I RECENTLY LISTENED TO A PODCAST ABOUT WORSHIP MUSIC IN THE CHURCH. I NOTICED THAT SOME OF THE SONGS THAT THEY WERE WARNING ABOUT ARE SONGS THAT WE SING. I WOULD LIKE TO GET YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT. SHOULD WE BE SINGING THESE SONGS?
Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:38-40 NKJV)
Years ago, my wife Shannon and I were at the District coffee house in Boise to hear a friend, Jeff Anderson, do a live worship set. Jeff enjoyed some success as a Christian artist, and we have always enjoyed his music. After his set, he came over and joined us for some fellowship. I mentioned something about the diverse crowd at the coffee shop that was enjoying the music, a wide variety of Christians and, no doubt, some unbelievers were there. He said, “You know what I love about being a worship leader?” I said, “What?” He said, “I get to lead people into God’s presence and there are no walls between them.” He then explained, “I can be in an auditorium with Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, really every type of Christian, or denomination, all joined together worshiping Jesus, and for that moment there are no barriers. Worship is the great unifier of the Church.”
That was a powerful moment for me. I had never looked at worship that way before. Nor have I ever had the thought that I might be singing praises next to a Pentecostal Catholic on one side and a Reformed Lutheran on the other and a United Methodist in front of me. I don’t think there is any other scenario (other than intense persecution against the Church) that I would find myself in fellowship with these brothers and sisters.
One of my favorite songs says, “I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms.” You could imagine my surprise when I found out that St. Francis of Assisi wrote that song! No other song has taken me closer to the throne of grace than that one has. What is amazing to me is that I can, and have, worshiped Jesus with songs that are written by Catholics, Calvinists, Arminians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Baptists, and many others.
As a Calvary Chapel pastor, I have always enjoyed the balance of our approach. We can have fellowship with, and grace for, a wide range of believers. Even though some of their ideas, practices, or views on non-essential doctrines might seem to us to be unnecessary, unbiblical, crazy, harmful, or even spooky. For me, being a Bible guy, it does bother me when people ignore the Bible in their practice, or belief. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are not Christians or to judge their salvation. If they believe the essentials concerning salvation, I believe they are family, and yes, sometimes family is weird. I have seen God use people I differ with, especially in the area of writing worship music.
Recently there has been much to do about worship. Many discernment ministries, apologetics ministries, and some prominent pastors have flooded the internet with warnings and concern. Sometimes it is about a song itself, but concerns mostly surround certain Christian groups such as Bethel, Jesus Culture, and Hillsong. The complaint is that these groups, their affiliate Churches, or ministers connected to these groups, have gone apostate. My question to these critics is, “Are they saved or not?” I would venture to say that not many of those critics would be willing to go as far as to say that they are not saved.
As an evangelical pastor, I could draw some lines in the sand and say I have good reasons not to worship with people who I think hold serious errors in their doctrine or are associated with teachers who teach errors. I will list a few for you that I would have some concerns about: John Newton, Fanny Crosby, David Crowder, Martin Luther, Elevation Worship, Bill Gaither, Keith Green, Hillsong, Bethel, Jesus Culture, Vineyard, The Wesley’s (John and Charles), Matt Maher, Amy Grant, Maranatha (oops that is a Calvary Chapel group), and I might as well throw in Moses, David, the sons of Korah. I could point to each one of these and give you good reasons either by behavior, association, or even false doctrine that I would disagree with these artists.
I am not going to tell you what troubles me about these song writers. I will, however, say that as far as I know, I believe they all love Jesus. If you want, I will let you spend your own time trying to dig up the tares in the wheat field and try to discern who is a believer and who isn’t. To me it is just evidence of what Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NKJV) I recently heard someone say, “I definitely can say that I align theologically more with Bill Johnson (Bethel Redding, CA Pastor) than I would with Martin Luther (Leader of the Protestant Reformation.)” I had to agree with him, though neither of us is a big fan of Bill Johnson’s theology.
I don’t want to minimize the danger of false doctrine and I believe that every song should be judged by its Biblical soundness. I have made our worship team change lyrics to songs before they sang them. I have also thrown out songs that were clearly doctrinally unsound. Some pastors may not want to allow the word “Reckless” to describe God’s love, I really do get that. However, I am going to allow it because I understand that it is an emotive response to how over-the-top God’s love is toward us. I suppose though if we want to throw out all emotive language, we really should limit the psalms we read, and we need to remove Crazy Love from our libraries and anything else written by Francis Chan from all our book shelves, because neither God nor his love is CRAZY!
As I write this, I am looking forward to going to a Christian Concert with Mercy Me and Crowder! I, for one, am going to enjoy worshiping Jesus and the unity I will have with all those around me. What an amazing thing we have in worship music that removes the barriers that separate us. We have so much that divides us already, can we not allow this one area where we are united?
A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing- Life forevermore. (Psalms 133 NKJV)