AnOldSinner is blessed to attend a church which does its best to be a true place of worship, fellowship, and spiritual growth. It teaches from the Bible, ministers to the community as well as its flock, and seems, within the limits of sinful humanity, to fulfill its mission as a house of God. That is why I was more than a bit concerned by the message of a contemporary worship leader one Sunday.
Unlike many larger churches these days, ours has not gone entirely contemporary. It is one of the few in our area with a traditional, traditional service as well as contemporary services. By that I mean our traditional service includes an orchestra and choir leading the congregation in traditional Christian music. In the interest of clarity, the worship led by the choir and orchestra does include more contemporary or upbeat music at times. When that is the case, the tone is traditional worship, not guitar riff driven tunes written to raise the heart rate and adrenaline level of the congregation.
Please do not read that last sentence as a condemnation of contemporary Christian music. I happen to enjoy contemporary Christian music, and a well written, well executed high energy praise song can make my heart beat faster. I admit I am not ready to embrace Christian rap and hip-hop, but my exposure to those genres has been limited. Regardless of my personal taste in Christian music, this piece is not about the music. Rather it is about the way the new generation of contemporary worship team or band leaders are using the music.
It seems, admittedly based on limited direct experience, that contemporary worship team leaders see themselves as a distinct part of the service. By that, I mean traditional worship teams, in my experience, tend to choose music that fits the mood of the sermon, when possible. In the contemporary arena, it often seems the music may be a stand-alone message, at least to a degree. For example, consider the service triggering this piece.
The message was “Do Not Lose Heart.” The set up for the sermon in the traditional service was “Press On.” This hymn was specifically chosen to fit the message. The most memorable of the contemporary pieces at the evening service, the anthem if you will, was “Reckless Love.” It is possible to split hairs, and many have, over the message of “Reckless Love.” I feel it is safe to say it is not the same message as “Press On.”
One emphasizes the believer’s strength through faith. The second highlights the writer’s belief that God will go to any lengths to chase the sinner down. Another way to differentiate between the two is “Press On” emphasizes what we as believers are to do to stay on the path, and “Reckless Love” seems to emphasize what God will do to drag us back to the path.
Both of these messages may be true in some circumstances. I am sure one blogger I read when researching “Reckless Love” will consider my comments pharisaical and legalistic, if he should read them. However, the theologies of the songs are not the point here. The point is the power of music.
Music is a powerful part of worship, and contemporary worship leaders seem to feel and are allowed to feel, their message does not need to support, or even parallel, the pastor’s message. That was not always the case at my church, but I noticed that trend at other churches. Also, I found a similar attitude in seminary students and others involved in or studying contemporary worship music.
Perhaps I am behind the times. Perhaps contemporary worship music is supposed to be the draw, instead of the teaching. Maybe it is the newest aspect of the “get’em in the door, let’em learn the hard stuff later” school of evangelism. Even if that is the case, the messages should not clash, and here, they did.
The message of “Reckless Love” seems to be God will hunt you down and save you at all costs. The song goes so far as to claim He “leaves the ninety-nine,” to chase the lost sinner down. Our church and the Bible makes it clear God will let you harden your heart to Him. In fact, some verses in the Bible clearly state God hardens or chooses not to soften the hearts of non-believers.
Yes, Jesus said a man will leave his flock, the ninety-nine, to find one wandering sheep. He said it in a parable that has been interpreted to emphasize three different aspects of the story.[i] Regardless of the exact meaning of the parable, other messages make it clear the apparent message of this song may be a bit off base.
Those passages do not imply He will force those with hardened hearts to listen. Neither do they say the Father would knock their walls down to save them. In fact, He seems to be telling the Apostles to move on and ignore them when He says, “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” (Matt 10:14, NLT)
Again, the point of this piece is not disagreement concerning the meaning of Scripture or the theological accuracy of the song mentioned above. On the other hand, the worship team presenting this song as its anthem for the service is to some degree teaching a message that did not clearly support the sermon for that Sunday and was in direct conflict with past lessons taught from the pulpit.
Please know, the previous paragraph is not meant to condemn the song, nor the worship team for singing it. The song was for a time the number one song in the Christian Music category of a major rating service. It teaches a feel-good message that many seek, and there is some truth to the idea that getting seekers and skeptics involved through music opens the door to their salvation. Unfortunately, that school of thought can lead to problems.
It seems, at least to this crotchety old writer, seminaries and churches may be giving too much autonomy to worship team leaders, especially when the team is leading the worship for the Sunday sermon. If that is the case, the confusion within the church between doctrine, theology, and message will grow, if the message of the music and the sermon are not on the same page.
[i] In Matthew, Jesus is using children as an example of those who many overlook as being important, while in Luke he uses it, according to some, to highlight the way undesirable elements may be overlooked or forgotten. The Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text, seems to promote the idea that the lost sheep is the most important of the flock.
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