Today is Thursday, August 13, 2015. A couple of days ago, it seems the world was introduced to our Discernment in Music (DiM) blogs all at once. It has brought a lot of questions, comments, encouragement, and concern across various social media outlets. I praise God for the opportunity to have this conversation with the Church, to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus to consider the theological merit of the music we listen to on a daily basis.
I noticed a couple of recurring concerns reflected in various comments in social media that I think are valid and warrant addressing.
The Context of the Listener
Perhaps the most common concern is one of whether or not I have the right to declare what can and cannot be used in Corporate Worship within a Church Service. This question is understandable given the 2 reviews (“Oceans” and “Holy Spirit“) that represent cross-over songs which dominate airplay and are pushed as songs for corporate worship. The primary target audience for these DiM posts is actually not Worship Pastors, though I do hope they are blessed by this work. The primary target audience is the professing Christian listening to Christian Radio, whether in their car, shopping in a Christian Bookstore, or in their home. Places where the music is generally background noise, continuously streaming what is generally assumed to be God-honoring, Gospel driven, Christian Music. That is the context of the listener which serves as the framework for this exercise in biblical discernment. That some of these songs are being imported into churches for corporate worship introduces several variables, but more importantly it now involves Elders and Overseers as Stewards of Christ’s Church.
The Approval/Disapproval Rating is not the Goal
For several months I refused to provide a list of overall approval/Disapproval ratings, because I knew that in doing so I would invariably distract from the goal of the work, which is to go through the motions listening to the song performed in its entirety, walking through the lyrics of the song, and comparing what the message of the song says to what the Word of God says. Once the list of reviewed songs got long enough to where I had to use my own search engine to check on a review, I realized I needed to provide an archive for those visiting the site for the first time. The standard is God’s Word, on that we cannot waver; however, I fully expect to have strongly held, differing opinions regarding the overall “approval” or “disapproval” of any given song played on the air.
Music Pope? No.
Okay, that comment made me chuckle when I saw it on Twitter. Brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, I have no authority over what is played on the airwaves, in your church, or in your home. I do not decide what you can listen to without sinning, or even accuse you of sinning for liking a song, secular or otherwise. The DiM list is only an archive of the discernment work done until now. These songs are being played on the airwaves whether or not anyone is doing any discernment work. I’m not pushing to have your favorite songs banned from the radio. I’m grateful for Christian Radio and wholeheartedly pray that it continues, and improves. That being said, there is a lot of bad theology being pumped into the airwaves under a “Christian” banner that is dangerous to unsuspecting hearts and minds. Much like your local Christian bookstore, there is some good, some not-so-good, and some I can’t believe that is even on the shelf! A Christian who is mature in the faith once-delivered to the saints, rooted and grounded in solid theology, is better equipped to “spit out the bones and swallow the meat” so to speak. My authority is limited. At best, should I deem a Christian song worthy of “Disapproval”, what I’m saying to the Church is that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend or approve of listening to the song in isolation. Unless you live under my roof, are a passenger in my car, or become my student in some capacity, all I can hope for is that you will at least practice discernment for yourself or seek guidance from one of your elders or pastors. The Law defines sin, condemns it to death, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only remedy.
We Are Not Judging Your Church
In the days of Hymnity, Elders of the Church carefully examined the songs to approve of their use in corporate worship. The laity could rest assured (for the most part) that the hymns found in their Church’s Hymnal were reviewed, prayed over, and approved by the elders. These days, the visible church has mostly abandoned the Hymnals, and much of what is played in Churches comes from popular bands in mega churches. It is rare to find a Worship Leader who scrutinizes the doctrine of the songs being sung, and even more rare is finding a church member who gives the theology and doctrine of the songs they sing a second thought. And this is within the visible Church. If these DiM posts motivate a Worship Pastor to exercise discernment, Praise the Lord! If a member of the church chooses to exercise discernment regarding a song that was included in a worship service, that is wonderful… if that is you, please go to your Worship Pastor and ask for an explanation of the theology of the song and its purpose in corporate worship. Your pastors / elders are responsible for your growth and will be held accountable to God. Keeping in mind what we pointed out regarding the context of our listener, our DiM posts are not serving as judgments against your church for having played or playing one of these songs. That is not our intent. In fact, the church setting can be a place where the vagueness of most of these songs is clarified. There are hymns that don’t fully articulate the Gospel and are not well suited for evangelical broadcast because they were expressly written for penitent believers in Jesus Christ within the context of corporate worship. Corporate worship isn’t limited to a single song in isolation (which is how we do our reviews); therefore, our “disapproval” is in no way a single-point rebuke of your church or worship leader. It is our sincere hope, that given what we discuss in light of Scripture, that these DiM posts would serve as an impetus for seeking guidance with your Worship Pastor, Pastor, or Elders regarding the theology of the songs being sung.
