The other day Russell Moore, who is much smarter and more godly than me, posted on Twitter:
Every time a worship leader takes “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” out of “Come Thou Fount,” an angel loses his wings.
To which I replied:
Every time a worship leader includes it 90% of the congregation has no idea what it means.
This, of course, prompted a number of people to hop in the conversation (I solve all my deepest theological questions through Twitter), most saying that we shouldn’t change the words of the hymn, we should simply teach people what they mean. And they could be right. Maybe we should regularly explain that raising your Ebenezer has nothing to do with Ebenezer Scrooge and everything to do with God’s faithfulness. But I’m not so sure.
See, here’s the thing. Us Christians speak our own language. We talk in Christianese. We regularly use words and phrases that make no sense to the rest of the world. We ask God for “traveling mercies”. We pray a “hedge of protection” around each other. We “walk in the light”, we participate in “accountability groups”, we need to get back to the “heart of worship”. We’re like our own little club, with secret phrases, handshakes, and rituals.
And the reality is, our culture is becoming more and more Bible illiterate. Words that once were commonly understood are no longer used. We can’t assume that our friends, coworkers, and fellow students understand what we mean by traditional Bible words, such as “repent”, “sin”, and “forgiveness”. We can’t assume people understand what we’re talking about when we use Bible-rich words like “propitiation” and “justification”. These aren’t commonly used words in our culture anymore. There is no moral majority. We are living in a post-modern, post-Bible culture that doesn’t have a shared repository of religious words.
We need to be keenly aware of this when we interact with unbelievers. If we have the opportunity to share the gospel with a neighbor or a coworker, we need to carefully explain what it means to repent of our sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to use the word “repent”, then make it clear what that word means. We need to extol the riches of God’s grace, but we also need to explain what “grace” means. When I preach a sermon, I want to use the word “propitiation” because it is such a rich, biblical word. But, I can’t make the mistake of assuming most people know the definition of the word.
Plus, certain words are more important than others. I would prefer that people understand “repent”, “believe”, “grace” and, “forgiveness” before they understand “Ebenezer”. I would prefer that people be firm on “justification” and “sanctification” before they be firm on the word “fount”.
So should we raise our Ebenezer? Should we take refuge in our bulwarks? Should we bind our hearts with fetters? Maybe. Probably. That’s a decision that each individual church and worship leader needs to make. I love hymns, and want to preserve them as much as possible. I also want my church to be as biblically literate as possible. But we need to remember who is walking into our churches. We need to understand that the terms we throw around so casually are completely foreign to the unbeliever.
I’m not trying to be anti-biblical or anti-intellectual. I’m simply trying to be “seeker aware”. A church that is “seeker sensitive” builds their entire service around the unbeliever. A church that is “seeker aware” doesn’t build the service around the unbeliever, but does acknowledge the unbeliever and try to meet them where they are. I want to be that kind of church.