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“Singing is a holy practice”

I praise the Lord deeply for my church. Our elders are thoughtful and caring about every aspect of how we conduct worship. We are a new church plant, less than a year old, and the thought that went into the plant took months prior to the first service last January, and years of preparation, and an eternity before that, as the Lord sovereignly raised up the men who begot the men who begot the men and who begot…and so on… who planted this church.

Our music minister introduced a new hymn to us yesterday. He said for us to remain seated, and to look at the lyrics as he and the other musicians sang and played it for us. The hymn is a new song by Matt Boswell.

According to the Gospel Coalition, Boswell is

pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, and editor of the TGC Worship blog. He is also the editor of Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader. You can follow him on Twitter @MattBoswell.

The new hymn we sang was called Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery. The lyrics are here and the acoustic version is also.


Boswell wrote the following essay published at Ligonier Ministries, reprinted below according to their permissions. It is titled Choosing Hymns. After the article by Boswell I offer some links about music in church.

Prata photo. It is not my church.
It’s an Old Harp Sing at Athens Botanical Gardens

By Matt Boswell
From Ligonier
The church possesses two books to aid in worship: the Word of God and the hymnal.

The Scriptures stand as the perfect and unwavering revelation of God throughout the ages. It is our rule, and the only infallible word on all matters of our faith and practice. The hymnal exists in submission to the authority of Scripture and assists the people of God in singing truth. Its songs are an ever-flowing stream, sung by people responding to God in worship. 

Choosing hymns for the local church is a sacred task. Even when the hymnal used is electronic and lacks binding and pages, the practice of Christian singing remains vital. As Colossians 3:16 says, 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

In this text, Paul teaches the Colossians the importance of singing in the local church. The hymns we sing are not to be chosen clumsily, but with intentionality and with care. Hymns have the ability to teach us, to admonish us, and to provoke our hearts to worship our Savior with thankfulness. 

The hymns of the church ought to be built on, shaped by, and saturated with the Word of God. While the New Testament is silent on many of the specifics of corporate worship, Scripture is clear that the Word of Christ must be central. When the hymns we sing are aligned with the Word of God, our souls are nourished by its truth. Singing is a unique way to “let the word of Christ dwell richly” in us. One reason our songs should be closely tied to the Word of God is their didactic effects. Singing for the Christian is formative and responsive, and therefore must be informed by Scripture. We learn what we sing. 

Let us think of singing as a form of exposition that uses poetry to teach the Word of God. When Isaac Watts published Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, his intention was not to sing Scripture line by line, but to create poetic and emotive renditions of Scripture that allow a church to sing the truths of Scripture. Songs are sermons. They don’t work like homiletical exegesis, but they articulate, exegete, and pronounce biblical truths. Our hymns teach and shape the way people view God, man, Christ, and how we are to live in light of the gospel. 

One way to ensure our singing is biblical is to comb through our songs to see if we cover the breadth of themes presented throughout the canon of Scripture. Our songs should be held up to the light of God’s Word to ensure we are singing the glories of its truth. 

The songs we sing as a church are meant to teach and admonish. When we gather as the church on the Lord’s Day, we need to be admonished in various ways. Throughout the week, other things call for our praise, attention, and affection. Singing hymns of God’s character reminds us of His greatness. Singing hymns of our sin reminds us of the role of confession. By singing hymns of the atonement, we remind one another of the efficacy of the work of Jesus. Hymns of consecration remind us of the dependence of Christians upon the steadfast grace of God. 

We sing to admonish the weak and the weary that their salvation is in God. We sing to admonish the doubting to believe and be renewed. We sing to admonish the suffering that they have a hope that is unwavering.
Our songs ought to exhort and admonish. Our songs ought to encourage and remind. In this practice of song, God’s people will be pointed to the Scriptures, reminded of truth, and rooted in the gospel of Christ. 

