are theologically questionable, others are merely uncomfortable—and some sound like thinly disguised teenage crush songs.” I completely concur that we should be more careful about the words we use when we worship the Almighty God.

I also have another problem with some of the songs we sing in church—that we don’t really believe what we’re saying, and in fact are not allowed to truly believe it. I’m talking about songs and hymns that speak of the full breadth of Jesus’ saving work—that He died for the sins of the whole world and will actually save the whole world. This idea finds its way into our Christian music, as well as our prayers and statements about our faith, but most of the Christian church rejects the idea that Jesus will save all.

Look closely at the selected words to the sampling of hymns below. They hint at or declare openly the hope that God will draw all to Himself, give life to all, and be adored and worshiped by all.

Lift High the Cross
George W. Kitchin 1887, modified by Michael R. Newbolt 1916

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley 1739

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings:
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

The Love of God
Frederick M. Lehman 1917

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

God Is Love
Timothy Rees (1874-1939)

God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us,
every child of every race.

Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love forever
o’er the universe must reign!

The Great Creator of the Worlds
Bland F. Tucker 1939

He came as Savior to his own,
the way of love he trod;
he came to win us by good will,
for force is not of God.

Not to oppress, but summon all
their truest life to find,
in love God sent his Son to save,
to ransom all mankind.

All Praise to Thee
Bland F. Tucker 1938

Wherefore, by God’s eternal purpose,
thou art high exalted o’er all creatures now,
and given the name to which all knees shall bow:
Hallelujah; hallelujah!

Let every tongue confess with one accord
in heaven and earth that Jesus Christ is Lord;
and God eternal be by all adored:
Hallelujah; hallelujah!

O Day of Peace that Dimly Shines
Carl P. Daw, Jr. 1982

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams…

Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.

Cover of book by Rev. Jim Reimann, illustrations by Julia Filipone-Erez. published by WestBow Press

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Come, Now Is the Time to Worship
Brian Doerksen 2002

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose you now.

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Edward Perronet 1780

Let every kindred, every tribe
on this terrestrial ball,
to him all majesty ascribe,
and crown him Lord of all.
To him all majesty ascribe,
and crown him Lord of all.

O Zion, Haste
Mary Ann Thomson (1868)

O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that He who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace,
tidings of Jesus, redemption, and release.

Behold how many thousands still are lying
bound in the dark-some prison-house of sin,
with none to tell them of the Savior's dying,
or of the life He died for them to win.

Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how He stooped to save His lost creation,
and died on earth that we might live above.

Give of thine own to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious,
and all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

I Cannot Tell
William Y. Fullerton 1929

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.

But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to Heaven, and Heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Savior, Savior of the world is King!

There are also countless hymns that speak of the greatness of God’s grace, the wideness of His mercy, and the vastness of His love. Do you sing these songs and others like them[1] with full conviction that what you are singing about is true? Or do the words go right over your head without a thought about their meaning? Or do you fudge them in your mind or water them down to mean something less than the complete restoration of all creation?

Or perhaps you take another approach. The leaders of some churches actually do listen to what they are singing—and change the words to fit their theology. The Reformed church I used to attend made slight revisions to some old hymns to correspond to their belief in limited atonement, resulting in a weakened gospel. Here is their version of the first verse of “To God Be the Glory”:

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life, an atonement for sin,
And opened the lifegate, that we may go in.

Did you catch the difference? “And opened the lifegate, that we may go in” (i.e., the “elect”) instead of “that all may go in," as Fanny Crosby originally wrote. So God loved the world, but not enough that the Son would die for the whole world; His atonement opened the lifegate only for some. Or how about their version of “And Can It Be”:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
humbled himself (so great his love!)
and bled for all his chosen race!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for, O my God, it found out me!

The real one by Charles Wesley says:

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

So Jesus' grace is infinite, but He shed His blood only for a chosen few? Even before I had any idea about universal restoration, I refused to sing the adulterated versions of these hymns. I just knew something wasn’t right about the idea that only “we the chosen” could receive God's mercy.

Some friends have alerted me to other instances of lyric-tampering to tone down a Universalist thrust. Two stanzas of John Wesley’s translation of “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” read as follows:

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.

Jesus, be endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me,
For me, and all Thy hands have made,
An everlasting ransom paid.

The first of these stanzas does not appear in the Trinity Hymnal at all, and the second reads:

Jesus, be endless praise to thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me—
For me a full atonement made,
An everlasting ransom paid.

Ironically, the verse speaks of Jesus’ “boundless mercy,” but the “full atonement” is just “for me,” not “for me, and all Thy hands have made”! In another irony, the verse at the top of the page is Romans 3:24: “Justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This verse follows and complements 3:23, which speaks of the universal fall:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24, NIV).

Sadly, not even children’s songs are safe from tampering. In some churches, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” becomes “Jesus loves His little children, all His children of the world.” How tragic that someone would feel compelled to make sure that little children don’t believe that Jesus loves all of them.

What’s going on here, that we find a conflict between what we sing with the heart and what we believe with the head? A comment by Snitzelhoff explains this tension:

A lot of our worship music, from old hymns to contemporary choruses, from the deepest, most contemplative to the fluffiest, carries undertones of Universalism. I find it absolutely fascinating, since most of the artists and composers would deny being Universalists, as would most of those that joyfully sing the songs in worship. The conflict between the heart that longs for God to save the world and the mind that pessimistically declares that He cannot or will not do it is never clearer than in a church that expresses belief in a hopeless, eternal Hell in its statement of faith and then turns right around and sings that the love of God “reaches to the lowest Hell.” They sing about “streams of mercy, never ceasing,” while warning in their sermons that mercy will one day be cut off. Children’s songs about the God who’s “got the whole world in His hands” belie doctrine that insists that most of the world will be ripped out of His hands.

Deep in the heart of Christians is the hope of the ultimate victory of God, and while bad theology obscures that hope, music has a way of bringing it out.

Next time you sing a hymn or worship song, really think about the words. If you have simply been uttering the words, or if you cannot whole-heartedly affirm what you are singing, then maybe it’s time to take stock of what you really believe.

In Part 2 I will take a look at some of the prayers used in our church that express Universalist themes. Do we pray these prayers as wishful thinking, knowing that what we pray for won’t really happen? Or are we actually laying hold of God’s promises by faith?


[1] For more examples of songs with Universalist overtones, see “Songs that reflect God’s unfailing love.”

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