Songs are brilliant. They enable human beings to express creativity. They allow us to encapsulate great truth in ways that are memorable and easy to communicate. And they engage both the mind and the heart - a song can unlock emotions in ways that straigh speech may not (though the spoken word is very capable to evoking great emotional response)
Jonathan Edwards was once accused of being too emotional in the language of his preaching. He responded by saying something like - I only raise affections in proportion to the truth considered. Therefore to speak of Jesus, heaven or hell requires great emotional/affectional engagement... whereas the to-do list for a day isn't quite so engaging, generally.
This rule of thumb is a useful one for those who write and select songs for Christian meetings. The New Testament doesn't call this worship - but it does speak of it as singing. Singing to God and to one another.
Jesus sang with his disciples, and the Bible as a whole contains a whole songbook (Psalms) not to mention a book that is a love song (Song of Songs) and many other songs and poems throughout. These are variously addressed to people and to God.
Lyrics vary in the amount of truth they express - some are brief and simple. Others are complex and soar in the concepts and beauty they seek to express. Lyrics are then combined with melodies. A good melody will fit with the lyrics and enhance them - helping to ignite joy at some points, sorrow at others and so on.
But, there's a problem. The church today appears to be blessed with many songs. Not a problem! Many of these are full of doctrinal truth, yet accompanied by dirgy tunes that fail to reflect in any measure the gravity of the truth considered and the expected gladness. Such songs stink of idolatry as great words are reeled off without appropriate response.
Others go as far as being empty of any doctrinal truth but are fitted out with music more emotional than a boy-band ballad. Such songs take us soaring, but to where? Our hearts and minds are in no way tethered to the glorious truth of the gospel that God has revealed. Such songs stink of idolatry and God's people are caught in the hype and emotion with no real content.
Often the latter are said to mark spirit-filled worship, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. God's people are said, in Ephesians, to be Spirit-filled when they speak truth to one another, and sing it. When the Holy Spirit isn't speaking. because the only voice heard is our fluttering hearts, how can that be Spirit-filled? Equally in the former case - the Holy Spirit is the one who produces joy and love in the gospel, sorrow over sin, heart-broken repentance. And unemotional encounter with truth is also sadly lacking.
If it doesn't seem too cold - bear in mind I have a degree in Mathematics - here's a suggested graph to test our songs by...
If a song is low in truth, let it stir our affections gently. Where a song is high in truth let affections be duly raised - such that our mind, body and soul is caught up in the great and marvellous works of our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And let us sing such songs to one another that we altogether may grow as the body of Christ, as God's church for whom Jesus died. Captivated together not by our own intellectual or emotional self-indulgences but in God's glorious gospel.
If our songs are centred upon the Cross, expounding its resounding perfections, its great achievement, its eternal power and glory, God's wrath and mercy, his grace and love... our affections will surely be stirred greatly.
tags: jonathan edwards | worship leader | worship songs | intellectualism | emotionalism | christian hedonism | the words we sing | church music | worship matters