Context Matters–Even in Worship Music.

This has been bugging me:

I go to a pretty typical Southern Baptist megachurch. So on Sunday morning, during the worship music portion of the service, you can typically expect a mix of “updated” hymns, Chris Tomlin songs, and (unfortunately) theologically-sketchy-but-uber-hip new songs by any number of members in the current Christian music rogues’ gallery. (I’m looking at you, Jesus Culture.)

My admittedly-snarky-sounding-but-totally-sincere question is: Do worship pastors and praise teams actually, like, THINK about the songs that are chosen for Sunday worship? 

If corporate singing is the closest Baptist equivalent to creeds or other communal affirmations of belief (and I would argue that it is), then we really need to consider if what we’re singing is a) actually based on Scripture, and b) properly interpreting Scripture.

Case-in-point: “You Said,” by Hillsong United–a favorite tune on “Missions Emphasis” Sundays. The chorus goes like this:

You said, “Ask and I’ll give the nations to you”
Oh, Lord, that’s the cry of my heart
Distant shores and the islands will see
Your light, as it rises on us

Nice enough, right? A song that talks about the glory of God going forth through all the earth, and the people of God being part of the redemptive plan by asking for God to give them the nations. Seems pretty safe, right?

One Sunday morning, as the music swelled through the dimly-lit sanctuary and the praise team belted out these words, I wondered, “Where exactly did God say this?”  So I did a quick search. The only place I can find anything like this in Scripture (please correct me if I’m wrong) is Psalm 2, verse 8: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”  Huh. Well, there you go. God did say that.

But what are the surrounding verses? What’s the context of this verse? And more importantly, who is God speaking to? Let’s look at verses 7-9:

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
 You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

It’s Jesus. God is speaking to Jesus. He tells the Son to ask, and the Father will make the nations His heritage so that He can rule them as King forever.

You can try to justify it with some tortured logic about being “in Christ,” but from where I’m sitting, this looks like a usurpation and misapplication of Messianic prophecy for the purpose of an emotional lift. And that’s just not good enough, worship pastor.

I love singing in church. But if what we’re singing manipulates or intentionally misapplies Scripture, such singing is wrong-headed at best and spiritually dangerous at worst. We must do better than this.

Call me a critic; call me a hater; call me a perpetually angry Calvinist, even. But I refuse to accept that theologically-ignorant or even theologically-dangerous “worship” music is no big deal during the Sunday meeting. We cannot obey Colossians 3:16 if we’re being theologically lazy in our music choices.

What and Whom we sing about matters too much to sell out truth for emotionalism.

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6 thoughts on “Context Matters–Even in Worship Music.

  1. You know: Shane & Shane had that song on one of their albums, and I kindof like it. But now that you mention it, I could never put my finger on exactly what I was singing, other than the fact that it made my heart grow three sizes. Great post bro.

    • Really? Drag. I expect more of Shane and Shane.

      Like I said, if I’ve got this song all wrong, I welcome correction. But I just can’t shake the feeling that the song takes that verse wildly out of context.

  2. I think the writer of Hebrews saw it the same way you do – or more appropriately you see it that way b/c he did. I know the folks who sing that try to appropriate it to missions (at least that was my takeaway) but you’ve got to do some fancy footwork to make the text say that.

  3. Thank you for this post. I have been wondering the same thing for at least the last 15 years. I was employed by a majpr contemporary Christian music radio stations for seven years and was exposed to a wide variety of Christian music. I also acted as a concert promoter for the station and oversaw 52 events with 300,000+ in attendance. All that to say this. I became worried when certain songs entered the worship service arena at church because I was intimately aware of who brought them to “popularity.” Now I know, that God can even get a donkey to speak the truth when the need arises, but a little discernment on the message itself is warranted. Just as discernment should be applied to the Heaven tourism genre of books and what we allow to enter our mind, so too, should we be careful of false instruction entering the church via so called worship music that has no scriptural foundation. Thank you for illuminating the darkness.

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