Wisening up, not dumbing down, our worship

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”  (Col 3:16). This Scripture tells us HOW we can please God in our songs of worship. “Worship” is not about what WE want, but what GOD wants. Here God tells us that He enjoys our songs when they are rich in WISDOM ~ “all wisdom”. Lyrics that draw on, and unpack, all the wisdom of the Word of Christ in Scripture.

These days many wise Christians are lamenting the way most Contemporary Worship Songs (CWSs) are actually dumbing down our worship. This saddens them. They treasure the wisdom-packed words of some of the hymns and songs loved by previous generations, such as:

“Hallelujah! Sing to Jesus, His the sceptre, His the throne” with lines like these: “… not as orphans are we left in sorrow now. Hallelujah, He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how. Though the cloud from sight received Him when the forty days were o’er, shall our hearts forget his promise, ‘I am with you evermore’?” (WC Dix d.1898);

“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast. … Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air, his watchword at the gates of death; he enters heaven with prayer. … O Thou by whom we come to God, the life, the truth, the way; the path of prayer Thyself hast trod: Lord, teach us how to pray!” (J Montgomery d.1854).

Even many children’s songs had wisdom in their Christ-sourced words: “Build on the Rock, the Rock that ever stands. O build on the Rock, and not upon the sands. You need not fear the storm or the earthquake shock. You’re safe for evermore if you build on the Rock” ( C Sterne pre-1921)

These same wise Christians choose to “love the Lord their God with all … their minds”. They “sing with their spirits and sing with their minds” (Matt 22:37; 1Cor 14:15) So they can’t find any wisdom at all in some CWSs. They opt out of singing lyrics such as these (copied from official projection slides):

“Searching the world The lost will be found In freedom we live as one we cry out You carried the cross You died and rose again my God I’ll only ever give my all” (M Crocker, S Ligertwood, M Sampson 2005)

“Oceans will part Nations will come At the whisper of Your call Hope will rise Glory shown In my life Your will be done” (B Fielding 2006)

“You are my heart’s desire And I have fallen to The point of no return More than my heart could know More than in love with you” (M Fieldes 2002)

These are the dumbed down songs that, in some churches, are replacing the Wisdom-songs that our all-wise God is longing to hear from our hearts, minds and lips. Fortunately for the Church, a new generation of song-writers is arising. Song-writers who write lyrics that “wisen up” our Worship of our all-worthy God. They are reversing the dumbing-down trend, and giving us wisdom-songs that are based on the “word of Christ” in Scripture. Singing these songs will please God as they enrich our worship, and raise the levels of Christian maturity in our church.

“In Christ alone” has this profoundly ‘wise’ stanza: “In Christ alone – who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe! This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save. Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied – for every sin on Him was laid: Here in the death of Christ I live” (S Townend & K Getty 2001)

“Come see the Lord in His breathtaking splendour; Gaze at His majesty – bow and adore! Enter His presence with wonder and worship – He is the King and enthroned evermore. … He is the Word who was sent by the Father, born as a baby, a child of our race; God here among us, revealed as a servant, walking the pathway of truth and of grace” (M E Leckebusch 2000)

“Create in me the purest of hearts, according to Your unfailing love. Renew a steadfast spirit within and wash away my sin. And make me like the snow, but even whiter still. Refrain: I just want to have a pure heart (repeat 4 times). I’m clay within the Potter’s hands where tenderness meets discipline. I need it all, Lord, come and form Your holiness in me … (Matt Redman 1996)

Worship Leaders, Pastors, Vocals, Musicians: Let’s search out songs and hymns with Wisdom, and lead the congregation in worship that makes our listening Lord smile with pleasure! Then let’s boycott songs that dumb down our Christian faith. Your CCLI annual returns will send a message to song-writers and publishers that God’s people want to sing worthy songs with Scriptural wisdom, songs that please our Lord.

4 Comments

  1. Hallelujah.sing Scripture.yes.

  2. I agree with you. Its so difficult to find pure worship music. Praise be to God, I recently found Krystn and Keith Getty(contemporary hyms). What a beuty,music that leads to the cross. Another thing, which I cant understand, is how difficult or less advertised their music is. If you anyone knows of other artist like these guys…….please share

  3. Thanks for your affirmations, Anton and Gcina. Some other contemporary song-writers who produce worthy songs are Stuart Townend, Martin Leckebusch, Graham Kendrick, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Christopher Idle, Michael Saward, Elizabeth Cosnett, so Google these names to see their work. I have written over 300 songs for congregational use, some of them rewrites of classic favourites, in modern language. See my website under construction http://www.singingtheword.co.za

  4. I would also strongly recommend Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman.