DiM | Modernity and Tradition are Irrelevant

Presentation1Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship. As this is a new feature here at Faithful Stewardship, I wanted to make clear that this is an exercise in Biblical Discernment, not in favoritism or piety. Traditional Hymns do not “get a pass”; modern music isn’t preemptively condemned. To demonstrate this, we’ll be looking at a Hymn that seems a bit confused and a modern hymn that is absolutely phenomenal in my view.

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that there is plenty of room to agree/disagree on issues of taste or flavor. Personally, I find the sound of an organ to be most unpleasant, especially if it is front and center in the music. That’s a matter of taste. I’m not here to tell you what you should like or dislike. My purpose here is strictly to look at the lyrical content of these songs and to determine their Biblical soundness. Whether or not you still “like” a song that has been demonstrated to bear little-to-no Biblical value, remains between you and the Holy Spirit. There are secular songs that I enjoy hearing, but I know full well the lyrics are not in any way Biblically sound. One such song I have mentioned before is “I’m feelin’ good” by Michael Bublé. However, that I like to listen to that song is a far cry from me considering “Christian” and would in no way serve as an endorsement of that song being played in a Praise and Worship setting. Similarly, songs labeled “Christian” need to be tested for conveying a Biblical Message. A “Christian” song being elevated to “Praise/Worship” status most definitely be tested/scrutinized according to the Scriptures. We dare not engage in public confession of false doctrine/teaching or misguided praise and worship.

Hymn 1: Christ, or Else I Die

Link: http://hopehymns.bandcamp.com/track/christ-or-else-i-die
Words: William Hammond, 1745
Music: Drew Holcomb
Arr: Tim Johnson and Matt Patrick

Gracious Lord, incline Thine ear;
My request vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy:
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou dost freely save the lost;
In Thy grace alone I trust.
With my earnest plea comply;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

Thou hast promised to forgive
All who in thy Son believe;
Lord, I know Thou cannot lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die

All unholy and unclean,
I am weighted by my sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die

The problem with this Hymn, is one of confusion. Beginning with the Title and the closing line of very stanza, “Give me Christ, or else I die“, we have an odd declaration that sort of rings of a “give me liberty or give me death” vibe (though that famous quote dates back to 1775, while this hymn was written in 1745). If the statement being made her is “Without Christ I will die”, we have a doctrinal problem with this statement. If we are speaking of physical death… all die, with or without Christ.

Hebrews 9:24-28 (ESV) 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

If we are speaking of spiritual death, then we are speaking of it in the wrong order. Without Christ, we are already dead.

Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV) 2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

One might argue “artistic license” to keep it “singable”, but I give no license for changing truth for the sake of a melody. Now, the audience of this song is God the Father. So, the entire song is an appeal to God, “give me Christ, or else I die”. Well, then… so is this the song of a believer or an unbeliever? I matters not, really… since God has already given us Christ. We saw in the Hebrews verse already that Christ died once… was given to us once. He declared, “It is finished“. But let’s look also in John 3

John 3:16-21 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christ was already given, all that remains is that we believe in Him. Now, if we took the first sentence (first to lines) of every stanza, we’d have a solid hymn (thought it wouldn’t have the same ring). However, with the inclusion of the closing phrase, what remains of the hymn is total confusion. It is an old hymn, but it wasn’t always an old hymn. At one time, it was cutting edge. When we exercise discernment in the lyrical content of modern songs, understand that the same method holds true and should be exercised regardless of when the song was written.

Now, the folks over at TGC (The Gospel Coalition) launched a project a while back to write Gospel-centered Praise and Worship. I do not simply accept that every song they write is sound, but I applaud the Gospel focus in the endeavor. After hearing the hymn above, I then heard the following hymn (modern hymn written in an older style), “Not in Me”.

Not In Me

Words and Music by Eric Schumacher and David L. Ward, “Not In Me” Songs for the Book of Luke by The Gospel Coalition. ©ThousandTongues.org
Source: http://www.wogmagazine.com/2013/06/not-in-me-by-the-gospel-coalition/

No list of sins I have not done, no list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with you.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only you.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.

No separation from the world, no work I do, no gift I give
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands,
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again. The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me and merciful in Christ alone.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus death.
My weary load was borne by him, and He alone can give me rest,
And He alone can give me rest.

