“High” Doxology by Chris Wolfe
If you’ve ever been a part of a church whose normal Sunday mornings consisted mainly of hymns as its doxology, that church may have practiced what is sometimes called “high” liturgy. Many Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, or other such “traditional” churches would be considered high liturgy churches. A church practicing high liturgy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a super formal church, just that they do a lot of formal things, such as singing hymns. It’s my opinion that hymns deserve a place in the modern church, and not for the sake of tradition.
Hymns are the traditional church’s standard for doxology. If you’ve heard one or two (and if you go to City Church, you definitely have), you might notice that hymns tend to have more verses in them, they sometimes require a bigger vocabulary to understand, and they often end up with a higher word count in general. What is really important, though, is not the word count of a song, but the result of having so many words. To show you what I mean, I’m going to provide a link to these two songs for you to look at the lyrics:
Please note that while both songs contain truths about God that can be backed by scripture, there is a clear difference in which piece has more “stuff” to it. Both of these songs focus on specific themes: Our hymn,Yet Not I, talks about how Christ is the one who works in us, not we who work in ourselves. Tremble, our contemporary song, boldly proclaims the name of Jesus and reminds us of his power over darkness and fear. Out of these songs, only one of them really digs deep in order to support its theme, while the other points out vague examples that don't necessarily reinforce as much as repeat. I think you already know which song is which, but let’s take a deeper look anyway.
In just the first verse of Yet Not I, we sing that:
Grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8)
Jesus is our redeemer (Ephesians 1:7)
Jesus is the best that heaven has to offer (Luke 23:43)
Jesus is our ultimate source of joy (John 15:11)
Jesus is our ultimate source of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus is our ultimate source of freedom (John 8:36)
Jesus is our ultimate source of love (1 John 4:8-9)
Jesus is our ultimate source of peace (Philippians 4:7)
Likewise, in the first two verses of Tremble, we sing that:
Jesus name can bring peace in literal stormy seas (Mark 4:39)
Jesus name can bring peace in figurative stormy seas (Mark 4:39?)
After this analysis, I hope you begin to see what I’m getting at. There is a depth of truth that hymns bring forth that many (but not all) contemporary songs just don’t reach. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth celebrating God’s power to calm storms; I still greatly enjoy Tremble as a regular part of our worship. In fact, I will go as far as to say that I think both of these songs deserve a 10/10 on the scale of biblical accuracy. However, if we are going to use that same scale for biblical content, then Tremble, along with many other contemporary songs, will fall way behind in points.
Colossians 3:16-17 (ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
My desire to see more hymns can be boiled down to this: we need to be singing songs with more biblical content. I love the song Tremble as much as anyone else in our congregation and I have no intention of removing it from our pool of songs any time soon. However, our end goal should be to let the truth of God overflow from our lips, not just drip a sample sized serving. These ideas are backed up in Colossians 3:16, which states that we should crave for “the word of Christ [to] dwell in [us] richly...” so that it’s clearly present in our doxology.
My hope and prayer today is that City Church becomes a church that preserves the riches of knowledge found in the Bible through our worship. If you’re someone who’s been less enthusiastic about hymns in the past then the next time we play one, I urge you not to sing, but to read the words and let the word of God dwell in you richly. You may find a new appreciation for them in doing so.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
My name is Chris Wolfe. I've been involved with worship ministry in some capacity since I was 14 and I now serve as the worship director for City Church. I've had an affinity for music for as long as I can remember and God has used that to His glory pretty much everywhere I've ended up. Even when I've tried to take a break from worship ministries, God has a way of getting me back on stage anyway. Over the years I have come to passionately love God, and as a result, I passionately love to worship Him. When I'm not playing guitar and singing into mics, I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, games, and most important, spending time with my wife.