As I was preparing to lead worship last week, I asked a question on Facebook:
“What songs does the church sing tomorrow in the face of martyrdom? Answer the question, don’t pontificate.”
I was actually quite surprised at the number of responses and by the content of some of them. For me, the question was quite serious. Faced with the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, including the beheading of children, how does the church sing? And, if we do, what do we sing?
Looking over the suggestions made by many friends, it was clear to me that the church in America doesn’t have a very deep bench when it comes to persecution and martyrdom. Musician Bob Bennett made the suggestion of Martyr Song by Erick Nelson that appears on the classic album by Erick and Michelle Pillar called “The Misfit.” It’s a powerful song of hope that actually sings about the martyrs of the early church but could apply to today as well. Still, there aren’t many like that. P.J Hudson nailed it when he made this comment:
“Songs are a reflection of culture. America does not have any songs appropriate for martyrdom because America does not have martyrdom taking place within its own borders. The answer to this question can be found with God’s psalmists who are hiding from their predators in the middle east and north Africa.”
What songs do those psalmists sing? What words do they use? How do they approach their dangerous surroundings or approaching death? I plan to explore that for a future post.
The suggestions offered told me that the church has four primary types of songs in the face of tragedy and trial:
1) Songs of Sovereignty – songs that remind us that God is in control and always worthy of our worship.
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Holy Holy Holy
A Mighty Fortress
This is My Father’s World
God Moves in a Mysterious Way
The Church’s One Foundation
The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Ghost Ship)
Even in Sorrow (Slater Armstrong)
2) Songs of Comfort – note: most of these are largely self-referential and sung in the first person. I found most of these lacking in helping us to weep with those weep. It would take an able worship leader to help people sing these as intercessory prayer for others as opposed to having them simply turn inward towards our own trials.
Be Still My Soul
Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
Jesus Loves Me
It is Well
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
God of Angel Armies
O Heart Bereaved And Lonely
When My Heart is Torn Asunder (Wickham)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
3) Songs of Commitment – a renewal of our own commitment in the face of trails and the sacrifice of others.
Make my Life a Prayer
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
I Shall Not Want – Audrey Assad
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
O Love that Will Not Let Me Go
Rise Up O Men of God
3) Songs of Battle – songs of warfare against the prince of darkness.
The Battle Belongs to the Lord
Onward Christian Soldiers
Lead On O King Eternal
Note: these are songs about battle, being ready for battle, going into battle, etc… What you don’t find are actual attacks against the principalities and powers. We are told to resist, to tear down strongholds, to wage war. How would that be addressed in song? I’d like to hear your suggestions.
As for last Sunday, what songs did we end up singing? Here’s the list with key verses from each:
1) A Mighty Fortress
And tho’ this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thru us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure
For lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him
That word above all earthly pow’rs
No thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thru Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever
2) Hope of the Nations (Brian Doerksen)
Jesus hope of the nations
Jesus comfort for all who mourn
You are the source of heaven’s hope on earth
Jesus light in the darkness
Jesus truth in each circumstance
You are the source of heaven’s light on earth
3) Your Name (Andy Bromley)
Your name higher than them all
Holy One of God the Lord of lords, Your name.
Your name, Heaven’s only Son
High and lifted up forevermore, Your name
And the nations bow, And their kingdoms fall
Every king and priest, Every prince and lord
Falling to their knees, Will acknowledge You
We will lift our voice in praise
Honour Your name
4) Oceans – Almost didn’t do this one. It was a song of faith in the midst of trial but was lacking that cry for others I was looking for. So my wife and I rewrote the bridge and this is what we sang Sunday:
Open wide the gates of glory for the dying
For the saints who have been faithful
in the dark days of their trial.
Show your mercy to the hungry and the frightened
Scatter all those who love violence
Show the nations you are mighty
5) The Church’s One Foundation – This was our communion hymn.
Though with a scornful wonder, Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
The church shall never perish, Her dear Lord to defend
To guide, sustain and cherish, is with her to the end
Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale
Against a foe or traitor, She ever shall prevail
Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
‘Til, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blessed,
And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.