Theology & Doxology: Why Words Matter

There is a very popular song that is heard on Christian radio stations and is sung in many churches that declares God’s love is reckless. I’m sure you know which one I speak of immediately and probably have sung it. Well, I’m on a quest to pop your worship music bubble!

I’m kidding.

Kind of.

Musical worship (doxology) has been a huge part of my Christian life for as long as I can remember. The bible hasn’t always held the same influence as it does for me today and I would run to my radio or CD case to pop in some good worship tunes. The best kind were the ones full of emotion, the perfect bridge and an exceptional melody that either pared well with my voice or I could rock out some sweet harmonies. The more modern the better. The more room for some spontaneous wersh, the better.

When I was given the opportunity lead worship in my church, the need to replicate what I heard on the radio and my CD’s was very important. I wanted the same crescendos, bass lick, electric guitar melody and… oh! … Throw in some strings while we are at it! For the most part, my vision didn’t quite equal reality when the actual worship service began but, that was okay. While what I was desiring for the worship service wasn’t right, I knew deep down that God would move via the Holy Spirit. My prayer would often include words like, “may I be transparent and people see you Lord!” Because I knew in my sinful nature, what I was wanting put me in the spotlight.

Leading worship was a dangerous ministry for me to be part of. Why? Because I have always been someone who loves to be the center of attention. Being part of the worship ministry brought on so many stumbling blocks like comparison, attention, and competition. The other complicated component of being part of this ministry was the song selection. My song choices were melody-driven more than they were lyric-driven. I could justify the lyrics because I knew they were written by other sinners. So, it was okay if sometimes the lyrics didn’t quite fit theologically. Besides, if I were to concentrate on that too much, in my mind it would make me no better than the Pharisees.

“Don’t be legalistic Melissa. God knows our hearts!”

You know what? Lyrics do matter. It is not being legalistic when you are acknowledging God’s discerning words in scripture.

First, I want to address the comparison of someone who is so focused on Biblically-sound lyrics to that of the Pharisees. Yes, the Pharisees were way too law-driven. It was clear they didn’t understand what the consequences were with Jesus coming to earth. They were still focused on the path of seeking forgiveness for their sins that they were missing the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah that was prophesied about. The Pharisees enjoyed control and the prestige that came with their title so when Jesus came along to teach why He was there and how that effects the path of salvation, they didn’t like it. There is so much more to this topic but I have to address this because it has come up multiple times as I have shared how important lyrics are to our worship.

Second, I need to address the topic of legalistic thinking. Listen, wanting to ensure the words I’m singing during worship align with the Word of God is not being legalistic. The word legalistic means of, relating to, or exhibiting strict adherence to the law. (Collins English Dictionary, 2012 digital edition.) In this case, I would use this word with someone saying you can only worship in church with an organ and not a guitar or full band. The type of instrument does not change the words we are singing to our Lord.

So, let’s revisit the song I referred to at the beginning of this post. While most of the words are theologically sound and do have a Biblical foundation, this word ‘reckless’ is completely wrong in describing God. I appreciate what the song writer shares when explaining the word choice but, at the end of the day, we should be able to look to scripture to find if this word is, indeed, somewhere in there. It’s not! Now, some may say we shouldn’t hold to the literal and strict definition of the word reckless. My response is this: why even make it an option for people? Why not, from the start, use a word that is truth and leaves no room for interpretation? My pastor has shared that he would use the word ‘sovereign’ in replace of reckless and I happen to agree. What a beautiful word that leaves no room for extra interpretation. Scripture is saturated with the sovereign nature of our Lord!

How about another song that begins so well. I was in with this song until a line that insinuates that God didn’t want heaven without us. While I love the rest of the lyrics, this line has never rested well with me. I appreciate what The Berean Test says about this phrase and goes in deeper with this song. For the sake of not plagiarizing and following copyright laws, I will link you to the article here: The Berean Test

If you read the full post, you will see that the writer does give the artist the benefit of the doubt but acknowledges the twist on words isn’t quite correct. While it’s nice to think that God didn’t want to be without us, His sovereign love is known in ways that still should bring HIM all the glory. He doesn’t need us. He does love us. So, is this getting too nitpicky about words again? I’ll let you decide but, for me, this is a line I can skip.

I could share more examples of worship songs but, I think you get the idea.

So, this conclusion will probably be the place where you are waiting for the catch for me to launch into a full on legalistic, critical approach to these songs. I promise you this is not where I am going. The great thing is these songs are not a means to salvation. However, it would behoove us to really listen to the words we are singing and digging into the word of God before you fully latch on to that beautiful melody and the emotionally-driven lyrics.

Scripture is pretty clear about being alert to incorrect teaching and that teaching can come through a song. A quick search on the internet for “false teaching” will lend you many verses about being aware of false prophets, teachers and apostles. And perhaps one of the best verses that has been relevant since the day it was written:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

Be on the alert Christian sister. This isn’t just teaching that will come from the pulpit, book or blog. It will come in the form of our worship music as well. My encouragement to you is to prayerfully consider what you are singing. Really listen to the words and the theology. If it doesn’t align with scripture, then it is okay to pass it by no matter how awesome that bridge is. Scripture should shape and influence the doxology we are singing – not the other way around.

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