Margin notes for 9/30/2KX

1 Corinthians 14:18–19 (ESV) “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

Once we’ve been a Christian for a while, we settle pretty easily into the Church culture in which we find ourselves. With that comes a familiarity with certain language – what some dub “Christianese.” Some of that lingo is ours because it is the language of the Bible – and some of it not. And, because many Evangelical Christians also identify strongly with our historical roots in the Reformation and the Puritans, a certain amount of exposure to dated (albeit poetic) phraseology is also included in our hymnody.

Not surprisingly then, some new Christians have a difficult time imbibing all of this and adjusting to it. While someone like myself loves the musicality and cadence of “King James” English, and the sheer beauty of the poetry of many of our hymns – at times, such usage may be inaccessible to our newer bothers and sisters. It may even be needlessly off-putting. After all, our goal is to bring men, women and children to be followers of Christ – not 19th century hymnophiles.

Let me be clear here. I am NOT suggesting we “dumb” anything down. Where Biblical truth is at stake, we must bring people up to it. In that respect, we must educate faithfully. At the same time, we also need to “translate”. We must – without one iota of compromise in terms of content – nevertheless make the eternal and unchangeable truths we preach and teach accessible and understandable to the widest possible spectrum of people who have come to Christ in faith.

Maybe we are not “Judaizers” doctrinally, but are some of us guilty of being “Victorianizers” culturally?

This came home to me very powerfully in a recent exchange. After a worship service, a wonderful new Believer queried – “what does “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing mean?” ‘ “

It never dawned on me that such phraseology might not be instantly understood – let alone appreciated.

Paul’s caution regarding the exercise of “tongues” in the Corinthian assembly can without damage (I think) be applied to the issue at hand. Do we sometimes “speak in tongues” that do not benefit our brothers and sisters who are either new to the faith, or have no Reformation-Puritan-Victorian reference point? It is worth considering.

In my own consideration of it – I launched out in an attempt to take the august and blessed hymn mentioned above, and translate it for one who may not have been initiated into my own personal preferences. I have no doubt the poetry suffers greatly. But if the germ of the messages meant is conveyed more clearly to some – is it not a sacrifice we may need to make in some cases?

I only ask us to think about it some.

Jesus, source of every blessing, help my heart to know your grace

May your never ending mercy overflow in joyful praise

Teach me how to sing your praises, just like the angels do above

Make your name most precious to me, high above all earthly loves

Up till now your love has blessed me, and you’ve brought me to this place

So I know you’ll bring me safely all the way by your good grace

I didn’t want you when you found me stumbling, lost, outside your love

But your grace broke through and won me, and you bought me with your blood

How I owe you all I am Lord, such a debt I cannot pay

Endless love and boundless mercy make me love you more each day

Still in my sin I fail to feel it, Spirit of God renew my eyes

Capture soul, and mind and body, be alone my highest prize

To your table we have come Lord, to your body and your blood

Symbols of your death at Calv’ry, where you took our place in love

Nailed to the Cross for all our sinfulness, carrying all our guilt and shame

Satisfying all God’s anger, that we might be free from blame

Nailed to the Cross for all my sinfulness, Burying me in your own grave

Rising up to justify me, doing all my soul to save.

2 thoughts on “Margin notes for 9/30/2KX

  1. Reid,
    I agree that we definitely need to be sensitive to our hearers understanding when we preach. I certainly have no problem with updating our translations as I use the ESV. Since you rewrote the whole song I assume this person was asking what the entire song meant rather than just that phrase. It would seem to know Christ as Savior would make the phrase rather obvious, but maybe I assume too much.

    My question about your version of the song is that in order to make it easier to understand you removed all the biblical references. “Up to now your love has blessed me” does not convey the full meaning of “Here I raise my Ebenezer”. It seems to me that when you remove the biblical references you can’t help but “dumb it down”.

    Perhaps another way to deal with such questions is to go through the biblical references of the song so they can see why the writer choose these particular phrases. This in turn will cause them to become more familiar with the Bible. To some extent this will take time before they can fully appreciate these songs, but that is part of it. New Christians can’t be expected to appreciate all of this immediately and we should be glad to patiently teach them. But to rewrite such songs really seem to change it into something entirely different than the author meant and move our attention away from the Scriptural references. Clearly the author of such songs has a deep working understanding of the Bible and I appreciate hearing how he puts it to song and would feel cheated by anything less. We need simple songs and deeper songs. We need to be sensitive to new converts needs and perhaps such songs will drive them to the Word.

    Thanks for your work,

    Just my two cents.

  2. I think you make an excellent point Nathan. We do not want to disassociate Bible phrases where they bring in important ideas for sure. But in this particular reference, I’m not sure there’s a problem. The passage you reference reads in full: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV)

    In this case, the verse itself “translates” Ebenezer so the reader can easily access the meaning. And – the meaning is “Till now the LORD has helped us.” The KJV says “hitherto the LORD hath helped us.” It does not simply leave it as “Ebenezer.” Since it is the meaning of Ebenezer that the text is after, it seems giving the same meaning is equally as valid. Now then, I’m also willing to hear an objection – so fire away.

    The new lyric I supplied is: “Up till now your love has blessed me, and you’ve brought me to this place.” If there is a significant difference that varies I’m at a loss for it. All three are expressing that it is God who has conveyed us this far – safely.

    In other words – is “Ebenezer” central to or necessary for the meaning? Or is the meaning the more necessary part?

    Good things to ponder. I really appreciate the input. I’ll have to think further.

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