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 be wise to set their songs aside for a season. Yes, God is gracious and we’re all imperfect people, but he also calls us to live holy lives (Heb. 12:14; Titus 2:11-12). And if removing one artist’s or church’s songs from your repertoire for a time leaves you with only a handful of songs, it’s a great opportunity to start drawing from more sources.
2. Choose songs to teach theology, not simply avoid heresy.
At the recent Together for the Gospel conference Al Mohler encouraged us to aim for a higher standard in our songs than “avoiding heresy.” Our songs should help people think and act biblically. A song from a questionable source might seem “pretty good,” but that’s a low bar. The practices, emphases, or teachings of churches are often reflected in the songs that emerge from them. If your church sings 4-5 songs each week, that’s only 200-250 songs in a year, and many of those are repeated. Choose them wisely.
3. Using only one song from a ministry/writer also makes a statement.
When a ministry puts out dozens, if not hundreds, of songs, and you only sing one or two of them, you’re communicating intentionality. You’re saying you’ve chosen this song for its content and not for its associations. You’re expressing gratefulness for any solid, biblically faithful song that enables the word of Christ to dwell in people richly.
4. Develop a culture that appreciates lyrical content over a brand name.
Leaders are often concerned that singing one song will lead people in their congregation to YouTube or a website to hear more songs from the ministry/person. But if the people in your church know you choose songs based on their theology and not their popularity, it won’t be as much of an issue. Doing one song by an artist or ministry doesn’t necessarily mean you endorse everything about them, just as using a quote from a writer you don’t completely agree with doesn’t mean you commend their entire theological perspective.
5. Incorporate more old songs into your repertoire.
We can minimize the problem of who writes our songs by singing songs that have stood the test of time and are known more for their content than their composers. By the end of his life, Horatio Spafford had come to deny hell, affirm purgatory, and teach universalism. Yet God has used his song, It is Well with My Soul, to encourage hundreds of thousands of Christians in the midst of suffering. The same can be said of William Cowper’s song, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Even thought Cowper endured severe bouts of depression and tried to commit suicide at least three times, his words have edified Christians for centuries. When composers are no longer living, older songs don’t run the risk of suddenly becoming questionable because of a distracting theology or struggle.
Bottom line, if you find a song that communicates biblical truth in a clear, uncompromising, beautiful, singable way, and your congregation is trained to value truth over popularity, you’re probably in a position to benefit from it. If you’re unsure, you’ve got plenty of other songs to choose from.
(Image courtesy of shutterstock.com)
HI there, thanks for the article, but can you help me understand how does the death of a person prevents a song from being suddenly questionable?
In all honesty, I could say that now since I know the author of the song ‘It is Well, With my Soul’ ended his life as a heretic, I am too disturbed to continue singing his song.
I have 3 points I’m driving at:
(1) People will find out at different times about the personal faith history of a song writer…or people might never ever find out about the personal faith history of the song writer. Until you pointed out that Horatio Spafford was a heretic at the end of his life, I was happily singing the song and enjoying the scriptural soundness of the lyrics. So I guess I would now have to pull that song from my repertoire or songs used to praise and worship God…just that I would not.
(a) Would there be a difference if the person had written the song at the time when he was ‘walking right with God’?
(b) If God, in his Sovereign Will, brought about the writing of the song, shouldn’t that mean that the contents of the song is distinguished from the sin of the songwriter?
(c) I take your point that if the song causes controversy in the congregation, with people being distracted and asking ‘why are we singing songs of a sinful man! (or woman!)’ it should be pulled because the song selection shouldn’t be used to ‘stumble the weaker brother/sister’. However, should the views of a single (or a small group -of usually the same- brothers and sisters) be the voice that dictates the song choice of the majority of the congregation who do not see the lives of the songwriters enmeshed with the singing of the song?
(d) In fact, (perhaps unfortunately) many in the Congregation these days do not know who even writes the songs, who are the bands that first produce it or even bother to think about the scriptural soundness of the songs.
