Telling The TRUTH (pt 2)

In one of our most popular posts called Telling The Truth, we touched on the importance of writing lyrics that are Biblically sound. 2 Timothy admonishes us to “correctly handle the word of Truth“. Let’s go a little deeper in this post to talk about how we can make sure we are doing just that …

1) Make certain that what you think is scriptural, is actually scriptural. (And I’m speaking to myself here too, for general everyday purposes.)  For many of us who have spent most of our life in the church, this can be a real hitch, if we’re not spending enough personal time in the Word. We hear much over the years that we simply assume is scriptural when it’s not, and it somehow becomes part of our theology. Your job as a writer of church songs is to proclaim, exalt and establish Truth. Never allow your songs to promote or eternalize bad theology.

2) Make sure you don’t set Scripture out of context. We all get defensive when we hear those outside of the church take scripture out of context. But it also happens inside the church body all too often. I honestly don’t believe most believers aim to do this or even know when they are doing it. And therein lies the problem.

In the book of Acts however, Luke praises the people of Berea because they searched the scriptures daily to see if the things they were being taught were correct. He called them “noble” because of this. Be a “noble” lyric writer. Otherwise, it can be embarrassing for you, and significantly damaging to the body of Christ.

By way of quick example, there is a public domain praise and worship song, Blow The Trumpet In Zion, that speaks of an army rushing on the city and running on the walls, to carry out God’s word. You, like me, may remember singing the song in church with enthusiasm and celebration as if it were an army of deliverance for us. In fact, the context of Joel 2, from which the song is taken, actually speaks of God’s army of judgement and destruction on a sinful nation, with a trumpet wake up call for fasting and repentance. Hmmm.

3) If you alter something or paraphrase Scripture, make sure the meaning stays the same. Most scripture was not written to be sung … at least not the way we sing things in our current culture. You’ll probably need to paraphrase, add words, omit words, or repeat words and phrases to create a great song. But be careful. Even a small tweak can have serious consequences (see my post called Filler And Fluff regarding the significance of small words).

Here’s a real life example of what could happen:
Colossians 1:15 says the Son is the, “firstborn over all creation“. Amanda Fergusson, in her book entitled, Songs of Heaven, recalls a church song based on this scripture that instead used the line, “the first of all creation“. It might seem like a harmless change at first glance. Maybe this was the appropriate number of syllables the writer needed to fit the meter of the song, thus the change. But the meaning was completely transformed with one little, creative stroke of the writer’s pen. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses may agree with the new theology this line just created, Collossians 1:15 does not state that Jesus was a created being, but rather the Everlasting God that rules over all creation.*

Many of the worship music songwriters I know today have spent some time in Bible college or seminary, and most all are devoted students of the Word. Even so, the majority of them are in accountability relationships with pastors in regard to their song lyrics. You may not have had formal Bible training. That’s okay. However, if you’re serious about writings songs that the larger church may want to sing, you must be a student of the Word. And you might consider finding a pastor or Bible teacher that can serve as a sounding board and proof-reader, to help ensure you’re “correctly handling the Word of Truth”.

Writing songs for the Body of Christ to sing, to pray and to hold in their hearts, comes with an immense responsibility. Are you ready?

* Some ideas and examples used above were taken from Songs of Heaven: Writing Songs for Contemporary Worship by Amanda Fergusson. Copyright 2005 Amanda Fergusson.

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Telling The TRUTH

My focus for the most recent 10 years, has been working with writers of today’s most popular church songs … those sung by congregations around the world on a weekly basis. And as unfortunate as it is, I’ve come to realize that too many Christians today learn or develop their theology from the songs they sing.

Christian Songwriter, did you hear what I said?! That puts a HUGE responsibility on you to write Biblically sound lyrics!

In the Hillsong book on songwriting entitled, Songs of Heaven, author Amanda Fergusson says it this way, “Worship songs and hymns are a powerful medium for teaching truth because they are memorable and so it is especially important to make sure that our songs are theologically sound.” She goes on to point out that Jesus spoke only what He heard the Father saying and that likewise, everything we say in our songs should be submitted to the Word of God.

Any songwriter that has ever worked with me can tell you how much I stress the importance of the lyric in a Christian song. Yes, from a creative and commercial standpoint (as you will note from many of my blog posts), but even moreso from a theological standpoint. As a matter of fact, in a songwriting mentorship session just this week I pointed out to a student that we need not ask God to do what He has already done. Instead, we should thank Him, or rejoice in, explain or proclaim, what He has done.

Songwriter Joel Houston, from Hillsong Church said it this way, “I want everything I write to be based in Scripture, even if it is a prayer. I want to make sure that every line has biblical substance and integrity. That doesn’t mean that it has to be word for word Scripture, but the tenor of my thought has to line up with the tenor of the Word of God.”

Songwriter Jennie Riddle, writer of REVELATION SONG, once told me that when we write worship songs we are putting, “words on the lips of the Bride”. That’s what’s in Jennie’s mind when she writes songs that the Bride of Christ is going to sing.

How often we forget that the Word of God is living and active. We have the ability to put the most powerful words ever spoken into song. Don’t let your lyrics take the back seat … ever. If you’re more of a “music person” or a “track person”, then by all means find a “lyric person” to partner with you in your songwriting. Please don’t simply throw something together lyrically because it sounds right, or sings well, or rhymes, or because you’ve “heard it said before”. Always remember the responsibility we have as Christian songwriters to tell the Truth!

Link to TELLING THE TRUTH (pt 2)