About Redemption Hymns

Redemption Hymns is published by the New Zealand branch of the Emmaus Bible Correspondence School.  The school was founded in Canada in 1942, and now supplies over 1.3 million Bible courses a year in over 100 countries and languages.  You can visit our New Zealand website at www.emmausnz.com 

The principles applied in the selection of songs for Redemption Hymns are outlined in the following article:

Choosing Great Christian Songs


The aim of every Christian fellowship should be to have truth-based worship (John 4:23- 24). 

The popularity of “seeker-friendly” services sometimes leads to the entertainment-content of Christian gatherings being increased at the expense of the truth-content.  There can be a tendency to gloss over those aspects of our faith that are thought to be objectionable to non-Christians, especially sin, salvation, judgement, the blood, heaven and hell. 

This move to de-emphasise the truth and water-down the gospel mirrors the post-modern de-emphasis of truth in contemporary society. 

Our singing is an important part of our worship, and it’s largely in this area that the greatest de-emphasis of truth is occurring.  The following suggestions are intended to help in the selection of music and songs for truth-based worship: 

  • True worship must always be our response to God – not our response to the band or the worship-leader.  Songs for worship should remind us of the character and acts of the wonderful God we worship so that we can respond in true worship and praise to Him alone.
People who sing or dance ecstatically because there’s a great band or a famous worship-leader, are responding to the power of the band – or to the skill of the worship-leader – rather than responding to God.  That’s not true worship, and it’s not truth-based worship.

A strong contemporary band and a skilled worship-leader can become so important and essential to worshippers that they replace the true worship of God.  They can be a barrier between people and God.  God can become superfluous in “worship” – take away the music and there’s nothing left! 

  • Many people think that “worship” and music are synonymous and that you can’t “worship” without music.  That’s wrong. 
The best way to encourage true worship of God is to emphasise the importance of the  congregational singing of songs with a high truth-content.  Musical instruments should support the singing and not dominate it.  The focus will then be on the God described in the words of the songs that are sung by the worshippers themselves – rather than on the band or the worship leader. 

  • If we’re to respond to God rather than to the band or the worship-leader, our songs must be true to Scripture and doctrinally accurate.  However, even if the actual words of Scripture are set to music, we should be careful that they’re not taken out of context, as the context can determine their meaning.  We must worship in spirit and in truth.  We should be excited by God’s truth, not by the powerful rhythms of contemporary band music. 
 
  • The words of the songs should be more than just true – they should have a high truth-content.  They should be full of biblical truth.  It’s not worth wasting precious time on “praise songs” that make the same obvious statement again and again.  The words of the songs might be true, but the truth in them is often so self-evident and so limited that the songs do little more than evoke an emotion.  Instead, we should sing hymns and songs that enhance and inspire our worship by telling us more wonderful truth about the God we worship.  
Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 

  • Songs for Christian worship should be specifically Christian and give reasons for praise.  Some “Christian” worship songs are so vague doctrinally that non-Christians could happily use them.  For example, many contemporary praise songs say little more than that, “God is great and to be praised.”  Every Muslim and Mormon would agree with this. 
To be specifically Christian, our songs should do much more than say that God is great.  They should also give examples of God’s greatness – especially in His provision of His only Son, the Lord Jesus, to die for us and atone for our sins.  Only Christians believe this. 

Songs of praise should be addressed to God the Father, or to the Lord Jesus, rather than to some vague entity such as, “Him” or “You.”  There’s only one God who’s worthy of our praise, and we should be definite about Who He is. 

Colossians 3:17  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 

  • Our songs should be full of the great Bible themes that can cause our hearts and minds to respond in true praise and worship to God.  There are many things we can sing about, including: 
  • The Lord Jesus’ eternal existence before time began. 
  • His involvement in the creation of the universe. 
  • His eternal deity, His death and resurrection
  • His body broken and His blood shed for us on the cross. 
  • Our remembrance of the Lord Jesus as He requested in the broken bread and poured-out wine at the Lord’s table. 
  • The gospel of God’s grace and our complete assurance of salvation from deserved punishment in hell. 
  • The total inadequacy of our own good works and the total adequacy of the work done for us by our Saviour. 
  • Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. 
  • God’s ongoing faithfulness to His people. 
  • The Christian life - its challenges and blessings
  • Our great High Priest’s constant intercession for us before the throne of God
  • The Lord’s imminent return to earth for us. 
  • The wonders of eternal life and our heavenly rewards. 
  • Many CCM songs should be avoided, not only because of their music styles and commercial origins, but also because in their attempt to be ecumenical the writers ignore many of the great Bible themes listed above.  This may be because the writers believe that “doctrine divides” or that unpopular Bible truths will reduce sales.  However, Scripture puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of sound doctrine and never sacrifices truth for the sake of unity (Acts 2:42; 1Tim 1:3-11, 4:6, 13, 16, 5:17, 6:1-5; 2Tim 3:10- 17, 4:1-5; Titus 1:9, 2:1, 7, 10; 2 John 1:7-11; 1Cor 5:9-13; 2Cor 6:14-17).  
In addition, CCM can easily create an appetite for secular music, because there’s basically little difference.  Why should you keep listening to a copy (the Christian band) when you can listen to the real thing (the secular band that the Christian band is copying)?  

