Saturday, October 20, 2007


Clarence Larkin's drawings and charts are never far wrong. "Feeling is the Fruit - not the Root - of Salvation". Feelings and emotions can take us away from the simplicity of the gospel message. Here's a personal example.

About 15 years ago when I was a student and living in a wee red brick terraced house in Belfast, one Sunday morning I got invited to go to a church I'd never been to before. It was the "cool church" of its generation, very trendy and groundbreaking. I'm sure there were and are some great people there. It still exists, but I'll not mention it by name. Bear in mind that this was in pre-"Ceasefire" Belfast, and the area the church was in was an interface flashpoint where tensions had been stoked up.

So... imagine my surprise when as the service got underway, they said that the "praise group" (which was then a very new concept to me!) was going to play the Orange song The Sash... but that they were going to "redeem" it.

I was baffled - what did this mean? How were they going to "redeem" The Sash? I waited...

For those of you who aren't from Northern Ireland, The Sash is normally performed in one of three ways:
- as a folk song
- by a flute or accordion marching band
- by football supporters (they were still allowed to sing it at football matches back then)

Nope, to "redeem" The Sash they were going to play it (and I quote) "as a slow Irish air". The aran jumper-clad fiddle and tin whistle players took to the stage, and closed their eyes as they swayed meaningfully to the strains of the tune being played dirge-like at about 1/3 of its usual pace and with all sorts of extra notes and "twiddly bits" added on. The sound was weird, my mind was boggling...

I was stunned. Not by the music, but by the misuse and devaluing of the idea of "redemption". You see, in the world I grew up in "redemption" is the singlemost important spiritual experience in our lives, the restoring of the relationship between God and humanity, through personal individual faith in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Redemption brings about forgiveness of sins (both past and future sins), brings a new nature (which from the point of salvation onwards is in a constant daily struggle with the old nature), leads to ongoing sanctification throughout our lives and results in eternity in the presence of God.

But, for these people in this trendy church, redemption was just another bit of "community relations" speak. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to teach us to be nice to each other. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" - Luke 19 v 10.

If anyone wants to redeem The Sash, or indeed any other secular song, they can do so by changing the words - from a story about an Orangeman going to Scotland and coming home again to Dromore - to a great old-time gospel hymn with the clear message of Christ and salvation at its core.

So years later, with this whole bizarre experience still ringing loud in my memory, the Low Country Boys redeemed The Sash on our first cd - we recorded the hymn "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" (written by Ulsterman Joseph Scriven) to its famous tune.

Don't get me wrong, improved community relations would be a good thing. I'm not criticising the people at that church - I'm sure they were motivated by the best of intentions, and in the few visits I made there I was warmly welcomed. But for me they missed the point. Redemption is our greatest spiritual urgency, it transforms lives. The results of real redemption are what the Bible calls "the Fruits of the Spirit" - Goodness, Meekness, Faith, Gentleness, Love, Joy, Temperance, Longsuffering, Peace. These are the characteristics of the redeemed Christian - you can read about them in Galatians chapter 5 v 22&23 - and every Christian should examine our lives to make sure we are daily living these out. That's the sort of redemption Northern Ireland needs. That's the message we should always try to present and proclaim.

Another Ulster-Scots hymnwriter, William J Kirkpatrick, co-wrote this hymn about redemption with Fanny Crosby:

"...Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am..."