Songs for Worship

Welcome to True Vine Music! Our mission is to provide Christ-centered, Biblically-grounded, contemporary worship songs for the church. We provide original congregational worship songs on many themes including Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Liturgy. Come, let us worship the Lord!

 

   

Worship and Theology

Hymns and Songs

Contemporary Songs are not traditional hymns.  There are differences that go deeper than merely whether the accompaniment is an organ or a band.  There are different purposes and consequently different criteria regarding their usefulness.
 

Teaching or Proclaiming

A frequent complaint regarding contemporary songs is that there is little meat to them.  The content is sparse, repetition is common, and very little doctrinal material is presented.  Compared to the church's rich treasury of traditional hymnody, that criticism is true.  But it's vital to keep in mind that contemporary songs aren't trying to cover the same ground as the traditional hymnody.

Hymns teach the faith intentionally.  Luther's catechetical hymns and Gerhard's chorales are excellent examples of a doctrinal reflection and confession, applied to life and faith.  By singing the hymns, the doctrine is not only confessed, it is learned.  The hymn covers the material with little repetition, but instead flows through a narrative presentation.

Contemporary songs aren't necessarily trying to teach the faith, so much as proclaim it.  The point is to provide a vehicle for praise or prayer.  Instead of singing doctrinal discourse or narrative content, the relatively simple message is sung repeatedly as a meditation.  The repetition serves as an opportunity to reflect on the point of the text so as to deepen awareness, appreciation, and experience of the truth that is being sung.  The purpose of singing the song is to lead the worshipper to this point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive.

I do need to point out that regarding the value of these two approaches, I stand firmly on the fence.  Both are needed.  Traditional worship could benefit from some affective meditation, and contemporary worship could be enriched with more sung doctrinal meat.  You will notice that many of my songs sit on this fence as well.  Many of them contain far more doctrinal material and content than the standard contemporary fare, while at the same time making use of a repeated chorus or phrase.

 

Praying and Singing

Many contemporary songs have a God-ward direction or focus.  The text of the song is itself a prayer or praise directed to the Triune God.  This is true for some hymns, but many hymns are directed toward other worshippers, or to the self.  Or to put it another way, many hymns refer to God in the 3rd person, while the majority of contemporary songs refer to God in the 2nd person.  This is consistent with the section above, in that the ultimate purpose of the contemporary song is meditation on God in the presence of God.  So prayer or praise directed to God is quite apropos.

This is not to say that 3rd person songs are less worthy of worship, but they may not have the potential for engaging the worshipper in the emotional/affective way that the contemporary song seeks to do.  When I'm singing a 2nd person worship song, I'm not singing about God; I'm singing to God.  The difference is as profound as that between telling a friend that I love my wife, and speaking that love directly to her.
 

Worship as a Verb

The word worship is used in different ways by different groups of people.  Those trained in Lutheran theology are used to using the word worship to refer to a two-way interaction with God.  Worship begins in God, who acts toward us and gives Himself to us.  We receive and then respond.  There can be no worship for me unless God acts first.  Worship in this Lutheran sense is a lively two-way exchange.  God is not merely audience; He is actively at work in our worship.  We are not merely doers; we are receivers of God's gracious acts.

In the contemporary worship movement, the word worship is used in a different sense.  It carries a connotation of engaged activity on the part of the worshiper.  Worship in this sense is a verb.  It is something I do.  And it is something that I am truly doing when I am fully engaged, intellectually and emotionally, in the  activity of singing and praising.  Worship is not passive.  It is not merely receiving.  It is doing.  In some circles you will even hear the word worship only refer to the act of singing praise, and doing so energetically and emotionally. 

With these two definitions of worship at work, both sides accuse the other of not truly worshiping.  Traditionalists claim that contemporary worship is human-centered, and that it downplays or denies that God is present and working.  Contemporary Worship practitioners accuse traditionalists of not truly worshiping since they appear to be so passive and not emotionally involved. 

I'm not going to deny that there are some differences in theology of worship at work here, but the main problem is the definition of the word worship.  It's similar to the word sacrament.  Depending on how you define that word you are going to come up with a different number of sacraments.  With a Lutheran definition there are two, and with a Roman Catholic definition, there are seven.

Both sides can learn from each other and be warned about the danger of their respective approach.  The danger in traditional worship is formalism:  Approaching worship itself as an ex opera operato event, a mere going through the motions.  On the contrary, worship is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is rather to engage the entire person.  Contemporary worship reminds us of this.  On the other hand the danger in the contemporary worship definition of the word worship is the notion that unless I feel a certain way, unless I'm energized by the singing and the experience, then God must not be present or working.  This is wrong.  God's presence and activity is neither dependent on nor is it indicated by the level of our emotional fervor.  Worship at its best should engage us emotionally, but emotion is not the sine qua non of the worship.

So both sides need to be less quick to judge and more quick to listen, learn, and grow in the practice of worship.

 

Context and Content

In evaluating contemporary worship songs, it is important to keep in mind the broader context of worship.  The context of the worship service is part of the meaning of the text of the song.  As mentioned above, many contemporary songs contain little in the way of doctrinal content.  That does not in itself make them unsuitable.  We should not assume that the content or lack of it makes the song guilty until proven innocent. 

For instance, a reference might be made to the Jesus as Savior, but the means by which he has saved us is not presented explicitly in the song.  This is not a denial of the cross or the atonement, as is sometimes suggested, but merely an assumption that the rest of the worship service, the preaching, and other features will provide that content of meaning to what is merely referred to in a shorthand way in the song.

The traditional liturgy relies on context to provide meaning for some of its texts.  The Agnus Dei uses a repeated phrase as a prayer for mercy to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  No reference is made to how the Lamb does this, or even who the Lamb is.  Ripped out its context and presented to an assembly of unbelievers, the song would be highly confusing.  But in its context, sandwiched between the Words of Institution and the distribution of communion, the meaning of the words become highly specific and clearly point to Jesus as the Lamb, who by his shed blood and body, takes away the sin of the world.

The same thing happens in contemporary worship as well.  For instance, the song "Here I am to Worship" praises God for being wonderful and beautiful, leading us to bow down and worship (see definition of worship above).  Why is God wonderful and beautiful?  The repeated phrase "I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross" points to the answer, without describing it in detail.  The context of the congregation's worship life, Christian education, preaching, and the faith of those gathered for worship fill in the details.  And then a song that never mentions Jesus or Christ or Son of God by name becomes in the hearts of the worshipers a powerful anthem of praise and thanksgiving for the redemption we have in his name.

 

Objective and Subjective

Another complaint often made regarding contemporary worship songs is that they are overly subjective.  They dwell too much on the individual's experience of God, and not enough on the objective truths that are the foundation of our faith.  Too much subjectivity can undermine certainty, and lead to a faith built upon experience and emotion, instead of the events of salvation and the Word that proclaims it.

That is true.  But as in many things in life, it's not a black and white issue, but rather a matter of balance. The complaint from the contemporary worship side is that traditional worship and hymns are too objective.  Traditional worship and its traditional practice seem designed to stifle emotion and individual expression and response to the gospel.  If contemporary worship songs run the risk of over-subjectivity, then traditional worship runs the risk of denying the reality and importance of the subjective experience.

There needs to be both.  As I've stated above, emotion and fervor is not the foundation of our faith, but there is room to express and celebrate it as a response to what God has done.  And the music of the contemporary worship movement is very well suited in our present cultural context to provide a vehicle for that response for many people.  If music can be used as a vehicle for intentionally expressing the objective truths of the faith, why shouldn't it be used to intentionally express the response to those truths, even in an emotional way?

 

 

   

 

   

Resources

Worship Concord

This Lutheran blogsite is a gathering of lay people, church musicians, artists, teachers, pastors, and professors, who share a positive vision for having a constructive, Christ-centered conversation about worship.

The purpose of Worship Concord is

● to promote harmony by fostering respect between those who appreciate different worship forms, and . . .

● to equip worship leaders with the tools they need to evaluate contemporary forms for use in the local congregation.

Visit Worship Concord and join the conversation

...here

Theses on Worship

These eight theses on worship were recently adopted by the Council of Presidents of the LCMS.  This is a long overdue step forward in the too often contentious discussion of worship in our church body.

...here

Song Evaluations

Evaluations of popular contemporary worship songs by the LCMS Commission on Worship

...here