What sort of songs ought to characterise a healthy church?
I would like to argue that if a healthy church is characterised by a proper understanding of the gospel and its outworkings, then our songs ought to reflect such a balance of theology. As the proclamation of the gospel is central to repentance and faith, so we should often sing about the gospel, and how in it the fullness of God is revealed in Christ in our hearts by the Spirit. And as the outworkings of the gospel, as the name implies, works out from the gospel message itself, so our singing should also be one of response to the implications of the gospel for our lives.
But where should the balance between these two things be?
I think to be safe, we ought to sing about the message of the gospel more frequently than sing our response. I argue for this because we are humanly prone to falling into a works-based righteousness, which is no righteousness at all. Given our propensity for such legalism, if we sing enough about our response to the gospel, and if it is true that our theology is very much informed by what we sing, then soon enough we will confuse the response for the message. The message will no longer precede the response, as is the biblical pattern, but the response becomes all in all.
Take “This is my desire”, “You Alone Are Worthy of My Praise”, “Hear These Praises” or “Draw Me Close”. All very valid songs. But I would only use one per setlist. Why? Well, if you look at them lyrically, they are all a response to some revelation. Problem is if you don’t actually reveal something, then singing these songs are like mouthing empty platitudes. You generally can’t walk up to some random stranger on the street and say “I love you” with any degree of honesty. Going back to the original issue, if all you ever sang was some variant of “You Alone Are Worthy of My Praise”, you would quickly forget why exactly. And then soon after, the way you relate to God becomes very much grounded in the act of singing that you’ll respond in a certain way to God. And if we are consistent people, we will then try to respond in the way we’ve just sung about. And then the only relationship we have with God is one of acting in the way we’ve just sung about, instead of one grounded on the objective truth of Christ crucified. We are turned inward onto the way we act.
Speaking of these “I Worship You” songs, I’ve always found an oddity about them. Guys who have dated before at a very young age might identify with this, although this occurrence might persist even with age. There’s this strange thing about girls always wanting to hear their boyfriends say the magic words – “I love you”. Namely, doesn’t it get tiresomely formulaic after a while? I’ve always stressed that there must exist some exponential diminishing return with each use of the phrase. The reason for this is simply that, for humans, love isn’t an end in itself. It’s always some response to some truth or work. And unless there is some telepathic bond between boy and girl, I would think women appreciate such revelations of love infinitely more when some good reason is attached to them and they are accompanied by appropriate acts. Moreover, more often than not, the phrase acts as a cover up for laziness on the guy’s end to carefully consider why he actually loves her and how he should demonstrate it. Likewise, perhaps it’s time to abandon the phrase “I worship you” and actually get on with proper worshiping, proclaiming the truth of God and responding with appropriate deeds.