Allow me to quickly lay some ground work before diving in. I promise you this is going somewhere interesting...just stick with me for about 4 paragraphs...
In church history we see examples of songs and hymns used by those who had sound doctrine and those that did not. The followers of Arianism, a heresy in the 4th Century church, used songs as a way to spread their teachings among the people.
On one side of the controversy, Arius, a priest from Alexandria (Egypt) argued that Jesus, the Word of God, the Logos was not co-eternal with the father. On the other side of the argument was the Bishop of Alexandria who argued that the Logos was coeternal with the Father. This at face value may seem like a minor issue, but what was at stake was the deity of Christ, our view of salvation, and whether Christ was worthy to be worshiped.
Kind of a big deal.
At the ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325AD, the arguments of Arius (Arianism) were rejected and a creed was formulated to refute the Arian controversy, which we now know as the Nicene Creed. But look at one thing they walked away with:
One of the earliest saints to use hymns, lyric and song as a means to teach his flock was St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (339-397AD). In this paraphrase of one of Ambrose’s hymns, we see a clear progression and communication of the doctrine of the Trinity:
We've laid the track.
What does this mean for us today? And even further, specifically for me as a worship pastor and song-writer?
I wanted to see if the songs we sing in our church today are as articulate in their communication of the doctrine of the Trinity, and if we, like our church Fathers, are using hymns and song to teach this doctrine.
I sampled the list of 116 songs in our planning center database at my church and recorded if each song mentioned the specific persons of the Trinity.
Here’s how it broke down:
I cannot claim that these results are in any way representative of the church at large today, but this exercise challenged and asked questions of our hymnal.
The good news is that all of the songs were consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity, so I won’t lose my job! So that’s good news.
On closer examination of the data, some might consider the non-specific category being so large as a negative, but there is definitely a need for songs that teach of the ‘Oneness of God’ and direct worship to the Godhead as a whole.
Of the songs exclusively directed to a specific member of the Trinity, the majority are addressed towards the Son. While this is not alarming, when we think through the lens of Trinitarian worship, it’s apparent that there is a lack of songs directed towards the Father and the Spirit. What is also clear is that there are few songs in our rotation that teach the relationship between each member and person of the Godhead, with only 4 songs mentioning the Father, Son and Spirit. Of these songs only one would be considered ‘contemporary’, the rest are hymns.
Could this lead to heresy, as the blog posts suggests? When looking at this sample size, I think it's clear that we are Trinitarian, but we might need to think through how we are fully forming people. We seem to weigh our formation far more towards the Son and what was accomplished on the Cross. And that's good! But it's also not the whole picture of who God is.
So heresy? No. Unhelpful formation? Maybe.
So let's push a little further and move to practical. What impact does this have if any for our churches, our liturgy, and our lives?
There are two questions that come to mind:
- How would 10 years of singing our current hymnal affect our church’s view of God?
- How can we encourage our songwriters to write songs that help teach this and other doctrines faithfully?