“"Holy Ground" and Singing What's Led”Categories: Hymn Theory
Recently, a friend asked me what I thought of the praise song “Holy Ground” and whether we should sing it in worship. There are a couple of songs with that title, but I think the version he’s talking about is this one. It doesn’t really matter; the other “Holy Ground” says similar things. Apparently, the argument goes that the idea of a church building being holy ground is unscriptural, so we shouldn’t sing it.
I have a couple of problems with that. First, I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct. As I understand things, in Scriptural terms, something is holy when it is dedicated to God’s purposes.
Isn’t that true of our church buildings? If that’s not true, if we don’t believe that our church buildings should be dedicated entirely to God’s purposes, why do we object so strenuously to church buildings containing fellowship halls, gyms, and so forth? Conversely, if they are dedicated entirely to God’s purposes (like the meat of sacrifices under the Law, for instance), isn’t there at least a sense in which they are holy?
However, even stipulating that the above is not true, there’s another problem with objecting to “Holy Ground”. Sure, it’s possible to read the lyrics as being about the literal floor of the church building. However, it’s equally possible to read them metaphorically. “We are standing on holy ground,” is a clear reference to Exodus 3:5.
When we sing “Holy Ground”, then, we are putting ourselves in the position of Moses, in the same way that we put ourselves in the position of the apostles in the boat when we sing “Master, the Tempest Is Raging” and of Mary Magdalene when we sing “In the Garden”. Nobody objects to either because we aren’t really on the Sea of Galilee or really standing in front of Joseph’s tomb. Why is it problematic that we aren’t really in front of the burning bush either?
All of this raises a larger issue, though: the question of how we deal with hymns with questionable content when we are invited to sing them in the assembly. The first approach is to object to any song that could be misunderstood. This leads to discouraging others by our refusal to sing, strife in the church, and ultimately the compilation of a “ban list” that excludes many of our richest hymns.
Do we axe “The Solid Rock” because the last verse can be read as Calvinist (and indeed was written by a Calvinist)? How about “Amazing Grace”, which easily can be read as proclaiming salvation by faith only (which John Newton believed in)? Sad to say, a great many of the hymns that can survive such hostile scrutiny are those that don’t have much content in the first place. They might be “Scriptural”, but when it comes to the Colossians 3:16 goals of teaching and admonishing, they’re nearly useless.
Instead of asking if a hymn can be understood wrongly, we’re far better off asking if it can be understood rightly. Is there a way that I can square singing this hymn with my conscience? This is the option that I prefer. I certainly have my share of opinions about good and bad hymns, but I will almost never refuse to sing a hymn, nor even talk to a song leader about that hymn after services.
First of all, who am I to tell somebody they’re worshiping wrong when they very well could be worshiping right? Second, when my brother is pouring out his heart in worship, do I really want him to glance over and see me sitting there mutely with an expression on my face like I’d just bitten into a green persimmon? Third, doesn’t refusing to sing boil down to looking for reasons not to praise God, rather than reasons to praise Him? If that’s where my heart is, I’m not OK with that.
In real life, if offered the opportunity to lead singing, I’m probably not going to lead “Holy Ground”. I think there are better options out there. However, if I’m in the pews, and I’m asked to sing “Holy Ground”, I will do so.
I will think about Moses. I will reflect on the holiness that God’s presence demands. Generally, I will do my best to sing with spirit and understanding in the hope that my brethren will be edified and my God will be glorified.
Hymn critique has its place, but the assembly isn’t it.