The band and I recently rocked the faces off a few hundred kids several weeks ago as we led music for our church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). It’s a fun time where we musicians are able to get a little flamboyant and wacky, where our inner rock star (rightly suppressed on Sunday mornings) can come out. We had a blast, and the kids really loved it. Since VBS, my family has been bumping that music in our car as we tootle around town in Denver. I recently looked in the rear view mirror on one such drive to find all my kids singing along to great lyrics—scriptural quotations, actually. Couple this with my preparations for my lecturing in Hawaii on Worship and Spiritual Formation (which happened a few weeks ago), and suddenly I realized that I was witnessing the ancient truth of lex orandi, lex credendi in action.
The phrase can be translated, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, our worship both shapes and reveals what we believe about God and His world. In yet other words, doxology is theology. I’ve heard it often said, “Show me a man’s checkbook, and I’ll tell you where his heart is.” Similarly we might say, “Show me how you worship, and I’ll tell you your theology.”
It may not be intuitive to us as pastors, worship planners, and worshipers, but what we sing does more than articulate our theology. Our song shapes our theology. Here’s a sad example. Think of the church whose songs are only happy all the time. This church celebrates, and celebrates, and celebrates. God is the consummate joy-giver. No sins are corporately confessed, and no lamentations are sung. It is only shiny, happy Jesus music. The flock, while being a joyful people, is persistently being shaped to view God in one way–as One who solves all their problems and only gives Christians good, happy, prosperous lives. Lex orandi, lex credendi. But then that day comes when Joe Churchgoer has a crisis–loss of job, cancer, death of a family member. Joe stops coming to church, becomes reclusive, starts doubting his faith, and eventually starts doubting whether God even exists. Why has this happened? Ultimately, it is because Joe’s church’s songs have so shaped his views of God that he has no categories for suffering. And when that happens, he starts to doubt that his other theological categories (God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s justice) are even true.
Having your theology shaped by song is a slow, steady process. Think of it like eating. If your body is out of shape, you don’t see any “re-formation” after your first healthy meal. It is only the faithful, perpetual consumption of healthy food that yields your body’s new shape. So it is with sung theology. We’re often eating of it long before we really believe it and are shaped by it. Chew, swallow. Chew, swallow.
Going back to my kids, right now we’re in the middle of slowly memorizing portions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism put to music by Cardiphonia. (I’m actually bribing them at $0.50 per song.) Now it would be foolish to expect that my seven-year-old son, who chants back that “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all their creatures and all their actions,” actually knows (much less believes) what he’s singing. But, because I’m a believer in lex orandi, lex credendi, I’m very comfortable bribing him to shove big forkfulls of theological leafy dark greens down his throat because I really do believe that it will one day show up in the figure of his soul.
So it is with us, children of God. We sing in order that we may one day believe. I can sing Newton’s great line “He has hushed the law’s loud thunder / He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame,” but I know that there’s a part of me that doesn’t really believe the fullness of what that means. Nevertheless, I sing it. I shove that fork in my mouth, so that one day I might look at myself in the mirror and say, “Goodness, that looks more like Jesus than I remember from a year ago.”
Some final orandi-credendi takeaways:
- Worship leaders:
- If you’re not at a place where you are conversant in the major tenets of Christian theology, you need to work on it. Ask your pastor or a trusted mentor for some starting places for study.
- If you want to get more serious about seeing what your church’s diet is like, compile the song lyrics from the last three years of worship, sit down with a team, and chart out what your people have been eating.
- If you don’t care about either of the above, please find another job.
- Be invested in your worship planning. Too much spiritual formation takes place to neglect that.
- If you’re hiring a worship leader, don’t just look for some young, pretty face who has a “commanding presence” and good musical skill. Look for someone who thinks theologically and leads pastorally (or who has a teachable spirit to be trained to do so). Again, too much is at stake to blow this.
- What have you been singing? Who is the God of your song?
- Where do you still want to grow in your faith? Perhaps alongside that great Bible study, book, or small group curriculum, you can find some songs to sing. Ask your pastor/worship leader for some suggestions here.