Would you attend a church that advertised this? “Colored folk meet at the 8:00 am service; White folk meet at the 10:00 am service.”

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Let’s try a few more, shall we?

“Males meet at 8 am and Females meet at 10 am”.

“Vegetarians meet at 8 am and Meat-eaters at 10 am.”

“Those who make less than 50k per year meet at 8 am and those who make more, meet at 10 am.”

“Democrats meet at 8 am; Republicans meet at 10 am.”

I ask again, would you attend a church that publicly advertised and implemented any of the above? Are you sure you would not attend a church that intentionally divided its congregation over any kind of preference? Let’s try one more then:

“Traditional Service at 8:00 am; Contemporary Service at 10:00 am”.

Bear with me if this has already got your temperature to rise a bit and that Harvard Lawyer in your mind is belting out defenses.

Since we know that God wants his people to gather together in unity (Eph. 4:1-6), while allowing diversity over gender (1 Cor. 12:12), food preferences (Rom. 14), economic status (James 2:1-4), political preferences and opinions (Rom. 14:1-2), and ethnicities from around the world (Rev. 5:9-10), God also wants unity in diverse singing and styles of music. Let scripture be our guide and not church-growth platitudes:

Colossians 3:16

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

The Psalms and Revelation

Psalm 90 was written by Moses, 400 years before David wrote Psalm 103. In David’s time, (about year 1,000 B.C), Psalm 90 would be considered a classic hymn by that generations’ standards. But Psalm 103 for example, would be a contemporary song. And clearly by reading the words and the meter of each different psalm, respectively, we would probably expect to hear a difference in how each particular song was played; one more slow and meditative, the other more enthusiastic and faster. Furthermore, Revelation 5:9 says that one day all the people of God will sing a “new song” –  in the Resurrection! I hope that the “traditional/classical” minded of the Church won’t sit out on that. And I hope that the “contemporary/modern” leaning won’t sit out when the Baldwin-Bach-Beethoven pipe organs belt out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (Rev. 19:1-2).

What we see from scripture (not the church-growth gurus), is that when the church gathers to sing, it should sing a variety of songs that have a different sound, style, and genre (by God’s grace at our church, we use a few organ settings, piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, flute, violin, banjo, bongo and conga drums, and percussion box; we use the best of the classics and the best of modern songs with every kind of sound possible, at least to our meager musical abilities, and never, never, never split up our congregation over music preferences). Even if we don’t exactly agree on what a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song sounds like, we must agree with the scriptures that there is to be a variety of different songs and sounds in worship. The “one another” of the scriptures means that older people who might prefer the classics need to learn to appreciate/sing with the younger generation; likewise, the younger, more contemporary leaning in the church need to learn to appreciate/sing with the older generation.

This also means that a church should not get trapped in a southern-gospel sound where every song feels like a high-school football pep rally on a Friday afternoon in the gymnasium. Or, where every song feels and sounds like you’re attending a black-and-white tie and gown to hear the best orchestra in the state. Or, where every song feels like you’re attending a quiet meditation where minor keys and thoughtful eyes gaze at the floor. Worship should incorporate all of this!

What is at stake?

When pastors and worship leaders pander to preferences over music instead of teaching and obeying scripture, people will have another reason to come into worship and expect their preferences to be met, or else the Leadership will hear the threat, “I’ll leave.” (BTW, the sinful heart is inherently segregated against others who are different.) As a preaching and worship pastor and musician in corporate worship for nearly a total of 40 years, I’ve had the “or else” thrown at me many times. But if we really care about people and about honoring our Lord Jesus Christ, then we’ll not succumb to the idolatry of , “give me my brand of worship or I’ll go somewhere else.”

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Here is a helpful guideline for what the worship of the Risen Savior Jesus Christ should sound like on Sunday Morning, according to the above scriptures:

God’s Word teaches:

  1. The lyrics are to reflect what scripture teaches.
  2. There should be variety of style and sound in the songs.
  3. The songs are to be sung to God who sent his son Jesus Christ.
  4. The songs are to be sung to other believers in Christ.
  5. The songs are for all people groups in Christ throughout the ages.
  6. All the songs are for all lovers of Jesus Christ, not just for a particular sub-group within the church.

And therefore,

The Church is not to be segregated in its worship over ethnicity, gender differences, cultural differences, vocation/economic differences, food preferences, or music preferences. When a local congregation is divided and meets at different times over any kind of personal preference, then the gospel to all people groups, in all times, places, and circumstances, is dishonored in the church and implies that Jesus can be restructured to fit ones’ personal taste.

Bottom Line:

You can’t cut and dice Jesus to suit you. Rather, He binds and heals the divisive, segregated, and “my preferred musical experience” minded folk, to join him in multi-sound-surround worship at his Throne. That’s where this is all headed – whether you prefer it or not. I hope you do!

“Alleluia” is better for our worship than “America”

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The Scriptures teach that all corporate singing of the church is to have the “words of Christ,” in them. Also, our songs are to have two audiences only: “one another” (that’s the church) and “God” (see Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; see also the psalms, lamentations, the songs recorded in Exodus 15, David’s songs recorded in Samuel, and John’s songs recorded in Revelation). Meaning, the gathered church is to sing the truth of God’s word to both one another and to our Lord. Our singing is to give a witness of the gospel to those who do not know Christ.

