I cannot live without music – whether Christian, classical, or the occasional pop love song (they’re not all bad). Music is also integral to worship for me. On Sundays, I confess loving the singing more than the preaching. One of my favorite pastimes is listening to a Christian song on the Spotify internet app during the day and on my mp3 player at night. But as much as I love Christian music, I can’t stand what many Christians have done to it. We’ve messed this thing up!
Music wars are a sad fabric of many churches today, as important as they are. Opposing sides don’t have the humility to admit whenever they’re wrong. Yet some arguments are valid and people should listen. Truth matters. I, for one, think both lyrics and styles are important. Lyrics should be theologically sound and exalt Jesus. I don’t like some uses of drums and electric guitars. I also don’t like some styles – mostly jazz, rap, alternative, and hard rock. Yet whether a person sings new songs or old doesn’t matter, just as long as those songs are good and true. I don’t care if a church uses hymnals or screens, or both. What matters is what they’re singing, not where.
I’m still not as conservative as my mother. I’m only 33 and I love the music of Avalon and Kirk Franklin. She doesn’t. She doesn’t like any rock in a Christian song or ones with “drivel” lyrics. She also prefers hymnals in pews. Yet I’m sure she enjoys the screens now, due to her failing eyesight. And we agree on some Christian music – Gaither Homecoming groups, Selah, Steve Green, Twila Paris, Charles Billingsley, The Crabb Family, and Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir among them.
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. ~ Colossians 3:22-24 (KJV)
Another problem is Christian concerts and award shows, with fans making celebrities (“stars”) out of Christian singers, songwriters, and producers. Sometimes they make stars out of themselves, acting and dressing provocatively on stage. These celebs don’t take the advice of Paul in Colossians. I fear they give “eye-service as men-pleasers” in their music and on stage, instead of worshipping God with a sincere heart. They seek an earthly reward from others instead of seeking a heavenly reward from God. Other singers just want to entertain. Yet sinners are dying and going to hell while many Christians have emotional and financial problems. As Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle noted in “Songs from the Altar,” Jesus didn’t die to entertain anyone! So why don’t more Christian singers use concerts as a ministry?
And what about the money?! I can’t afford tickets to most Christian concerts. This is why I search online for free ones that take charity donations. Why don’t more Christian artists request donations instead of charging money that some members of their audience can’t afford? Why do they care more about getting certain venues than ministering to people, even if on the street for free? Sandi Patti would never do this. She charged $10 for sitting in a screened pavilion that’s normally free with donations. I’d heard Selah there free. It was a hot Saturday evening in August, but I sat outside to avoid paying the $10.
I hate award shows most. The church doesn’t need a “Christian alternative” to the Grammys, i.e. the Dove Awards. The ceremonies themselves are worldly – provocative behavior, flashy and immodest clothing, and making much of self. We shouldn’t be honoring ourselves or having contests. Instead we should honor God with our gifts. Christian music isn’t about worldly competition but spiritual unity and ministry. If the money, celebrity status, and awards disappeared, I’m confident many “Christian musical artists” would leave Christianity altogether.
The worst part is that the church has embraced this Christian concert model. Instead of worshipping God they treat Sunday services like concerts! I’ve attended many Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and non-denominational churches in the past two decades. The only time I see people worship, not just listen, is in the Pentecostal ones. They just can’t sit still but must get out of their seats and clap their hands or lift them high. I don’t see this in most Baptist churches, at least not in the one I currently attend. Unlike the young pure-in-heart worship leader, the soloists, and the choir, most of the congregation just watches. They cross their arms or put their hands in their pockets instead of lifting them up and worshipping Jesus. They don’t get out of their sets unless told to. The one constant exception is a middle-aged woman I later learned was delivered from cocaine and alcohol addictions three years ago.
I have a few explanations for this maddening scene: they don’t have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, they’re not really saved so they have no desire to worship God, or they think they’re supposed to watch and clap like the service is a performance. To act like this on a few Sundays because you’re tired, ill, or depressed is one thing. To act this way every week is another.
Jesus has a stern warning for those who call themselves Christians but don’t worship. When he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in Matthew 21:1-11, Jesus met three types of people: those who worshipped with joy (disciples, Gentiles, children), those who watched in fear (citizens of Jerusalem), and those who mocked and became angry (Pharisees). Self-styled Christians must ask themselves who they are at churches and concerts: worshippers, watchers, or mockers?
I still remember something Lauren Talley said on TV a few years ago. When she sings songs on stage, she wants to help people fill their mental music bank. When they need spiritual help, the song will come back to them. Lauren is right. God “gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10) and “songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7). When we need comfort, a song with just the right lyrics will pop into our heads. Other times, God uses music to teach repentance. That’s all the Holy Spirit talking. We’d better listen, worship, and obey! Does it ever occur to worship leaders in churches today just to let God fill the listeners’ music banks?
I’m grateful to the Talleys for songs like “Testify,” “On Time God,” and “Step into the Water.” I’m grateful to the Gaithers too. Since 2005 the Homecoming videos have enlarged my music bank and God has ministered to me through them. The gospel songs “I Know He Heard My Prayer” and “Master the Ship is Raging” helped me through a severe bout of temptation. Every time I was afraid, I would sing the Gaither kids song “My Father’s Angels.” There have been times of spiritual rebuke too. One summer God used the Gaither kids song “Input Output” to show me the result of filling my mind with trash.
The Isaacs’ song “It is Well” sustained me through the sudden death of a friend. One Friday I was talking to her at work; the next Friday was her funeral. My friend had had a massive stroke and died. Yet I didn’t know if she’d gone to heaven or hell. The day I heard she’d died and I started crying, God whispered to me the phrase “it is well” (2 Kings 4:26). Then I remembered the Isaacs song and played it in my head. By the next Monday, I was emotionally healed.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus
The church has missed the point of Christian music and created a mess. Just like “The Heart of Worship” (above) proclaims, worship is all about Jesus Christ, not us. So we had better be sorry for the thing we’ve made it! Music is a sacred ministry of the Holy Spirit. We must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Right now, the church is rarely doing either.
- It doesn’t matter whether a song is old or new, just that it’s theologically good and exalts Jesus. He brings forth treasures new and old (Matthew 13:52). Why can’t we?
- Worship in truth means lyrics matter. We’d better examine every song we sing and let the Holy Spirit decide if it’s true or false. Why should we sing lies and deceive people?
- It doesn’t matter who’s singing or playing or how well. What matters is that they worship God (not self) and minister to others while relying on spiritual anointing, not skill. Through skill, we get the glory. Through anointing, God gets the glory.
- It doesn’t matter who the “audience” is as long as they’re worshipping God and receiving the Holy Spirit’s ministry – whether comfort, deliverance, or repentance.
In this blog I want to introduce Christian worship “in spirit and in truth.” I have pages here, under “Bible Songs,” listing all the songs I know with Bible lyrics. These are organized by book with links to “listen,” “purchase,” and “lyrics” for each song. I also started a YouTube channel. I plan to add playlists about God (character, names, and deeds) and about Bible songs (Pentateuch, Wisdom, Gospel, etc). Enjoy!
Let us examine what we’ve done with Christian music in our hearts, homes, and churches. Then let us repent. We must restore the Holy Spirit to his rightful place in the church – starting with music.