I’ve been told that I nit-pick the lyrics of songs too much. I will be listening to a Christian song, and I will point out theological errors and even heresies that seem to be pervasive in contemporary Christian music. Regulative Principle of Worship aside, singing these songs in a corporate worship setting is impossible for me, because when a song is theologically inaccurate or outright heretical, I am presenting to God music that doesn’t glorify Him. Is this just me nit-picking, or is it discernment?
Here are a couple examples that have perplexed me and that I have been told to “chill out” about:
Matt Maher: “Lord, I Need You”
A Roman Catholic CCM artist Matt Maher wrote, “My one defense, my righteousness.” Understanding Roman Catholic doctrine, where a person cannot be declared righteous unless one truly is righteous, I take this to mean what I would assume a writer of Catholic persuasion to mean it. Could Maher mean that Jesus is His righteousness via imputed righteousness? Perhaps – but then he would likely have to stand before his church and be forced to recant as this stands in direct conflict with RCC doctrine. I have also heard that Maher didn’t actually write this song alone, and that “proper” evangelicals wrote it with him, so I’m misinterpreting it. That’s possible, but to that I respond, “why would Maher sing about imputed righteousness?” Why hasn’t he been excommunicated by Rome for singing about ideas that were declared anathema by it?
Bryan and Katie Towalt: “When You Walk Into the Room”
There is a church out there called Bethel church. They are of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) persuasion. Not only are they part of the Word of Faith heresy, but they actually believe they are apostles of Jesus Christ – I hope their argument is better than Paul’s when he defends his apostolic ministry – and speak with the same authority as the apostles. Anyway, they have a “movement” called “Jesus Culture.” This “movement” is pretty much just a band. It is your standard CCM Word of Faith-inspired band that plays “7/11 music” – the same 7 lines 11 times each. Their “worship” is simply there to elicit an emotional response and to get the Holy Spirit “moving” so that people start doing demonic things like barking, shaking, quaking, falling over, and speaking in gibberish.
Jesus Culture has this couple – Bryan and Katie Towalt who sing a song “When You Walk Into the Room.” The hook that is repeated over and over goes:
Come and consume, God, all we are. We give you permission, our hearts our yours. We want you. We want you.
This “we give you permission” thing stands out to me, mostly because I am a Calvinist, and that kind of idea makes me bristle at first blush. It could be an “artsy” way to “ask God into your heart” like Arminian doctrine teaches, or it could be “the Holy Spirit is a gentleman” theology that teaches that He won’t “violate us” by entering us without our permission. If I were in an Arminian church, I’d probably just skip that line and continue singing. I disagree with both of those views, but I wouldn’t make a fuss over it if it were sung in an Arminian church, or a charismatic church that is otherwise orthodox in theology. Singing this in a church that professes any of the Reformed Confessions is concerning, though.
The problem here is that I understand the Word of Faith (WoF) movement and the heretical doctrines that underly it. For example, many WoF teachers teach that at the fall, God lost his legal right to work on the earth. The devil got legal rights and dominion on the earth. Others teach that only people with physical bodies have the legal right to work on earth. In both cases, the only way that God can do anything on the earth is if people give Him permission to work through them. Unless man gives Him permission to work, God has His “hands tied.” See the following 2 minute clip:
Anyway, with this understanding of the teaching, I truly believe that this song is teaching that heresy, and I will point it out. We’re not just talking about “artistic lyrics” – we are talking about straight up denying God’s sovereignty over creation and our hearts.
Let me demonstrate the other side of this. Let me show you what nit-picking looks like:
Samuel J. Stone: “The Church’s One Foundation”
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, She is His new creation by water and the Word.
Wrong. The church’s foundation is the teaching of the prophets and the Apostles. Jesus is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-21). This is heresy. We should rip this beloved hymn from our hymnals because of this doctrinal error.
The difference here, is that I know that Samuel J. Stone, the author of the lyrics, was a priest of the Church of England – Anglican before the Anglican church became apostate. He was Protestant. He was likely a Calvinist. While I’m not a fan of the Episcopal polity as it has no biblical support, I know Stone’s theology, so I will overlook this minor “mistake” in the lyric and trust that he indeed knew the difference between the cornerstone and the foundation and he was just being lyrically creative.
A Call to Discern
What you call “nit-picking,” I call discernment. Before we offer up to God a song of praise, even if it is an old Calvinist-written hymn like Rock of Ages, we are to take the time to use discernment to know that God is being rightly presented in the lyrics. We have to use discernment to know that the lyrics stand in alignment with the Gospel. Stop singing songs because they sound good, and pay attention to the lyrics. Look into who wrote them. Understand the theological backing of the song. It is our duty as Christians to do this.
I often hear, “Then when you sing it, think of it this way, or that way.” Am I free to interpret the song in my own way so that it fits within my theological sphere? No – the lyrics mean what the author meant them to mean. We can’t eisegete the songs we use to worship any more than we eisegete the Scriptures. Just like the Bible, we must use the same Historical-Grammatico interpretation. We have to understand the context in which they were written, who wrote them, to whom they were written, and what the author meant when he or she wrote it.