Have you ever felt that you could not, in good conscience, sing a specific worship song?
I first encountered such convictions in high school. I remember hearing a speaker say that he would not listen to music from a certain band because of theological disagreements. I came across similar convictions when I went to college and began to hear different versions of “How He Loves” (“sloppy wet,” “unforseen,” or “passionate”?). More recently, questions have been raised over the popular anthems “What A Beautiful Name” and “Reckless Love.”
You may see no issue with any of these songs, offering them up freely in praise to God. You may be drawn to the music and feel strongly about the majority of the expression, making slight changes to keep the song and maintain your doctrinal convictions. You may feel that you cannot sing such songs in good faith, avoiding them altogether. Regardless of your response to these songs and others like them, we all share a commonality: convictions.
Convictions are good things, and we dare not downplay their importance in our individual walks and corporate gatherings. But we must also be mindful that the people of God differ in convictions and still worship together. We need not abandon our convictions for the sake of this unity, but neither should we force others to abide by our personal convictions. How does this look practically? How do we decide which songs to sing and which songs to avoid? Here are four considerations that I think may help guide our decisions. These are meant as considerations for individuals and leaders, but I pray that the body is served by such individual consideration.
First, consider the object of worship.
When we sing together in corporate worship services, we exult the God of creation, the Lord of time and of eternity. God sits enthroned high above the world of men, existing independent of any force or source. He rules over all, holy and sovereign. As the psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). The proper response to our Lord is fear, not flippancy. Does our worship lead us to properly recognize and respond to this God?
Second, consider your heart.
James warns against approaching God with wrong intentions. He argues that the double-minded man who seeks wisdom ought not expect anything from God (James 1:5-8) and that the self-seeking man should not be surprised when God does not grant his requests (James 5:3). I believe the same principles may be applied to worship. God calls for us to worship him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Does your worship spring from a heart wholly devoted to the Lord?
Third, consider your words.
The author of Ecclesiastes exhorts his readers to guard their lips when they come before God and to avoid making hasty vows to him (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). The fear of the Lord should lead us to be quite careful about the promises we make to the maker. Similarly, Jesus teaches that wordiness in prayer can be a sign of a misunderstanding concerning how we approach the Lord (Matthew 6:7-8). Remember that when you sing a song, your lyrics are prayers and promises to God or statements about God. Do you mean all the words you sing to God?
Fourth, consider the body.
Paul, toward the end of his letter to the Romans, calls for believers to look to the needs of others. He wants Christians to be sensitive to the convictions of others, protecting those who are weaker from stumbling in their pursuits of God (Romans 14). And, as someone has said, we are all strong and weak in some areas. If you have a hand in planning the music for your local body, does your worship encourage and protect the family of God?
These four considerations are simply starting points. An exhaustive treatment of worship is beyond the scope of this blog. But I pray that these thoughts help us to begin to think through our approach to worship and that, through prayer and consideration, we may grow in purity of worship and in strength of unity. Ultimately, all worship (not just through song) is meant to both align us individually with the Lord and to unite us corporately before the Lord. And that unity will be an example to a world that desires the love and community that only the Lord can provide. Our convictions shouldn’t divide us but should serve as opportunities to show the unifying power of Christ. As always, may God be glorified in us.
This title is a nod to C.S. Lewis’s chapter “A Word About Praising” in his Reflections on the Psalms.