3 Rules of Biblical Discernment: Context, Context, Context
I learned this discernment secret from Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith. This is vitally important when handling scripture, and it is also important for how we treat the source material or the song lyrics. I haven’t mastered it. Just yesterday I had to revise a DiM post I had messed up because I eisegeted amillenialism into Jovan Mackenzy’s song… and he isn’t an amillenialist. I do my best to treat each song fairly, but given how they are played on the airways, that means we have to limit ourselves to what is found in the lyrics in most cases. In most cases, I try my best to give a song its best construction (Soul on Fire) or infuse a bible study into the listener to focus a vague song lyric (Cast My Cares). I have to try to infuse meaning into the songs in these cases… that is eisegesis of a man-made song. My goal is not to “justify” the song via proof-text. Proof-texting is bad… it is manipulation of the Scriptures to justify a man-made idea/concept/message. Many attempts I’ve seen to justify a song I’ve reviewed negatively have involved the breaking down of the song into several disparate nuggets, and then proof-texting verses in the Bible that correlate in some way. Sometimes that is simply how our minds have coped with a vague song or rationalized really liking a song, but that is not Biblical Discernment. Where we can, we seek to examine what Scripture teaches in-context and see where the song lines up. If the song falls short, we defer to the Scripture and encourage the listener to remember what the Scripture really teaches every time they hear the song played on the radio.
What’s wrong with just liking a clean song that’s silly?
Nothing. This isn’t about what songs you should like or dislike. As long as a song doesn’t cause you to sin, or a brother or sister to stumble, I see no problem with liking a silly song. Pastor Alistair Begg often quotes lines from secular songs in his sermons… for a distinct and clearly articulated illustrative purpose. No, this isn’t about whether or not its okay to like a silly song from Family Force 5. This is about whether or not the song lyrics present a Christian Gospel Message: Sin and Grace, Law and Gospel, Repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Short of this, it isn’t a Christian song… just an arguably good song, or outright silly/harmless one. Even some of the songs I’ve disapproved are so powerfully sung I can’t help but sing along on a few lines while driving in my car. It’s true. But I know that the theology is unclear and sometimes even aberrant, so I do not meditate on those songs.
The airwaves are so full of secular music… there is no advantage to pushing a form of secular music that is supposedly “Christian”… it’s still secular music. The slide in the music industry is always to the world. Endorsing a “Christian” version of secular music is at best unhelpful, and at worst loving to our children and to the artists we propel into stardom. My heart breaks to learn of another Christian artist who has abandoned the faith. How many more will we allow to shipwreck their faith for the sake of entertainment?
I love music and I long for the day when every song on the Top 20 Christian Songs chart is so rich in the Gospel that there would no longer be a need for this blog to have a DiM segment. I’d also find it deeply encouraging to see others exercising biblical discernment. I invite musicians, radio DJs, and worship leaders to point out errors I’ve made and provide insight into the songs they’ve written. To the fathers out there, I hope you’ll find encouragement to engage in this material as it pertains to your children and your homes. Forgive me if I allow snark, or frustration, to overshadow the love that drives this work. I am but a humble servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, without an office in the church. I am a father to my children, husband to my wife, and brother to the body of Christ. This is not my vocation, but an extension of my personal Bible study. I pray you grant me Grace and Forgiveness, as I endeavor to humbly, lovingly, and faithfully exercise biblical discernment.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.