We sang a text for the first time in worship on Sunday. “Sing a New Church” is written by Delores Dufner, OSB and sung to the tune NETTLETON (Come Thou Fount). I found the comments section on the previously linked page interesting, as well as this post, “Bad Poetry, Bad Theology.” It seems that some Roman Catholics have a problem with the lyrics in this song.
From what I can gather, the problematic text is the refrain,
“Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.”
I can appreciate the theological hesitation. And I think it is always beneficial and good to discern the texts we sing in worship. It is not a trivial thing to pastorally care for the sung theology of a local church. It seems that the primary hang up is the idea that the church can sing itself into being.
From a Lutheran perspective, I can understand the objection. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism). There is no church, and no church can be sung into existence, unless it is the Holy Spirit singing.
Perhaps “new” is the most problematic word. I understand the argument that there is only one church. Perhaps “sing a renewed church into being,” better captures the idea in a less heretical way. A new church is a renewed church, which is another way of saying reformation. And certainly the work of continual reformation in the church is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that we, God’s people, don’t have a part in the reformation of the church.
It is the prayerful labors of God’s people, centered in word, meal, and baptism, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that make God’s church renewed. I don’t think the church can enter renewal and reformation through passively willing it. I definitely think that singing has something to do with how the church becomes renewed and reformed.
What do you think? Are the lyrics orthodox or heresy?
You honed in on one objection and phrased it well: only the Holy Spirit can “sing” a church into being. I have another, however , that the focus is on what the people do, rather than on what God does/has done/will do.
I believe that God can and does transform the gifts we offer, and that when God’s people gather, He is in our midst and acts in and through us, and that we have to cooperate with grace. But it starts with God’s grace, not our singing (or any other human action). The initiative is divine, not human, and this song (I can’t elevate it to “hymn”) flips the divine initiative upside down.
Thanks for your comment Laura. Narcissism is a concern in a lot of modern worship music.