“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)
What are we doing when we sing together? Certainly, we are exalting Christ together. We are uniting our voices in expression of the oneness of our confession. We are reminding ourselves and each other of the majesty and grace of God. Congregational singing is not less than this, but it is more than this.
Paul’s apostolic instruction to the Colossian church characterizes congregational singing as theological formation. In corporate worship we are creating space for Christ’s Word to “dwell richly among us.” We are “teaching and admonishing one another.” We are packaging the “wisdom” of God in rhythms of grace and reciting biblical doctrines back “to God” with “gratitude in our hearts.”
For Paul, corporate worship invited congregational participation in theological formation.
Congregational worship is always theologically formational. It’s not merely that worship should be theologically formational. It always is. The songs we sing are shaping us and forming us. They are teaching us things about ecclesiology, hamartiology, theology proper, Christology, angelology, eschatology, anthropology, teleology, ontology, and more. These theological truths are being reinforced through the voice of the church as we recite them week after week.
Your worship songs are forming your congregation. The question is what, exactly, is being formed in your congregation through the songs they sing?
Some songs form a congregation into theologically weak perpetual infancy. Congregational singing should be rich with the deep doctrines of the faith. We should hunger for songs that feed us the meat of biblical truth. If the songs we sing do not move past comforting and coddling, they will never get to “teaching and admonishing.”
Some songs form a congregation into introspective isolates. Our voices should be lifted together in congregational singing. In song selection, the “We’s” should ring louder than the “I’s.” Some songs overemphasize spiritual introspection to the degree that the church’s corporate voice is drowned out by the noise of individualized experience.
Some songs form a congregation into accidental heretics. Let’s be honest: just because a Christian song is loved does not mean it is biblical. Some of the cherished songs of our faith tradition are doctrinally unsound. So are some of the cherished songs of our faith in vogue. If the congregation sings them regularly then their faith is being formed heretically, even if accidentally.
The apostle’s words caution the congregational worship leader to give reflective pause to song selection. This is, for the worship leader, a matter of dutiful urgency. Your congregation’s theology is being formed by their own corporate voice. The question is: is their faith being formed biblically by the songs they sing?
Congregational worship is theological formation.