Jesus sang a hymn.

I often wonder what hymn Jesus and the disciples sang after the Last Supper. Was it up-tempo or slow? Did they sing harmony or just melody? What was the lyrical content? Was it from the Psalms or was it a “current” hymn with which they were all familiar? Was it a new hymn that Jesus taught them? Neither Matthew (Matt. 26:30) nor Mark (Mark 14:26) tells us. My best guess is that they sang a traditional hymn from the Passover liturgy to close the meal. What is revealed to us in these two accounts is that Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, sang. I am, therefore, persuaded that there must be a level of importance in singing and worshiping.

For more than thirty years, I have observed the worship services of a wide variety of denominations throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa. I have seen the pure praise and worship of believers singing current worship songs and ancient hymns to the glory of God. In all these instances, I believe that the Lord inhabits the praises of His people. But as a hymn writer and composer, I also believe that we have the responsibility to present musical offerings to God in the most truthful and beautiful way that we can. This starts with the truth of the gospel.

If the lyric of our praise depicts or teaches a gospel that is false or even slightly misrepresented, then we have failed before ever marrying it to a melody. Oftentimes while composing, I am reminded of when the Lord specifically called the “skilled workers” to build the different elements of the tabernacle. He didn’t call the guy who was “sort of good” at working with bronze. He wanted the best and most gifted bronzesmith to create those specific elements, and to do it to the utmost of his ability. Music offered to the Lord of the universe should be likewise crafted.

From their writing to their recording, whether in concert halls or worship services, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should be crafted and performed to the highest level.

This article is not meant to be a criticism of the music in the evangelical church at large. But it would be foolish to deny that many churches are singing many songs that are both lyrically and theologically unsound. In addition, it is my opinion that there is lack of melodic beauty and harmonic knowledge used in their creation, which makes these compositions unfit to offer in worship.

Lyrics, melody, and harmony—the most basic elements of a song or hymn—teach us different and important things about the Lord and His creation that are often overlooked and undervalued in the church today.

Lyrics, for example, express the truths of the gospel and should teach us as well as any well-preached sermon on a Sunday morning. On the flip side, a poorly written lyric can weakly express a gospel truth or, even worse, could proclaim heresy.

Melody unveils an additional aspect of God’s beauty, and it helps us through what I like to call “melodic memory.” Melodies have a way of singing their way through our head repetitively and, when attached to lyrics, create a teaching mechanism in our minds like no other means available. Think about how many times you have gone through the day with a song in your head. Typically, you are not thinking just about the lyrics separate from the melody. The melody is the element that keeps that lyric singing in your head and keeps you saying, “Why can’t I get this song out of my head?”

Harmony expands on the beauty of the single melody while simultaneously guiding our focus to reading the notes and learning musical technique that no lyric on a screen is likely to achieve. Harmonic structure, in my mind, is very much a unifying element in singing that pulls individuals from a single voice to a voice of many, reminding us that although we are only individuals, we are all part of the greater body of Christ. Although we are only one voice singing one part of the harmony, raised together we are singing with the sacred throng.

Dr. R.C. Sproul and I were of one mind and singular focus that the modern evangelical church needs to remember the importance of biblical truth along with melodic and harmonic beauty as they relate to worship. From their writing to their recording, whether in concert halls or worship services, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should be crafted and performed to the highest level. God’s holiness and glory demand it, for He inhabits the praises of His people.

Christian Discourse in an Age of Outrage

Silencing the Scream