X Close Menu

Blog

How to write a worship song in five minutes (OR Why we sing hymns)

First, watch this video...

This video is funny. It's also rather sad. While certainly exaggerating, it expresses quite pointedly how empty many contemporary worship songs really are. In only a few years as a minister, it has become obvious to me that many people are turned away from reformed and presbyterian churches because they find the minimal instrumentation and singing of older hymns to be, well, boring. "Spirit - led" worship is thought to only be present when there is a praise team, loud music, and hands being lifted.  How could the Holy Spirit be working when only a piano is played and the song is 400 years old?

In all fairness, I have been in reformed churches where the music was poor, the singing lackluster, and the tone defeated - churches where the singing felt more like a funeral than worshipping our Triune God with joy. Hymns can be sung badly and can be boring. 

However, while I am not defending such cold and or mechanical singing of hymns, I think I would honestly choose to sing older hymns of  the faith, even if poorly sung and without the trappings of our modern day praise bands, than the "Hallelujah chorus'" and the 7-11 praise songs (songs which repeat the same seven words eleven times) which permeate contemporary Christian music today. Why? Because in many (but certainly not all) of the songs that are popular on the Christian music scene today - as the video rightly poked fun at - there simply is no meaningful content.  And content is important. After all, as Paul says in Colossians 3, the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is one of the ways we are to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Sadly, many contemporary songs lack the word of Christ, choosing instead to focus on personal feelings and experience. Stephen Nichols, in Jesus Made in America, laments this trend in contemporary Christian music when he writes of the growing number of songs that 

 "...focus not on any act of God in history, not on the concrete events of Christ's life and death and resurection. These songs all link....Jesus' love not to anything done in history but to the personal experiences of feeling Jesus near, of feeling him close during those hard times. Like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug. Take out the name Jesus that occurs from time to time and these songs could be sung to a boyfriend."  

Even the broader culture sees this trend in our "Christian" music, he notes, pointing out that in one episode of the Simpsons, the writers have a character explain that "Christian rock is basically rock, but you replace baby with Jesus." The problem with this trend, of course, is that true content about what God has done in Christ for us will naturally lead to true feeling. But if we only sing songs that are feeling based without any content, then what are we really feeling?

Let me give you a concrete example. The past couple of months the local Christian radio station in Traverse City has been playing a song called "More like falling in love" by artist Jason Gray. The following are the lysics to the song: 

Give me rules
I will break them
Show me lines
I will cross them

I need more than
A truth to believe
I need a truth that lives
Moves and breathes

To sweep me off my feet, it's gotta be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

Give me words
I'll misuse them
Obligations
I'll misplace them

'Cause all religion
Ever made of me
Was just a sinner
With a stone tied to my feet

It never set me free, it's gotta be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in

Love, love, love
Deeper and deeper, it was
Love that made me a believer

In more than a name
A faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought
The change in me

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

It's like I'm falling
(Falling in love)
It's like I'm falling

Notice a couple of things about this popular Christian song. First, there is only one explicit reference to God/Jesus in the entire song. And, true to the Simpson's critique, it could easily be replaced with "baby" and still make perfect sense. Second, there is no truth expressed about God or Jesus in this song whatsoever. The song is about my desired experience to fall in love, swept off my feet, to be caught up and called out by someone who captures my affections. Third, and most disturbing, this song implicitly presents a false dichotomy between loving Jesus and knowing truth about Jesus. This is most clear in his line:

Love, love, love
Deeper and deeper, it was
Love that made me a believer

In more than a name
A faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought
The change in me

Here the song clearly suggests that doctrine (creed) about Jesus is not nearly as important as "falling in love" with Jesus. It is the later that will bring real change. While it is certainly true that mere knowledge about Jesus is not saving faith, yet you cannot fall in love with Jesus unless you know truth about him.Without the doctrines about Jesus that come from Scripture, and have been passed to each generation through the ecumencial creeds, how do I know that the Jesus I am falling in love with is the real Jesus, and not the Jesus I want him to be? 

My goal here is not to criticize or impugn any intentions, and I don't want to be overly critical. Nor am I suggesting that contemporary songs such as this are of no value - many contemporary songs can be very encouraging to us personally because we know who we are singing them to and can impute clear christian meaning to the words of the songs. However, without clear biblical content, we should be wary of singing them during a public worship service. Far better to sing songs that clearly articulate who our God is and what he has done. Compare the lyrics above with one hymn we sang last Sunday, "Worship Christ the Risen King." 

Rise O Church and lift your voices
Christ has conquered death and hell
Sing as all the earth rejoices
Resurrection anthems swell
Come and worship come and worship
Worship Christ the Risen King

2. See the tomb where death had laid Him
Empty now its mouth declares
Death and I could not contain Him
For the throne of life He shares
Come and worship come and worship
Worship Christ the Risen King

3. Hear the earth protest and tremble
See the stone removed with pow'r
All hell's minions may assemble
But cannot withstand His hour
He has conquered He has conquered
Christ the Lord the Risen King

4. Doubt may lift its head to murmur
Scoffers mock and sinners jeer
But the truth proclaims a wonder
Thoughtful hearts receive with cheer
He is risen He is risen
Now receive the Risen King

5. We acclaim Your life O Jesus
Now we sing Your victory
Sin or hell may seek to seize us
But Your conquest keeps us free
Stand in triumph stand in triumph
Worship Christ the Risen King

Now here is something to get excited about! 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Comments for this post have been disabled.