Music is an important part of our church services. We use music as a form of worship based on Biblical precept and example. But consider this question: is all Christian-themed music worship music? Absolutely not. There is a clear and distinct division between worship and anything else we do as believers — including the songs we sing in church.
Speaking of songs sung in church, let’s talk about Christian Contemporary music. Christian Contemporary is a recognized genre as popular as most others in modern culture. Radio stations play it and streaming services stream it. It is popular enough that a multi-million dollar industry has been built up around it.
Christian Contemporary is not a bad thing. It has its purpose, time, and place. But its purpose is not necessarily worship, and its time and place is not in our church worship services. If you’re not quite sure you agree, that’s fine. But please consider the following four things that make genuine worship music different:
1. Genuine Worship Is Directed Toward God
The Bible couldn’t be any more clear about the fact that worship is to be directed toward God (in all three persons) and to no one else. Exodus 34:14 is clear that we are to worship no other gods. Psalms 29 and 96 direct us to worship the LORD. Jesus told Satan himself that God alone is to be worshiped. So that being the case, why do so many of the songs we sing in church focus on us?
Songs like “You’re Not Alone”, “Who You Say I Am”, and “Whole Heart (Hold Me Now)” are terribly self-centered. They may contain elements of truth, but they are songs that lead me to think about me. They lead me to plead, to make my own case before God rather than humbly bowing at his feet as a sinner saved by grace.
2. Genuine Worship Is About Who God Is and What He Has Done
Next, genuine worship acknowledges God’s glory. It recognizes and declares who God is, what he has done, and so forth. If you look at every instance of worship in the Bible, you will find that it’s all about God’s actions and attributes. Knowing that, consider a song like “Shout to the North”. It was big back in the 90s; it’s still sung today. The problem is that it’s all about the Church. It’s not a bad song in and of itself, but it’s not genuine worship music.
3. Genuine Worship is Rooted in Truth
It stands to reason that true worship is rooted in truth. We can’t lie about God and pass that off as worship. But just in case we need a reminder, Jesus told the woman at the well that “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This automatically disqualifies songs that contain lies. The song “Reckless Love” is an unfortunate example of what happens when song writers stray from Scriptural truth.
The very definition of ‘reckless’ implies carelessness and a lack of concern about consequences. God is not reckless in anything he does. He is not careless; he does not throw caution to the wind. Thus, the entire premise of the song is a lie. Beyond that, God does have his limits in terms of how far he goes to “come after me.” We see that clearly in the stories of Lot & his wife, the children of Israel in the wilderness, Ananias and Sapphira, and so many more.
4. Genuine Worship Engages Both the Heart and Spirit
The ‘spirit and truth’ statement made by Jesus instructs us that God expects worship to engage the spirit (the spirit of man) and mind (truth). For us to truly worship, we have to know in our minds that our thoughts are true. What we say and/or sing then must come from the deepest part of who we are — the spirit. What does this mean? It means worship must be sincere.
If it’s just a show on the stage, it isn’t genuine. If it’s all about emotions, it isn’t genuine. The question is this: how do you know the difference? By the reaction of your spirit.
How many times have you heard a Christian say he expects to fall down on his face in the presence of Jesus? This is a common assumption based on what we read in Revelation. It’s also a reasonable assumption. We will be compelled by the holiness and glory of Jesus to bow down and worship him. Do we experience that same compulsion in our worship services?
Jesus is just as holy and glorious now as he will be at the judgment. True worship should, at the very least, compel the human spirit to be humbled before God. Genuine worship moves in the human spirit in awe of God. It doesn’t just move the emotions. Yes, this is a hard principle to grasp, but let me offer you a litmus test.
If you ever wonder about the authenticity of your own worship, just ask yourself if you would be willing to fall down on your face before God at that very moment. As you sing, are you willing to prostrate yourself before God? If the spirit within you compelled you to bow down to Christ in front of the whole church — in the middle of Sunday worship — would you do it?
Genuine worship is different because God designed it that way. It is directed toward God; it acknowledges who God is and what he has done; it is rooted in truth; and it engages both the spirit and mind. If your normal practice of worship doesn’t match up, it’s time to rethink what you’re doing.
As for our churches, it’s time to get back to the real thing. Save the Christian Contemporary for social gatherings, background music, the coffee house, etc. Most of it doesn’t qualify as genuine worship anyway. It doesn’t belong in our church services.