Great song. The first verse echos Ephesians 2:1-9. We were all dead in sin. Our salvation is by Grace through Faith, not by works so that no one can boast. Solid verse. The second verse addresses piety and good works as not being our assurance of Salvation. Our assurance is in the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, not in our own which echoes Romans 3:21-31 well. The next verse echoes the previous verses, but I’d like to include Romans 8:1-11. The final verse echoes the same truths throughout, but also notice the references to rest. There is much to be said of entering God’s rest, but a good place to see it condensed a bit would be Hebrews 4:1-10. For the sake of this song, let us look at the concluding verses:

Hebrews 4:9-10 (ESV) 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.


I absolutely loved the second song (Not In Me), lyrically. I’d love to hear it performed in every popular musical style imaginable (provided the music doesn’t drown out the lyric). Wonderful song. The first song, is confused. I think the writer sacrificed accuracy for poetry, and I’d rather not sing it. It isn’t so wrong that I’d levy a formal complaint with the pastors or elders, but if asked, “what do you think about this song” my reply would be simply, “I think it’s a confused song”.

Today, I wanted to refute the notion that I simply rejected all things new and grant preferential treatment for “sacred” hymns. There are good hymns that sound great, there are good hymns that sound awful (to my ears at least) and there are confused hymns and other hymns that are just biblically unsound. I will not actively seek those out, because I’m not trying to create lyrical punching bags here. The goal of these posts is to practice Biblical discernment in music. From here on out, my focus will be on what is currently “popular” within Christendom, because that is what we are consuming in large quantities. Let us make sure it is spiritually healthy food.

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.

In Christ,

DiM | “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong

Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship.

2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Today, rather than wait for a song to play on the radio, I thought I’d start by looking at whatever was trending as a “top Christian song” on the radio today. According to Billboard Music, the top contender is clearly “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. In the interest of full-disclosure, I am not a fan of Hillsong Church.  I disagree with their theology (Dominionism, Chrislam, Presence, etc) and their ecclesiology (emergent, seeker-driven, leadership model, mega-church). I will do my best to evaluate the song on its own merits, but I wanted to state plainly that I’m fighting to suppress a strong bias. If I fail, please forgive me. The good thing here is that if you take objection to my analysis and do so biblically, you are also practicing discernment and the goal of this post can be met, even while we disagree on the “value” of this song. Let’s take a look at the lyrics of the song pulled from the AZLyrics.

“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Okay, so if you’ve read my “Discernment in Music” posts before you probably know that the first comment I will make about this song is that it’s lyrically vague. It tends to bounce a bit between focusing on the singer and the “You”. If this is a song about God, then it presents an odd uni-directional theme where God is only “out there” where feet may fail, or out upon the water. This is keeping with much of Hillsong and Bethel style theology where we always need to be “pioneering” into the unknown if we really want to know God. Is that Biblical? Not really, because God has gone to great lengths to present us with the Bible.  While we cannot hope to fully know God in this life, what He has made known of Himself is indeed knowable by reading and understanding the Scripture. This skewed theology suggests that living a quiet, steadfast life of prayer and submission to scripture is somehow less-than what we really need to be doing, or what God really wants from us. If it is a song of encouragement, I’m not clear on what we are being encouraged to do or to believe. If it is a song of worship, I’m not sure who or what is being worshiped. Because the song’s focus bounces between the singer and the “You”. Are we worshiping God for who He is or for what He is going enable me to do?

What Does Hillsong United Say About the “Oceans”?

I’m not surprised. Almost 8 and a half minutes of glowing generic and vague praise for the song, without any insight. They just wrote a song and were like “woah, God put His hand on it” and they love the song and love the reaction the song produces. Because it connects to people “no matter where they are on their spiritual journey” or “even if they aren’t on the spiritual journey yet but they might get drawn to God”. I find it interesting that the conclusion we get at around 7:50 is that “we need to step outside of our own understanding… and just know that, yeah, just gotta live the life of faith”. I’ve seen this a lot with Hillsong style music presented as worship… the lyrics don’t make sense and don’t convey a clear message. How does that Glorify God? How is it supposed to “draw people closer to God”? Does getting a cheer and joyful reaction from the crowd at the started of the song equate to people “progressing in the journey” (and seriously… why are we talking in such vague, mystical, terminology?). They wrote the song, but they can’t tell you what it means, or even why it should be considered a worship song. Well, this video was of no help. So, we’ll have to practice discernment at face-value.

Narcissistic Eisegesis of Jesus Walking on Water

But wait, isn’t the story of Peter walking on water? No. While Peter does walk on water (briefly), that is not the point of the story; therefore, I will not be referring to it in that light. Let’s start by reading the text.

