Can the use of Early Modern English become idol worship?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: I write contemporary Christian song lyrics, and as you can imagine, people are divided about church music. Many believers still prefer the old hymns. But Early Modern English has not been in common use since the Renaissance. This makes me wonder, is this a dangerous preference? If the reason people prefer these is that these are the songs they’ve always sung, then insisting on singing When I Survey the Wondrous Cross rather than contemporary music could be an idolatrous act. What do you think?

Answer: Fifty years ago, I was saved by the Holy Spirit — but through the Early Modern English words that were in the King James Bible. I continued to use the KJV as my main study Bible for over twenty years. But even back then it was apparent that when I used its dated English, I was installing — for an increasing number of people — roadblocks-to-understanding. This is the primary reason I stopped using the KJV as my main study Bible. As such, I’m not one of the people who “worship” the King James — and I do not insist that people need to understand Shakespeare to be saved.

These types of people do exist, though… and that diction is reflected in the Protestant hymnody. I agree with you that under the right conditions, even a hymn like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross — which points to Jesus’ sacrifice (arguably) like no other — can itself become a talisman… causing its singers to worship the vehicle rather than the destination, and thereby anesthetizing them against what God could be saying to them as they sing.

One of the Roman Catholic complaints against evangelical Protestants is that we worship the Bible itself — and I think this is true of some of us. Since I enjoy apologetics and textual studies, I’m the type of person who could easily fall into that trap! Fortunately, I have the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep me out of trouble, yet I am still in danger of supporting the Bible for the Bible’s sake rather than for God’s sake. But note this well: I would never do that with the King James Bible. More recent translations use better manuscripts; they are more readable, and they are just as reliable.

Have you ever heard of the ministry called, The Bible Is the Mark of The Beast? It’s run by a man named Harland Hoy, whom I think might be a true born-again Christian. Now, I don’t agree with anything he says. In fact, if you polled a thousand Christians, about 982 would call him a “whack job.” But he does run with your football… and he takes it to its logical conclusion.

(Here’s a link to one of Hoy’s videos. Also, I have answered questions about his ministry. Click here and go to the Monday Musings introduction and here for the main article.)

So, here’s the thing: if we can’t be trusted to let the Bible take us to God without stopping by the groves of the King James or Early Modern English to worship, then perhaps we should stick to his other revelations… like those found in nature (Romans 1:18-20)… like those found in humankind (Romans 2:14-15)… or like those given by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

I realize that I’m just a Bible commentator and not a Christian songwriter, but I stop short of calling this a huge problem in the church. Nevertheless, I hope these perspectives helped, and it was nice chatting with you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20201109 Can the use of Early Modern English become idol worship?).

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