Many moons ago, churches were using the phrase “worship wars.” This was used to designate the disagreement within churches over the kind of songs sung. The division was typically between people that preferred hymns or people that preferred praise choruses.
In the midst of all this was the cry, “Can’t we all just get along?” Other questions also arose, such as, “Should we fight about this?” “Is this a hill to die on?” “Should we take our songs so seriously?”
I would venture to answer those questions with a resounding, “Yes!”
God commands all of His creation to praise Him, especially His redeemed people. We are urged in Scripture to sing for the Lord. Singing is an integral part of our Christian experience. Thus the songs we sing are important.
Paul makes a noteworthy remark about the means employed by the church to praise in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The context of this passage needs to be understood as the means that God has ordained for the sanctification of His church in both a personal and corporate way.
He begins by encouraging the church to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. The Word of Christ is the Word of God. It is the revelation of Himself in the Bible. It is vital for our faith and practice. We are instructed to have a love for it. We are instructed to be immersed in it by meditating upon it day and night (Psalm 1:2). It is a vital element for our spiritual lives. It is to be central in every aspect of our lives, but particularly in our congregational gatherings.
The church is being commanded to permit the Word of Christ into their lives. It should be a welcomed guest. The church should not allow it to remain outside and neglect it. The church is to love God’s Word and cherish it. After all, God tells us He exalts His name and His word above all things (Psalm 138:2).
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once quipped, "Alexander the Great had a casket of gold studded with gems to carry Homer’s works. Let your own heart be a casket for the command of Christ. ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you.’”
Paul goes on to reveal that letting God’s word dwell in us richly is through more than just listening to good biblical sermons. It is to be done through the people of the church by the songs of the church.
When our songs are biblical we will be following the command to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. That is why it is necessary to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. Without doing this first, the church would be unable to execute this command. It is in God’s Word that we obtain the wisdom we need.
We cannot approach God in worship choosing to be wise in our own eyes When we circumvent the Word of God and decide to be the authority concerning what is pleasing to God it leads to grave consequences (i.e. Genesis 4:3-5, Leviticus 10:1-2, 2 Samuel 6:6-7, Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Revelation 2:5).
God has given us the means to teach and warn our brothers and sisters in a straightforward and memorable way, “...singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
As a congregation, we have been given the charge to teach and admonish one another through the songs we sing. With that in mind, the content of those songs should be as important. We should teach and admonish one another with Scriptural and theologically rich songs. When lacking this, it is likely we can draw a correlation between shallow songs and shallow faith.
We are instructed to sing psalms.
The book of Psalms is the main songbook of God’s people. It is unequivocal considering the songs that it includes were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself. We are to know the Psalms and use them to instruct one another.
Then we are instructed to sing hymns. Hymns are simply songs of praise to God. Augustine gave a simple definition of a hymn, “It must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God”(Trench’s Synonyms).
We are also to employ spiritual songs. Whatever the meaning of the phrase we can deduce that the song is intended to be a sound, Scriptural word used to help fellow believers along in their faith.
Finally, all of our singing should be defined by gratitude. It is a consistent theme. Thankfulness should readily flow from the hearts of the church purchased by God’s own blood. For these are the very hearts in which the Lord reigns and gives peace. We are not to merely pay lip service, but we are to truly sing from our hearts.
This is probably why some people have trouble singing in church. There may not be a real connection between the words of their mouths and the meditations of their hearts. If the heart is not changed, it is not engaged in true worship.
One of the things I am grateful for is the grace God has shown me in this realm. I love music. I always have. I once led worship through song in many places. The song selections now would be quite different from what it was then because I take God’s mandate of how to sing and what to sing more seriously. In the last few years, I may have driven a couple of the guys that lead songs in my church a bit crazy because of my vigilance toward the songs we use. It is something I believe the entire church should be mindful of within our corporate gatherings. We sing not only toward God but we also instruct one another.
If you have concerns with what you are singing because of theological and doctrinal issues, prayerfully and humbly go to the leaders and talk with them. Make sure that your concerns with songs are not due to preference, but principle.
Ben Lane is husband to Sarah and dad to Eva and Abi. He has been in Christian ministry for over 15 years. For the last 5 years he has replanted and served as Lead Pastor of Coram Deo Baptist Church in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. He is originally from Memphis, TN and unofficially a BBQ connoisseur and self-proclaimed coffee snob. He also loves to travel.