Matthew 14:22-33 (ESV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

So, the song starts with the singer placing him/herself in the place of Peter, but not at “You come walking to me on the water in the midst of a storm”, but “You call me out upon the water”. This passage is often taught from the false notion that it’s about Peter needing to “step out of the boat” and some pale allegory about how each of us will face a moment in our lives when Jesus will expect big things from us and call us to do the impossible, to walk on water and place our faith and trust in Him… believing for a miracle. That’s NOT the point of this story. This is a one-time event that takes place for a singular purpose… in verse 33, ” And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God“. Peter and those in the boat were worried that Jesus was a ghost. Jesus speaks to them to calm then down and Peter says, “Lord if it is you…” This is a special event, with a special message, one that points to Jesus NOT Peter. It is captured in Scripture for us to know that Jesus truly is Lord. If you are going to put yourself into this passage, you are one of the guests in the boat, who worshiped Him saying, “Truly Jesus is the Son of God!”. Scripture doesn’t record anyone else walking on the water. And why allegorize the story to dumb it down so that Peter’s walking on water (woah, that’s awesome) becomes as mundane as getting a promotion at work, or being found “not guilty” by a jury in a civil suit? No matter where we are, Jesus is with us. Jesus sent them across the water, and He stayed behind to pray; yet, while they were battling the unfavorable wind and waves, He appears, walking on the water, saying “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”. And even when Peter, after compelling Jesus to prove who He was by commanding Peter to walk on water, doubted and began to sink, Jesus caught him. Peter didn’t get a second chance to walk on water… because us walking on water was never the point. Placing our faith in Who Jesus is, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God is the point. This is a point that each of the disciples, including Peter, would be tested again, and fail again. Peter would end up denying Christ 3 times after the arrest of Jesus. But Peter was one of the first to believe that the Christ had risen, for he rushed to the empty tomb at the word of Mary Magdalene and the others.

Generic love Song in Vague Bible-Speak

Now, the second verse, and a bit of the refrain seem generally true-ish. Not really pointing to any scriptural truth or doctrine. But the problem here is that it is being presented as a worship song. The object of our worship, and the reason for our worship should be plainly identified. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not clear if God is the object of worship. If we assume the “You” is the God of the Bible, then we still aren’t clear if God is being worshiped for who He is or for what He will enable us to do. It suggests that unless He calls us out onto the water (step out into the unknown?) and do something radical, then we can’t trust in Him like we ought to, nor will our faith be strengthened. So does that negate the “I am yours and you are mine” bit from Song of Solomon? Can we rest in His embrace if we aren’t “walking on the waters”? This imagery only works if you buy into the notion that the story of Jesus walking on the water is actually what each of us must do as Christians.


This is a seeker-sensitive church band. They represent a brand, a theology, a way of doing church that isn’t prescribed in Scripture. So, when we listen to their music, we ought to pay close attention to what is actually being sung. We must take every thought captive, and that isn’t limited to the obviously sinful thoughts. Every. Thought. As far as the lyrical content of this song, I find it to be of no more Biblical value than the song “Feelin’ Good” by Michael Buble. This song is clearly “spiritual” in the “metaphysical” sense, but that doesn’t make it a good candidate for a Worship song to the Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ. They are selling music, they wrote a song they hoped would sell and were greatly surprised by its reception in South Africa. They are very excited by the “energy” shown by the crowd whenever this song is played. I’m sure they are very excited that it’s been in the Billboard Hot Christian Chart for 47 weeks, and is currently #1. They are a band, they make their living by playing music. They also represent a HUGE church movement, one whose doctrine is highly questionable. My concern isn’t really Hillsong, but you and your walk in Christ. Is it a sin to like this song? I cannot make that determination for you, because it is so vague it is written specifically for hearers to apply their own meaning to the song (this is what is meant by “we want people to connect to the song”). If this song is your favorite, and you just find you are really “moved” by it whenever it is playing, check your doctrine. Know what it is you are confessing and praying and worshiping. Don’t mentally check-out and roll around in the “spiritual emotion” elicited by the song. That’s not worship, that’s a form of sensuality. The song isn’t outright pagan, but it is vague enough to support a pagan world view. The “you” could easily be directed toward a “spirit guide”, and now we have a real problem with the meaning of the song. It is a chart-topper because it makes people feel good, nothing more.

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.

In Christ,