We should choose hymns that provoke thankful hearts. When we sing robust theological truth, our hearts should erupt with praise. The aim of singing hymns is engaging both the head and the heart. The reason we read, study, and meditate on the Scriptures is not primarily so that we might amass knowledge, but so that our knowledge would lead to worship. The chief end of theology is doxology.
In choosing hymns for corporate worship, we should choose songs that make our hearts sing. From the content of the lyrics to the movement of the melody, we want beauty and transcendence to come together and serve the people of God. In our pursuit of theological precision, let us not neglect the pursuit of heartfelt response. 

A church’s hymns are not a mere preamble to the sermon. Singing is not obligatory filler time to warm up a congregation. Singing is a holy practice. We sing because God has commanded it, and our songs should fill our hearts with thankfulness and delight in our great God.

Choosing Hymns, TableTalk Magazine, Copyright September 1st, 2014 by Matt Boswell,, 800.435.4343

Prata photo. Singing in church accompanied by organ


Further Reading

1. Hymns of Grace

Hymns are wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded to do in Colossians 3:16. We are in danger of losing a rich heritage of hymnody as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect. Let’s revive some of the great hymns that have fallen into disuse, and along with the best hymns written today, delve deeply into this rich Christian hymnology.”

2. Pastor Gabe, also known as the WWUTT Guy, outlines the importance of music in church and also reviews some popular Christian songs. I particularly appreciated that he said though the lyrics to a particular song may not disqualify it from being sung in church, its origin, (in that case, Bethel Church), disqualified it. Read the essay to discover why if a song is good, but its origin isn’t, it shouldn’t be sung.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: Putting Popular Church Music to the Test

I try to be as careful with the music as I am with the teaching. Regarding the songs we sing, I examine the lyrics but also the writers. Those addressing the church in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) should also be sound in their doctrine. Have you put much thought into what’s being sung at your church and where it came from?

3. My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music

I obviously do not dislike all new music. This essay opened with information about a brand new hymn composed in 2015. You will find that John MacArthur in the first link I posted does not avoid new music just because it’s new, nor does Pastor Gabe in the second link. However, there is much that is not good about new music. In the next article, the Pastor explains that even if every single new song that is ever published is great, we still need to sing the old hymns.

The point is to have a theology behind your music whether it’s old or new, to have standards for selecting the songs to be sung in church, and to be able to defend the lyrics and the song’s origins to people who ask.

My only real peeve here is calling the choir director or music minister a “worship leader”. Anyway, the article opens this way-

I have been what many would call a “worship leader” for close to two decades. When I first became involved in “worship ministry” in an Assemblies of God youth group we sang such songs as The Name of the Lord Is a Strong Tower, As the Deer, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and others of the era of the 1980s and 90s. Ours was considered a stylistically progressive church since we used almost exclusively contemporary songs.
This meant that if I were to visit a “traditional” church, not only would I be unfamiliar with the hymns, I would also likely cringe when they sang them and in my heart ridicule them (the people rather than the songs) as being old-fashioned.

4. “Old Fashioned” Music

You know in the general climate of evangelicalism today, somebody would say when they came to Grace Church, “Wow, these people are really old-fashioned.Why don’t they get with it and update the music?” Let me tell you something: history matters.

Our church service yesterday with its 5 songs, were a mixture of old and new, from 1882, 1885, 2010, 2013, 2015. We had 2 singers, (one male, one female), a guitar and a piano. The congregation was a mixture of youth and adults and middle aged and elderly. We sang together in praise of Jesus, His work on the cross, His resurrection, His majesty, His greatness, and His sovereignty over all things. It was wonderful. What a blessed joy to lift my warbling voice to the rafters and to heaven in praise of Him, in response to the great joy of listening to the word explained, and after having confessed my sins at His throne. What a joy to trust the elders to consider these things and to create an atmosphere of love, high biblical standards, and music. This is a joy denied so many in the world.

If you experience this, even once, praise Him for it. If you don’t, if your music is riddled with poor origins or undoctrinal lyrics, first- pray. Take your troubles and concerns to the One who is also troubled and concerned. He is the Head of the church, and purity is tantamount in His heart too. When your heart and His heart align, supernatural things happen; prayers are answered.

Prata photo. Whether you use a hymn book, electronic board,
or dittoed & stapled songbook, make sure
the lyrics are good and origin of the song is pure.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.