TCAC: Exalting God Together in Song


filtering-songs Growing up I remember my dad singing a simple song called A Song Holy Angels Cannot Sing. The lyrics were as follows:

Angels never knew the joy that is mine
For the blood has never washed their sins away,
tho they sing in Heaven there will come a time,
when silently they’ll listen to me sing “Amazing Grace.”

It’s a song Holy Angels cannot sing,
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!”
It’s a song Holy Angels cannot sing,
“I once was lost, but now I’m found!”

Holy is the LORD, the angels sing,
All around the throne of GOD continually;
For me to join their song will be a natural thing,
But they just won’t know the words to “Love Lifted Me”.                

As I continue to discuss the Church as Community (TCAC), I want to bring it to the discussion to music. Music within the Church is a means by which we exalt God together as a Community in song. Therefore, music within our local churches must be Gospel-centered, marked by clarity, and designed to build up the covenant community. We could talk about the first two for hours, but I especially want to talk about the third point as we seek to exalt God together in song as the Covenant Community.

Music is to be Gospel Centered

  • image.axdEphesians 1:4-6, 11-14 – “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved…We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory. When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.”

We must go beyond praising God for who He is, and we must worship Him for what He has done in the drama of redemption. While the angels worship God day and night, they long to understand this grand drama (1 Pet 1:12) in which God’s glory is most gloriously on display. Worship must not merely focus on who God is, but on what He has done.

Therefore worship must be theologically accurate. This is where so many Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) artists unfortunately fail. The distinction is not between hymns and CCM, because there are hymns that shouldn’t be sung and there are several CCM songs that shouldn’t be sung. Does our music paint a clear, precise, and holistic view of the gospel? Does our music call us to repentance? Does our worship demand that we live for our Lord and Savior?

Music Necessitates Clarity

  • 1 Corinthians 14:13-19 – “Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret. For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise, if you praise with the spirit, how will the uninformed person say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you may very well be giving thanks, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10, 000 words in another language.

sepia-piano-300x235Paul told the Corinthians the purpose of any gift that the Spirit sovereignly bestowed, stating “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Peter confirms that the gifts of individual saints is for benefit of the covenant community (1 Pet 4:10-11). So when the local church came together, Paul expected clarity and order within their worship (1 Cor 14:33,40).

There is a distinction between abstract and realistic art, so there is a distinction between abstract and realistic worship music. Abstract art requires either the artistic to define the meaning, or in the post-modern era, simply leaves the interpretation open. Both are dangerous in worship. If a piece of music is so abstract that any worshiper cannot understand the point, then we must ask, “what’s the point?” [See 1 Cor 14:13-19 again]. If a piece of music is so vague that it leaves the interpretation open, then it is antithetical to the Covenant Community worshiping as a community. Unfortunately, many lyrics are unclear and are merely sung over and over in the same chorus. Repetition is important for memorization, but mindless or meaningless or theologically weak repetition is pointless, if not dangerous.

Abstract forms of worship can be used for personal use, so I am not saying to simply throw them all away. However, they shouldn’t be used in worship when the community gathers together. I can get meaning out of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer or be convicted by Kansas’ Dust in the Wind or encouragement from Carry on My Wayward Son [specially the last few weeks of the semester], but certainly we would NEVER sing these songs in church. It’s not a distinction between hymns and CCM, it’s a distinction about what is clear and what is abstract. It’s not about using figurative language or not, but the figurative language must clearly illustrate doctrinal truth. Charles Wesley’s use of figurative language is powerful because it is true of every believer reading it:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Check out Darren Wiebe’s blog for more resources on gospel-centered and clear music.

Music is to Build Up the Covenant Community

  • Ephesians 5:15-21 – “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk —not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So dont be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. And dont get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.”
  • Colossians 3:12-17 – “ Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love —the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

How does singing and music build up? Lyrics to songs are a form of counseling. You are either counseling with truth or with error. You are either counseling with solid Biblical truth or with moral self-helps which are no helps at all. You are either learning how to counsel with clarity or with confusion. What does worship in the Covenant Community do? Within these two passages of Scripture we see eight calls which worship gives to the Covenant Community (which I illustrate through certain lyrics):


1. It calls us to walk in godliness

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
(Rise Up, O Men of God by William P. Merrill)

2. It calls us to not be foolish, but to live by the Word of God

Your Word is living light
Upon our darkened eyes
Guards us through temptations
Makes the simple wise
Your Word is food for famished ones
Freedom for the slave
Riches for the needy soul
Come speak to us today

Where else can we go, Lord?
Where else can we go?
You have the words of eternal life
(Show Us Christ by Doug Plank; Bob Kauflin)

3. It calls us to be filled by the Spirit

Father, come reveal the love
That You’ve freely given us
Poured from Calv’ry like a flood
We look to You
Spirit, move and shine Your light
Change our hearts and fill our minds
With the radiance of Christ
We look to You, we look to You

For when You move, our lives are changed
We know a taste of heaven here
We’re crying out for more of You
Lord, come and move
(When You Move by Steve and Vikki Cook)

4. It calls us to encourage one another

We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.
(By Faith by Keith and Kristyn Getty; Stuart Townend)

5. It calls us to accept/forgive one another in light of the gospel

  • The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
    He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
    His Spirit answers to the blood,
    His Spirit answers to the blood,
    And tells me I am born of God.
    (Arise, My Soul, Arise by Charles Wesley)
  • Be still my soul and know this peace
    The merits of your great high priest
    Have bought your liberty
    Rely then on His precious blood
    Don’t fear your banishment from God
    Since Jesus sets you free

Jesus, all my trust is in Your blood
Jesus, You’ve rescued us
Through Your great love
(Now Why This Fear by Augustus Toplady; Doug Plank)

  • I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
    The house of Thine abode,
    The church our blessed Redeemer saved
    With His own precious blood.I love Thy church, O God.
    Her walls before Thee stand,
    Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
    And written on Thy hand.For her my tears shall fall
    For her my prayers ascend,
    To her my cares and toils be given
    Till toils and cares shall end.
    (I Love they Kingdom, Lord by Timothy Dwight)

6. It calls us to put on love

We love You, Father
God of all, our God forever
We praise You, Jesus
Christ our Lord, the Son, our Savior
We’re here together
In Your Holy Spirit gathered for Your glory

There’s a foundation that we’re building on
Rooted in Jesus Christ alone
Every believer firmly fixed upon
Our everlasting cornerstone
The church of God built by love
(There is One Reason by Doug Plank)

7. It calls us to unity

Come praise and glorify our God
The Father of our Lord
In Christ He has in heav’nly realms
His blessings on us poured
For pure and blameless in His sight
He destined us to be
And now we’ve been adopted through His Son eternally

To the praise of Your glory
To the praise of Your mercy and grace
To the praise of Your glory
You are the God who saves

Come praise and glorify our God
Who gives His grace in Christ
In Him our sins are washed away
Redeemed through sacrifice
In Him God has made known to us
The myst’ry of His will
That Christ should be the head of all
His purpose to fulfill

Come praise and glorify our God
For we’ve believed the Word
And through our faith we have a seal
The Spirit of the Lord
The Spirit guarantees our hope
Until redemption’s done
Until we join in endless praise
To God, the Three in One
(Come Praise and Glorify by Bob Kauflin; Tim Chester)

8. It calls us to be thankful

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who walks beside;
Who floods my weaknesses with strength
And causes fears to fly;
Whose ev’ry promise is enough
For ev’ry step I take,
Sustaining me with arms of love
And crowning me with grace.
(My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness by Keith Getty; Stuart Townend)