Why we Sing Theology
Colossians 3:16 says, “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.” This is a command that the word of Christ should not only dwell in us, but should dwell in us richly. The term, “Richly” here means abundantly. John MacArthur says that scripture should “permeate every aspect of the believer’s life and control every thought, word, and deed.”
The question is, how do we get the word of God to become so ingrained in us that it can be recalled in every situation of life, affecting our words, thoughts, and conduct? Memorizing God’s word is a great start, but as I have found, the older I get, the harder it is for me to remember a long string of words. I also learn a lot from sermons, but while I may recall a pithy comment or an alliterated outline, very few details will stick with me for even a week. Maybe I’m just pathetic, but I don’t think I am alone.
Thankfully, God gave us the gift of music. Throughout the scriptures, God called and gifted many with the gift to write and play music. He even gave us the first “hymnal” called the book of Psalms. Music contains melody (The main tune of the song), harmony (the surrounding chord progressions), rhythm (the beat and tempo of the song), and lyrics (what the song says/teaches).
The rhythm and harmony move our emotions, but the melody is the one thing that sticks to us like glue. How many of you learned your ABC’s as a child with a tune? Can you remember that tune today? Was it easier to learn the song with a melody? The melody bonds the lyrics to our soul like glue. That’s why jingles in commercials are so effective. “Give me a break, Give me a break, Break me off a piece of that _____ _____ _____.” How many of you not only filled in the words, but also sung the tune in your mind? That’s the power of a melody.
Not all melodies are great, and in much of modern worship music, one repeated note over and over to droning background music constitutes a “melody”. My rule of thumb is, if you can be moved by a melody being played or hummed acapella, that’s a good melody. Look at the melody of the song “How Great Is Our God”. Strip away Chris Tomlin’s voice and band, and even the lyrics and just sing the melody of the chorus. Hum it in your head. It’s pretty boring. It just stays on the “one” or “Root” of the chord. A lot of the build in that song is because of the chord progression, but it isn’t a great melody. Now, compare that with the melody of “10,000 reasons (Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul). Just hum the melody… just the tune is moving. That’s a great melody. That’s the kind of melody that will stick around for decades. Writing great melodies has become a lost art, but writers like Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, and even occasionally Hillsong keep the power of a great melody alive.
Now why did I just spend so much time on the importance of a powerful melody? Isn’t this article supposed to be about singing theology? Theology is in the lyrics, not in the melody. That’s true, but great theology, when coupled with a poorly written melody is wasted. And conversely, a great melody coupled with false doctrine can do an amazing amount of damage. Worldly artists use the power of a great melody to push all kinds of evil into the minds of their listeners.
We, as the church would be wasting one of our greatest God-given means of grace if we didn’t teach solid theological truths coupled with the power of a moving melody. Corporate worship is one of the best ways to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The rich truths stick with us all of our lives. How many of John Wesley’s sermons do we remember? Yet, how many of Charles Wesley’s hymns are still with us today like “O For a Thousand Tongues”, “And Can It Be?”, and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
We sing all different types of lyrics: testimony, encouragement, etc., but the most life-changing, profound words we can sing and “dwell in us richly” are the words of Christ. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Let us sing the theology of God’s faithfulness to us, who He is, and What he has done, and let’s do it with great melodies.
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship around the country. Bill and his family attend Belcroft Bible Church in Bowie, MD. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.