General Synod 7—How does your Synod sing?

It’s sometimes said, “Show me your songs, and I will tell you your theology”.

There was very clear theology being expressed in the songs chosen for the services of Morning and Evening Prayer each day for this General Synod.

Take this …

Jesus calls us to each other:
Found in him are no divides.
Race and class and sex and language
Such are barriers he derides.

Nothing wrong with that per se. But there were a several more like it repeatedly calling for acceptance and inclusion. For example:

May your love unite our action,
Nevermore to speak alone,
God in us abolish faction,
And through us your love make known.

Again, there were several hymns rightly expressing concern for the weak and dispossessed:

Longing for food, many are hungry;
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
Shared until all are fed.

I share the concern for the hungry, but I’m very uncertain about the wisdom of suggesting we Christians take the role that rightly seems to belong to Christ. It’s Jesus alone who is the bread of heaven. And Jesus is the one whose body was broken for us, not us for others.

Next we got what sounded like some classic catholic condign merit theology:

Bless those who give us any gift,
Because they know that we are yours;
Reward them with your grace…
Because we bear your name.

The next verse of this one puzzled me too:

Let us acknowledge those as friends
Who use your name to right a wrong
But have not joined us yet…
Because we bear your name.

What is the meaning of ‘friend’ there? Can you be a friend of Christ and his people if you do not join them? Is this opening the door to salvation outside of Christ?

As far as I could see, it took until the evening of Day 4 of Synod before we got a hymn that actually mentioned Christ’s death at all. Even then, it was in the context of a social justice hymn, his cross relieving pain and bitterness in warfare.

Day 5 saw us sing Frederick Faber’s hymn, There’s a Wideness in God’s mercy. Finally this hymn reminded us that there’s

Forgiveness in his justice,
Sealed for us on Calvary.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed.

This was the one and only time in six days’ worth of hymns that our Saviour’s precious atonement was explicitly celebrated in song.

Two interesting things about the choice of this hymn to do it … One is that the verse from Faber’s original which mention us being sinners was omitted (it originally had several more verses). The other is that the verses chosen to remain once again were those that warned against narrow-mindedness:

But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own
And we magnify the strictness
With a zeal he will not own.

Maybe the songs we sing in our circles are too narrow also—too much atonement, and almost never the horizontal plane, at least in terms of love and acceptance and social concern. But it’s hard to have too much of Christ crucified. And there was hardly any resurrection either. So it was really sad that basic gospel truths were almost completely absent in six days worth of songs.

Instead what we sang was almost exclusively horizontal, mainly social justice, and being tolerant and inclusive. And at that level, there’s no doubt the songs chosen showed the theology of the major alternate theological vision present in the Anglican Church of Australia.

Having not been very impressed with the balance of songs, I can report that we did get to sing my favourite Newton hymn on the last day, How sweet the name of Jesus’ sounds. I’ve often said I’d like this one at my funeral. So maybe you’ve had enough of my jaundiced opinions and are hoping for a chance to sing the hymn soon!

2 thoughts on “General Synod 7—How does your Synod sing?

  1. Sounds fairly dismal to me, Sandy. On the other hand, it refutes those who believe that singing hymns will solve all our theological problems!

    My own song selections are very heavily oriented to “Christ crucified”. But I wouldn’t mind a couple of social justice style songs. Know any good ones? Trevor Hodge’s “Micah Song” is the only one that comes to mind.

  2. Not really any dedicated only to that purpose.

    But Rob Smith’s “Live for the Kingdom” has it as part of the response…

    Love one another, care for the lost;
    Learn to live simply and carry your cross.

    When you’re mistreated, be certain to bless,
    Seeking his righteousness.

    And Chris Griffith’s “Teach Me Your Ways” (from Castle Hill’s first album) reminds us of God that…

    Your way, your way
    Is rest for the weary,
    Freedom for the prisoner.
    Your way, your way
    Is feeding those who hunger,
    Carrying those who stumble.

    But it also says that God’s way is to provide for us in the atonement! This makes it all the richer when the chorus sings…

    Teach me your ways,
    I want to walk in truth & righteousness.
    Teach me your ways,
    Let your word speak to my heart.
    Teach me your ways,
    And lead me into truth,
    Until you come again,
    Teach me your ways.

    “Good King Wenceslas” is a type of social concern Christmas carol too!

    The one song we sang at General Synod from an author people from our circles might recognise was “God of the Poor”, first line, “Beauty for Brokenness” by Graham Kendrick.  Not sure I would do it again, except for a very particular sort of occasion.

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