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Charismatics’ neglect of the psalms indicative of deeper malaise
14 February 2014 by Abigail Frymann Rouch

I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the worship music that’s used in the charismatic end of the Church: I have wished the words had more theological content and poetry; I have wished the words and music related better to each other and essentially made more sense.

But this week The Tablet reports that Tom Wright, the former bishop of Durham, in a new book Finding God in the Psalms (SPCK), considers the charismatic end of the Church “crazy” for abandoning “the Church’s original hymnbook” and relying on pop-style music that weaves in only the odd line from them.

As someone still safely below the average age of a Church of England worshipper I can say Anglican psalm chant has yet to do anything for me (maybe my brother is to blame for introducing me to Derek and Clive’s outrageous parody of it when I was a teenager).

And as for the pop-esque worship songs – which one devout septagenarian friend described as “mono-music” for its lack of variation – I maintain that they have their place. I have stood in among the thousands of young people praising away at the big Christian festivals for half an hour, even an hour at a time, and I am pretty sure they would not flock there for that amount of organ-accompanied hymns, anthems and psalm chant. A friend who became a Christian in adulthood said that hymns remind her of school assembly and leave her cold. There is clearly a place for the modern style, which at its best has wonderfully direct and challenging lyrics and puts worshippers at their ease.

They make a great appetiser for discovering more of God. Yet after a diet of only those for a number of years, these songs had not nourished me with lines that would comfort or guide in the face of life’s knocks, as some older hymns did. That’s when I turned to the psalms, read in silence at home when I felt alienated from the loud half-hour worship sets that seemed at that point, dare I say it, like a clanging cymbal.

Dr Wright’s complaint that modern songs do not reflect the breadth of the psalms is indicative of a limitation of more than just the song preferences of that end of the Church. I have attended workshops where worship leaders expressed views similar to his and musicians were told that modern worship music fell far short of the variety of the psalms. I went away and had a go at writing a song of lament only to be told it wasn’t appropriate for congregational use. While my lines may not have been Grammy material, it was the mood that was criticised, even though next to the Bible’s fabulously red-blooded psalms, that looked pretty tame.

And there seemed to be a similar unease with silence. At a church I used to attend, another friend who had struggled with depression asked the vicar if he could open up the side chapel for silent prayer at the end of evening services. But even the attempt was well received – on one occasion I counted 17 people crammed in there. It clearly met a need that the rest of the service, its up-beat worship and accessible sermon, did not.

The psalms are dangerous tools to allow people to use – they are emotional, sometimes furious, sometimes contradictory. They don’t all fit into six-verse formulae that have happy heavenly endings. Judging by the songs it champions, it looked as though the charismatic end of the Church, lively and welcoming as it is as an ecclesiastical shop window, lacked the confidence to accompany people in the darker places of life.

Charismatics are used to participating in church music, not being sung at. If Dr Wright wants psalms back regularly, they may have to be band-led and loud. But as long they are as red-bloodied as the Hebrew originals, I think the style would be a price worth paying.



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Comment by: A Charismatic
Posted: 21/02/2014 14:54:04

Lyrics od a charismatic song by Stuart Townend:

You are my anchor,
My light and my salvation.
You are my refuge,
My heart will not fear.
Though my foes surround me on every hand,
They will stumble and fall
While in grace I stand.
In my day of trouble
You hide me and set me above
To sing this song of love.

One thing I will ask of You, this will I pray:
To dwell in Your house, O Lord, every day,
To gaze upon Your lovely face,
And rest in the Father's embrace.

Teach me Your way, Lord,
Make straight the path before me.
Do not forsake me, my hope is in You.
As I walk through life, I am confident
I will see Your goodness with every step,
And my heart directs me to seek You
In all that I do,
So I will wait for You.

Lyrics of a song by Third Day:

Your Love, Oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness
Stretches to the skies
Your righteousness
Is like the mighty mountain
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide

I will lift my voice
To worship You my King
And I will find my strength
In the shadow of Your wings

And there are hundreds more like them.

Comment by: Tim Burton
Posted: 16/02/2014 17:34:22

There is a fundamental error at the end of this very helpful piece. It's a mistake to equate listening to music with 'being sung at'. For example, listening to the psalms sung in plainchant can be a very powerful, spiritually nourishing form of participation. Which is one of the reasons why I make regular retreats at a Benedictine monastery where the psalms are sung by a monastic choir in both modern English and in Latin.

Comment by: Kippy
Posted: 14/02/2014 22:14:07

I'm a (Catholic) music minister, and we had some really wonderful (folk-style) settings of the psalms that we had used for years and the people really knew and sang. When the new translation came in, we were informed by the diocese that we could now only use psalms that had the wording exactly as it is in the Missal. We managed to tweak a few, but many of our favorites can only be used as communion songs now, and we don't necessarily think of them when selecting music.