Monthly Archives: March 2010

In a Word…Theology!

For many the word theology is an intimidating term. It conjures thoughts of highly trained professors (in suede jackets) pouring over Hebrew and Greek text, unearthing the mysteries of God’s word which lay hidden to the lay person’s reading. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2008) does not form such an intimidating picture when it defines theology as, “religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed” (Soanes & Stevenson, p. 1495). Theology is what we do. Essentially, every Christian is a theologian. The challenge is whether, as Bob Kauflin (2008) states, “am I a good theologian or a bad one?” (p. 28). Before theology – that which is practiced; is doctrine – that which is taught.

There are two widely practiced approaches to the study of Christian doctrine, systematic and biblical (Bryant, 1982, pp. 616–617). Simply, biblical theology commences its study of scripture objectively allowing scripture to reveal its themes. Systematic theology approaches Scripture subjectively extracting text in order to define a theme. It’s from these two principles that we might draw some insight into the differing approaches when selecting material (songs) for Sunday’s corporate gatherings. For some believers it’s a matter of the means needing to justifying the ends. I.e. the lyrical content (doctrine) should determine the manner in which we worship. For others the end point validates the means. I.e. the worship expression (theology) and experience form the foundation on which to structure the choice of songs; both lyric and melody.

Paul Zahl (2004) in his apologetic for Liturgical worship further defines the two different approaches in his thoughts on the construction of liturgy for corporate gatherings,

The Latin phrase that covers the philosophy of worship I am presenting here is this: lex credendi lex orandi. That means: What we believe determines how we pray. Quite a few liturgical scholars and theologians today want to reverse the order and write: lex orandi lex credendi, or how we pray (i.e. worship) determines what we believe [emphasis in original]. (p. 25)

Kauflin (2008) makes the statement, “Songs are de facto theology…‘We are what we sing’” (p. 92). Many would agree with Kauflin’s statement (Basden, 1999; Carson, 2002; Dawn, 1995; Peterson, 1992; Wiersbe, 2000). Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship: Playground, Battle ground or Holy ground? (2000) takes the thought a step further warning, “Naïve congregations can sing their way into heresy before they even realize what is going on” (p. 136). In observing the vast array of worship styles I find Wiersbe’s warning to be a sober reminder that what goes in generally comes out. At this point I must stress that this discussion does not centre on the prejudicial war waged between those who preference hymns over modern choruses or vice versa. It goes much deeper than an individual’s partiality to one musical style over another.

So how does this affect the garden variety Contemporary Worship Singer? The first question to be asked is do you think about the lyrics that you sing? Secondly have you considered that by virtue of your being on stage you inadvertently support the doctrine and resulting theology of what is being sung? Singers love to give voice to flowing melodies, but is a beautiful melody enough qualification for the use of a song in the corporate gathering? I agree with Marva Dawn (1995) when she writes “It is crucial, then, that leaders of the Church study carefully our underlying theology of worship and the specific worship practices that result, for they do, indeed, determine who we are” (p. 106). Here I reveal my own view. The means must justify the ends. Like Wiersbe (2000) “I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear” (p. 136). However (and on this point I close), this does not mean that we can focus so heavily on the lyrical content that we forget to develop melodies and arrangements thereof that best deliver the doctrine. It must be sing-able! Sadly, too many ‘great lyrics’ have been set to ‘sub standard’ music – surely we can have both. I think that if we were to apply this rule to the repertoire list of most churches it would result in a significant cull of songs, but what would be left would be rich in doctrine and produce good, in a word – Theology!


