Worship Music and Theology: Sing to the King

I don’t know about you, but when I am in church singing songs to the Lord, I come alive.  The Holy Spirit reaches within me, and God’s love reminds me of how blessed I am.  This is a time to bless God and to be blessed by God.  Now, with that said, one of the blessings/curses of being a student of theology is that occasionally during worship music time, I will begin to analyze what I am singing (fully distracted from the corporate worship experience!).  Today I want to look at some of the theology of a song titled: Sing to the King.

Verse 1: Sing to the King Who is coming to reign

Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain

Life and salvation His empire shall bring

And joy to the nations when Jesus is King

Chorus: Come, let us sing a song

A song declaring that we belong to Jesus

He is all we need

Lift up a heart of praise

Sing now with voices raised to Jesus

Sing to the King

Verse 2: For His returning we watch and we pray

We will be ready the dawn of that day

We’ll join in singing with all the redeemed

‘Cause Satan is vanquished and my Jesus is King

This is a song that has several theological themes.  A primary one is that it sees Jesus as the coming King who will set up his reign on the earth.  He is coming to rule this world the way it was meant to be.  The nations of the earth will be under the rule of the empire of God, and will be at peace.  I personally love this image because when I sing this I look forward to a world where the kingly voice from the throne says “I am making all things new.”

What does this song mean to the average worshipper?  When this song is sung in worship gatherings throughout the world (especially in the West), what image comes to mind?  I would imagine that many understand Jesus as coming to set up a “1000 year reign.”  If this perspective is held, it is also safe to assume that after this 1000 years are up that Jesus will render the final judgment and will destroy the present world.  At this point “all the redeemed” will go to heaven for eternal bliss.

I want to say, that the above interpretive image is theologically ridiculous!  We are singing to the King who will come to earth to reign; not for a literal one thousand years (1000 is a euphemism in the Hebrew Scriptures meaning ‘an uncountable length of time’), but for eternity in a healed universe!  This will be our current world, but with something significantly different, the empires of oppression that are fueled by the demonic powers of evil will collapse when “Satan is vanquished and Jesus is king!” (Christus Victor).  Jesus’ victory over the powers that was inaugurated in his resurrection will finally be consummated!  So, may we in eager anticipation “for his retuning” live in such a way that “we will be ready the dawn of that day.”

This song begs the question in my life: What does it mean to live in light of that future reality?  How does my life today prepare me for the future earthly reign of the Messiah?  I imagine that I will never fully answer that question, but it will continue to challenge me to live in further allegiance to my King, namely Jesus.

Some Questions for the reader:   (1) What images have come to your mind when you have heard, sang, or read the lyrics to this song?  (2) Are we too quick to accept the language of worship music in general without giving thought to the theological underpinnings of the song writer and the ramifications of this theology for the imagination of the church?

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  • Hey Kurt,

    Never heard this song (but I like the lyrics). Usually in our church we sing crap about how good Jesus makes us feel. . .between the lousy theology and the lousy musicality, it’s a long time since I’ve come across much in a church service that leads me to worship.

    I do think we should engage in a more critical evaluation of the content of our singing–as well as of the sermons and other teaching–rather than just soaking in it. But I also think perhaps we need to re-examine the notion of “worship” which, at least in American traditions, seems to be far more an emotional release than an exercise in submission to the king. Of course I’m speaking as one who has never “felt the presence of the LORD” even though I trust in faith that he’s on his throne and calling us to action. So I’m probably not the most unbiased observer. . .

    But when it comes to sacred music, I wish we’d also be a bit more selective in the lyrical, poetic, and musical quality of what we sing. There have been gems and crap from all ages from Renaissance to hymns to modern choruses, but to me it seems I hear the crap more frequently than the gems. . .

    At least that’s the view from your friendly curmudgeon. . . ;{)

  • great thoughts – too often we don’t think about our songs! This one has more depth than most, but do we understand it or are we just singing it?

  • I agree with Dan Martin. There is a lot of crap and a lot of gems. I’m kind of a stickler at only singing songs that are theologically correct. Thus I never sing on “I’ll Fly Away” and other gnostic ditties. I sometimes try to change the lyrics, until people start to stare. 🙂 In addition to songs that are flat-out theologically inaccurate, there are just a lot of songs that seemed to be self-focused and not God-focused. I also get a little frustrated at songs that use imagery that we actually don’t do– for instance, saying “we lift up our hands” and only 2 people in the whole sanctuary actually raise their hands, or saying “we fall down at Your feet” and we don’t budge an inch. It just seems silly to me. We don’t really think about what we’re singing, and if we did, I think we’d be a little more choosy when it comes to the songs we sing.

    Argh, this is an ongoing area of frustration for me, and doubly so since I’m a singer songwriter by trade. (I have written “theologically correct” hymns and praise songs, but I mostly sing “non-Christian” music in bars and coffee shops, so you won’t see me leading music up front on Sunday mornings much anymore…)

  • Excellent. Worship is a response to God’s self-revelation. If we’re not thinking, we’re not responding, and we’re not worshiping.