The problem with unrepentant sin is that it is a terrible curse on many who try to follow the path of righteousness (while turning away from the redeeming grace of God and the power of his Holy Spirit to break him free from the curse of sin and give true liberty), and songs that are written that obviously reflects this ‘unrepentant sin’ has no place in our churches.
E.g. the unrepentant ‘glutton’, the unrepentant ‘gossiper’, the unrepentant ‘workaholic who places all work before God and does not keep Sabbath’, the unrepentant ‘spouse abuser’, the unrepentant ‘narcissistic dresser who worships the image of himself/herself’…
The list of ‘unrepentant sins’ go on and the process of santification is definitely not an easy one…
Or is it if the ‘unrepentant sin’ causes ‘more scandal’ then other sins, i.e. adultery, pedophilia, pornography, (and it’s precisely the fear of scandal that these are kept even more hidden until the point they are dug out to light) that should be considered ‘more sinful’ then other sins. (which in light of a just God that can tolerate ‘no sin’, we wonder where does the hierarchy of sins come from?)
So being consistent with what you are writing about ‘song writers’ whom sudden sins are suddenly exposed, we should the also not listen to sermons by preachers, stop going to rallies by evangelistic, stop sending people to Sunday school to be taught by teachers who are all living in ‘unrepentant sin’ (including that paragraph above)
By pulling songs from the congregation, perhaps, we are truly supporting the idea of the ‘scandal of some sins more than others’. Perhaps, that’s what the devil truly wants – to have some sins so shameful, so hidden because of the fear of the scandal and shame when they are exposed or some sins that have been trivialized so much that they are made a joke out of.
Either way, it’s leading us away from the path of true redeeming grace.
E, thanks for the comment/question. I’ll try to respond to each point. 1) I didn’t say you should automatically pull a song by someone who is a heretic or in unrepentant sin. Only if it proves to be a distraction to a majority of people and so is no longer edifying. The views of a small group shouldn’t necessarily influence the actions of the whole church. But if it’s a problem, a leader should have a conversation with them. 2. I’m thinking of sins like the “unrepentant lesbian” whom is well known or the artist that is discovered in adultery. Yes, the song can be separated from the composer, but for a time it may be too distracting. 3. While all sin is enmity against God and requires the substitutionary death of the Son of God to pay for it, the consequences of some sins are broader and deeper than others. In my post I point to redeeming grace, not away from it. God only has redeemed sinners to work with! But that doesn’t automatically negate other factors in choosing songs, such as edification. Hope that’s helpful!
This may be somewhat off topic, but sometimes many songs are questionable by use rather than source. I am a rather grumpy old man and often find many songs little better than useless. Many seem to be written for performance, not worship: they follow a logic indiscernible to any but the leader;
Repeat lines 3-6 of BRIDGE
VERSE … And so forth (and let’s throw a key change or two for good measure)
It almost seems that he leader is trying to see who gives up first – The Congregation or the media Technician (I have been the media tech who gave up first)
I am not a musician but I can carry a tune. Occasionally it falls to me to lead acapella when musicians are not available. I am also responsible for both the preaching and leading in the small congregation I serve.
The basics that I always use seem to fall back to follow the KISS principle.
Is the tune singable? – is there a clear melody to follow? do the words fit the music? or vice
versa. Does the music bring connotations that may lead people away from God?
I love to sing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” to the tune O Waly Waly but have a
problem with “There is a Green Hill” combined with the tune House of the Rising Sun
but that is because I know the original was a song about a brothel. However, the music is
much more suitable than the most common tune sung here in Australia (Horsely). I can grit
my teeth and carry on after all there are not many of my generation left.
Old is not necessarily good, new is not necessarily bad.
There are many new worship songs that are very good but for congregational use they
should be performed the same each time they are used
“In the old days” the musician(s) (OK Organist and sometimes pianist) performed voluntaries
before and after the service, this is the normal place for improvisation. Sometimes a
performance during the service can also be useful to lead the congregation, but it should
not be expected for the congregation to follow.
