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Worship and Hymn Writing Part III – Teach In Your Music

June 26, 2007

Historically, since the beginning of the Reformation, hymns were used to teach doctrine and spiritual truths in the Church. When transferring from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism the congregation had much learn and much to re-learn. Many pastors and clergy wrote hymns to integrate solid doctrine. Martin Luther was of course one who wrote many hymns for congregations throughout Europe. One, for example, was “Savior of the Heathen, Known.” Luther teaches doctrine pertaining specifically to the Person of Christ:

Saviour of the heathen, known
As the promised virgin’s Son;
Come thou wonder of the earth,
God ordained thee such a birth.

Not of flesh and blood the son,
Offspring of the Holy One,
Born of Mary ever-blest,
God in flesh is manifest.

Lo! he comes! the Lord of all
Leaves his bright and royal hall;
God and man, with giant force,
Hastening to run his course.

In this hymn, Luther successfully teaches the humanity and deity of Christ, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the humiliation of Christ, and the sovereignty of God in all of it.

The hymn “Rock of Ages” sings this:

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Here Augustus Toplady, the hymn writer, teaches the uselessness of our good works and our complete need for the work of Christ to atone for our sins, who puts peace to our contention in appeasing God’s wrath. This characteristic must still be in our songs that we write today. We must teach in our music. That does, however, stress that the song writer must have something to teach and have a growing knowledge in Christ.

Implementing songs that actually teach in the lyrics helps the congregation do two things: (1) it helps the congregation to worship in spirit and in truth and (2) aid the worshiper to grow and develop a love for these truths. We must be able to worship Christ for the incarnation. The incarnation was a gracious, loving act of God towards humanity. But we cannot worship God for something we do not know of or understand.

There are many examples of modern song and hymn writers who are striving to teach great things about God through their songs. Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writer who have wonderful lyrics and teach many truths – especially pertaining to redemptive themes. I could use their most famous hymn “In Christ Along” to show their depth of teaching in their hymns. Specifically, look at this stanza:

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Not only do they use themes taken straight from Scripture (Romans 8), they are teaching truths that give Christians courage, hope, and trust in their mighty Savior. Another modern writer is Bob Kauflin who takes many themes in Puritan writings to use in his worship music. We should learn from these writers who are striving to get music out there that puts depth into our words that we sing. Let us teach great and powerful truths to encourage and grow our congregation to worship and spirit and truth.

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