There is a statement in Latin I find helpful when it comes to the topic music sung among the believers of the faith. The statement is the Latin phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vevendi, which translated in English means, “the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life.” Jill Carattini, describes these phrases in more detail when the author notes:
There is a phrase in Latin that summarizes the idea that the way our minds and souls are oriented is the way our lives are oriented. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is an axiom of ancient Christianity, meaning, the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life. That is, the way we are oriented in worship (whatever it might be that we focus on most devotedly) orients the way we believe and the way we live.
Simply put, in the case of worship music what we sing (lex orandi), is what we believe (lex credendi), and ultimately will come out in how we live (lex vivendi). Why does it matter what the saints sing in the Body of Christ?
The songs sung within the Body of Christ, should point us back to the source and bedrock of our faith, which is Jesus Christ. In fact, many of the songs in centuries past were written for the sole purpose of being “mini-sermons.” The songs were to reinforce the bedrock eternal truths of Sacred Scripture. In other words, they were to reinforce what the Christian believes, teaches, and confesses concerning the orthodox Biblical faith. In these songs one would get good solid theology, and a rich emphasis on Law and Gospel. Some of the songs written came straight from Sacred Scripture themselves. Pick an old song throughout the history of the Body of Christ: Oxyrhynchus hymn, O Come Emmanuel, Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, A Mighty Fortress (My personal favorite), The Solid Rock, etc. These songs you could take and preach from, telling of the Lord’s gifts of grace and mercy for the sinner, and causing one to fix their gaze on Christ and what He has done for them.
Because these songs are sung among the fellowship they highlight, and reinforce, what one as Christians are to believe. The effect of a Christian’s theology, which they have heard and sung in the Body of Christ, is lived out in the daily life of the Christians by good works, because one is reminded through the songs, as well as the preached word, which are sung among the congregation. There are several qualities of a song being worthwhile to confess among the fellowship that highlights lex ordendi, lex crendendi, lex vivendi, which is described below:
When the songs sung among the saints focus on aspects of theological doctrine: Do the songs you are singing focus on the Tri-unity of God? Do the songs you sing affirm the saint of the justification they have in Christ? Do the songs you confess highlight that we are sinners that have received the righteousness of God? Does the songs you sing tell you some aspect of the nature of God (All-powerful, merciful, glorious, etc.). If there is a song that is sung within the fellowship where it is very difficult to pinpoint any type of doctrine, then a possible alternative should be considered.
When the songs sung among the saints focus on an objective source, not emotional experiences grounded in subjectivity: Some songs that are written in this present time are penned to evoke some type of feeling, not to affirm the historic doctrines of Sacred Scripture. This is not to say that you cannot be moved by a particular song that is sung amongst the congregation. However the main objective of worship in song is not to have some type of experience with God, but it is a confession of the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints placed to music, to reinforce the objective truth that is found in an objective source, which is Christ the Lord. If after you sing the song, and I ask you what you learned from the song, and if your reply is,”All I know was that song was great, it really brought me into His presence!” Rather than,”That song taught me I am a sinner, and God, who is merciful, has died for a wretch like me,” then a possible alternative should be considered.
When the songs sung among the saints point us away from an subjective source, leading the believers to the objective truth of God’s promises: In my observation, this is one of the reasons why hymns are particularly helpful. They take the focus off of you and place them squarely on Christ and His Sacred word. In other words, I am not singing how faithful I am, how much I love God, and how dedicated to God I am (for I personally know in many ways I am none of these). What if I had a lousy week (which I often have)? What if I was distraught and discouraged by my own sin and shame (which I often am)? What if I feel “far” from God (which I often feel)? The “mini-sermon” reinforces the promises that God is always with me, that He will never leave me or forsake me, and every day I am continually being renewed unto glory by Him. Even if I have had a terrible week, and even if I feel He is “far” from me, I am comforted because I am reminded of His gifts of kindness and mercy, found in His Beloved Son. If a song points you to yourself and away from the promises of God for you, a possible alternative should be considered.
Lex orendi, lex credendi, and lex vevendi is seen in the Sacred Scriptures. Saints in the Old Testament were to memorize the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) chanting it as if it was a song, thus the word of God they affirmed influenced how they lived. the Psalms found in the Old Testament were often put to music with a measure inbetween the stanzas (known as a selah) to reflect what was sung from the previous verses. Often these Psalms were used as prayers for the saint to model and repeat. Silas and Paul to encourage themselves when they suffered persecution on jail prayed and sung hymns to God (cf. Acts 16:22-25). There are news reports of saints who have died while they were singing hymns. Paul encouraged believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit speak to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody with one’s heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19), this is why music is the centerpiece of every service. Even when Christians are before the Lord, and has gathered the body of Christ to Himself, the Christians will sing (or observe) a new song (once more pointing back to the objective source of the faith). John records this event in Revelation 5:1-14, which the believer gets a future glimpse in Sacred Scripture to encourage the hearts of the saint.
This brings me to my final point: When it comes to music in the body of Christ style is different than substance. You can update various old hymns and melodies. You can take different hymns and mix them together. There can certainly be different styles of music sung within the congregation, but the substance must always be the same. If someone wants to play secular music as part of their praise and worship set (on Resurrection Sunday of all times of the year!) this should be avoided. Although the song may be a great song, it is not suited for divine service on a Sunday morning because it points people to the artist, or the song itself, but not to Christ. Music sung amongst the congregation must always point back to the objective source of our faith, which is Christ the Lord, with clear words and sound orthodox doctrine. As the teaching elder serving at a particular fellowship, whenever someone requests a new song, or whenever I am searching for new songs for the congregation to sing I always ask myself these three questions:
Since the Bible is authoritative (i.e., the highest source of authority) do the songs teach us to confess one (or many) of the major doctrines of Sacred Scripture?
Do the songs I am observing point us back to Law and Gospel, and Jesus Christ, the objective source of our faith rather than ourselves?
Do these songs fit with the general theme of the divine service? (I often try to associate the songs with the opening prayer, the Scripture reading, and the sermon. This way all the major theological themes in the service are touched on that day. This is not an required step, but it is one I personally like)
The way we position ourselves in the worship service (music, message, and ministry) may affect what we believe, and may ultimately affect how we think about God and how we live our lives in this world. It is important for Christians not to just be good Bereans in observing the message the elder teaches and preaches, but also observing the music that is sung among the fellowship as well. What we sing in the congregation, may become what we believe, and may affect how we live.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!