As a side note – and similar to the Hymns you mentioned above. I occasionally like to use John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Brewing of Soma”
I can only get away with it once at each church but it is fun.
Keying up the musicians I announce the hymn and then read the first 11 stanzas with the musicians fading in for the congregational rendition of verses 12 to 17. It places that hymn within its context and it becomes much more than a “nice song”
Lindsay, yes it’s off topic but you made some good points! Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for taking the time to address this topic, Mr Bob Kauflin. I was in the breakout session at T4G where you and the others briefly talked about it but failed to remember precisely what you said so I’m glad to have this refresher.
You brought up several points I hadn’t considered and each challenged me.
I always wonder how many folks would actually remember and then research who wrote the songs they sang during worship. I very very much understand the hesitancy or refusal to sing such songs and take no issue with those who won’t. My issue is telling others they may not or should not.
If the song is solid and true then I would appeal to Philippians 1 where Paul says he doesn’t care why the Gospel is preached, just that it is. I would ask objectors: why do you think true, good and accurate songs sung by saints do not bring glory to God?
Tim, glad the post served you. You make a good point but we still have to consider what truly edifies. It’s a local church decision but it should be viewed through the lens of edification. It’s a great song would be a distraction to a large portion of my congregation, I wouldn’t do it, or I would take the time to tell them why we’re doing it. But at that point it might be even more of a distraction!
My bad for not clarifying. I meant objectors on the outside of a local church not members of it.
I’ve seen it debated many times between this blogger and that blogger and pastors in X region and Y region.
I agree that if it’s a distraction and a stumbling block to people in our churches that it’s not worth singing.
I think you have it all wrong
You keep using the word sins, the scripture says it is Sin that seperates us from God it does not matter how many or what they are if it is Sin, not sins. How big or how small, whether we judge it as sin or not it is God’s call He is the judge and the jury. Granted if you are the CALLED leaded of the congregation you are responsible to discern what music, type, style and lyrics is performed and/or use in your worship service and it had better be God Inspired, just as the scripture you read to your congregation is and if not then there is cause for concern.
Remember, only God can judge a man’s heart. It is Well With My Soul. Will remain a beautiful hymn to me and each time I sing it, I ask myself, if it is true for me, not the song writer… that was between him and God. Leave judging where it belongs we are not capable of judging anyine.
Janet, thanks for commenting! I didn’t meant to imply from my post that you shouldn’t sing It is Well with My Soul. Far from it! I was only using it as an example of song we know and love and benefit from, even though its author had struggles at the end of his life. Thanks for stopping by.
What about songs written or co-written by a practicing catholic? Should a Bible and truth believing congregation be singing these even if the “theology” seems ok?
CLZ, I think you can apply what I wrote in my post to that issue as well.
I’m glad I sifted through the comments before doubling up and asking the same question. I’ve been thinking more on this topic since I’m completing my degree this year and aiming to go to seminary in 2017. I really enjoyed the hymnal we received at T4G, and I have to confess I geeked a little when that was the first free book we were handed. I sometimes enjoy coming up with harmonies, but seeing notes in four parts on the page helps me to target onto a good note in the chord structure. It makes for some amazing sounds!
Thank you so much for this article! I’ve wrestled with this issue, and this has the clearest wisdom I’ve read on the subject.
Grateful to God that it served you, Andrew!
Brilliant post. After all, all songs, and even, in a way, scripture, have been penned by sinners. God uses us, in our failings, to bless others.
Some really, helpful, practical advice here.
Thanks for your encouragement, Joe!
Thank you so much addressing this issue, along with the points that you have listed. I’ve struggled with this issue in the past and only recently did this come up again. It’s definitely given me great insight! I truly believe that it is by God’s grace that I’ve come across this article at this time.
