Singing Songs from Questionable Sources

I had already been working on this post when I received this email from Ethan: “For the past year, I’ve struggled with the idea of playing ‘good’ songs (obviously room for defining some terms there…) from questionable ministries. In playing their songs, am I advocating for their entire ministry? In playing their songs, am I necessarily pushing my people towards their church (i.e., when the CCLI info pops up at the end of the song)?” I took a stab at this question eight years ago when I wrote “Does it Matter Who Writes the Songs we Sing?” Since then, I’ve been asked the question so frequently I’ve tried to refine my thinking on this topic. What Makes a Song Source “Questionable?” Songs can be from “questionable” sources in at least three ways: It’s recently come to light publicly that the composer of a song is living or has been living in unrepentant sin. A composer is part of a denomination that teaches what you consider a distortion of the gospel. The song springs from a church or ministry that has theology or practices you think are unbiblical. Interestingly, I’ve visited websites and blogs that view Sovereign Grace Music as one of those “questionable sources,” usually because we’re continuationist, Reformed, or use contemporary music styles. So whatever your reasons for questioning the origins of a song, here are some thoughts. First Things First Let me start with some general observations. First, to dismiss this conversation as irrelevant, petty, or unnecessary (e.g., “Who are you to question my sincerity?”), fails to appreciate the diverse and deep ways songs affect our thoughts and emotions. It also minimizes the importance Scripture gives to singing (Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16-17). To say, “It doesn’t matter who writes the songs we sing,” isn’t helpful, because it does matter to many people. In fact, I’m asked this question more than any other. By a long shot. Second, exercising discernment isn’t the same thing as sinful judgment. Our culture often wrongly equates disagreement with disdain and insists that to make distinctions is to be condescending. But God tells us in Scripture to judge rightly, distinguish between those who should hear our message and who shouldn’t, be able to discern who a fool is, avoid people who cause divisions, and know the difference between sheep and wolves in sheep’s clothing (Jn. 7:24; Mt. 7:6; Prov. 13:20; Rom. 16:17; Mt. 7:15). Third, singing a song from a questionable source doesn’t mean a church is racing down a path of heresy, worldliness, or sin. We want to avoid “demonizing” songs or composers, expecting Satan himself to be unleashed in our congregation if we sing that song. God can bring forth biblically faithful songs from a variety of sources, and he can work through them in spite of their origins. Fourth, choosing not to use songs from a particular church, ministry, or individual doesn’t give us the right to unilaterally criticize everything that is associated with those songs or other churches who sing them. Song choices should be the result of pastoral choices made within the context of a local church. God has often glorified his name and worked in people’s lives through songs whose origins we might find suspect or disagree with. Jesus is too great, glorious, and generous to give the best songs only to people who look and think exactly like us. Fifth, I’m not calling out ministries and people by name nor trying to establish universal rules that everyone should follow. I’m suggesting ways to think through this issue biblically to serve our local churches and honor God. Thoughts to Consider With those caveats, here are some thoughts about using songs from questionable sources. 1. Edification involves minimizing distractions.  1 Corinthians 14 makes it clear that when we gather as the church God wants us to do what edifies, or builds up, those around us (1 Cor. 14:1, 3, 5, 12, 17, 26). Mutual edification brings God glory. If I lead a song that tempts a large part of my congregation to be distracted by the sins of the person who wrote it or the theology of the ministry it originates from, that’s not edifying. So if a songwriter/artist publicly announces they’re living in unrepentant sin or it’s discovered that they have been, it might … Continue reading Singing Songs from Questionable Sources