Sunday, June 29, 2014

The source of the music we sing

At our church we sing.  This has been the practice of generations of believers from the very beginning of the church (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; 1 Cor. 14:26).  Singing is a wonderful way to glorify our God for who He is and what He has done for us.  Not only is it biblical and a command, it can be emotionally enjoyable as you use your whole being to worship our Creator.

So I've established that we can sing, we must sing and we want to sing. Now the question is, "What do we sing?"  It isn't enough to say we will sing the bible or biblical material or my love for God.  Content does matter and simply singing a particular song because it makes us feel closer to God or because we like the tune or the words simply won't do.  This subjective approach to music misses a couple of key points about who we are and who God is.

First, Scripture says:

 The heart is deceitful above all things,
  and desperately sick;  who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

The very next verse tells us God searches the heart, but don't miss the unspoken point: it isn't you.  Our heart is so wicked it can be easily deceived.  We humans are masters of self-deception and without help we will always run the risk of doing the wrong thing, especially if we listen to our hearts.  This is why God has given us his Holy Spirit and His Holy Scriptures.  With Scripture we have an outside, objective source to guide us.  With the Holy Spirit we have the very God Himself who knows our hearts and can shine the light of truth in dark places guiding us.

For this very reason all music we sing should be tested and vetted by the Word of God by Spirit filled men of God and not left to those who are spiritually immature or believing questionable doctrines.

Second,  God is who the Scriptures says He is.  He isn't our buddy he is our God.  Even Jesus, whom people seem to find somehow safer, is not to be trifled with as though He is our drinking buddy from next door.  Again, He is God.  A simple reading of John's revelation should be enough to demonstrate that the typical reaction to the glorified Savior isn't a back slap and a "How goes it!".   My point here is that we need to approach singing to and about God with the same carefulness we approach preaching about God: like it really matters what we say and how we say it.

Once in a while I hear a worship song that makes me stop and wonder what it was the author was trying to say.  It isn't typically anything heretical but rather something that is slightly off.  For example, today we sang a song in which one verse says,

"You make all things to work together for my good"

Sounds biblical, right?  But something isn't quite right.  It clearly comes from Romans 8:28 but the ESV puts it like this,

  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 It may not seem like a big deal, but there is a difference between "my good" and just plain "good".   The passage this verse comes from is speaking of the redemptive work of Christ and our being conformed to Jesus' image.  It also speaks of our not being separated from the love of God, but this also is in reference to redemption.  So what's the big deal?  Nothing if "my good" is part of that redemptive work.  Although "my good" is only a small part of the picture.  God's good  and glory is really what redemption is all about.  But is this what the writer means by "my good"?   Perhaps they mean becoming rich or never dying or never sick or something else entirely.

This brings me to what this article is really about: sources.  What something means will have a lot to do...in fact everything to do, with context.  To use hyperbole, if I wrote a song singing to the god Baal, worshiping him for his power and greatness and his forgiveness of my sins would you be comfortable singing that song in your church as part of your worship of the one true God?  I never mentioned Baal by name.  All the words sound applicable to God  and maybe some of it is a little off but nothing explicitly heretical.  So would you be comfortable with using it?

How you answer that question may make all the difference.  There is a reason why most churches don't sing secular songs in church, even if the words are good and ambiguous enough to sing with God in mind (although this doesn't stop many Christians from listening to secular music the rest of the week).  In fact, for much of church history either she used the Psalms for worship or music was written and then vetted by the church authorities before it was ever used in worship. Once it was approved it remained an integral part of the liturgy for many years. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against writing music or singing new songs in Church.  Rather, my concerns are two fold.  First, that the Church doesn't take worship seriously enough.  I believe we should put in to our songs the same effort the pastor puts into sermon preparation.  If we did this you would probably get a better understanding why the ancient church didn't use new songs every week!

Second, I believe we need to look at where our music is coming from.  Where is the source of the words we sing.  Even when the words clearly have their origins in Scripture even then the source can make a difference.  For example, the verse mentioned above comes from a song titled, "Your Love Never Fails" by Chris Quilala who is a member of a group called "The Jesus Culture".  Jesus Culture is the worship band for the Bethel Church in Redding California where Bill Johnson and his wife are pastors. 

