Sifting through our songs

Music is a formidable, formative force. Lately I’ve been thinking (not necessarily long & hard) about what counts as good music–message not style–for the church. I don’t have a robust system in place but my thinking is beginning to coalesce around three basic questions:

(1) Does the song speak well and mean well? The church should sing songs that draw from Scripture in its context. Cherry-picking words from Scripture without considering the contextual meaning is weak worship. Just because we sing God’s words doesn’t mean we think what He thinks when we sing them.

(2) Is the song’s message clear & well-defined or ambiguous & open to personal interpretation? Answering #1 in the affirmative isn’t sufficient criteria for corporate worship. If, following the popular Bible study method, your congregants can say “This is what the song means to me” you might want to find another song. Unlike Paul, it’s not good for a song to be all things to all people.

(3) Would a persecuted church sing this song? Christian worship at its best is universally true. Something is seriously wrong when our songs are so culturally conditioned that they would only work in an American church. (I sometimes wonder if our persecuted brothers & sisters would laugh us out of the room if they heard some of the songs we sing we sing with a straight face.) It’s good for us to sing like groaning sojourners instead of giddy prospectors.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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