“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” –John 4:24
The Westminster Shorter Catechism written in 1646 and 1647 by Scottish theologians begins with this question: what is the chief end of man? The answer, simply stated, is that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. As followers of the one true God, it is imperative for us to be mindful of the fact that worship is not exclusive to a weekly gathering of the saints in the local church. Likewise, true worship is not limited only to the songs that we sing, the prayers that we pray, or the time we spend studying the written word of God. Worship is a continual act of the heart in our everyday lives, whether we are directing that worship to our creator or not. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” John MacArthur says this regarding worship:
“The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the deeper your understanding of God himself, the higher your worship goes. Worship is directly correlated with understanding. The richer your theology, the more full your grasp of biblical truth, the more elevated your worship becomes. Low understanding of God – superficial, shallow, understanding of God – leads to superficial and shallow worship.”
We have come to a point in American evangelicalism where we have allowed cultural relevance and popularity to dictate what we are bringing before God in worship. You may write me off right here and say that our church doesn’t do this, that we are committed to the faithful proclamation of the unadulterated word of God, and that may be so. If that is the case, I am thankful for the commitment you have to scripture and to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in this area. However, this issue is much more wide-spread in the evangelical movement than most would like to believe. When a false teacher, a corrupted gospel, or a church regularly dealing in heretical practices and doctrine is acknowledged as dangerous by men who identify themselves as conservative leaders, yet these same leaders are still willing to financially support them and lend legitimacy to their teachings by bringing their music into our churches, we have a serious disconnect in our thinking.
Turn on Air1 or K-Love and you will hear artists that may sound passable on the surface, but when you do 10 minutes of research online about what churches (and I use that term lightly) the artists are coming out of, what the theology is behind the music, and who they are associating with, there is often a need for concern and a deeper, more discerning look into who they really are. Some of the major players currently in Contemporary Christian Music are Bethel Music or Jesus Culture coming out of Bill Johnson’s hyper charismatic church (New Apostolic Reformation), Hillsong originating out of Brian Houston’s church in Australia (Word of Faith Movement), Matt Maher (Roman Catholic), Kari Jobe (New Apostolic Reformation), and Elevation Music out of Steven Furtick’s church (New Apostolic Reformation) to name a few. These groups are wildly popular in our culture today and are especially prevalent among our youth.
When we are evaluating an issue like this, we have to recognize that just because people are associating themselves with and producing music or teaching under the umbrella of Christianity, it does not necessarily mean that they are Christian. As a Marine, I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. We dealt with the daily threat of death and potential harm. It took a great deal of awareness for each member of our platoon to keep watch so as not to be caught off guard when certain individuals were out looking to harm us. Over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, a trend has emerged among insurgents where they will now infiltrate and act as members of the national army or police force so that they are able to get close to American troops without raising alarm. This practice has resulted in significant American and Coalition Force deaths over the years. This is a modern day Trojan Horse designed to lull troops into a false sense of security so they will let their guard down among people who, by all appearances, look like friendly forces. This is essentially the same tactic that many, especially those in the New Apostolic Reformation, are using. You would be mistaken to believe that many of these groups are playing and producing music out of their sincere desire to bring accurate worship before our God in spirit and truth. Much of what is out there in Christian Contemporary Music is a hook used to draw people back into the theology of the church or individual behind the music. I cannot stress this enough. There needs to be discernment and concern over anything that we are bringing before our creator and into Christ’s Church. We must be faithful and committed to the purity of scripture in this matter. Worship is not about how you feel, or what you enjoy, it is about bringing accurate and biblically centered praise and adoration to the one true and holy God.
Jacques Lucas writing an article addressing the same issue says this:
“The truth of the matter is that most CCM really isn’t Christian at all — not even close! How do I know that? By listening to the lyrics. More often than not CCM is unbiblical, even blasphemous! But many Christians don’t have the spiritual discernment to pick up on it. Sadly, some people who profess Christ really don’t care about the words that go from their lips to God’s ears. Why? Mainly because worship is all about me, not about God, so little or no attention is paid to the words we sing to Him. But words matter, and what we say to God should matter a lot. Instead, Christians are focusing on themselves — their feelings and experiences…have I hit a nerve?”
“Furthermore, the music has taken a grip on people my age. Most of the teenagers who claim to be Christian would prefer to sing a Hillsong song over hearing a theologically solid sermon. It has went from a Local Church to a full denomination with 15 churches just in the city of Sydney alone. The denomination has 100,000 weekly attenders. Many celebrities are a part of this denomination. It can almost exclusively be attributed to their music program. Bethel Church in Redding, CA is another megachurch that has benefited from this. It is the Home Church of the band Jesus Culture, and the spearhead of what is called the New Apostolic Reformation, which is a cultic movement. They have promoted Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Kris Vallotton, and T.D. Jakes.”
These groups, along with the music and theology they produce, are not only an affront to a holy God, but are also dangerous to introduce to our congregations through the use of their songs. Furthermore, every time we use one of their songs in our churches we are supporting them financially through our CCLI licensing agreements. Many conservative church leaders would reject the teachings of these organizations and individuals on paper as well as the false teachers with whom these groups associate with. They do not, however, take any issue with playing their music in our churches (which is actually Christ’s Church), and that in turn provides financially for these groups and helps enable them in the spread of their false theology which they proclaim as truth. We need to be extremely cautious and measure everything we hear against the inspired Word of God. We see in Acts 17 that the Bereans were more noble than any other because they listened to the apostle Paul preach to them and then went back and evaluated what he had told them with what scripture teaches. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. – Acts 17:11. I’m afraid that we have lost this desire in much of the professing Church today and we are all too eager to follow and participate in what is currently trending in our culture, over what brings honor and glory to God.
In closing, Matt Boswell in his book Doxology and Theology writes this thought-provoking quote:
“If we are not utilizing scripture in our worship sets then we are leading people into idolatry. If the Word is how we put God on display, which leads to worship and joy and mission, then we must be filling our worship gatherings with the Bible. We must preach it. We must sing it. Our songs must be filled with scripture. Our benedictions and blessings must be filled with it. And the good news is: the Word of God does not return void! It is always powerful to reveal God’s glory and change hearts.”