Greeting Bob to you and your family from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am so very grateful for your taking the time to post this article. It has and is a source of deep concern for me (and many others) regarding the playing of music from questionable, even deviant ministries in the Body of Christ. I found several areas, in the article, which made me take time to think and consider your view point. I am reformed and a continuist. That being said, I would have to disagree with the use of songs written by questionable ministries etc (save for your definition of #2 & #3 – I would altar those as to not what a person “views” but what Scripture teaches. i.e. if a ministry said Jesus had to be born again that ministry has crossed a line) in the church. If it is just disagreement on nonessentials (i.e. continuist/cessationist) we are in agreement. But once a ministry deviates from what Scripture says is destructive or not in alignment with the gospel (i.e. justification by faith and works) and it becomes known to the pastor/worship leader, then they have an obligation first to God and then to the congregation to keep all forms of false teaching from the Body. Scripture is very clear that we are to be careful, guard the flock, be holy, and not use our freedom in Christ to be used to potentially weaken or destroy a weaker saint. While, I do agree we have freedom in Christ to exercise, in our private lives, areas where weaker saints may be damaged; this same freedom is not, in Scripture shown to be granted in the gathering for corporate worship. It is the opposite, we are called to a standard because we come before Holy God with the rest of the Body, not in our private, but corporately and what we bring must be examined.
In your “First Things First” segment in part three I do agree using a song does not mean it is running down a path, but it has, in fact, opened a door. There are literally 1000’s of songs, too many to have the excuse to use those from “questionable” ministries (Again the definition of questionable is important). If I could not support a ministry financially or minister alongside of them due to their doctrine – how could I then promote them in the Body because one or two songs were spot on? Yes, playing a song does amount to endorsing them…at some level you have given your approval of them, even if it is in that one song. There is no where in Scripture where we are called to allow anything from a questionable source in the Body for corporate worship (singing or teaching). I agree God can work through a variety of sources…(what you intended for evil God intended for good) to bring about faithful songs. Yet, in the congregation, there is a much higher standard. Since music is teaching and teachers will incur a stricter judgment it is of utmost importance we guard, as much as we can, what is allowed into the Body. As I read some of the comments, the Philippians 1 part struck a cord. Paul was not endorsing the those who were acting from impure motives – he was, by the context, rebuking them. Yet, he could still rejoice the Lord was exalting His name. But also notice, this was not taking place in the church otherwise Paul would be quick to have them stopped.
Please do not take this as a harsh critique. I have and am blessed by SGM. One of the most influential albums ever given me was “songs for the cross centered life.” It was your music which I received permission to use in Norway, for a conference, for the very reason of the content and character of the songs and song writers. However, in this area, just the opening of the door for a person to be led down a wrong path, when you “know” the ministry is questionable is to great a risk. Woe to the one who leads a saint astray. Yes, I have seen the result domestically and overseas of the impact of allowing music from questionable ministries. I am sure there will be many who will say they have been built up; though in what I see in Scripture and my experience is a degradation.
I do thank you once again for this article. I value your thoughts and have been richly blessed of the Lord through SGM. Again, you have given me an opportunity to examine and re-examine several areas and I am grateful for that. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Haha yeah this doesn’t have an agenda (ahem read the last section). Proof texting your way through an opinion doesn’t make it textually or historically consistent…
Justin, my agenda here in writing this is to help people think through and respond to this issue consistently. Using older songs is one response to think about, but I’d never recommend it as the only way. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for me to lead a ministry that produces new songs for the church!
You offered some interesting insights on the topic and it comes at a good time because I have been thinking through this to some extent myself.
That said, the problem I currently have with singing songs written by heretics is that it almost makes their heresy out to be less important than it is. It’s like trying to look at all the good that Arius or Sabellius did and sort of look over the bad they did and the damage they brought against the church. Is that the approach we want our pastors to take? What would we think if our pastors started quoting the biblically correct insights of Arius, Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell in their sermons? I hope we would find that extremely disturbing and ludacris. Heretics need to be kept out of the church as much as possible in order to maintain purity. The only reason for bringing a heretics teaching into a sermon is to expose it as false and warn the flock against it, and even that has to be done soberly and in limited manner. To suggest that singing songs written by heretics is somehow pleasing to God seems to me to be as insane as someone using heretics to support their sermons.
