“Let me write the songs of a nation — I don’t care who writes its laws,” said the Scottish author and politician Andrew Fletcher (1653–1716). If you need to influence people, put your message in a song and have people sing it.
Gordon D. Fee (at a conference at the Langley Vineyard) stressed the power of hymnology to form people’s theological thoughts: “Show me a church’s songs, and I’ll show you their theology.” Fee’s remark hints at the song’s influence in the church so that it influences the people’s theological views over time. People digest songs far more than the spoken word. For that reason, Martin Luther put his Catechism into a song.
We read in Scripture that singing has a didactic role in worship. Songs enrich, inform, and edify believers. Andy Park correlates theologically weak songs and theologically weak churches (To Know You More: Cultivating the Heart of the Worship Leader). Singing songs of shallow theology eventually results in people and churches of shallow theology.
Dr. Levon Gray, a Southern Baptist church musician, echoes these concerns (Hungry For Worship). He identifies an issue in the free church tradition where the songs have become a “theological melting pot.” He comments that an argument against Christian Contemporary Music is its weak theology (but that this can also be the key to its success.)
Christians unite, singing songs that avoid divisive theological elements, making the worship a theological melting pot, “losing the theological distinctiveness that defined churches for generations.”
Theological distinctiveness is partly related to church tradition. Traditionalism is not good, but “we are informed by our tradition, standing on the shoulders of those faithful before us.” (Dr. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship)
Dr. Gray states that a church’s song should communicate its theology. Singing theologically-weak songs erodes the theological distinctiveness of churches. Even if the preaching is theologically sound, when the songs are not, it results in confusion. Researcher Barna shares: “The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.”
The songs we choose to sing in the church can contribute to theological diversity and inconsistency. (Before, in, or after the service does not make a difference.)
Dr. Gray says that when Sunday’s worship songs are selected from an “unvetted” selection, or when songs are chosen by people without a formal theological education, the worship songs become a “theological buffet.” Such songs may not impact the pastor’s theology in preaching, but they will eventually affect the theology of the worshipers (likely in the next generation).
Free churches can choose what they sing on Sunday. Dr. Gray calls for “vetting” of songs and theological education for those selecting the songs. Perhaps he would appreciate a “Church Order” with an Article regulating the worship songs and formal theological education for people selecting songs.