I have heard:

“The author does not matter as long as the song is biblical.”

However, we usually don’t think this way. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and a Tourism Agency could communicate a similar story, but it is interpreted differently depending on the author. People evaluate promotions of medical inventions differently depending on the author: MS Society or Big Pharma. The author’s convictions say something about the message. And the problem could be hard to identify because… “What are they not saying?”

How does that relate to “biblical” songs? Isaac Watts wrote many hymns based on the Psalms. “Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98, and “O God, our help” is based on Psalm 90. Nothing wrong with these hymns on the surface; however, Watts’ psalms don’t reflect all of Scripture – only what he liked in Scripture. Watts thought that

“singing psalms creates regrets and uneasiness.”

He was concerned that by singing the Psalms of David: “we should speak a falsehood unto God.” Watts identified deficiencies in the Psalms: “a thousand lines in it, which were not written for a Saint in our Day.” Based on this conviction, he rewrote the Psalms of David and redefined worship. Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, and others shared his viewpoint. Horder used even stronger language, arguing that especially imprecatory Psalms are

“…out of harmony with the gentler melody of Christ and ought to be dropped as unsuitable for Christian worship.”

Setting a new standard, worship songs now only contained the parts of God’s Word that Watts considered acceptable. Yes, his songs may be biblical, but they do not reflect the entire Word of God.

What has this done to the theology and doctrine of the American churches? I had to look into this last year, using American church history textbooks, articles, hymnals, and Scripture. I discovered that as the believers sang just a part-of-the-gospel, they started to believe only a part-of-the-gospel, and use only a part-of-the-gospel in outreach. Over many decades, feel-good singing became feel-good preaching and feel-good outreach.

Do we agree with Watts, filtering Scripture to what we like to sing? “Lead me Lord” is presented as an alternative for Psalm 5 in our churches. However, the song represents one verse from Psalm 5 and one verse from Psalm 4. People may like the words of “Lead me Lord” better than the text of Psalms 5 under God’s authorship, but suggesting “Lead me Lord” is an alternative to Psalm 5 seems misleading. We also have an alternate version of Psalm 22 that does not include “My God, my, God, why have you forsaken me?” What are we not singing, and why?

I am not against singing Watts’ hymns in worship, but applying the philosophy of Watts to our singing may have consequences for our song selection and, eventually, for our theology. In his dissertation, Dr. Jon Gathje said that singing in worship “is a unique and vital means to form the faith.”

The preaching should include the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), so the singing in worship should represent the whole counsel of God. After all, in our singing, we teach and admonish each other (Colossians 3:16). Satan loves when we sing a part of the gospel (only what we like.) He tempted Jesus with God’s own Word. His arguments were “biblical” but were not the whole counsel of God.

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