The church already suffers from a severe lack of discernment and conviction over doctrine. Allowing theologically correct songs written by heretics just reinforces the idea that heresy really is no big deal anymore and we can all just get along now. There are plenty of great songs to chose from that we should be more than willing to get over any emotional appeal a heretics song may have, so why even risk it? It’s an unnecessary exposure, or potential exposure, to someone who hates Christ and it is all too often easily seen as an endorsement or approval of the artist. Especially to those who actually look to their leaders on how to live the Christian life and interpret what’s around them through the Christian worldview.
Additionally, we have the problem of people going out to buy songs from these people in iTunes which just becomes a way to directly support them financially in their heretical ministry.
I know this seems like a pretty hard stance, and maybe it is, it just tears me up to think of churches being deceived and music is all too often the gateway Satan uses to get in.
Grace and peace,
Anthony, thanks for commenting. I appreciate your concerns, but think that we can overreact in this area. Hence, my post. It’s important that we be aware of the potential dangers of music, but also not overreact. Faithful, expository preaching of God’s Word is crucial. Thanks!
Could you describe how you arrived at the conclusion that avoiding all music written by heretics is an overreaction? Also, what benefits do songs written by heretics offer that a song written by a true Christian cannot already offer without any of the dangers?
Would you consider it an overreaction if the church leadership confronted their pastor about using material, even theologically correct material, from heretics in sermons? Or would you consider that to be a biblically justified action in keeping with Acts 20:28, Titus 1 & 2, etc.?
Think of it this way: a song written by a heretic would make up 20-25% of the singing of the church if you take it that one heretics song is sung out of every 4 or 5 during the service. By way of comparison, can you imagine the pastor spending 12-15 minutes of a 60 minute sermon, delivering material from a heretic??!!! The church needs to be consistent in its approach to the worship service in all areas.
Just as a shepherd wouldn’t allow wolves to hang around the flock, we shouldn’t allow heretics to hang around the church, either in body or thought. Eventually someone will get eaten.
To clarify, I am not speaking against using songs by genuine Christians whom we may not doctrinally agree with on secondary or tertiary issues.
Grace and peace,
Anthony, I think we’re pretty much in agreement. The “area we overreact in” is calling people we disagree with “heretics.” There are groups, ministries, and individuals I have concerns for methodologically and theologically that I wouldn’t necessarily label “heretics.” But as some of the songs sung in the church today were written by Unitarians, I think the issue becomes more one of distraction and edification than doctrine.
Bob, thanks for the clarification. Please accept my apologies for any misunderstanding on my part.
Certainly, Anthony! We’re all in this together, seeking to proclaim God’s eternal, unchanging, sufficient Word and bring glory to our great Savior!
William Cowper’s attempted suicides were BEFORE he got saved. He was forgiven, just as Paul was forgiven for helping at the stoning of Stephen. Yes, Cowper’s depression and insanity continued throughout his life, but he did not attempt to kill himself while he was writing those hymns.
Pam, thanks for commenting. Cowper attempted suicide at different times in his life, some after his conversion (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/insanity-and-spiritual-songs-in-the-soul-of-a-saint). But nevertheless, that doesn’t change how God used his struggles with depression to give the church some very encouraging songs. Thanks!
I pretty much agree with most of the takes but you have to ask yourself, (the leader) where YOUR own heart is at when YOU’RE selecting the set. The accountibility stands between God the One you’re leading others to come and worship and the person leading. The Bible teaches us that He is like a purifying fire, so that nothing stands in the way between Him and the worshipper.
Sometimes we analyze way too much.
On the other hand, since God is a discerner of the heart, it is He alone who can bless the hungry in soul, using whatever communication He desires. How many times has God used an unsaved person to drive home a characteristic in you that He finds unpleasing?
