Becoming What We Sing:
How Song Lyrics Serve as Liturgical Texts in the Free Church Tradition
Those in free church traditions, including Baptists, see themselves as non-liturgical, and, therefore, there is a misconception that they do not have any liturgical texts. In The Study of Liturgy, J. D. Crichton defines a theology of liturgy as, “theology that uses liturgy as a witness to what the Church has believed and believes, a ‘locus classicus’ to be used alongside the ‘proof-texts’ from holy Scripture and tradition” (Jones et al., 1992). Understood this way, liturgical texts serve the role of informing the worshiper of the orthodox beliefs of the Christian Church, and the absence of such texts could create a vacuum where divergent theological thoughts about God could form. This presents a predicament for the modern church where the lyrical texts of worship songs often serve as a primary source from which most worshipers develop their theological understanding of God, and in a “non-liturgical” tradition curated collections of these song lyrics effectively serve as liturgical texts.
This paper will argue that in free church traditions song lyrics have been curated into collections that serve as liturgical texts for those who sing them in worship even in non-liturgical traditions. These collections serve to preserve theological truths about God and function as liturgical texts for the free church.
To this end, this paper will begin by clarifying that a church’s songs are a viable expression of that church’s theology, and in fact function as primary theology that takes place in the worship gathering (see Aiden Kavanagh and David Fagerberg). Following this clarification, the paper will consider the work of Lester Ruth to establish that song lyrics function as liturgical texts in free church traditions, especially Baptists. With this in mind, the paper will conclude by considering some implications for how this understanding of song lyrics as liturgical texts impacts the modern church.