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In the preface to the 1838 edition of his now-famous hymn collection, William Gadsby began thus:

To be employed with the solemn pleasure in singing the praises of God with the spirit and with the understanding  also, is a blessing peculiar to God’s elect; nor can even they be thus engaged, only as the blessed Spirit influences the mind, and favors them with the unction of his grace.  It is one thing to have the ear charmed, and another to have the heart engaged in this most delightful part of God’s worship in his church below.  “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound.”

Certainly Gadsby does not condemn having one’s ear charmed.  I would argue that it is a given with good music that the ear will be pleased at some point (which is furthermore why I argue very consistently and somewhat tongue-in-cheek that twelve-tone music is from Satan himself).  But to have the “spirit and understanding also,” following the command of our Lord Jesus as He referred the Samaritan woman to those worshipers who are acceptable in God’s sight is indeed a wonderful condition in which to find oneself.

If you lead worship as I do, or simply love singing in church, I challenge you (and myself) to take theological stock of the songs you’re singing.  Keep notes on which songs you are singing each week for four weeks and figure out for yourself if the congregation is simply having their ears charmed with a catchy melody or if their hearts are being engaged in worshiping God for who He is and what He has done and continues to do.  Opinions will no doubt vary, but these are vital questions to ask.

Let me give you example of wheat and chaff from my own library.  First the chaff.

All About You
By Cindy Cruse-Ratcliffe and Israel Houghton

Verse 1:
You are the holy one
You are the living word
You are the center of my focus, Jesus
You are the son of God
You are the the solid rock
You are the center of my focus Jesus
You’re the lover of my soul
And I adore You only

Chorus:
It’s all about You
All about You
It’s all about You Jesus
It’s all about You
All about You
It’s all about You Jesus

Verse 2:
You are miraculous
You are supernatural
You are the center of my focus Jesus
You are all powerful
You are so wonderful
You are the center of my focus Jesus
You’re the lover of my soul
And I adore You only

And now, the wheat:

Jesus Is Our Great Salvation
by John Adams

Jesus is our great salvation
Worthy of our best esteem
He has saved His favorite nation
Join to sing aloud of Him
He has saved us!
Christ alone could us redeem.

When involved in sin and ruin
And no helper there was found
Jesus, our distress, was viewing
Grace did more than sin abound.
He has called us
With salvation in the sound.

Let us never, Lord, forget Thee
Make us walk as children here
We will give Thee all the glory
Of that love that brought us near
Bid us praise Thee
And rejoice with holy fear.

Free election, known by calling
Is a privilege divine
Saints are kept from final falling
All the glory, Lord, be thine!
All the glory
All the glory, Lord, is thine!

The second is a song that not only contains the horizontal but the vertical.  It has well-put imagery (as opposed to “center of my focus.”  What the heck does that even MEAN?).

Now, lest I be accused or written off by anyone, I would advocate “Holy Is The Lord” by Chris Tomlin EVERY TIME over and above such an abomination as “I Come To The Garden Alone.”  I mean, seriously.  Whomever wrote that was sentimental and had no concept of God’s faithfulness in His relationships with ALL of His children throughout the ages.  “The joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”  Yeah.  Right.

My point is, the age of the song is irrelevant.  The content is supreme.  When will we stop sacrificing at the altar of the marketing tool and let rich theology dwell?  This is not a new problem.  People have been putting up with mediocre music since the days of Acts or shortly thereafter, based on what I’ve read about how quickly heresy spread in the early church through the medium of church songs.  So I’m not going to point the finger at Integrity’s Hosanna music or Vineyard or anyone except those worship leaders who don’t even take the songs they choose apart theologically or ask their pastors for help in the process of weeding out the awful stuff that gets put through the choirs, pipe organs and worship teams all over America.

I would hope you don’t need to have a theology degree to lead worship (though, I can’t imagine one hurting) because I myself don’t have one.  However, I spend a great deal of time in the texts (not the melodies) of my songs before I begin pruning the bad songs out.  Prune with text first and music later.  You’ll find what you have left is good texts AND good music.  I’d postulate that if you run it in reverse, you’ll have a bunch of awesome melodies with terrible lyrics.

So who will step up and exhort our brothers and sisters to worship in spirit AND truth?  Or are you too busy waiting for the next Hillsong record to be released here in the States?

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