  • Ideally, our songs should be written in today’s English rather than early or poetic English.  However, this is not always possible or desirable.  After all, some of the greatest worship songs of all time have been written in early and poetic English.  Songs such as “When I survey the wondrous cross” and “How great Thou art” are full of praise-inspiring truth and are precious to the believer.  They should have a place in our worship, even though they’re old and some of their language might need explaining.
 
  • When possible we should consider the origins of the songs we sing.  Many contemporary Christian songs come from doubtful sources – for example the Toronto Blessing, Hillsong, Kingdom Now, Latter Rain and Word of Faith.  If we don’t agree with their teaching or practice, it’s best not to sing their songs. 
 
Even if the lyrics of a song from such a source are acceptable, the “unspoken message” or “feel” of the song with its music tends to be one that is characteristic of the type of gathering from which it originated.  This often has a strong emphasis on emotion and a subtle de-emphasis of truth.  This feeling easily transfers to the group that is singing the song. 

The idea that music doesn’t have an effect apart from the words is completely without support.  Music without words can be used to create many different moods; e.g. marching music, nightclub music, film sound tracks, sad music, happy music etc.  All music conveys a message of some sort – often derived from associations in the mind of the listener.  Christian lyrics cannot make secular music into Christian music – especially if the secular music has powerful worldly associations.  

Marshall McLuhan explained the relationship between the medium and the message in his landmark 1967 work, “The Medium is the Message.”  The style of music used (the medium) carries its own inherent message to the listener.  Timothy Leary, the ‘60s LSD guru, knew a lot about rock music and he said, “Don’t listen to the words, it’s the music that has its own message.  I’ve been stoned on the music many times.”  He was right.  Charismatic worshippers who think they’re high on God may in reality be high on the music. 

Many songs used by Christian groups originate from professional musicians who write and record mainly for financial gain.  Their lifestyles are often less than exemplary.  Most major “Christian” recording companies now have non-Christian ownership.  David Cloud lists some of these companies in his book “Contemporary Christian Music Under the Spotlight”.  The aim of these companies is to make a profit rather than to promote the gospel. 

  • We should never use songs simply because they’re on the religious “charts” or because some famous “Christian” musician or group is promoting them.  Every song should be evaluated critically before being used in worship.  Fashions in music come and go, but truly great worship songs will stand the test of time.  Why use doubtful songs if we can find songs from reliable sources that emphasise and promote biblical truth? 
 
  • It’s best to use simple music for congregational singing.  Complex arrangements are difficult to learn and sing.  Contemporary Christian music that’s been written for professional musicians is often difficult for the average singer in the average congregation – as well as being difficult for many church musicians.  Many contemporary praise songs have several pages of complex music to accompany lyrics that can easily be summarised in one short sentence.  This indicates that the primary emphasis of the song is the music.  A great hymn such as, “When I survey the wondrous cross” has only one page of simple music, but every verse is packed with truth.  The primary emphasis is on the truth in the words. 
  • Songs for children should have the same high truth standards as songs for adults.  In fact, it is possibly even more important for children to learn the great truths of the Word through their songs, as these will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  Music can make the truth memorable.  CCM music styles and shallow lyrics should not be used for children’s songs, as they can be as damaging to children as they are to adults and their use conditions children to expect CCM and lightweight lyrics when they get older.
Many of the principles outlined in this article have been used in the selection of songs for the new hymnbook Redemption Hymns. 

Lindsay Smith (Former manager of the 
Maranatha Jesus Rock Band).

Recommended Reading

Dan Lucarini, Confessions of a Former Worship Leader, Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, Evangelical Press, 2002. 

Brian Smith, Theology Off the Wall, The Overhead Projector as Teacher. An excellent article by a Principal Emeritus of Carey College, Auckland. 

Barry Chant, Retuning the Church, A discussion paper presented at the annual conference of the Association of Pentecostals and Charismatic Bible Colleges of Australasia, 19 May 2000.  Available on internet. 

Gary E. Gilley,  This Little Church Went to Market. The Church in the Age of Entertainment)  Xulon Press 2002 (Especially chapter 9 on worship). 

John Makujina, Measuring the Music, Another Look at the Contemporary Christian Music Debate, Old Paths Publications, 2002.  A 370 page scholarly study.