This truth about the corporate singing of the church raises several questions that can keep us on track with what the Scriptures teach. Here are a few questions that help guide us for Sunday morning singing:

  1. Can this song be sung to worship God who sent his son Jesus Christ?
  2. Can this song be sung to worship God by edifying and speaking to the saints as those in Christ?
  3. Can this song be sung in other countries where Christians gather, AND, would edify those saints? Remember, all of scripture teaches that when the saints sing, they sing from the perspective of “out of every, tribe, tongue, people, and nation”, instead of a “tribalism” that focuses on ones national identity with an earthly kingdom. The Local Church is to display the Universal Church  – “sons of Abraham” – so that the song you sing, if translated into another language, that people group could worship Christ, too.
  4. Is this song scriptural – the words, the philosophy, the purpose and aim? or is it sung more out of tradition, sentimentalism, nostalgia?
  5. Does this song cause me to think of either what God has done for me in Christ and/or what I am to do for my Lord and my fellowman (Love)?
  6. Is the gospel expressed in this song either implicitly or explicitly?
  7. Can this song be sung by believers only, truly in heart and conviction, or can this song be sung by unbelievers outside the church?

Now let’s take a look at what is called, Patriotic Songs. A quick overview of these songs provides helpful discernment for why I do not approve of using them in the corporate worship of the saints.

Battle Hymn of the Republic – Julia Ward Howe, 1862. This song is neither sung to saints nor to God in Christ. This song was written during the Civil War as a war-cry for “Our God” who is marching on, to trample the Confederate South into the winepress where ‘the grapes of wrath are stored.” It is impossible for me to rejoice in the fact that over half-million southern men and women and children were brutally killed so that the union could be saved. I’m glad for the union’s solvency under God’s sovereignty but that does not mean it’s something to be worshipful about. Besides, this song has an unbiblical line: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea.” And, it equates saving souls from hell with saving men from southern slavery – “as he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free”.

Therefore, this song does not meet the biblical standard for the church to worship Christ.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee – Samuel Smith, 1832. This song is neither sung to the saints nor to God in Christ; it is sung to America, the political, geographical land. Only on the last verse does it then turn to God, but only to call on God to keep us politically free. The audience of the song is found in “thy name I love.” Meaning, to sing this song is to set one’s affection on the land of America. It exalts political freedom from tyranny as the purpose: “sweet freedom’s song” – “bright with freedom’s holy light” – “protect us by thy might”.

The irony is that in the year that it was written, America, the land of liberty, was murdering 10’s of thousands of “native Americans” under Andrew Jackson’s presidency – (see “Trail of Tears”) and was buying and enslaving 100’s of thousands of blacks. “Sweet Freedom’s Song” evidently was for white people only. In addition, “our father’s God,” that this song writer is appealing to is not the God who sent Jesus Christ, but the god that the French Enlightenment produced, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who denied that Jesus was God in the flesh. They believed in the deist god, an impersonal deity who created men as basically good (which the bible denies, “there is no one who does good” – Rom. 3:10ff).

Therefore, this song does not meet the biblical standard for the church to worship Christ.

The Star-Spangled Banner – Francis Scott Key, 1814. Let’s just keep this in the ball-parks and stadiums. Besides, no one can sing this better than Whitney Houston.

Therefore, this song does not meet the biblical standard for the church to worship Christ.

America, the Beautiful – Katherine Bates, 1893. This song is neither sung to the saints nor to the God of the Bible; the Audience of the song is America. Its main focus is the exaltation of political freedom: “patriot dream” – “heroes proved in liberating strife” – “for freedom beat”. It also stresses the natural goodness of America and to keep this goodness going: “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” This is difficult to express since the bible teaches that no one has intrinsic goodness but God alone. However, I do appreciate “God shed his grace on thee” as acknowledgement of common grace. But when this common grace is praised because of a future utopia that is brought upon this land through political and military might – then I cannot abide that. Read carefully the last verse:

“O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years” (a future American Dream)

“Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears” (a time when no sorrows will ever be found upon our soil again, i.e., utopia by the progression of political freedom NOT the Return of Christ!).

This is typical Dominion Theology or Theonomist language that believes in bringing about World Peace by legislation and military might.

Therefore, this song does not meet the biblical standard for the church to worship Christ.

I love it when the church worships our Risen Lord with rich, scriptural, passion-filled singing. I’ve longed for our church to sing to our Risen Lord and to one another as saints of God with a song that calls the citizens of this country to turn to the Lord, and to put a prayer in our mouths for our country, that upon hearing it, sinners who live in America would feel the weight of their sin and turn to Christ and seek a city whose builder and maker is God. Below are the lyrics of a song that I have been working on for many years. It is sung to the tune “America the Beautiful”. Like many of our songs in our hymnal, the tunes were written as ballads for other lyrics, but song-writers along the way wrote biblical lyrics to these old tunes. Likewise, this is my feeble attempt to use a beautiful ballad but worship Christ with biblical truths. This song is based on Psalm 8 and 19, and sections of Revelation. May Christ get all the glory this coming Lord’s Day.

 Alleluia! Alleluia!                                                                                                                                

O beautiful for spacious skies,  for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!                                                     Alleluia! Alleluia! Your grace has set us free
May all confess, Your Righteousness
From sea to shining sea

What glory you have giv’n to man, to care for all you’ve made                                                 You fashioned him with loving hands, Majestic is your Name                                       Alleluia! Alleluia! The earth pours out your word                                                                     The law your fame, with grace proclaim                                                                                       From sea to shining sea

What plague then spreads upon this land, that fills the air with doom?                         Creation groans, the Serpent roams, we do not love our God!                                           Anathema! Anathema! Your judgment now has come                                                           Your Word transgressed, there is no rest                                                                                     Oh God, what have we done?

My guilt and shame, I can’t repair, no sacrifice I bring                                                             Who is this Lamb, upon a tree, The Son of God has won                                                        And now I know, sweet Love bestowed, You gave your only Son                                         The curse you broke, with one pure stroke                                                                              Sin’s victr’y is undone

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, We pray for this dear land,

Send out your church, stretch forth your arm, Awake the heart of man

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ Jesus is Enthroned

May all confess Your Righteousness

From sea to shining sea