So the other day I was watching a YouTube video where celebrated Christian teacher John MacArthur was complaining about churches that attempted to “please sinners instead of pleasing God through the use of contemporary worship music”. (this is a loose paraphrase of what he said) It is difficult for me to believe that a Christian teacher would seriously criticize people for the use of contemporary music in worship. Does he really think that the only way to please God is to sing a hymn from the middle ages with an organ playing in the background? Does he not understand that that music was cutting edge hundreds of years ago? But to understand what God is seeking in worship, let us examine the Scripture.
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. (Psalm 22:3)
As I go through the Bible, I believe that God has given us the amazing gift of being able to please Him with our worship. Over and over again, God tells us to rejoice in Him, to sing His praise and to celebrate the great love that He has shown for us. God also makes it abundantly clear that He is not looking at the outward form of the worship, but He is looking at the heart of the worshipper. Does the person singing truly love God? Are they truly celebrating His goodness and His love? If the answer to these questions is yes, then I believe that the worship is pleasing to the Lord and it doesn’t matter what form the worship takes.
Now you may not feel this way, but when I want to celebrate all that the Lord has done for me I want to give it all I’ve got. I want to sing at the top of my lungs and dance! He is our God who died for us! He is awesome in love and forgiveness! He is worth celebrating and I don’t want to restrain myself. I prefer loud and fast worship music because it allows me to sing at the top of my lungs without causing the rest of the congregation to leave the church. I prefer a simple beat because it allows me to move to the music without looking too awkward. As we know from David’s example in the Psalms, sometimes it is necessary to stir our hearts up within us in order to worship the Lord and music can be an aid in this way.
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)
Now I understand if you want something that is a bit more traditional and subdued. There is a certain beauty in some of the old hymns and I can celebrate the goodness of our Lord through that form of worship. I also understand the belief that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. From my perspective, some forms of music do not seem like they could in principle be used to worship God. I myself, for example, do not like rap music and would find it difficult to celebrate the Lord in that way. Likewise, I find it very difficult to believe that heavy metal music can be used to worship Jesus Christ. These genres seem inherently angry and this seems contrary to the spirit of worship. On the other hand, I have heard rap used to celebrate the victory of our Lord on the cross and it was beautiful.
Now that is not to say that correct doctrine is not important in worship music. I have myself many times changed the words of various songs so that I am more comfortable while singing them. As an example, at my church we sing a song that says, “I love you more than words could ever say, Jesus. I need you more every moment of every day.” Because I am uncomfortable making exorbitant claims for my love of the Lord, I change the wording of this song to, “I need you more than words could ever say, Jesus. I love you more every moment of every day.” The second sequence expresses an unlimited need of God and a growing love as opposed to an unlimited love of God and a growing need. While I can feel comfortable singing the second sequence, I find it difficult to sing the first. I don’t mention this reservation to anyone at my church because it seems to me that God is not going to be so picky as to correct a person who is expressing their love for Him. (In the ultimate example of God’s tolerance for human emotional exuberance, we see that God allowed David to live when he went into the presence of the Lord and sat down to worship in 2 Samuel 7:18)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1)
As I look out at the church, I see a very disturbing phenomena. The Bible tells us that towards the end of the church age, there will be a great apostasy where many people will fall away from the true faith. As we get closer to those days, some teachers are increasingly calling other Christians out on matters of doctrine that don’t seem vital to me. While I believe that doctrine is very important and I have a large number of disagreements with various Christian teachers (see the post where I discuss Joyce Meyer and the one where I discuss Chuck Colson and Rick Warren), I am extremely uncomfortable with the way many Christian teachers are denouncing each other. Do I believe that there are Christians out there who are teaching error that is damaging to the body of Christ? Yes, but I hope that they know the Lord and are saved. I will disagree with their teaching and pray that they repent, but to declare them to be intentional deceivers is further than I think anyone but the Lord can safely go.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)