In the early days of the Christian Church, influential teachers and leaders poured over scripture, making sure that they understood exactly who Jesus was and what God, in and through Christ, was doing for creation. They shared their knowledge for the benefit of people in local Christian communities, both near and far.
Deep in their hearts and minds they knew that what people believed about scripture and God would shape the way that the way they lived their lives. Healthy beliefs produced good fruit; half-truths produced shallow convictions. In the time before the printing press and before every Christian had their own copy of the Bible, when there was only a small percentage of people who could even read, these early church fathers, for the benefit of the whole Church, gathered together and wrote out the creeds.
They crafted them for people to hear, to meditate on and then to remember. Creeds were reliant on Scripture and based in truth. They taught people who God was so that those same people could understand their own identity.
The most famous creed that has been handed down to us is the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Sadly, while they have been an important part of our tradition, we don’t use creeds anymore. Their meanings have been lost, their purposes forgotten. We’ve turned away from the reverent recitation of these core values. What we’ve turned to, however, is just as powerful, just as reverent and just as influential. Worship music. We listen to it. We recite it. We sing it.
Man of sorrows, Lamb of God
By his own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid
Sent of heaven, God’s own son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed him to that tree
See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah God be praised
He’s risen from the grave
Like creeds, worship music reinforces our beliefs about God. Our songs, so often repeated in services, need to echo the values of the original creeds, with richness in theology. Likewise, we as the reciters of these songs need to model our lives after the original recipients, with meditation on and mindfulness of the words contained within the songs. After all, we are responsible for the food with which we feed our hearts.
This also means that songwriters have become, like pastors and teachers, biblical interpreters for the church community. They seek to understand the Bible and put it in song for people to sing, digest, and ultimately, to practice. Songwriters are therefore left with the responsibility of knowing scripture and what it’s intending to say whilst they attempt to communicate the depths of God to people in our congregations.
Let us embrace both the beauty and the power of the songs that we sing – the beauty that reveals to us glimpses of God’s glory and the power that transforms our life one moment at a time.
Soli Deo Gloria
Isaac & Mallary Soon
(Hillsong College Team)