Song vs. sermon

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. {Col 3:16, NAS}

The singing of songs is not insignificant. In the 17th century a Scottish politician by the name of Andrew Fletcher surmised that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” Hyperbole? Maybe. But no one can doubt that the statement contains a large measure of truth. For this discussion we’ll rework Fletcher’s comment for a church context: “if a man were permitted to make all the songs he need not care who should preach the sermons for the church.”

On that sobering thought we turn to Col 3:16 and make two observations. First, the result of Christ’s word richly dwelling in us is that we teach & admonish one another. Second, music is the means by which we teach & admonish (at least in this verse). From these observations we should assert the following: (1) if teaching/admonishing is the result of Christ’s word living in us, the teaching/admonishing will be true to Scripture (2) if this teaching/admonishing is done through song, our songs will be true to Scripture (3) a church is to sing for the sake of sound teaching.

In light of all this it strikes me that a huge disconnect exists when we demand biblical precision in our preaching while defending poetic license in our singing. We sing We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb/And the word of our testimony, everyone overcome. Does it matter that such language is a biblical reference to martyrdom (Rev 12:11)? Let’s all die a martyr’s death–everyone overcome! We confidently declare I’m trading my sorrow/I’m trading my shame/I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord. The message sounds more likeĀ Peale than Peter & Co. (1Pet 2:19; 2Cor 4:7-10, 16-18; 12:10) not to mention the assumption that God doesn’t give sorrow (Job 2:10; Lam 3) & that all our sorrows can be erased in this life (Rev 21:4).

A song can’t teach everything but it will always teach something. If preaching mishandles biblical content & context the long-term health of the church will suffer. We would do well to consider that our singing may present a similar health threat. “What the song means to me” is an insufficient standard by which we make our song selection. The justification is myopic, sacrificing the good of one another for the sake of my song. So sing well and sing wisely.

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