Watch What You Sing
For a long time, I would have considered myself a “Sam Stormian”, that is, to be what he (Sam Storms) calls a “Charismatic Calvinist”. What do I mean by that? Well, I held to Reformed theology, but I participated in charismatic worship services, went to 24-hour prayer houses, loved the 38-minute songs that just say “I love you”, and if worship was especially good, I would kneel. Not only that, but I would play in the worship band when given the opportunity and listen to Charismatic music in my car. “This is what worship music is supposed to be like” I would tell myself, and anyone within a 10-foot radius.
Now, this didn’t mean I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable when someone mentioned how they spoke in tongues, painted on stage, or participated in interpretive dance. And even though I witnessed all of these things personally – I would ignore them like a cavity or a bad show on CBS (in other words all shows on CBS).
There was a lot that didn’t sit right with me about what I was so deep into, but it was so emotionally rewarding. And there was also girls. A young and hormonal me quickly noticed a lot of pretty girls were charismatic and went to the “cool” churches. Shallow, I know, but hey it worked out. After all, it was at one of these Charismatic churches that I met my wife.
During my time in the “Charismatic world”, I would often turn a deaf ear to lyrics about marrying Jesus after the rapture and other poor theological ideas until one fateful day. I snapped. I was listening to some of my favorite worship bands and a bomb dropped on me. Chorus after chorus and verse after verse I noticed a common thread. That thread was this; we give God permission. Now, within the content, there was a wide variety of what we allow God to do (restore our souls, let revival happen, save us, etc.). But the message was clear, Jesus doesn’t run things; we do. I started to think to myself: “When has God ever needed my permission to do anything?”, “Since when did Jesus need me to save me?” But, more on that later.
I eventually cut ties with the charismatic movement (sorry, Sam Storms) and went elsewhere. But the popularity of the bands I was familiar with grew and grew. Soon, any church I played guitar at was singing the same horrible songs from my past. Songs that would speak on Jesus’ behalf like a condensed version of Jesus Calling. Songs that had more imagery about forests and water than robust theology. The Biblical truths of the Trinity and obedience to Christ were completely absent. Growing up, all I wanted was to escape the hymns played at my Father’s traditional Baptist church. But now it’s all I want because I have come to understand that the songs we sing are directly tied to things we believe.
As Christians, we worship Jesus, the real Jesus. In doing so, both individually and corporately, we are declaring truths about God. If we declare, shout, and attribute untruthful things to God we are in deep trouble. At best we are offering God empty and worthless praises, and at worst we are worshipping a God that is different from the one found in scripture.
On his album Lyrical Theology, Shai Linne says that “theology should ultimately lead to Doxology (Praise/worship). If theology doesn’t lead to doxology, then we’ve actually missed the point of theology”. So, first, this means it’s important to have correct theology. Second, if your “correct” theology doesn’t lead to worshipping God, then either you have wrong theology or you missed the point of theology altogether. The pattern here is obvious: it’s theology then worship. Not the reverse. Doing this process backward can be a Baywatch reboot level disaster.
As a comic book fan, there are few things more frustrating than an unfaithful comic to movie or show adaptation. There’s a long history of comic book canon that lays out how a character should look and act, yet inevitably something is almost always lost in translation. True fans are always upset because someone they love (and unfortunately worship) is completely misrepresented for mass audiences. Now, imagine how our worship can make God feel.
Let me be clear, God is not in need of our praise. God is not missing glory. He isn’t depleted through the week and needs to be re-upped or refueled on Sunday morning. However, if the Old Testament is any indicator, God takes worship very, very seriously. So this leads me to ask, is what we do on Sundays really worshipping God?
When it comes to the content of our praise, if we have a God who is righteous but not wrathful, loving but not disciplining, powerful but not sovereign, we aren’t really worshipping the real God. Rather, we’re worshipping a God who we’ve made into our own image. More pointedly, if we only sing songs about specific attributes of God because those are more pleasing to the ear, then we are committing idolatry.
I used to be a member of a church that had the core belief that all of life is worship. Which is true. Everything we do is an act of worship. Obedience is worshipping God, disobedience is worshipping ourselves. Many will downplay the power of worshipping God through music because in the American church it’s part of the program and we’re only there a couple hours a week. But that’s totally ignorant. We must take seriously what it means to proclaim together. To revisit the point I made earlier and to drive it home if you get your theology from songs, it’s going to affect how you worship the rest of your week.
Case Study: Let’s say you sing “Jesus we give you permission” on Sunday, that’s going to bleed into Monday through Saturday. “Jesus I give you permission to give me this raise at work”. “Jesus I give you permission to help me find my wallet”. “Jesus I give you permission to take control of the situation”. Did he not have permission and control in the first place? Was he waiting at the edge of a cloud in heaven? Was He anxiously pacing back and forth between animated baby angels with tiny harps until you gave Him the green light? Of course not! If He didn’t need your permission to create the universe then why does He need it now? Through one “innocent” lyric you’ve made yourself an Open Theist or Deist. A God who is maybe there but doesn’t really like to get his hands messy. You’ve distorted your own view of God and his beautiful Gospel.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not telling you to confront your worship pastor about why you’ve sung Good, Good Father twelve weeks in a row. Or to leave your church because the only way they know how to wrap up a service is by singing Oceans for an hour. But I’m strongly urging you to watch what you sing. Be cautious of what you’re declaring in your car, in your house, and in your church. Pay attention to what you’re singing at the top of your lungs and ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Is this true about God?
- Is this really the Gospel?
- Is this bringing glory to God?