“Judge not lest ye be judged”.
Marty, thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in my post, there are times when God calls us to exercise right judgment, although that clearly doesn’t mean we know what’s in everyone’s heart.
Bob, I read this with a great deal of interest. While I am a fundamental cessationist, I do take issue with the first responders ( E ) post- with that logic, we would not read the Psalms due to the author being an adulterer and murder.
Great post, Bob. Thanks for taking the time to offer some wise, biblical words on a sensitive issue!
Good stuff here. One thought I might add is to consider the clarity of the content. It’s not bad to have some songs where the lyrics are unclear. The Psalms are not generally exhaustive in their theological content so we shouldn’t expect every song we write to be so. Many perfectly good artists put out songs that are not clear because they know they are writing to a larger audience. You just have to contextualize those songs so that your intention with the use of the song is clear.
I do have a problem programing a song with unclear lyrics from an artist where they have made their own view on the song clear and is also clearly in error. For example, I heard a song recently that I thought might be good to sing at a Christian service on the National Day of Prayer only to learn that it’s a Mormon song. I didn’t sing that one. Probably no one would have checked and discovered its origin, but I would know. Redeemable song? Perhaps. But there are other perfectly good songs that I don’t have to defile my conscience over that can be used instead.
I agree with your decision on the Mormon song, Jim. I still strive to lead lyrics that are clear, but also lyrics that upon further meditation yield deeper insights into God’s word and the gospel.
Thanks Bob for the article. I’m a 30+ year musical contributor to Christian worship and I have been pondering these issues as of late. I read your previous article from years ago and now this one. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and input. Concerning using a song that has good lyrical content one of the questions that I ask myself is what if someone brought me a song from a Jehovah’s witness cult, but the words were great, could I use that song understanding that no one will know where it comes from? (I’m not saying you would use that song). Regardless of how great the lyrics were I could not use that song because it would be written about a different God. Same applies for a Mormon song. I think from your article the answer would be no you would not use it.
Al, as you can see from my response to Jim, I wouldn’t use a song whose origins are in a group that deny the deity of Christ. And thanks for faithfully serving the church for so many years!
Bob I appreciate your answer, thank you for your many kindnesses and also the great music you’ve produced over the years. If I may as a follow up, I also feel that Phillips, Craig and Dean music (oneness pentacoastal) and Catholic artist would be included (Catholic denying faith alone in Christ). Would this also be unacceptable in your opinion? (Just getting your opinion on questions I encounter)
Al, thanks for your encouraging words. Most of the songs I’ve heard from PCD were written by others, so I’d have no problem using those songs. But if they were written by the guys in PCD and were biblically faithful, I might consider a song’s use. But it would have to be crystal clear. Same issue in the second case you mention. I think the issue would still be edification and the church context. If I thought doing the song would in any way be distracting to a good portion of the congregation (or to me!), I wouldn’t use it.
I think one thing to remember is that one of the greatest worship leaders of all time was a murderer and adulterer. King David’s sins would have made his work be shunned in today’s age but his psalms are obviously biblical. Not to say we shouldn’t have the highest bar in song choice but I think our culture tends to expect worship leaders/songwriters to lead perfect lives when that is impossible.
If we (seventh-day Adventists) were to take all the hymns that were written by composers who were part of a denomination that teaches what we consider a distortion of the gospel the way WE understand it, our hymnal would be nearly empty. The criteria has been to choose those that did not contradict our teachings. If they did, we left them out OR we left out a specific verse that seemed to teach differently than we teach.
FWIW, we are not the only denomination that adheres to that policy/practice.
..and then there’s David, the original psalmist, who was a pretty disreputable character by all accounts…….
Sorry for the repetition, I should have read more closely.
Thank you so much for your article.
I highly respect your view, and agree with quite a lot of it, though I do slightly disagree with the view of being able to play from questionable sources. For me it comes down to, “is this a secondary issue?” or “is this a central gospel issue?” and “is this song publicly associated with the artist?”.
