Here's the article I worte for this month's church newsletter, "The Builder".
I might get fired. =)
One of my favorite things about Sundays is standing around after the service talking with people. There are two subjects that almost always come up. The first, is my attire that day. “I see you wore a coat & tie today? Did you wake up too late to iron your shirt?” (The answer is usually "yes".) The second most talked about topic is the songs we sang during the services. I recently heard about a group of people who gathered in the parking lot after a service. As they were talking and hanging out, they began discussing a song we rarely sing at Westwood “I’ll Fly Away”. Specifically, they were discussing whether it was appropriate for use in a worship service. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the song. To summarize, the songs basically says: When I die, I’m going to fly to heaven and sing hallelujah forever. So, I began to wonder that same question myself. Is this an appropriate song for worship? My first concern was with the word “fly”. Will we actually fly? This research led me to Psalm 90:10 where it says we live for 70 or 80 years then we “fly away”. In the Hebrew, the word used there is `uwph which means "to fly". So, yes. According to Psalms, we die and then we fly. How cool is that?
My second thought about this song was about what isn’t said in the song. There’s no mention of God, Jesus, His grace, His mercy, or anything that God has done. The only time God is mentioned in the song is when we sing about His “celestial shore”. The lyrics don’t really speak of God or to God. So I would have to say “no”. This is not a worship song. It is simply a song of celebration about our future. Any glory given to God is implied in the fact that we will "fly away" to heaven because we have a relationship with him and we’ll sing Hallelujah (Praise the Lord).
So, now I’m left with the question of “is it appropriate for use in a service?” My answer is “it depends on the service”. I think there are times when we gather in fellowship and the setting is perfect for us to sing a celebration song such as this one. But when we gather on Sundays to worship, I think I’d like to use all the time we have together to sing about and to our Heavenly Father. I think you'd agree that's the best way we can spend our time together. Now I’m just left to wonder if there’s a biblical reference to an “Old Gospel Ship”.
One other thing I think has to be mentioned...Remember that group in the parking lot I told you about? As they discussed this song and some things they’d like to see in our worship services, a bird left a nice present on one of their shoulders. I’m not saying that means anything. I’m just saying …
Hallelujah By & By,