Worship Music and Theology – Should We Be More Discerning?

Matt And Bandphoto © 2004 Jeremy Botter | more info (via: Wylio)
The following is a repost from June 2009.

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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 interpretation doesn’t fit my perspective any longer.  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 or other songs?

(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?

(3) Any ideas about how to be more discerning with our worship music in the church without being over the top?

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    I sometimes have trouble with that song. For me, the language of “empire” doesn’t have the best connotations. Particularly living in America. I prefer “kingdom” even though there isn’t technically a major difference in the meaning. I feel a little removed from the Kingdom language.

    And I think we need to be much more thoughtful about our worship music. There is some terrible theology out there in modern worship. We sacrifice good theology for a good rhyme or catchy line. I have stopped singing some songs that a lot of people like because I feel like I would be lying to them while singing it.

    • Eric Lampe

      Christ is risen from the deadTrampling over death by deathCome awake come awakeCome and rise up from the grave Christ is risen from the deadWe are one with Him againCome awake come awakeCome and rise up from the grave- Matt Maher -

      • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

        haha, That song is actually one of my favorites now. I love the “o, death where is your sting” part.

  • curtislanoue

    Just so that CCM doesn’t think you’re picking on it–there are plenty of traditional hymns with equally (if not morese) weak theology. :)

  • Benjamin Burton

    There is too much rich and beautiful content in the Scriptures to be filling space with “oh’s”, “ooh’s”, and “ahh’s”. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_32CGKNWLNV42QOLC6KERM3H2BI D-ron

    First, let me say that I like the drive and the energy of this song. For question #1, the lyrics make me think of a far off, futuristic, some day but not now scenario. I know Jesus already reigns. I know he will come again but he is reigning in the present. He offers life, joy and salvation now. Queston #2, I have caught myself singing along without realizing what the lyrics are actually saying. I will admit that according to what I’ve sung, I will (one bright morning) be flying away. I don’t have any suggestions for #3 which is sad. If I’m going to critiqe the system, I should at least have a suggestion or two to offer as a solution. This will be one to ponder- thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.enns James Enns

    I generally try to avoid the “music wars” in church.  Too much has been made of drums being ok or not in worship, or whether or not acoustic or electric guitars are more appropriate for a church band.  I grew up in a church where being in the choir was “the thing” to do, but now attend a church that basically has a “house band” doing all music.  As far as I am concerned, both ultimately work for me.

    For a traditional hymn, I would use something like Onward, Christian Soldiers as an interesting example.  Some people might feel uncomfortable with the militaristic tone of the song, perhaps its lyrics bring to mind images of the Crusades, or some medieval kingdom army.  But, sung with the appropriate understanding and reading of the lyrics I feel very moved when I hear this song. 

    As for the worship song you bring up, I am not overly familiar with it.  From what I read, the theology of the tribulation and rapture is not really what comes immediately to mind.  I hear life and salvation is through Jesus Christ, which is a concept I believe most Christians can agree on with certainty.  As for the interpretation of his “empire” being in heaven or on Earth, I just remember the Lord’s prayer and hope that Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,

    in earth as it is in heaven.

  • gs

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    In response to your questions:

    (1)    What images have come to your mind when you have heard, sang, or read the lyrics to this song or other songs?
    Disclaimer: I had never heard this song before, so I looked up a performance on youtube.  I have not heard it live.

    There were no particularly vivid images that came to my mind while listening to this song.  I found the subject matter a little uncomfortable for some of the reasons you pointed out in your post.  The theme is typical of many songs/hymns with an eschatological bent––life now isn’t great, but it’ll be great when Jesus comes back etc.  First verse in future tense, latter verse in present tense, so that the last time you sing the chorus, the ecstasy (hopefully) drummed up by the band stands in as a “foretaste of glory divine.”   I don’t especially like that formula, but that’s just me.  I applaud the song for being fairly “singable,” for the congregant, but I didn’t find the song very interesting musically.  

    (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?

    Yes, we probably are.  Though, worrying about the author’s intent is almost never a fruitful endeavour, since in almost every case, it can not be known.

    (3) Any ideas about how to be more discerning with our worship music in the church without being over the top?

    No great ideas, but a few more questions:

    A) Is “song x”  singable for the congregants (and does it matter if it isn’t).

    B) Locate your congregation on the following spectrum.  On one end, music lead by a individual or group, whom the congregants imitate (band amplified, on a stage, stage lighting etc.).  On the opposite end, a individual or team who facilitates congregational singing (not on a stage, not amplified, etc.)  Most churches fall comfortable between these two extremes.  What are the philosophical/theological implications of these performance practices? 

    C) To what extent should music be left to “professionals”? to “experts”?  

    D)  Who owns the music you are singing (and does it matter)?

    I think these questions are much more interesting than the old argument of the “music X is better than music Y” variety.


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