My only concern regarding singing songs from questionable sources is in regards to whether or not the artist believes in the biblical gospel and the song is still associated with the artist – meaning you can play the song and quite a few within your congregation can point out the artist.
The song “It is Well With My Soul” is song that has withstood the tests of time, though was written by a man, in which we can question his belief system, no longer teaches his questionable doctrines to lead people astray; also most people could not even name the author of this song unless they were to go online and actually research the man and his teachings.
I find songs from people/groups, who preach a different gospel – such as the dominion theology- and are still associated with their songs, are songs that we can listen to as it ministers to us personally, but I feel that we should not utilize them in our congregational worship (as you have mentioned there can be more songs out there that are lyrically stronger – I have over 400 songs on my iPod with more on my youtube account that I can use in place of. People just have to be willing to take the time and search).
That being said, my reasons are in relations to 1 Corinthians 8 and 1 Corinthians 10 with regards to eating meat, in this case songs, sacrificed to idols. We know that there are no such things as idols or other Jesus’ so that a false gospel really isn’t a gospel at all; yet we must be careful so not to be a stumbling block to those who are young or without much knowledge.
I have seen many in churches attend conferences and concerts where this dominion theology is practiced and taught, and all because they hear the songs being played in their churches they end up feeling that attending such events or churches are safe. This seems particularly common amongst youth coming out of youth ministries and seeking out churches of their own.
I believe this could be a reason why I have never heard Jehovah witness songs played within the churches, even though lyrically they can be very strong and quite biblical. Churches have a clear understanding of the Gospel in which Jehovah Witness’ teach and prefer to keep such qualities out of the church congregation to prevent those new/weak in faith from stumbling.
I feel songs that have not withstood the tests of time, AND are associated with the other gospel group still preaching their gospel in today’s society should be treated though we are disciplining a church member. If their false teaching/sin is publicly known (meaning you can clearly go to their recent sermons or books and point out where the gospel is false – NOT a secondary issue) and they refuse to repent from that sin/gospel then we are to treat them as gentiles and tax collectors (Matt 18).
As gentiles and tax collectors, we view them as non-christian; in which case, churches normally do not play secular songs as a means of worship to God. Now it’s not the end of the world if Churches choose to play songs we are not entirely in agreement with. (Take for example my church is currently going through a reformation to be more Christ-centered. There I have heard secular and Mormon songs played: My family is very sensitive to music and artists. As our church is slowly changing, we must be patient through this process and gracious to those around us who are not aware of some of the unbiblical practices that have been occurring.)
Now, this is not to say if the song has been adopted and/or recreated from a very biblical artist, in which case the song, when heard, is associated with the biblical artist and the original artist’s connection is lost.
Take for example: “All Creatures of Our God and King” was written by the Catholic Priest Francis of Assisi; yet this song has withstood the tests of time, redone many times, and Sovereign Grace has adopted and taken this song biblically; thus majority of people who hear this song associate it with Sovereign Grace – or a hymnal book- and not the Catholic Priest. This same situation has occurred with Silent Night, written by the Priest Joseph Mohr, “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent,” “Be thou my vision,” and this list can go on and on.
I also think that we must recognize that these views are secondary in relation to the gospel. Grace must be given, even when we are in disagreement with our worship leader’s choice of music. I also feel that worship leaders need to be open to listening to their congregation. Sometimes a song that can be seen as very biblical to us could in fact cause others to stumble.
I think if a member of a congregation was in disagreement with a song, that worship leaders should take into consideration of the person’s pleas and reasons – sometimes taking the time to sit with people and speak with them on regards to the issues can help both congregation and worship leaders. There are people who are still learning and growing in grace and mercy, and sometimes it can require the worship leader to help minister to people who may have very strong convictions when it comes to music in worship.
