How we worship God matters. And part of worship is our music. David sung praises unto the Lord with his psalms. Yes the psalms are meant to be sung! Have you noticed that so much of what passes for praise music these days is utterly banal, if not outright blasphemous (viz, Jesus as their boyfriend).
You’ve probably heard a million times the same tired cliched songs with repetitive lyrics. Or as church musicians call them, 7-11-2 music. 7 words sung 11 times to 2 chords!
What makes this all the more egregious and intolerable is that fact that there exists a rich body of doctrinally sound and musically pleasing praise music. That is the great hymns of the historic church. Such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus”, or even a contemporary hymn such as “In Christ Alone”.
Here is “Amazing Grace” performed by Celtic Woman.
This hymn written by John Newton, a former slave trader, beautifully expresses the reality of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. This moving hymn has been used by God to bring countless people to faith. Here are the lyrics:
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
We should return to excellence in worship. In fact we must demand it. That includes praise music. Whether it’s a return to the great classic hymns of the Church, or using lyrically sound and musically elevated contemporary hymns.
My favorite type of praise music is classical sacred music such as J.S. Bach, Handel, Palestrina, etc. I believe we should give God our best in worship. He gave us talents, and the ability to compose beautiful music. We as the Body of Christ should no longer tolerate substandard praise music. I encourage you to listen to J.S. Bach’s sacred cantatas. Here is one of my favorites, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (BWV 147) performed by the Bach Foundation of Switzerland.
Hymns are much more than a mere accompaniment. They are a substantial and important part of worship in their own right. Hymns share the Gospel, express our love for Christ, and present doctrinal truths in ways that are easy to remember. Here is an article which talks about 7 Biblical reasons why singing in worship matters.
If you’re a church musician, a regular layperson, a pastor, or an elder. I urge you to fight for excellence in your worship music. You know good versus bad music so fight for the best, even if that means you have to butt heads with the pastor or elders. Please make pastors understand how vitally important our worship music is. Not every church can have a trained choir, or a $50,000 pipe organ, but we can all sing. God looks at our heart. If our intent is to glorify God He’ll see that.
Here are some hymns played on the pipe organ, which is my favorite instrument in worship music besides the human voice. The organ has over 1500 years of repertoire! Martin Luther said, “After theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.”
There is a controversy in churches as to whether worship music should be acappella, with just the human voice, and no instruments, or if it should be music with instruments to accompany the voice. Those who follow the regulative principle of worship generally forbid instruments in worship music. The regulative principle is that we should only worship God in ways explicitly set forth in Scripture, otherwise it is forbidden. Some proponents of the regulative principle even sing only the Pslams and no hymns at all. I think this is motivated by well intention, but it’s an extreme position, and, in my view, an unbiblical one. I favor the normative principle of worship which allows all types of music not forbidden by Scripture.
So whether you sing without any instruments, or have a full trained choir with a pipe organ, worship God by giving your best. Fight for excellence in worship music.
As a Calvinist I’ve encountered many with harsh and negative associations between Calvinism and church music. Here is an interesting article which explores the history.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.
Here are 25 classic and contemporary hymns which I love! The name is given, with a link to a performance of the hymn on YouTube if you click on the name of the hymn, followed by the name of who wrote the hymn and the year they wrote it, followed by the first lines of the hymn.
1. Amazing Grace – John Newton, England (1779)
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me / I once was lost but now am found / Was blind, but now, I see.
2. How Great Thou Art – Carl Gustav Boberg, Sweden (1885)
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder / Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made / I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder / Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
3. Holy, Holy, Holy – Reginald Heiber, England (1826)
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! / Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee / Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty / God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”
4. It is Well – Horacio Spafford, written in the Atlantic Ocean (1873)
When peace like a river, attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know / It is well, it is well, with my soul.
5. Great Is Thy Faithfulness – Thomas Chisholm, Kansas, USA (1923)
Great is Thy faithfulness O God my Father / There is no shadow of turning with Thee / Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not / As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
6. Praise To the Lord The Almighty – Joachim Neander, Germany (1665)
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! / O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! / All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near / Sing now in glad adoration!
7. Be Thou My Vision – Dallán Forgaill, Ireland (6th Century)
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart / Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art / Thou my best thought, by day or by night / Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
8. All Creatures Of our God and King – St. Francis of Assisi, Italy (1225)
All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice and with us sing / Alleluia! Alleluia!…Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son / And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
9. All Hail The Power of Jesus Name – Edward Perronet, England (1779)
All hail the power of Jesus’ name! / Let angels prostrate fall / Bring forth the royal diadem / And crown him Lord of all.
10. Blessed Assurance – Fanny Crosby, New York City, USA (1873)
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! / Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! / Heir of salvation, purchase of God / Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
11. To God Be The Glory – Fanny Crosby, New York City, USA (1872)
To God be the glory, great things He hath done / So loved He the world that He gave us His Son / Who yielded His life our redemption to win / And opened the life-gate that all may go in.
12. When I Survey The Wondrous Cross – Isaac Watts, England (1707)
When I survey the wondrous cross / On which the Prince of glory died / My richest gain I count but loss / And pour contempt on all my pride.
13. Jesus Paid it All – Elvina Hall, Maryland, USA (1865)
I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small / Child of weakness, watch and pray / Find in Me thine all in all” / Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe / Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
14. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Martin Luther, Germany (somewhere between 1527 – 1529)
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing / Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing / For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe / His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
15. How Firm A Foundation – John Rippon, England (1787)
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord / Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! / What more can He say than to you He hath said / Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?
16. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Robert Robison, England (1757)
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing / Tune my heart to sing Thy grace / Streams of mercy, never ceasing / Call for songs of loudest praise.
17. Crown Him With Many Crowns – Matthew Bridges, England (1852)
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne / Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own / Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee / And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
18. At the Cross – Isaac Watts, England (1707)
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light / And the burden of my heart rolled away / It was there by faith I received my sight / And now I am happy all the day!
19. What a Friend We Have in Jesus – Joseph M. Scriven (words in 1855) and Charles Converse (music in 1868), Ireland
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! / What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! / O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
20. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – Helen Lemmel, England (1922)
Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace.
21. In Christ Alone – Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Northern Ireland/England (2001)
In Christ alone my hope is found / He is my light, my strength, my song / This Cornerstone, this solid ground / Firm through the fiercest drought and storm / What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease / My Comforter, my All in All / Here in the love of Christ I stand.
22. Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) – Chris Rice, USA (2003)
Weak and wounded sinner / Lost and left to die / O, raise your head, for love is passing by / Come to Jesus / Come to Jesus / Come to Jesus and live!
23. 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman, England (2011)
Bless the Lord, O my soul O my soul / Worship His holy name / Sing like never before, O my soul / I’ll worship Your holy name.
24. I Will Glory in My Redeemer – Steve and Vicki Cook, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (2000)
I will glory in my Redeemer / Whose priceless blood has ransomed me/ Mine was the sin that drove the bitter nails / And hung Him on that judgment tree / I will glory in my Redeemer / Who crushed the power of sin and death / My only Savior before the holy Judge / The Lamb who is my righteousness.
25. Jesus, Thank You – Pat Sczebel, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (2003)
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend / The agonies of Calvary / You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son / Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me / Your blood has washed away my sin / Jesus, thank You / The Father’s wrath completely satisfied / Jesus, thank You / Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table / Jesus, thank You.