So last week I started unpacking my own convictions about worship music. In the first post, we set the scene by establishing the biblical basis for why we even have music at all in our worship: in a nutshell, it’s simply because God tells us to (Col 3:16-17, Eph 5:19, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 150).
One of the verses we mentioned last time, Colossians 3:16 really stuck out to me during my own study. It might be useful to point out the wider context of this verse: it’s part of a passage describing the lifestyle and conduct of a true Christian. By the time we get to chapter three of this letter (addressed to the church at Colossae), the apostle Paul has outlined a comprehensive argument for Christ being the only means of new life. Paul then and urges the readers of the letter to respond: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Col 3:1). Paul expands on a host of things that those who follow Christ should now do, in light of their new status as born-again believers. They are to put earthly desires to death (Col 3:5-8), put away old lying selves (Col 3:9-11), put on compassionate hearts, forgive one another, put on love, and more (Col 3:12-15).
And so in the midst of all this, the readers of the letter are then called to “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” (Col 3:16). It’s clear here that a worship in music is an appropriate, and desired part of a believer’s worship, and new life in Christ. But I think this verse offers a number of noteworthy and specific signposts on how our worship music should be.
To me, Colossians 3:16 is a good blueprint for some of the goals of the music ministry at Howick Baptist – the home church where I serve as one of the worship leaders. From this verse, we can glean the first of a number of biblical criteria for our worship music:
1. “… the word of Christ…”
Our worship music should be Christ-centered. I think most people appreciate how catchy and infectious good music can be, so it’s crucial that the content and message found in the lyrics are biblical and Christ-centered. After all, the entire bible points to, and declares the amazing story of Jesus Christ! A successful worship song shouldn’t be judged by it’s ability to stir up pure emotion, or to cause us to sing and remember words that do little to magnify Christ in our hearts and minds.
“Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God’s forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God’s blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.”
Some songs we love to sing at HBC that do this include: “In Christ Alone” (Getty/Townend), “Amazing Grace” (John Newton), and “Soli Deo Gloria” (Mark Altrogge) – of course, there are many more. But in all these examples, the words not only help us to sing and proclaim Jesus, but help us to sing biblically sound reasons for doing so!
For example, singing:
“I am satisfied with nothing less | To feel the closeness of Your breath” (this is a real worship song!)
is confusing, borders on self-centredness, and does little to proclaim the Jesus from the bible.
Instead of vague words like that, it would be much more edifying to sing:
“In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light my strength my song…” (In Christ Alone)
“We resolve to know nothing else but Jesus Christ | Jesus Christ and Him crucified…” (Soli Deo Gloria)
“The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures | He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures” (Amazing Grace)
So when I’m researching, or being confronted with the latest worship song, or some rediscovered hymn, the first thing I need to ask is this: “Does this song have lyrics that proclaim the word of Christ?”
In the next post, I’ll draw another useful criterion we try to apply to our music at HBC, from the next part of the verse.