DiM | And Whatever You Do…

trebleclefOur Discernment in Music (DiM) posts are the most read blogs on our website. While we are exceedingly grateful that people come here (based on Search Terms that lead them here) to find the lyrics of popular songs on Christian radio, or in hopes of finding out the intended  meaning a particular song, some might leave this site thinking we have a dim view of music or singing in general. Today, I’d like to address a couple of concerns and then I’d like to take a look at the role of songs and music in Worship.

Concerns

I’d like to quickly address some of the more common concerns related to me either in-person, in email, on social media, or in comments here. These points are categories of complaints/comments and none of them have been conveyed verbatim.

You just want us to go back to Hymnals? No. Well, yes and no. Yes, I’d like to return to the lyrical emphasis of teaching sound doctrine accompanied by music, even if it means we have to write 4 verses and a bridge to get there. I’d also like to see churches treat their music selections as if they were composing a Hymnal. Those hymnals were taken as seriously as their catechisms. A music leader shouldn’t have full authority to simply whip out a new song on Sunday morning and expect the Elders to “go along”. Musically… no, I do not want to go back to the Hymnals as the only form of music in the church. I don’t like monotonous speech or music, and I really don’t like having to explain the archaic English grammar or idioms found in some hymns just to sing a song that might otherwise convey an aberrant meaning.

You just want to go back to an organ and a choir? No, and I really mean that this time. Listen, there is nothing sanctified about the organ. I’ve heard the Hammond B3 used to accentuate false teachers like TD Jakes and I’ve heard them in popular pagan music, too. Nothing sacred about that musical instrument, or any other. As for having a choir, I’m ambivalent. If you do have a choir, I prefer the old setups where the choir was actually above and behind the congregation rather than in front (only a personal preference, not Law). I dislike operatic singing, though… because I cannot sing along if I cannot make out the words. I struggle truly appreciating traditional choir performances because of the archaic English and the operatic enunciation (or lack thereof) of words.  Regardless of musical genre, if I cannot make out the words I just check out of the worship. I struggle as it is to not slide into critique/analysis of the audio mix coming from the sound booth.

You are limiting Creativity to only a finite list of topics. No. When we point out a song that lacks a Gospel message or a law-heavy, works-based, or man-centric theology we are not saying that every song needs to be a rewording of Eph 2:1-10 (though I’d love to hear a modern song doing that). We are also not saying that songs can only be written from the Psalms, Proverbs, or Song of songs. They don’t have to have “Bible quotes” in them. When they do, the scriptures need to be quoted faithfully and in context. No, the corrective measure we are pushing for here is that whatever the topic, whatever the goal, whomever the intended target… the emphasis of the lyric should convey both Law and Gospel faithfully to the listener. The Law convicts us of sin so that we might repent and be forgiven by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Those citing “limitations” are only being limited by their refusal to submit their music and their lyrics to the Authority of Scripture.

Music is Fitting for Christian Worship Today

While we have the Psalms and several other Old Testament songs, we needed always look to King David and the Tabernacle to justify the inclusion of music in our Worship today. I’d like to take a look at 2 encouragements from the Apostle Paul.

Ephesians 5:1-21 (ESV) | Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

We’ve looked at this passage a number of times in the past, with a particular focus in how we are to walk the Christian walk. This passage is also directly applicable to how we conduct ourselves Worship. We are called to be living sacrifices, living forms of Worship to God. Naturally, how we worship should be a part of how we walk. Notice here that we are to put away from among us all sexual immorality and all impurity, foolish talk, filthiness, and crude joking. We should not only do this in speech, but in our songs and music as well. Before you brush that thought aside, think about what plays in your car’s radio during the week, what streams in your headphones while you exercise, and what “specials” might be playing in the megachurch you visited recently (C3 Church Leaders & Staff Video). Getting back to the passage, we see Paul encouraging us to sing songs to one another and making melody to the Lord in our hearts. The mention of getting drunk doesn’t make this a passage for how we are to act outside of the assembly, but inside, too. Remember Paul rebuked the Corinthians for using the Lord’s Supper as an occasion to get drunk! Do you think Paul would allow room for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that proclaimed a different/false gospel? No, that isn’t even remotely within the realm of possibility. We are to encourage one another in Truth, putting away all falsehood.

Colossians 3:1-17 (ESV) | Put On the New Self

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Again, we see Paul addressing these matters within the context of living godly lives of Worship and Thanksgiving. We are to put to death the fleshly, worldly things and to put on Heavenly qualities listed above, by faith through the Grace of our Lord and Savior. I come from a Puerto Rican background, so the big question from my culture is whether or not we can bring salsa or merengue music into the church as a form of proper Worship to God. These musical forms accompany a very sensual form of dancing out in the world, but does that mean the music itself is sensual? I submit to you that for some it would be perfectly acceptable and even fun to include in Worship to the God of Creation with hearts full of thanksgiving and praise. For others, on the other hand, the struggle of separating the music from the sensual form of dance, or the lustful thoughts of the heart might be too strong to bear. Pastors and elders, as the steward shepherds over Christ’s flock, needs to know His sheep. If the congregation is still fleshly and immature in the Faith, including such music would be ill-advised. I think the same holds true for Reggae, Rock-n-Roll, Electronica, and Hip Hop/R&B. That “Gospel” has become its own genre of music always leaves me shaking my head in disgust. There is so little Gospel in “Gospel Music” today my heart aches.

