(I did say that I would have my thoughts about the crisis in the United Church of God but here’s something a little different. Here’s one of the more prominent members of that group, Richard Burkard detailing his own personal crisis (originally posted in Mark Tabladillo’s Jesus Loves Fellowship Message Board). Believe it or not, this has nothing to do “directly” with doctrine but with “special music”. I wish some could take this advice from someone in the XCG movement who recently said, “Churches should not be in the business of micromanaging members’ lives.” That’s a first step of recapturing true sanity—Editor’s note)
I came home today from the Feast of Tabernacles, kept with UCG in Daytona Beach, FL. It was a memorable Feast in many ways — especially for the song I was not allowed to sing.
During the summer I recorded a rendition of “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone” (the CCM version Chris Tomlin made popular a couple of years ago). I did the recording after a Sabbath service, to submit as possible Feast special music submission. The Pastor came to me after the last note, and said I needed to sing that song during a service. (In fact, I already had for Pentecost last year — and I sang it again in my congregation before the Feast this year.)
The Special Music Coordinator for Daytona Beach invited me to sing that song and one other at a Sabbath Senior Brunch. I prepared accordingly, taking my accompaniment tracks on the road.
Then at 5:15 Friday afternoon, the coordinator called my hotel room — to tell me “Amazing Grace” had been vetoed and would have to be replaced. He explained in Canada, “out west” and in some places “up the Eastern seaboard” it would be fine. But in the Southeast U.S., it’s considered “too controversial” a song.
Talk about a 5:00 surprise! I live in Georgia — as Southeastern a state as they come. But I had a backup song ready since I was scheduled as a backup Special Music singer, so I replaced “Amazing Grace” with that.
Yet I was stunned and saddened by what happened. In 2010, UCG (or at least some members) apparently still can’t handle songs about grace?! Not even at a brunch, as opposed to a worship service?? After all, grace is the way by which we’re saved (Eph. 2:5) — and God’s grace was good enough for Jesus as He grew up (Luke 2:40).
By the way: UCG President Dennis Luker was not the one who made the veto. He told me so himself. He was at the brunch, and I told him practically everything I’ve written here. Mr. Luker didn’t know anything about the veto — but he agreed with my disappointment and promised to “look into that.”
I don’t have any idea what will come of this. I still don’t know who vetoed the song. But when I sing “Amaizng Grace” from now on, I plan to introduce it by mentioning how controversial it is — even to the point of being banned from a Christian church convention.
All I know about Chris Tomlin is his music, so I can’t really say if he’s a Christian or not. I realize not everyone who sings “Christian music” always acts like one. (Examples: Michael English, Kirk Franklin and even Amy Grant.)
As for defining worship music — ohhhh, you and your tough questions!
I’d say real worship music should relate directly to God or Christ. I call some songs “pseudo-Christian” because they really don’t do that. Such songs could include CCM “love songs” such as God Gave Me You, as well as classical music compositions played as offertories at COG Holy Day services.
I’ve heard BBN’s Lowell Davey (who refuses to allow non-traditional music on his radio network) point fingers at CCM songs for not mentioning God or Christ. I e-mailed Dr. Davey a reply several years ago, pointing out the standard verses of Amazing Grace don’t mention those two words, either! (The Chris Tomlin rework adds the line, “My God, my Savior has ransomed me.”)
Worship music isn’t an issue of drumbeat or orchestration to me — it’s more the words and the direction where the music is pointed. Classic hymns have been turned into nice CCM versions in recent years. I hear a CCM cover of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing on Christian radio in my city, for example.
P.S. I’ve now been told Amazing Grace was one of the musical selections at another UCG Feast site in Branson, Missouri.