I Write the Songs…

In The Republic, Plato quoted Damon of Athens as saying “Give me the songs of a nation, and it matters not who writes its laws.” For thousands of years, music has been at the forefront of culture. While we know very little of what the music was for thousands of years, we do know that it showed up fairly early in the history of humanity, and has played a prominent role in our lives ever since.

The church scene is in a very interesting place right now. The praise chorus movement of the last 30 years or so has almost completely obliterated hymns in some circles, and has caused a general uproar by everyone (I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know). What is interesting to me is where worship in the church is going. Generalities are usually frowned on, especially in the academic realm, but I can’t help but generalize church worship into two separate movements fueled by my generation–the ones who are quickly growing up and taking the place in the church that boomers held for so long. It seems to me that people my age are either headed down some sort of seeker sensitive/emergent road, or they are looking for something that feels much more liturgical and less new age.

I have discovered a new passion this year: I believe that people who call themselves Christians should know what they believe and what it means to be a Christian. Specifically, I feel like the church desperately needs a movement to solid theological understanding, and a replacement of ’emotional worship’ for ‘purposeful worship.’ Honestly, as much as I despise the thought of coining this phrase, there is no getting around its effectiveness in relaying my point: I believe the church needs to get back to ‘Purpose Driven Worship.’

A thousand years ago, everything had explicit purpose when it was done in the church setting. Cathedral architecture all reflected theological understandings in ways meant to convey that theology to the common worshiper. Floor plans were designed to teach. Stained glass windows all contained Biblical teachings, often stories from the Bible. In a world where the overwhelming majority of people were completely uneducated, the cathedral was a basic way to educate the Christian and remind them of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

Today it is not a fundamental education that is lacking from our society, but rather a religious one. Most people go about their lives, blindly believing whatever it is they have been told by parents, friends, media, society, and the like. Not only do they have no clue what they believe, they don’t even know why they believe it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should cram years of theology down a new believer’s throat as soon as they become a Christian. Jesus himself said we should have faith like a child. But faith is not negated by education, rather I believe my faith as increased as my theological understanding has grown. God’s desire is not for us to be content with the basics. James tells us that God will give wisdom generously to all who ask for it, and Paul mentions more than once (okay, Paul mentions it, and whoever wrote Hebrews mentions it) that we should not continue to drink milk, but should move on to solid food. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that Christians continue to develop their spiritual life, not just by praying for it to happen, but by putting forth personal effort to make it happen.

One of the major benefits of a highly liturgical service is the meaning that everything has. Because everything is planned out ahead of time, the words to be spoken written with deep care, the rituals performed with highest consideration, you get a service that has purpose. It tends to emphasize the corporate aspects of worship, and also helps to de-emphasize the individual who is leading the service. Together, all of these things will hopefully draw the attention to the words being spoken and the actions being performed, rather than on feelings and emotions.

So… what does this all have to do with Damon of Athens? A lot. I recently read a study on the most popular worship choruses of the past fifteen years and their theological content, focusing specifically on trinitarian worship. Of the 72 songs, two of them mention all three persons of the Trinity by name, and a third does indirectly. Does anyone see a problem with this? Plato and Damon believed that songs were the most impactful part of culture on their society, and the same holds true today. Like it or not, believe it or not, what we’re singing is shaping and forming our beliefs, and according to the 72 most popular praise choruses of recent, apparently we don’t believe very much in a triune God.

My point is not to bash praise choruses, although I think it is deserved. My point is to try and show just how much of a need there is for solid theological teaching to all Christians, regardless of how old they are, what denomination they attend, or where they live. We serve the almighty, infinite God of all things. Don’t you think it’s worth the effort to get to know who he is?