My point is that the music style is not the standard, the character of the Worship is. Not just the character of the individual worshipers, but the Worship itself. For if hints of earthliness creep into our corporate Worship (regardless of genre, denomination, or creed) the Worship is defiled. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. While I’ve only seen it done handful of times, it is proper for an Elder to call attention to sinful behavior in Corporate Worship. It’s indeed quite unpleasant, but necessary when rebuke is appropriate. God is not a God of confusion but of peace, and all things should be done decently and in order.

Purpose of DiM

Our goal isn’t to present a dean’s list of solid biblical Christian Music. Our goal is to equip you with the tools necessary for practicing Biblical Discernment in Music that you hear on a daily basis, including what you sing on Sunday Mornings. We only look at a small slice of the Christian Music scene, the most popular or popularized (by aggressive marketing and promotion) songs. There is a lot more out there. If you’d like us to review a song that isn’t on the top20 charts, shoot us an email and we will try to work them into DiM posts on Thursdays.

Until next time, it is our prayer that you continue growing in the Knowledge of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scriptures and that in so doing you might abound in Faith.

Colossians 4:2-6(ESV) Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Amen. In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

DiM | “Messengers” Wins Grammy for Best CCM

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

February 10, 2015. So last night as I was driving home I heard the DJ of a local Christian radio station congratulate Lecrae and For King and Country for their Grammy. I thought, “oh yeah… we should probably take a look at what was honored at the Grammy’s for DiM Tuesday.”

So today we are going to take a look at the winners of the “Gospel” category of the Grammy’s. The winner for BEST CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC PERFORMANCE/SONG was indeed “Messengers” by Lecrae Featuring For King & Country. We’ll look at this song today, but before we do let’s look at the other nominees:

Now, one thing I couldn’t help but notice is that though we’ve been trying to review the top 20 Christian songs over the past year, we’ve only managed to cover 1 of the 5 nominated songs. Should I be using a different list? Should we try to add a DiM day in our week? I don’t know. Your feedback on this question would be most appreciated.

Okay, so let’s take a look at the song “Messengers”. First, I want to try to clarify that rap, like poetry, rarely makes clear objective statements. It is a genre that tries to poetically allude to societal themes or trends. Rap music is a part of a very dynamic rap culture that is intentionally kept in a state of flux. The vast majority of secular rap is filled with fad references and short-lived colloquialisms connected to even shorter-lived trends in clothing, entertainment, and civil unrest/outrage. A big part of secular rap culture is demonstrating how “fresh” you keep your language, tastes, and style. In fact, my use of “fresh” in that sense clearly signifies that I am not on the cutting edge of rap culture… and I’m okay with that. “Christian” rap is equally poetic and it needs to speak to a culture whose language changes faster than the headlines at CNN about a timeless, unchanging Truth of God’s Word. Rap is a genre of poetry, and poetry isn’t the best way to convey the clear message of the Gospel. God indeed breathed out the Psalms, but the Apostles didn’t write poetry in the New Testament, they wrote clearly and concisely as the Holy Spirit led them.

Music Videos

Lyrics (via K-Love)

Messengers by Lecrae (feat. For King & Country)

Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers

We’ve been given a call
Been forgiven, risen
We livin’ to give him our all
Rise up from your past
That’s holding you down
This moment is all that matters
The future is now
How will the people know if we don’t tell ’em?
If we fail ’em
They’re stumbling in the dark
But the lighters that we carryin’
Don’t have to wonder your purpose
Or what you’re here for
Reflect his image
And show the world what he cares for

And I know it’s all right
And you know it’s your life
And we know that time’s running out
Can’t wait around cause

Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers

I’ve been a lot of places where the scene ain’t pretty
I’ve seen plenty of hate, death and destruction
Where ignorance kills many
The blind leading the blind
We turnin’ a blind eye
That alone is a crime
We’ve got the power to life
I know that we make mistakes
Don’t let ’em keep you away
Mercy, love, and His grace
The reason we movin’ here
Speak out
Though we’ve never been qualified to do it
I ain’t earned it
I was loved into it
I’m brand new

Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers
Calling all the messengers

Publishing: Fellowship of the Unashamed Music (BMI), WB Music Corp./Method To The Madness/Shankel Songs (ASCAP) (Admin. by WB Music Corp.), Warner Tamerlane/Kilns Music/Shankel Songs (BMI) (Adm. by Warner Tamerlane), Ally Plane Music (BMI), Evident Music (ASCAP), Before I Die Publishing (BMI), Joseph Prielozny Music (ASCAP)/Unashamed Music (ASCAP) and Track or Die Music LLC (BMI)
Writer(s): Lecrae Moore, Joel Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Ricky Jackson, Ran Jackson, Kenneth Chris Mackey, Joseph Prielozny and Torrance Esmond

Positive Elements

I believe the title and the choral refrain points to the Christian’s call to Evangelism. We can pluck a few lines out to support this assertion. One thing I’d like to point out is that the value of a messenger is in the Message being proclaimed and from Whom the Message originates. We are called to take the Message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Let’s look at how Paul writes of this in Romans 10.

