Rewriting Worship Songs Like the Reformers

Zac HicksWorship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment

I’ve been on a Thomas Cranmer kick as of late, not because I have a secret love affair with the Anglican tradition or because I think liturgy is the be all and end all. In truth, I’m coming to discover that among the Reformers (like Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer), Cranmer probably thought longer and harder than any about the reform of worship. In other words, Cranmer was a Reformation-era worship leader who was stubbornly committed to the idea that the gospel was the key to unlocking worship’s power.

More than a theologian, though, Cranmer was also what we might call today a “missional” and “incarnational” thinker. He was a big proponent of enculturating the words and forms of worship so that they were understandable and apprehendable to the average person. Many of us don’t realize it, but this contextualizing thinking is why his liturgy is called “The Book of Common Prayer.” “Common” meant, “for the average person.”

One of the things Cranmer did was to take the Church’s inherited worship practices and, in a sense, “hijack” them. I talk more about that in this post. He took people’s beloved traditional prayers, for instance, and “edited” them to emphasize God’s work and de-emphasize our work. He was intending to overhaul the worship of the church by filtering all its words, prayers, and practices through the gospel of justification by faith alone (sola fide).

Seeing Cranmer in action as a “solifidian” (i.e. sola fide-style) editor got me thinking about why some worship songs feel funny to me and why, over the years, I’ve been inclined to tweak a word here or there. I think this impulse of Cranmer’s is a similar impulse to why I’m always harping on what is called triumphalism in modern worship songs (“Jesus, I’m living for you,” “Jesus, I’m giving it all for you,” “I surrender,” etc.).

To get more to the point, I’ve written a post over at LIBERATE on why I think Cranmer and the other reformers would have really dug our retooling of the evangelical hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” I would encourage you to jump over there and read it, because there’s something here for worship leaders who care about gospel-centered worship to begin to consider–namely, the infiltration of performance-based thought into our worship songs and practices. Conjuring one of my favorite bands, Rage Against the Machine, it’s time to take the power back. For those of you that haven’t heard the song, here it is.

Now go read the post!

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