What does the song “Break Every Chain” really mean?

This song kind of blew up at our church this past summer and it’s really struck a chord especially as we’ve been processing the Ferguson mess. We first sung it at the end of “Jesus at the Center” and we didn’t have to explain much after singing the last verse of that song “Jesus at the center of your church…every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess you, Jesus”

A friend of mine recently wrote to me asking if we sing the song and what I thought about it having a “Word of Faith” kind of vibe to it. That whole, “speak the name of Jesus and your dreams will become manifest” sort of thing. Still, there’s plenty of biblical examples of the role of the Messiah in breaking the chains of the prisoner and the captive. In addition, you can find this stuff in many of “the good old hymns” too:

You can find it in Wesley:

“Jesus the name that charms our fears
That bids our sorrows cease
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears
‘Tis life and health and peace

He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin
He sets the pris’ner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me”

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee”

And you can find it in Watts:

“Blessings abound wherever He reigns
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains
The weary come home and find their rest
And all the sons of want are blessed”

I think that this song works best if we maintain that “the name of Jesus” is not some kind of incantation, but rather a confession. A confession in particular that “Jesus” is the only name by which we are saved and the only name that we call Lord. His name stands forever as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in an eternal kingdom where all forms of slavery have been defeated. Through that confession and the praise of his name, Paul and Silas had their chains literally fall off. In the name of Jesus, we are no-longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters and fellow heirs with Christ.

I’m not going to say every church should sing it, but it especially struck a chord with my church. We followed the song with prayers for the chains of sin to be broken in our lives as well as the chains of injustice and addiction that hold our communities in bondage. The name of Jesus is the only power by which racism, violence, drugs, hate, fear, etc can be overcome. If you still are concerned about the meaning of the song being misunderstood, you could pair the song with a hymn like “And Can It Be” to drive home that there is power in the name of Jesus because of the work that Jesus accomplished in the cross and the resurrection.

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  1. #1 by Heidi V. on September 4, 2014 - 2:04 pm

    Preach Kirk!
    Amen to singing it as a confession instead of some kind of incantation (really well articulated). Sure, I understand your friend’s concern, but I think because NCF is so blatantly opposed to any bad theology that tries to control God (prosperity gospel…etc), that people would not associate the song with a “Word of Faith” tradition. Part of the reason Jake and I like it so much is that we associate it with the “love the widow, orphan, do justice” tradition. I think this applies to many of the songs we sing, “No Other Name” is the first that comes to mind. Anyway, songs like this mean a lot to those of us living in tense neighborhoods having hard conversations, seeing addictions being broken (miraculously, but often with lots of work and sacrifice). It’s like cool water after a long hard run. I, personally, love the song because it reminds me why we live where we live and do the acts of justice we do. More importantly, it reminds me that I don’t do those things with my own power!

  2. #2 by Caleb on October 1, 2014 - 9:05 am

    Well put, Kirk! I recently used this as an example to explain how songs with a narrow theological focus can be explained and expanded upon within the context of the liturgy.

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