Basden, P. (1999). The worship maze: Finding a style to fit your church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Bryant, T. A. (Ed.) (1982) Today’s dictionary of the bible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

Carson, D. A. (Ed.). (2002). Worship by the book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kauflin, B. (2008). Worship matters: Leading others to encounter the greatness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Peterson, D. (1992). Engaging with God: A biblical theology of worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2008) Concise oxford english dictionary (11th, Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wiersbe, W. W. (2000). Real worship: Playground, battle ground, or holy ground? (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Zahl, P. F. M. (2004). Formal-liturgical worship. In P. A. Basden (Ed.), Exploring the worship spectrum: 6 views (pp. 21–36). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


Normative and Regulative Practice

Christianity is as wide as it is deep when considering the variations of worship expression. Discussions focused on the observable differences often centre on the extremes such as those seen between Roman Catholic liturgy and Pentecostal worship sessions. The opposing position of the pendulum makes it easy to discuss the differences while maintaining a sense of political correctness. James White, in his book Introduction to Christian Worship (2000) states,

Christian worship, like Christian ethics, is both a descriptive and a normative subject. Specific decisions have to be made locally in terms of people, places, and times, but they should be based on the experience of the whole Christian community throughout space and time. (p. 15)

This idea of descriptive (regulative) and normative principal has developed out of the era of reformation. Bob Kauflin explains

John Calvin and others developed what has come to be known as the regulative principle of worship. This is the conviction that anything we do in a public meeting of the church must be clearly commanded or implied in Scripture…Another approach is called the normative principle…Broadly stated, the normative principle holds that whatever Scripture doesn’t forbid is allowed. (2008, p. 154)

Difficulties develop when we start to explore the impact of such thought on persuasions that are not so easily discerned. For example, the Presbyterian church of Australia comes from the regulative position. This can be seen in such practices as the conservative pedagogical approach to the reading of scripture in corporate gatherings. However, on other topics of Christian practice such as the Eucharist (communion) the Presbyterian Church is forced into a normative approach. The scriptural instruction to “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” [emphasis mine] (1 Cor 11:25b, ESV), provides a platform for interpretation. In fact, John Calvin who birthed the regulative position advocated a weekly offering of communion in corporate gatherings, but today’s Presbyterian Church practices communion every six weeks or even quarterly.

Simply, Christian worship practice for the corporate gathering is rarely defined in scripture. It is this very nuance that has lead to today’s worship wars (Dawn, 1995; Morgenthaler, 2004; Parrett, 2005).

How does the regulative/normative discussion affect the practice of the Contemporary Worship Singer? We observe the effect in simple things such as dress standards and worship posture. We also see the influence of this discussion on such things as performance and celebrity culture. Take for example Dan Lucarini’s comment on the use of microphones. Lucarini says,

Put the microphones back on the stands [emphasis in original]. Take the mikes out of the hands of the singer’s. Handheld mikes encourage a performance style that emphasizes the performer, which often leads musicians to mimic secular entertainers in style and fashion and to desire music that is performance-orientated. (2002, p. 136)

Does it? Does holding a microphone in the hand ‘emphasize the performer’? I dare say that Lucarini approaches his worship practice from the regulative stand point. I venture to add that if one is to take Dan Lucarini’s comments to their natural end, church singers should not be using microphones at all. Indeed they should not even be on stage lest they draw attention to themselves. But can we be so dismissive of Lucarini’s comments? Warren Wiersbe writes, “If the worship service is platform–centered, then we will be only spectators at a religious performance” (2000, p. 88). And herein lies the challenge facing today’s Contemporary Worship Singer; to navigate a practice which has very few scriptural markers. The bible gives no indication to the use of microphones, nor does it provide clear guidelines for performance.

Does this then set the Contemporary Worship Singer adrift on a squally sea of indifference and personal preference? I think not, but it does require the Contemporary Worship Singer to give greater consideration to their task and resulting practice. A good starting point is to enquire as to a particular churches stance; regulative or normative. A general rule of thumb…if the pastoral staff are not aware of such terminology the church is almost certainly normative. Understanding a churches stance in this regard can help position the Contemporary Worship Singer to align both thought and deed.

Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Kauflin, B. (2008). Worship matters: Leading others to encounter the greatness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Lucarini, D. (2002). Why I left the contemporary christian music movement: Confessions of a former worship leader. Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
Morgenthaler, S. (2004). Emerging worship. In P. A. Basden (Ed.), Exploring the worship spectrum: 6 views (pp. 215–230). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Parrett, G. A. (2005). 9.5 Theses on worship. Christianity Today, 49, 38–42.
White, J. F. (2000). Introduction to christian worship (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2000). Real worship: Playground, battle ground, or holy ground? (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


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