Q&A: Why What We Sing About God Matters

Q&A: Why What We Sing About God Matters

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Q: I hear people say that theology is reflected in the worship music we sing. Can you explain more about that?

A: The psalmist David looked at the night sky, pondered the finger play of the Creator, and marveled at the majesty and glory of God. David's contemplation continued as he considered his insignificance compared with the grandeur of God. Then he wrote a song (Psalm 8) to express what he discovered.

As David thought about God and his relationship with God, he acted as a theologian. The word theology comes from two Greek words: theos (God) and logos (words). Theology is literally "words about God."

When a group gathers for Bible study, they "do" theology in their consideration of God's self-revelation. When persons speak words of testimony of God's grace, they function as theologians. Every person who believes that the resurrected Jesus offers abundant, eternal life and proclaims that Jesus is Lord functions as a theologian. Every Christian is a theologian. Christians engage in theological reflection in a myriad of ways, including through congregational song.

To sing "words about God" and the relationship between God and humans is to speak theologically.

The brevity of hymns and songs affects the nature of their theological reflection. Constrained by meter and rhyme, the relatively few words in a congregational song will never eclipse the need for the hundreds of words of a preacher or the thousands of words of a writer. Even when a songwriter uses metaphor or allegory to magnify the meaning and the melody and harmony mimic the feeling of the meaning, the art form is compact.

The concise nature of congregational song, however, does not minimize its impact in theological reflection. In fact, the song's sharp, succinct form makes it a potent way to do theology.

Throughout church history many have noted the effectiveness of congregational song to shape what the people of God understood and believed about the Christian faith. An often used Latin saying, "lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi," reminds us that how we pray (worship) informs what we believe and influences how we live. A congregation will likely remember more of and be shaped by what it sings week after week than what it hears once in a sermon.

Because of the compelling quality of congregational song, care must be taken in selecting the music for worship. The more expansive theological work that the people of God have been doing for centuries provides the criteria used to evaluate the theological appropriateness of a relatively small congregational song. Those responsible for worship must confirm that what a congregation sings aligns with the scriptures, and the creeds it affirms.

Keith Schwanz

Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2012

Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of original publication but may have since changed.