Bill Johnson, to put it simply and to the point, is a false teacher and false prophet. The point of this article isn't to give an expose on Bill Johnson, but here is a review of his latest book, "When Heaven Invades Earth" which will give you an idea of some of the things he teaches. 

So if Johnson is teaching what the Church (and I feel safe in saying most evangelical churches) would deem heresy and one of the members of Johnson's church who is submitted to Johnson's leadership and presumably his teachings writes a song singing about God, should we feel comfortable using it in our worship service?  Johnson's view of God is unbiblical.  In other words one has to question whether he is worshiping the same God as revealed in Scripture.  The answer appears to be a resounding "no".  But if he isn't worshiping the God of the Bible shouldn't we feel at least a tad bit uneasy singing songs written by members of that fellowship when the God he is singing about may not be the same God we are singing about?

Bill Johnson is known for teaching dominion theology.  Maybe this is the "my good" referred to in the verse mentioned above.  If so, should we be comfortable signing it too?   


We sang another song in our service written by Misty Edwards.  Again, nothing much to complain about with the song (except perhaps the emotionalism it seems to promote, but that's a different article), but here is another song writer who is a worship leader at another organization that is very questionable (and I'm putting it nicely).  IHOP (not the pancake restaurant) stands for the International House of Prayer. I'll let you read an article by CARM which gives some general information about this group.  Needless to say, this is another source of teachings that should make us think twice about using their material.  

Some might argue, "Sure, but I don't use the same definitions the author uses.  The words only mean what I make them to mean and I'm using them to worship the real God of the Bible".  Fair enough.  Although I don't think it is very honest to ignore an author's intent, I can at least see where you are coming for.  

The question (my last one, I promise) I would ask to such a comment would be, "Why?".  Why take the chance?  Why support the organization?  Why give people the impression that these groups, the churches and their leaders are o.k., just different?  Over the centuries there have been literally tens of thousands of songs written that are both orthodox and worshipful written by orthodox believers who's lives lived up to their songs. Why ignore these resources?   Laziness is probably a part of it.  Ignorance is probably an even bigger part of the problem.  But in the end it is a problem.  We evangelicals like to say we take worship in song seriously but do we really?  Or have we just moved over and allowed someone else, provided they are charismatic and talented enough, take the wheel?  Personally, I think it is time for the Church to take back the wheel. 




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Declaring the Whole Counsel of God

"for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."  Acts 20:27 (ESV)

The tendency for ministers is to hesitate or even flat out refuse to preach on a subject they are not themselves living.  Doing so can often times feel like hypocrisy, both to the pastor and to the congregation.  I am not simply speaking of inexperience but also of times where the pastor may be struggling to live up to a particular standard.  Say, for instance, preaching that we must pray more when at the same time we recognizes that our own prayer life is lacking.

The difficulty with this sort of thinking is that, if carried out, it can lead to our not declaring the whole counsel of God to those to whom we were sent to shepherd.  And, as Paul's farewell address to the Ephesians suggests, we could find ourselves with blood on our hands.  Let's admit it here and now: the standards of the Scripture are so high that we will never live up to every expectation, no matter how hard we try.  The standard is, after all, God Himself.  But that doesn't mean we have an excuse to not preach all of what Scripture tells us.

The Bible commands us to do what it says (Matt. 28:20; James 1:22) and there is no excuse for sin but we must keep in mind that the Bible is a book outside of ourselves.  Its veracity and efficacy do not hinge upon our experience or practice or lack thereof. Sure, when people see us practicing what we preach it makes a difference.  There is something to be said for the Church becoming the apologetic for the gospel.  And nothing seems to do more damage to the cause then for a "believer" to tell everyone else what following Christ should look like while at the same time he himself lives like a heathen.  Yet, what I want to make clear is that the preaching of the whole counsel of God and our living it out as ministers are two different issues.  To sin is one issue of which hypocrisy is simply one more sin on top of many.  To not preach the Word is another sin.  For the conscientious pastor to not preach the whole counsel of God because of his sin or lack of consistency, intensity or experience in living out biblical mandates only makes the problem worse not better.  It may look admirable and virtuous, but in reality it is sin.

Brothers, we must preach and we must preach the whole counsel of God no matter what.  Live it and live it well, but do not allow false humility to stop you from our biblical mandate to teach those whom God has put under our charge as His shepherds of His flock.

In the words of the apostle:

I charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word... (2 Tim. 4:1,2a)