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What we sing matters! Those who grew up in the church through the years of the “worship wars” have seen styles of music used in the church to cause damage and division. The contemporary Christian music era led to an emphasis on personal feelings and a shallow doctrinal pool from which themes to sing were drawn from. Many jokes and memes have been produced from all sides of the debate.

When it comes to worship, and as we celebrate today the 505th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg (a spark that led to the flames of revival through reformation), we are reminded that Luther believed in the importance of a singing church.

Congregational singing, as presented to us in the Scriptures, is not only a necessary element of the worship and exaltation of God, but it is a powerful tool used to promote sound doctrine, faith, love, and hope in the church. In both Ephesians and Colossians, the Apostle Paul refers by inspiration of the Spirit, that the church is to teach and admonish one another through the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

Luther wrote of congregational singing that it was the “living voice of the gospel.” Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné wrote in History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century II, regarding Luther and congregational singing, “The church was no longer composed of priests and monks; it was now the congregation of believers. All were to take part in worship … a taste for music was diffused throughout [Germany]. From Luther’s time, the people sang; the Bible inspired their songs. … Hence the revival, in the sixteenth century, of hymns … hymns were multiplied; they spread rapidly among the people, and powerfully contributed to rouse it from sleep.”

We must not discount the truth that our worship must be pleasing to God! A key feature of our singing in worship must be theologically rich, doctrinal sound songs. The importance of the style of music that accompanies our praise continues to be debated, but what we cannot allow a disagreement over is the content of the songs we sing. Words matter. Our singing in praise to God must be governed (as all of worship should be) by God’s own Words to us in the Scriptures.

A worship song does not have to be old and slow to be good. A new or faster song is not automatically disqualified. Our churches should be singing songs from throughout the history of Christendom, and we should be adding new songs actively to our collections of hymns. Just as with the preaching of the Word (Acts 17:11), we must seek to discern the accuracy of what we sing according to what the Bible teaches us.

It is easy enough to find old hymns that are on wobbly ground theologically. Some that are old time favorites are actually doctrinally silly or even heretical. But I want to share a glaring example in a more recent song utilized in a great many churches over the years since it was introduced to demonstrate that a verse in the song that many thousands of Christians can quote and sing in their churches is in fact a statement that stands in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture. It is so bad in fact, yet the rest of the song so good, that in our church we have revised the line found in the third verse in order to remove the error, replacing it with Scriptural truth.

In the popular Christian song, In Christ Alone, written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend (lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group, Capitol CMG Publishing), we find this phrase:

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain

When Jesus died, was it true that darkness killed the Light of the world? This phrase, as noted above, stands in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture. Jesus Christ was not slain by darkness. He willingly laid down His life so that He could take it up again – these are His words in John 10:15, 17, and John 15:13. It is repeated in 1 John 3:16. He laid down His life. This did not extinguish the Light of the world.

The Bible tells us that Jesus is indeed the Light of the world, and yes, we are also told that “the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). But has the darkness ever been able to defeat the light? No! The opposite is true according to John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We learn in Ephesians 5:8 that before trusting in Christ, we “were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” We have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Christ is not just the Light of the world, there is no darkness in Him at all. “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Therefore, to sing as a congregation that the light of the world was slain by darkness, even if we are trying to speak metaphorically, is to proclaim that the darkness overcame the light. This is not what happened when Jesus died. This was not the victory of darkness or even of death over Christ, but Christ was defeating death and exposing the darkness by dying and being raised again.

In order to bring this third verse into agreement with the clear teaching of Scripture, we edited the song and sing the words “Light of the world for sinners slain.” The truth that Jesus was slain for sinners is going to be a theme of one of the songs we sing when He comes again! “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). But let us not believe for a moment that when He was slain, that when He died, that the light went out. He was, is, and will always remain the Light of the world because He never changes – Hebrews 13:8 declares to us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

So let us sing joyfully to the Lord (Psalm 100:1) and as we sing praises to His name, let us be careful. May the words we sing be according to His Word because with these words sung we praise His name and we teach one another about Who He is and what He has done.

Happy Reformation Day!

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