Singing: The Place of Theology in Corporate Worship
By Lydia Jones
For my independent study I chose to examine ‘The Place of Theology in regard to Congregational Singing in Corporate Worship Today.’ This particular topic is of interest to me because I have been involved in music ministry in my church for several years. My independent study was structured in the following way: first, I examined the biblical and historical development of singing; second, I assessed whether words matter in songs; third, I considered the challenges associated with worship music; and finally, I suggested some implications for the church today.
Biblical and Historical Development
In the Bible there are more than four hundred references to singing and fifty explicit commands to sing. According to the Bible, singing praise to God is not an optional activity but is both demonstrated and commanded as a vital aspect of Christian worship. The church today has a rich heritage of worship music. Bryan Chapell notes, ‘keeping the church rooted in its worship history and reaching toward its worship future is never without challenges’, yet he explains that ‘those rooted in and reaching for gospel priorities will have the greatest potential for meeting those challenges.’ Although music can be a controversial area in the church, there is both a biblical basis and historical precedent for appreciating and realising the importance of singing sound theology.
Why Words Matter
The power of music cannot be overestimated. It has a huge influence and impact in the world today. Ultimately, music is a gift from God and can be used to lift our spirits, to comfort us, to encourage, to express feelings and to learn truths from God’s Word. Therefore, how music is used within the church is vitally important because of its powerful effect. Warren Wiersbe aptly states that ‘no amount of beautiful harmonies can atone for theological heresy.’ Evidently, what is needed in the church today is good theology. Good theology will help to keep music in its rightful place. The church needs songs which are theologically rich and sound and that are rooted in Scripture. Ultimately, words matter because worship matters.
I considered three specific challenges for the church today; the difference between emotionalism and authentic emotion, the tensions between contemporary and traditional worship forms and, the danger of entertainment driven worship music. An unhealthy focus on an emotional experience can shift the purpose of worship from being theocentric to homocentric, making corporate worship self-focused rather than God-centred and God-glorifying. In many churches today the tension between contemporary styles of music and traditional can prove challenging. Yet the issue is much more than traditional hymnody versus contemporary praise songs. There are hymns which are sentimental and feeling-oriented; and there are contemporary songs which are theologically rich. The real issue is what is sung. The church needs to know and understand what they are singing. Many believers have adopted a casual approach to worship and often overlook the fact that they are to offer to God acceptable worship in ‘reverence and awe’ as Hebrews 12:29 states. Often the church today is guilty of trying to provide an entertainment service rather than a worship service. A church can become so concerned not to cause offence that they succeed in entertaining and amusing people but never actually worship God appropriately.
I looked at two implications for the church today: first, the harmful effects on the spiritual life of a Christian and, second, the serious implications of offering substantially deficient worship to God. Christians are to sing to God and for God, thus what they sing matters in corporate worship. If the church is singing theologically defective and deficient songs then, as Bob Kauflin remarks ‘a consistent diet of shallow, subjective worship lyrics will produce shallow, subjective Christians.’ Matt Boswell, however, remarks that when songs are permeated with Scripture, the worship of God will be ‘vibrant and filled with gravitas. It will be gospel-soaked and powerful.’ Singing theologically defective songs is ultimately dishonouring to God.
It can be concluded that the place of theology in song as part of corporate worship is a topic which is deserving of more attention than it receives today. Singing sound theology in song is absolutely essential for the wellbeing of the church. Don Carson states, ‘music has validity in Christian worship only as it participates in, and contributes to, a service of the Word from beginning to end.’ Consequently, music needs to be continually assessed and scrutinised to ensure songs are theologically correct, biblically sound and ultimately God honouring.