Writing theologically accurate lyrics for praise and worship songs

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While writing a new song for the church recently, I found myself wanting a word that rhymed with ‘darkness’. ‘Harness’? ‘Unto us’? There didn’t seem to be many choices. I turned to the person I was sitting with and exclaimed, ‘if only there had been an apostle Marcus!’

Well, that sounds ridiculous, but it did remind me that there are some church songs out there that, for the sake of squeezing out a rhyme (or matching a meter, or number of lines per verse etc), allowed for some dodgy theology.

Playing Piano in Worship ServiceObviously, all theology should be 100% accurate. But church songwriters should perhaps be doubly careful, rather than half as much (as they sometimes seem to be). Because by its very nature, anything simplified and set to music becomes more memorable, especially when it is heard over and over.

And if there are believers in the world with access to songs but without access to bibles – which there are;

…and if there are unbelievers in the world who are not exposed to any theology except through songs – and there are;

…and if there are any believers who don’t spend much – or even any – time reading the bibles in their rooms, but spend their ‘time with God’ just listening to Christian music – which there also are;

Then the ideas in the lyrics can become peoples’ theologyWhy the Lyrics Matter in Praise and Worship Song

Some of our older hymns appear to be written by people who had this in mind. These writers actually took the opportunity to teach as much theology as possible through their many words-per-line, many lines-per-verse, many verses-per-hymn songs. Which helps people learn theological truths through them.

But I suspect that with today’s short attention spans that plan might backfire since we might tune out (pun slipped in by association, probably!) on account of not being used to processing so many words in our praise and worship songs.

On the other hand, Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is increasingly known for its sparse lyrics and simple, repeated refrains. But even if the lyrics are down to their bare bones – or especially if they are! – we need to make sure they are biblically accurate! That doesn’t mean they can’t be words from the Holy Spirit, that are not actual quotes from the Bible. But it does mean that whatever is being said is in line with and does not confuse or contradict scripture.

So for all church songwriters out there: let’s make sure our songs are theologically sound. We should get help if we can’t say things accurately within the musical constraints. As well as be willing to either ask a wordsmith and elders in the church to help. Or else to alter the music so that the words can be accurate.

And a side note for listeners – in hearing the words of any song, just as we are to do with the words of any preacher or prophet, let’s remember to test them.  See if they line up with scripture since we know that there is a chance they may not.

About the Author

This post was submitted by Vicki Payne. Connect with her online via her blog, where she shares her observations on life.