This is the 25th in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.
In our desire to worship God with one heart and one voice, some suggest that “we” language is more appropriate in worship than “I” language. As a hymnwriter, I believe that stance is well-intentioned but misguided.
Yes, a “we” perspective in worship is a worthy and constructive goal. Both scripture and experience point us toward that synergy where worshipers join in heart and voice. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
But individual worship is still the essential component. Though “we” language is highly appropriate and expressive in some hymns, in others it can hold the truth at arm’s length. It can lessen the impact of the hymn on the individual worshiper. When it does, corporate worship is weaker, not stronger. A.W. Tozer said it this way:
“Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the `us’ of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish `I.’ Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become `unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and higher life.” (from THE PURSUIT OF GOD, by A.W. Tozer, © 1948 by WingSpread Publishers)
To underscore this point, look at our classic hymns. The following powerfully corporate hymns were all written as “I”:
And Can It Be?
Arise, My Soul, Arise
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
How Great Thou Art
I Sing the Mighty Power of God
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Our Great Savior
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
This Is My Father’s World
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
…and many more
Through these “I” hymns we experience a powerful “we” in worship. Would we be drawn closer together by eliminating such from hymns from our worship? Certainly not. It is our common experience with God’s universal greatness and love that binds our hearts together. Shared personal faith is what unites us, not imposed “we” language.