Cross-Centered Worship by David L. Ward, Released October 2005
The contemporary church is drowning in a sea of music that, at least in name, is designed for use in worship. The musical styles of this tidal wave represent almost every form of music imaginable: Eastern chant, African tribal music, classical, rock, blues, jazz, country, folk, and even “hard-core.” This musical variety can be a good thing since modern recording technology has given us unprecedented access to enjoying the music of a huge variety of styles. The music that tugs at the heartstrings of people in a community, even in an individual family, can be very different. But should musical variety or style be the main distinguishing characteristic in worship music? What should set a particular song or arrangement of music apart in order for it to be called “worship” music?
God gives us insight into how He wants music to be used in the church. He commands, “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). This passage teaches that worship songs should stir our emotions (thankfulness being the example in this passage) and be a means by which God’s Word dwells richly within us. Worship songs should be written to be musically moving and theologically gripping. Successful worship music will meet both of these requirements by presenting a depth and breadth of biblical truth along with a musical style that is fit for congregation singing.
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The most fundamental biblical truth that we can sing about is the glorious gospel of God’s grace. The joy of sins forgiven is the building block upon which our worship began. The first act of worship that we ever performed towards the true God was our trust in Jesus’ death for our sins. Not only is the gospel the essential starting point of the Christian life, it is the means by which God keeps us in the faith. Life as a saved sinner involves re-affirming and embracing the gospel every day. Authentic worship happens when we remember and celebrate how a holy and righteous God demonstrated to the world His incomprehensible love by giving up His son, Jesus, in order to reconcile lost sinners to Himself.
The cross is perhaps the best single word to describe the gospel. The cross of Jesus represents all that Jesus accomplished for the glory of the Father and for us. It is the very heart of the gospel that we can be reconciled to God only by what happened there. Our worship will be cross-centered only to the extent that the lyrics of our songs, the substance of our prayers, and the heartbeat of our preaching are gospel-saturated and lead us to the cross. If we want to see God glorified and Christians encouraged the way God intends in worship, we desperately need “cross-centered” worship.
This album is an attempt to offer the church an example of cross-centered worship songs. Each song is based on a historical hymn text, most of which are not well known. One of the distinguishing characteristics of “hymns,” in contrast to what are usually called “choruses,” is that they normally have lyrics with more substance. Without lyrical substance to guide the powerful emotions that music can convey we can easily be carried away into empty emotionalism that seeks to feel by focusing on ourselves. And even though believers have loved hymns for generations, the musical style used to sing these hymns is often counterproductive in communicating the power and depth of the lyrics. Sometimes tunes are used with lyrics that seem completely disjointed with the emotions they try to express. In order to bridge this emotional gap new music has been written for each hymn. Additionally, the lyrics have been carefully revised in order to make them more easily understandable.
The songs on this album and their order were chosen to reflect the heart change that God brings about as people respond to the gospel. It is our hope that these songs will help you understand the gospel more clearly and feel your need for Christ more deeply.