In a day and time where everything is relative, subjective, and nebulous, it is easy to let this secular worldview influence us when the church gathers for corporate worship. So, why do we worship? And how should we worship? If you were to take a poll from the people in the pews, you would get mixed sentiments based on differing understandings of worldview and Scriptural understanding. Some say, “How we worship is up to us.” Others propose, “As long as it is heart-felt and addresses God, it cannot be a bad thing.” Still others offer, “We must feel like worshiping if we are to participate in authentic worship.” Throughout Scripture, however, worship directives and goals are abundantly clear. Briefly put, our worship should accomplish a twofold goal: glorify our God and edify His people.
Ultimately we seek to glorify God. We must be willing to submit everything – desires, preferences, thoughts, actions, etc. – to the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16, James 4:7). Our Lord has consistently detailed in His Word how He desires to be worshiped. Only when we recognize God’s revelation of Truth can we respond in a way that is in line with His will. This obedient response is worship.
Secondly, we must edify our brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11). This is achieved when focus is taken away from our personal preferences and circumstances and directed towards those with whom we are worshiping. This is not terribly difficult when our focus is turned to a holy God to begin with! However, we are not to simply to give into a menagerie of preferences (1 Corinthians 10:23). Each and every element of a worship service must be once again measured against the Word of God because nothing is better at building up than the Truth that He has given (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
So, if God alone has the prerogative to dictate how we worship Him, how should the gathered, corporate church of God select songs for use in worship? When evaluating music, there are several key components to understand. Melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, text (if applicable), and associations come to mind in an abbreviated list. For the purposes of our assessment, we will deal with textual components (theology, craftsmanship, and subject), musical components (melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm, etc.), and associative components (association and appropriateness).
Let us take a detailed look into each of these components.
Probably the most discernable way that music communicates is through the text itself. If there are problems within the text, a song is not fit for corporate worship of a Holy God. Let’s break down the components of text…
Right off the bat we know that the theology we proclaim is important whether that be through sermon or song. Theology set to music often overrules theology simply spoken. There is something compelling and memorable about music. Information set to music is more easily recalled (i.e. the alphabet song). Most Christians know more theology than they realize simply because they have been singing in church for years. Holy, Holy, Holy teaches the on the doctrine of the Trinity. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross teaches the pain and triumph of Christ on the Cross. We Believe teaches and affirms foundational beliefs that God’s people have held for centuries.
Poor theology can be easily hidden by a catchy tune or beautiful harmony. Dig deep! Ask yourself, does this song express biblical truth? Where is this truth expressed in Scripture? Is the truth presented complete or does it beg for extensive clarification? We want to be as direct and clear as possible in the theology we teach through any medium!
Craftsmanship speaks to the poetry of the lyrics. Is the truth conveyed clearly? Once the truth is understandable, one can examine the prose for beauty as well. The ebb and flow of language, the construction of sentences, speaks volumes for a song’s message. How you are saying the truth communicates just as much as what you are saying. Does the word choice flow in a pleasing, beautiful way? Word choice can make a song timeless or restricted in use due to colloquialisms/vernaculars and slang.
As words are used to communicate, it is vital that we consider who is the subject of the song. In a day of narcissism and hyper-emotionalism, we often use songs that express to God how He makes us feel. When we do this, we are in a sense exalting ourselves and our feelings over the great and glorious God that is worthy of all our praise. There is nothing wrong with remembering what God has done for us and continues to do for us, but we should make these musical expressions to and about God as we sing His praise, confess our unworthiness, accept His forgiveness, express thanksgiving, or submit to Him. We must remove ourselves from the center of our songs and make sure that God is the focus of our worship instead of ourselves.
Next week we will further discuss the musical and associative components.