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Theology in Doxology

As human beings, music is an important tool that we use in learning. We have used music in education for countless centuries and even still today. Ask any small child who is beginning to learn their letters to recite the alphabet; most likely they will sing it back to you.

The same principle applies to theological themes. Songs have been used to declare the goodness, mercy, love, and other attributes of God for millennia. We have recorded psalms in the Bible, as far back as the time of Moses, which were used to praise the Lord, while also teaching the people about who He is. Read and study the book of Psalms and you will see just how intricately woven theological themes are throughout the songs that are recorded there for us.

Throughout the centuries of the Church Age, we see the same pattern being used by the great hymnists of the past. We see hymns written that not only praise God, but also teach the principles found in the Bible.

Holy! Holy! Holy! not only echoes the praises of the angelic beings around the throne of God, but it also declares the mystery of the triune Godhead. Crown Him With Many Crowns not only invites the singers to join with the hosts of Heaven, but it also, through each verse, speaks the wonders of Christ. The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow) is a reminder to us that when we praise the Lord, we are joining in with a choir that is innumerable, both in Heaven and on Earth.

However, somewhere along the way, something has gone horribly wrong.

Some time in the past fifty years or so, Christian music has taken a turn. This is more of a generalization, and there are some good groups out there still writing good, theologically sound songs, but for the most part, Christian music has less and less to do with God and who He is, and more to do with the person singing the song. I call this “Me Music” or “Jesus is my boyfriend music.”

“Me Music” is music that takes the focus away from God and points the lyrics to self. Any song where the main star of the lyrics is me, I, us, or we fall under the category of “Me Music.”

“Jesus is my boyfriend music” is the generic love song. Any song that does not mention God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit by name but mentions an ambiguous “you” or even “lord” can fall under this category. These songs could be sung to anyone, even a lover, and have no true feeling of submission to God or love toward Him. “You are so good to me,” could be a lyric sung to God, a parent, a friend, a lover, or a pet! It has no real meaning.

I say “lord” because that word can be used in a generic sense to signify anyone a person is submitting to. After all, Sarah called Abraham “lord” in Genesis, yet she was not calling him God in any way. “Lord” can simply be a title of authority, as it is used in royalty.

Then there is the lack of theological teaching in many of these songs. Now, I am not saying that every song has to teach something, but it can be implied that a song that is based in theological purity will have some application of the theological ideas that it is attempting to convey. Even the light-hearted Christmas carols, that we all enjoy, convey the truth of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, truly God yet truly man.

Why do we allow such shallow and fruitless music to come across to our congregations on a weekly basis? Why do we allow the worship of self to dominate the time we are gathered to worship God?

One reason is because we are a self-centered people by nature. Everything we do is for the growth, nurture, fulfillment, advancement, or preservation of self. From our childhood we are taught that the only person we can ever fully rely on is our self. In business we learn that every person is out for self-gratification and advancement, even at the expense of others. We live in a self-centered society, so it stands to reason that we would, by nature, want to worship our own self as well.

Our self-centeredness leads to the next issue, which is that we are consumers. We consume everything around us. This consumer mindset has made Christian music an industry rather than a ministry. The motivation for most, not all, Christian artists today is money. Plain and simple, they want to get paid for making music. So, they make the most self-centered, consumer friendly music possible and people buy it without question because it comes from a “well-known, respected Christian artist.”

Today, Christian music is a multi-million, if not billion-dollar industry. It is nothing to see tickets for a “worship event” sell for $1000 or more. Instead of paying for an album, we pay per song to download onto a device so we can listen to it wherever we go. If a church wants to play one of these songs (for some unknown reason) they must pay for the music so that their musicians and singers can learn the song, and they must pay for a license to show the words on the screen so the congregation can sing along.

Consumerism has overtaken the church, and it is getting out of hand, especially when it comes to the music portion of the worship service.

Also, there is this idea that we can take a popular secular song and turn it into a worship song by changing the lyrics. I cannot count how many times I have heard a “Christian” version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung in church. (This song is totally inappropriate for a church setting and there is no way to make anyone not think of the original lyrics, no matter what you change them to say.) Or there is the taking of a popular melody and putting the words to a hymn to it. (Think the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” with the words to “Amazing Grace” and see how much your brain wants to explode.)

Let me simplify the entire worship experience for everyone. Worship is not about you or me. Worship is about God. If the songs that are being sung are not glorifying to God, then they should be removed from the list of songs being sung. If the songs mention you, me, we, or us but not God, then they should not be sung in the worship service. If the song is about an ambiguous “you,” think really hard about who “you” is referring to, or could refer to, in the song. If it can only refer to God, such as “You are omnipotent, omniscient, creator of all things,” then it is appropriate. If it could be about Jim Bob down the street, such as “you are good, you are kind,” don’t sing it!

Finally, let me say this. When you are looking for music to listen to, look at the church that the music is coming from as well. If the fruit of the church is bad, the theology that is mixed in the music is going to be bad as well. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. So, if a church produces bad theology, their music is going to produce bad theology as well. One or two songs might hit some theological high points, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

There is modern music out there coming out of good, theologically sound churches. If you would like recommendations, please let me know. Or you can click the link below and go to our official Spotify playlist for over thirty hours of good, theologically sound, modern praise and worship music, as well as some old hymns.

Remember, our time of worship is a sacred time and should be used to glorify God. Our time of corporate worship is especially critical because, in many cases, it is time sensitive. We have such little time on the Lord’s Day to worship Him in song. Don’t waste that time by being self-centered, consumeristic, or lackadaisical. Worship Him with all of your heart, in spirit and in truth. It is not just about singing songs, it is about joining in with the hosts of Heaven declaring the glory and holiness of God!

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Careful. The credentials of many hymn writers are as questionable as contemporary musicians (just research the author of "When Peace Like A River Attendeth My Soul, It is Well", Horatio Spafford, who denied hell and was a fanatical arminian.) What should carry the most weight is the content, not the author. Are the lyrics glorifying God? I'm not suggesting we sing songs by David Koresh here, there is certainly a bit of wisdom needed when worship leaders are considering songs. I'm just saying hymns are no more or less spiritual than contemporary songs. Quietly sung songs are no more or less spiritual than worship sets full of multiple instruments and singers and (gasp) subwoofers (just ask David, Psalm 33…

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