I was part of a brief Twitter exchange today. After my initial response, my interlocutor replied. “you are right. #IJustGotPastored” I’m pretty sure that makes me an official pastor now.

Anyway, the topic was interesting enough that I figured I would post a more lengthy response – more than I could fit in the constraints of a 140 character tweet.

The exchange started when my friend tweeted: “Angry tweet about song choice in chapel….this song could be sung about Odin, Zeus, and Allah.”

Like any good tweet, it didn’t tell the whole story and his frustration was more than with a single song – it was about a whole values set, which I will get to later – but I didn’t know that. Regarding the tweet as it stands though, I argued that not every song needs to be explicitly Christian. That is, it’s OK that some songs we sing in worship “could be sung about Odin, Zeus, and Allah.” Here’s why:

Some of the Psalms are generic (sounding)*: Applying criteria that would exclude the Psalms (or any Scripture) from a public worship setting is probably not valid. The Psalms have been the standard worship set for God’s people (Israel and the Church) for centuries. While most of the Psalms call out Israel’s specific history, some (like Psalm 150) are less specific. It would be possible for a follower of another religion to sing this psalm without directing their worship toward God. It could be applied without discomfort in non-Christian and non-Jewish worship settings. This does not, therefore, make it invalid. (As an aside, the same argument can be applied to those who are nervous of “confrontational” songs).

The Worshipper brings a lot to the table: When we come to God in worship, we bring a lot to the table. We, by our own intentions, meaning, and attitudes, make it true or false worship. Some songs can be sung to some other god – but in that context will be meaningless. You can call a generic “god” mighty or sovereign or loving but, unless you’re calling out to the Triune God of the Bible, you’re singing to the air.

Worship songs are sung as part of a community of faith: Psalm 150 is not really a generic worship song, though. It’s specific, not because of the specific words per se, but because it was crafted and carried along by a specific community of faith. We sing as part of a larger community and this, too, brings meaning.

My friend’s observation, however, was still a good one and, though I was not part of the worship service in question, the presence of a “generic” worship song could be indication that something else is going on. So, to that end, here are my counterpoints:

True Christian worship unambiguously brings glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: That is not to say that every song calls out all the members of the Trinity. But, a worship set as a whole ought to bring unambiguous praise to the Creator God, His Son Jesus, and the Person of the Holy Spirit. I want to add that a whole “worship set” also includes things like the preaching of the Word and prayer. All in all, if you can’t tell whether or not you were at a Christian worship service, you probably weren’t.

The words of a song bring a lot to the table: While it’s true that the attitude of the worshipper makes a big difference, so do the words of the songs. It’s possible to have a great heart but sing all the wrong words. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you’re not saying true things about God, it’s not really worship. What we say (or don’t say) in worship matters, which brings me to the last point.

Our worship songs shape our community of faith: What we sing shapes what our communities of faith believe. If a local churches embraces only theologically generic or shallow songs – it hinders its spiritual growth. Again, that doesn’t mean every song has to be incredibly rich or specific. It just means that, as a whole, we need to strive for truth and depth as we gather together for worship. Again, this isn’t limited to our praise songs – it’s true of our prayer and preaching, too.

You just wanted a quick little tweet and there you go #YouGotPastored.

*Subsequent Twitter conversations have led me to add the following clarifying points. (1) I’m not saying the psalms are generic. They ARE NOT. Some, however, can be sung in a generic way. (2) The sweep of the psalms is not generic. The book as a whole tells and retells the redemptive work of God in the nation of Israel through His actions, His law given to Moses, and the promise of the Messiah. Not every individual psalm tells this whole story and, some, like Psalm 150 barely tell any of it. Nevertheless, in the Christian tradition, you understand it in the context of the whole book. (3) All worship should be informed by Scripture but not every song is tells all of Scripture.


Becki Watson said:

Boom: Pastored. wink

10/24/12 at 5:52 pm

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