Good thoughts on choosing worship songs. I like your 3rd thought on picking only one or two songs from a certain ministry. I think people worry too often that because they choose a song that a different church chose last week somehow means they agree with that church’s entire theology. Obviously that isn’t the case.
Thank you, Bob! This was honestly very helpful and something I wrestle with often. Thanks!
Thank you, Bob! Yes, Truth is Truth, weather it comes from a questionable source or not. And I am thankful for that cause I’m the most questionable source I know!!! Your thoughts help me think through these issues more and I’m sharper for it.
I have cut songs here and there due to the source (i.e., female writer called a pastor at her church). Good songs, solid biblically. Wouldn’t have an issue playing them in my personal worship to the Lord. But just want to be wise and avoid what might trip some people up. Plus, if I can pull a song from a known good source that shares the same themes I’ll play the good source song instead. There are songs becoming more and more available from biblically centered, Gospel magnifying sources, that I usually can find a replacement. (Granted, I probably do not have the repertoire with the breath and depth as you, Bob!…working on it, working on it!)
Point # 2 – So encouraging and something to aim for! YES and AMEN!!! Let us not just sing about what we are not but about what we are!! IN CHRIST and OF CHRIST, right!?! I have fallen into this trap before and I find myself saying “yeah, nothing wrong with this song.” But what I should be asking myself is, does this song help expand the knowledge of the Holy One and His plan of redemption to the congregation? Does this song just repeat very often sung phrases and/or ideas, or does it express a part of God’s character or redemption plan in a way that is deeper or at an angle the congregation or I are not use to looking at? I’m grateful to Dr. Mohler’s comments and will have to listen to that session.
Any new thoughts on this topic? Just curious…
Here’s another article I found helpful by Russell Moore:
Thanks for asking, Corey. Not anything new. Things change as movements become more mainstream, as co-writing happens. Again, I’d boil it down to what’s edifying for a congregation. If singing a song would be a distraction to a good number of people, I wouldn’t do it. But over time, those associations might change or become less of an issue.
Bob, does anything change in your assessment of what songs to use/not use when you consider funding the artist? My understanding of CCLI is that if we use an artist’s song even once in a year they get some money from CCLI (which we contribute member dues to). If we don’t use their songs at all, they get nothing based on us. It is not how many songs we sing of their’s just that we do or don’t sing their songs? If this is a correct understanding of how the CCLI Licensing works – this means we are ‘supporting’ and ‘helping’ them or their ministry if we sing their songs at all. If that is true, this changes the issue for me, as I don’t think we should be doing anything that funds them if their theology is unbiblical or their lifestyle is one of unrepentant sin.
thoughts on how you handle the issue of funding via use of songs?
thank you Bob, all of this has been a very helpful discussion in the past and re-reading it again recently still helps me.
Tom, thanks for your encouragement and the question/comment. I still land in the same place, even with the CCLI piece in play. If someone is walking in unrepentant public sin, I wouldn’t do a song because it would be a distraction, and therefore no longer edifying. But if it’s a matter of questionable or imbalanced teaching, I might do a song. It’s a negligible amount I’m “contributing” and I would look at it as a way of saying, “Thank you for writing this song which is serving our congregation well.” But I’d see it as a faith/wisdom/conscience issue, and respect someone who might come to a different conclusion.
Hello…I’m a worship pastor at a local church in Bessemer Alabama and we have begun to have discussions about this. My question is if the song passes the theological sniff test and we would affirm it to be edifying to the church is it still wrong to sing it because we are helping further the ministry of an organization that is questionable through royalties that we pay? I can isolate a song from a certain ministry and would have a clear conscience about singing it because it is theologically fine, but my hang up is when I report it to CCLI I am putting money in the pockets of that ministry as a whole that is questionable. I really don’t know how to navigate through this. Any help thinking through this would be greatly appreciated.
Powers, thanks for the question. The amount a church is contributing to any particular ministry when they do a song is negligible. It’s obviously a conscious issue, but we’re talking pennies here. I personally don’t see that as a major issue. Thanks for asking!