Friday, June 03, 2005

The Words We Sing

When I was a student I was a "worship leader" in our Christian Union. That was my doorway into thinking theologically. I started to wonder what it was that I was doing. My keyboard synthy sounds seemed to transfom people in front of me but was that good? What was really going on? What was I supposed to be doing?

I have found some answers and hopefully I can share some of them over the coming weeks. For now, this morning, I have questions.

When Christians gather to worship God do the words matter?
(or is it all about the music? should we raise the poetic bar? does our music express the words we're singing?)

How many of our song words would we happily use as our doctrinal statement?
(where do we find the words in the Bible? are they actually true? are our songs even coherent? and what do words like hosanna, magnify, glorify etc actually mean?)

How can our worship be used to teach each other about Christ?
(doesn't the Bible tell us to sing to each other as well as to God... how do i sing to my neighbour with my eyes shut... and who is each song even addressed to?)

How can we ensure the focus is God not us?
(so many songs are all about me aren't they...i,i,i...? if God doesn't need our praise then what is going on when we worship? how can we ensure that God looks as big as he is?)


  1. Important and honest questions, and really encouraging to see them addressed by someone who has carried the 'worship leader' title. (I fear too often that the title is worn with the assumptions that Matt Redman's way is the only way, and to honour God is to best imitate Matt).

    I look forward to reading your deliberations on these questions. And thank you once again; it is great to be ablt to benefit from your thoughtfulness.

    mercy loving criminal

  2. And surely, if the singing be tempered to that gravity which is fitting in the sight of God and the angels, it both lends dignity and grace to sacred actions and has the greatest value in kindling our hearts to a true zeal and eagerness to pray. Yet we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words. Augustine also admits in another place that he was so disturbed by this danger that he sometimes wished to see established the custom observed by Athanasius, who ordered the reader to use so little inflection of the voice that he would sound more like a speaker than a singer. But when he recalled how much benefit singing had brought him, he inclined to the other side. Therefore, when this moderation is maintained, it is without any doubt a most holy and salutary practice. On the other hand, such songs as have been composed only for sweetness and delight of the ear are unbecoming to the majesty of the church and cannot but displease God in the highest degree.

    …Lastly, we should hold that the tongue is not even necessary for private prayer, except in so far as either the inner feeling has insufficient power to arouse itself or as it is so vehemently aroused that it carries with it the action of the tongue. For even though the best prayers are sometimes unspoken, it often happens in practice that, when feelings of mind are aroused, unostentatiously the tongue breaks forth into speech, and the other members into gesture.

    John Calvin
    Institutes of the Christian Religion