Romans 10:11-17 (ESV)

11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

There is a line in the first verse of the song that seems to come from this passage, “How will the people know if we don’t tell ’em?” I wish the emphasis of this song was on the preaching of the Gospel, the sharing of the Message of repentance and the forgiveness of sin found only at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. That was Paul’s emphasis. That was Jesus’s emphasis. This is the emphasis of the Great Commission.

Concerns

If the lyric of the song is aimed at calling Christians to Evangelism… why then do we see this song pop up seemingly out of nowhere at the Grammy’s? Why has this song not been on our radar here? I believe that this song resonates more with a secularist activism crowd of artists and producers because it doesn’t emphasize preaching of Law (repentance) and Gospel (forgiveness)… rather the song seems to emphasize works. The world is eager to judge Christianity (and Christians) for their lack of works. This song offers up a few lines that seem to echo that sentiment.

This moment is all that matters The future is nowHow will the people know if we don’t tell ’em? If we fail ’em, They’re stumbling in the dark But the lighters that we carryin’ Don’t have to wonder your purpose Or what you’re here for Reflect his image And show the world what he cares for

What does “the future is now” and “this moment is all that matters” mean in a Christian context? Are these statements even remotely supported by Scripture? This is the kind of stuff you hear from a sales pitch or a motivational hype-man. Do something now! is what is conveyed. Reminds me of the song we reviewed “Do Something” by Matthew West. One of the positive lines we highlighted earlier is in bold. We connected that line to Romans 10. But when we look at this line and how it falls in the context of the song, we see the next line “If we fail ’em”… and it leads to the reflect his image and show the world what he cares for. It seems to fall in the “deeds not creeds” (which is a creed) category, or one of those “earn the right to preach the Gospel” philosophies. I’m not saying I think that is Lecrae’s intention, just pointing out that this seems to be the overall tenor of this song when we look at the lyrics apart from the music video.

The second verse has a line that I think secular activists key in on to further push the “deeds not creeds” mindset. There is an allegation by Lecrae that “We turnin’ a blind eye That alone is a crime”. This also changes the over-arching theme of “calling all the messengers”. There is now an implied rebuke to Christians for turning a blind eye to the state of… well, those places where the scene ain’t pretty that Lecrae has seen. He’s vague and generic, but the implication is much the same as Matthew West’s accusation that “we’re never going to change the world by standing still”. Lecrea’s song isn’t nearly as blatant, but the problem of a works-focused “social gospel” is still evident. Lecrae is “calling all the messengers” to pay attention and reflect Christ by showing what He loves and do something about the hate, death, destruction, and ignorance in the world.

The biggest concern with which I take issue is the avoidance of topics of Sin and Repentance. In the first verse, we are called, forgiven, and risen… but we still need to “rise up from a past that holds us down”. huh? God forgave you (when you got saved) and he raised you (from the death of your sins and trespasses) but its up to YOU to rise up from your past because it’s still holding you down? Law-Gospel-Law. There was a chance to clarify this concept in the second verse… and it was missed entirely. “We’ve got the power to life I know that we make mistakes Don’t let ’em keep you away Mercy, love, and His grace The reason we movin’ here Speak out Though we’ve never been qualified to do it I ain’t earned it I was loved into it I’m brand new“. So, we make “mistakes” that we “can’t let them keep us away”? How about, we Sin and are in continual need to repent and be forgiven, and that is the message we should be preaching to the Lost as well? Mercy, Love, and Grace are popular themes for the world to hear, but still no confession and repentance. Incidentally, the way to “not letting them keep us away” is to confess our sins one to another, forgive each other, and repent at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The world is all for praising social activism that down-plays sin and repentance. This song won a Grammy, but I haven’t seen it on a Christian music top 20 chart. The world picked this song and championed it as what they want to see coming out of Gospel music. A world that tells Christians, don’t talk about sins, just demonstrate love. Don’t ask me to repent, go work to end world hunger, slavery, and climate change like all of us who reject your God do. You see, social activism can be overtly engaged by anyone, even those who’ve rejected the One True Living God. This song will likely see a lot more Christian radio airplay as the CCM industry gushes over it’s Grammy. The song is a poetic, generic rebuke that Christians aren’t “doing enough” because evil exists.

In closing, I’d like to remind all of the messengers, what Jesus warned.

John 15:18-25 (ESV) | The Hatred of the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin,but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.

To God be the glory, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge