A welcome new trend in congregational singing — Hugh Wetmore

“Preach the word of God” –2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … as you sing” — Colossians 3:16 (NIV)

From these Scriptures, we can draw a guiding maxim: “If it’s in the Bible, you can preach it; If it’s in the Bible, you can sing it!”

Many of us have been singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” in church for many years. According to Song Select’s 2017 thematic index, the most popular songs have been “praise” (16126) and “worship” (10289) songs. This reflects the change from hymns to contemporary worship songs in the “praise and worship” song revolution that began in the 1970s.

Themes that are frequent in Scripture rank considerably lower in song themes: “atonement (743), “confession” (710), “sin” (526), “justice” (253), “judgment” (176), “prophetic” (133), “integrity” (27), and “virtue” (8).

This shows a popular hunger for “feel-good” songs directed to God.  Whereas the New Testament adds to these vertical songs of praise and worship the horizontal purpose: “Sing to one another psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” that purpose “to teach and admonish us in the Word of God”.

Songs that are realistic and relevant to human experience, as the Scriptures are, are not so popular in our congregational singing.

Yet, this month I received a hint that this might be changing. In the latest reports from Christian Copyright Licencing International (CCLI), I noticed that a song titled “Land Expropriation without Compensation“, (suited to our South African context) was not sung in South Africa, but was sung in Germany, Switzerland, the Nordic countries, and the USA. That surprised me!

It was rooted in God’s Word, and couldn’t be more realistic and relevant! It embraced the “teaching and admonishing” that God wants to see in the songs we sing. 

Looking further into the report, I noted the hymn: “God’s Image, Two Genders” (against same-sex marriage) was sung in America.  The “Song of Final Justice” was sung in Canada and the USA.  The “Father’s Song” was sung in Korea.  “The Suffering Song” was sung in Australia.

The world refugee crisis poses a challenge to the Church — so it was satisfying to see that “The Refugee King” was sung in the Benelux countries, home to many refugees. These are not the usual “praise and worship” songs, but they are breaking new ground in applying God’s Word to our current circumstances.

This encourages me to pursue my own desire to “fill in the gaps” in the song repertoire which my songwriting offers to the Church through Song Select.  I have already written “teaching and admonition” songs, sourced from Scripture, on topical issues such as racism, xenophobia, greed, integrity, loneliness, identity, environmental pollution, Coronavirus, evolution, terrorism, and pro-life.

Let us resolve to “Preach the whole counsel of God”… and to “sing the Word of Christ richly”!

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