Church Music Must Be Christian

Worship Wars is Pastor Hopson’s current teaching series on Wednesday nights at 6:30 at Poquoson Baptist Church. Join us to learn more about worship and music from a Christian worldview. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 18 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Important Note: Everything you read below is based on key foundational truths established in previous lessons. If anything concerns or confuses you, go back and read the other articles in this series or listen to the recordings.


Church Music Must Be Christian

This seems like a no-brainer, so what does this even mean? By this I mean that our music should flow from a uniquely Christian worldview. Some of the key elements of a Christian worldview include beliefs like these:

  • God exists as a three-personal Being who is desires to be known and worshiped by His creation.
  • Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His image.
  • Humanity is fallen, sinfully broken and dead apart from Christ.
  • Salvation is available exclusively through the death of Christ on the cross.
  • We respond to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection by grace through faith.
  • If we respond in faith, we can be assured of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Believe it or not, it is possible to sing a song that is both true and biblical and yet not Christian. Peter Seeger’s song Turn Turn Turn popularized by The Byrds is a perfect example of this:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

 

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to ever purpose, under heaven

 

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

 

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to ever purpose, under heaven

 

A time of love, a time of hate

A time of war, a time of peace

A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

 

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to ever purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rend, a time to sew

A time for love, a time for hate

A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

 

If you know your Bible, you know that Seeger’s song is almost a direct quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. In fact, Seeger’s song has way more Bible in it than a lot of Christian songs—only seven words in the entire song are not directly quoted from Scripture. Nevertheless, this song is not a Christian song. We know this because Seeger has told us what he believes about God, and it totally contradicts what the Bible teaches. Seeger said: “I used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. I’m not an atheist. I think God is in everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”[i]

The problem with Seeger’s song is that he’s using the Scriptures contrary to their intent. He’s ripping them from their context in Ecclesiastes about the folly of living without fear of God and turning them into a vague song about God’s presence in everything. The songs we sing shouldn’t merely be true and biblical, but Christian.

Of course, this is important to remember whenever we’re singing themes from the Old Testament. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 24:44? He’s talking to His disciples and He reminds them: “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Did you catch that? Jesus said that even the Psalms are meant to point to Him!

Listen to how Isaac Watts applied this principle when writing songs based on the Psalms:

“Where the Psalmist…speaks of the pardon of sin through the mercies of God, I have added the merits of a Savior. Where he talks of sacrificing goats or bullocks, I rather choose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. Where he promises abundance of wealth, honor, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory, and life eternal, which are brought to light by the Gospel, and promised in the New Testament. And I am fully satisfied, that more honor is done to our blessed Savior by speaking his name, his graces, his actions, in his own language according to the brighter discoveries he hath now made, than by going back again to the Jewish forms of worship, and the language of types and figures.”[ii]

Watts’ point is clear. It is not enough for church music to be true and biblical. It must be Christian.

I want to digress for just a moment and talk about a type of music that I experienced in my home church, and perhaps has in the past been a part of the music at PBC. Every year around Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day we would sing patriotic songs in our church gatherings. As a kid, I didn’t think much of it. I had never experienced anything different. But early in my ministry while serving in another church I attended one of these patriotic services and it hit me. We’ve sung America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee, God Bless America, and The Star Spangled Banner. But none of these songs have anything to do with Jesus! Now, please, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m a patriotic American. Pick a patriotic song and I can probably sing most of the verses from memory. These are wonderful songs that deserve to be played and sung. But there’s a threefold danger in replacing or mingling Christian songs with patriotic songs.

First, Jesus is better than America! When I gather with my church family, I want to sing about the One who saved me! America’s a great place, but it’s greatness is nothing compared to the greatness of Jesus! Second, the church is bigger than America! What message are we sending to our brothers and sisters in other countries when we sing “God Bless America”? Are we willing to sing “God Bless Haiti” or “God Bless Australia”? Why not? Are we suggesting that only our country deserves this blessing? Third and finally, heaven lasts longer than America! Philippians 3:20 is clear: “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The day will come when America will be no more. But Christ and His Kingdom will last forever! Church music must be Christian.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

[i] As quoted in Wikipedia article on Pete Seeger

[ii] As quoted in Watts, 102.

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2 Responses to Church Music Must Be Christian

  1. Alice Perdue says:

    Shouldn’t movies or TV shows we watch be Christian as well? I just learned that many superhero movies, for instance, are written or co-written by atheists and self-proclaimed Satan worshipers. Of course, we are not watching them in God’s house, but these movies are designed to try and replace, who should be our only superhero, Jesus.

    • Great question! We have to be very careful here because there’s a major difference between what’s meant to entertain man and what’s meant to worship God. If we said that our entertainment choices needed to be explicitly Christian, than we would need to be consistent. We should only watch “Christian” football, allow our children to play “Christian” sports, engage in “Christian” hobbies, and only read “Christian” newspapers. But this does not seem to be the way of the New Testament. The earliest missionaries like Paul understood and engaged their culture in hopes to win their culture to Jesus. Paul understood pagan religions (Acts 17:22-23), quoted secular poets (Acts 17:28), and repeatedly referenced secular sports (1 Corinthians 4:9, 9:24-27, 15:32; Galatians 2:2, 5:7; Ephesians 6:12; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 1:18). We should strive to understand our culture (even when it’s secular) in an attempt to win our culture for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

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