Friday, August 12, 2011


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12 August 2011


In the 1980s there was a revolution in church worship music unprecedented in 2000 years of church history. Prior to this date, worship song lyrics were almost all composed by pastors and the songs sung in church were selected by pastors. Martin Luther, for example, used song writing as a vehicle to promote reformation of the church and help people remember what he taught. But in the decades before the 1980s there had been a stagnation in worship music. Most churches were still mostly using songs with lyrics and tunes one or two hundred years old - as many also still used the King James Bible - which younger people had difficulty relating to. In the 1970s a few newer songs started drifting in along with the use of guitars instead of church organs - causing much controversy. One side thought guitars were of the devil, while some younger people felt the same about organs. In the 1980s, the old hymn books started to be thrown out and were replaced with up to date tunes and lyrics mostly composed by young musicians in their 20s with little theological training. Newer churches quickly embraced the change, while many older churches fought bitter 'worship wars' - sometimes having different services with different styles. By our decade most churches have made the shift to contemporary lyrics and tunes. Nevertheless, many complain we have lost something in the process. Most of the newer songs have a very narrow set of themes and lack the theological depth and breadth of the old hymns. Most focus on the personal emotional relationship of the worshipper with God. That is a valid Bible worship theme, but it is not the only valid Bible worship theme. The Psalms, our model for worship, have a much wider range of themes. At the same time, the Christian commercial music industry took control of church music. They promoted most whatever sold best rather than chosing songs for their scriptural educational quality as pastors tried to do before this. Young worship lyrics writers copied the styles of whatever sold best, producing more and more of the same narrow set of best selling popular themes. But are the Psalms popular themes? A lot of them are actually on very unpopular themes of repentance for sins of both individuals and the nation as a whole. Many are about the wrath of God and punishment of the wicked - not so popular today. But this is the spirtual food that people need, but are not always going to want to listen to as background music in their car. To their credit, some Christian musicians have taken old hymns and updated their tunes - creating a good combination of theological depth and popular style. The rising ideology of postmodernism has also favoured songs with a focus on personal emotional feelings for God and a neglect of other themes - such as the greatness of God and the wrath of God.

Why does this matter to Christian activism? Because worship music is an educator as much as preaching is an educator - and Christians with a narrow focus on emotional personal relationship with God will also likely have a narrow focus in their prayers and influence on society. Worship and service are indivisible. Service needs to flow out of our worship, just as Isaiah was motivated to preach an unpopular message to Israel (Isaiah 6) after a greater revelation of the holiness of God in worship.

In 1996, in frustration at the theological narrowness of the new worship lyrics, a group of the worlds most respected Bible scholars published "The Cambridge Declaration", calling for amongst other things a return to pastoral control of church music "Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness..."

But some will say, most of these theologians are from a traditional Reformed camp. Nevertheless, Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world's largest church in Korea, Pentecostal has expressed the same concern - and encouraged the singing of older hymns with modern songs to compensate their theological narrowness.

Unfortunately, the Christian music industry which controls most Christian music ignored this call - as did most pastors - who continued to surrender their authority over church worship lyrics to young mostly theologically uneducated church musicians who would thus attract youth to church. Christian radio tend to play songs based on popularity based on sales figures from the commercial music publishers and from listener requests rather than the need to select for theological breadth. Thus, the cultural update to worship music has continued and resulted in a theological narrowing and downgrade of worship music lyrics. Many of todays church youth only know the new lyric themes and don't know what they are missing.

For many years, Hugh Wetmore, a board member of ChristianView Network, former leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa has been emailing me worship songs he has composed on a broad range of themes. They have often been an encouragement and inspiration to me. Recently he has published these in a book "Lyrics to lift your life" which includes a very wide range of topics and theological depth. Each is indexed by topic. In addition to songs in the usual categories of the Life of Christ from His Incarnation to His Return and major Biblical Doctrines, less usual themes include: The Ten Commandments’, ‘Creation vs Evolution’, ‘Work’, ‘Protection while traveling internationally’, ‘Refugees’, ‘Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents’, ‘Xenophobia’, ‘21st Century Culture’ and ‘South African Context’. Songs about the human condition: ‘Loneliness’, ‘Stress’, ‘Poverty’ and ‘Hunger’ ~ in addition to the usual and necessary themes of ‘Lostness’ and ‘Repentance/Faith’, ‘The Church Growth Song”, “The Inside-Out Church”, “The Suffering Song” and “The Identity Song”.

"Lyrics to Lift your Life" is available (R80.00 + R8 pack+post) from the author-publisher, Hugh G Wetmore 109 Beacon Hill, 32 Roberts Rd, Pietermaritzburg 3201, South Africa. Tel/Fax +27(0)33 3429012. email: The songs are also available with musical score, as backing tracks and on audio mp3 CDs (as a set of 13 CDs). Why not order one for your church?

My hope is that some young talented musicians will take these broad and theologically deep lyrics and make them popular - and also follow Hugh's example in composing more worship songs of similar theological depth and breadth. An example of a song on a pro-life theme is given below - you can also sing it at your next pro-life protest against abortion and help save babies lives.

The 1980s church music revolution was good in that it brought a new generation of youth into the church with tunes they enjoyed, but problematic in that it narrowed the depth and breadth of their worship music and took authority over music away from pastors to the less biblically knowledgable young musicians and radio DJs. I don't want to slam the commercial Christian music industry. I appreciate them and my spiritual life has been hugely helped by commercially published music. I have a big collection of such music and listen to it all the time. We do however need to take action to broaden and deepen the theological content of and selection songs - and commercial popularity charts will not do that for us.

One of my personal worship solutions has been to rip my collection to mp3 and then create my own compilations of the best songs to listen to in my car, my private worship and on my mp3 player, which I believe include a more balanced selection. I also love the CDs with old hymns set to new tunes. So to the pastors out there - please don't be over awed by the popularity of certain music and by the greater musical ability of musicians in your congregation - the tunes are the musicians responsibility, but the choice of lyrics has a teaching function and thus is a pastoral responsibilty.

I would recommend also that every commercial music company and radio station employ a theologically educated pastor as a consultant to review their music lyric selection to ensure a breadth of theological themes. Possibly larger companies should have a theological review board to review the publishing selection and give feedback to songwriters. I would recommend every young songwriter who does not have a strong bible knowledge sends his songs for review to someone who does before publication. Let us promote a reformation of worship music to broaden the teaching content of music and put the selection of songs out of the hands of young musicians, commercial companies and young radio DJ's and back in the hands of pastors - who choose songs with lyrics to feed the flock a Biblically balanced diet.

And don't forget - Hugh Wetmore's "Lyrics to Lift your Life" song book is available (R80.00 + R8 pack+post) from the author-publisher, Hugh G Wetmore 109 Beacon Hill, 32 Roberts Rd, Pietermaritzburg 3201, South Africa. Tel/Fax +27(0)33 3429012. email:

Please forward this email to your pastor and music worship leader.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Rosenthal



God of Justice, God of Love,
twin these virtues from above,
form them in this world below,
that all people soon will show
justice, love to all.

Justice for the innocent,
killed without their own consent,
taken from their mother’s womb,
taken from their cosy home,
justice is denied.

Love for helpless humankind,
all their rights now undermined.
Adult power is cruel and wild
When it’s used against a child ~
love evaporates.

God of Justice, God of Love,
You in Christ came from above.
Mary had the courage to
see her pregnancy right through ~
Loving Justice won!

Words: Hugh G Wetmore (c) 2003
Metre: 77775


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