On Fools and Social Media: Click On This Blog and You Might Win $1 Million

dont-believe-everything-you-see-on-the-internetIn the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on homosexuality, my social media sites have been plastered by a litany of blogs expounding on this timely topic. Some pro … some con … All opinionated. Last week, one headline in particular circulating on Facebook caught my eye: “Gay Man Files $70M Suit Against Bible Publishers Over ‘Homosexual’ Verses.” I was intrigued. I fell for the clickbait. The story was about an ex-con, Bradley Fowler of Canton, MI, who filed suit against Zondervan and Thomas Nelson Publishing for publishing Bibles containing verses and commentaries condemning homosexuality. The lawsuit claimed that Mr. Fowler suffered from emotional distress resulting from the position of these Bibles on homosexuality. To boot, Mr. Fowler was also going to represent himself in court.

After reading the story, I immediately thought: “Is this story for real?!?” A basic search of the Internet revealed the story’s veracity. It’s a true story.

But here’s the rub: Mr. Fowler filed lawsuit back in 2008 … Seven years before this year’s Supreme Court decision. A dubious news website called Truth Uncensored re-published the original article about Mr. Fowler’s lawsuit this week, but quickly printed a retraction that the story was originally from 2008. However, the meager retraction didn’t stop other websites from running with the story as well. Why allow the truth to stop a good story, right?!? (Check out snopes.com for more info on this story.)

So why is this story resurfacing now? The story is spreading like wildfire because it preys upon Christians’ fears regarding systematic government persecution following the Supreme Court ruling. As a result, many believers are virally spreading the article to play gotcha: “Aha! This is what happens to Christians now that gay marriage is legal in the Unites States! The black helicopters are coming for you!” It’s fear mongering disguised as news. I mean … On the Tea Party News Network, the article is actually accompanied by a picture of random, half naked (presumably) gay men holding hands! It’s encouraging believers to crouch in fear of a culture quickly shifting away from “Christian values.”

It’s also blatant gullibility.

Or as the Bible calls it: “Foolishness.”

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about foolishness. Proverbs is not a Dear Abby column of helpful advice to take or leave like a Gump-esque boxful of chocolates. In The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner likens Proverbs to a colossal pebble beach, where the individual grains of wisdom collectively form the signposts from God towards blessing and life. In Proverbs, wisdom is personified in Proverbs as a noble woman standing at the crossroads, calling all travelers in this life to the haven of wisdom (Proverbs 8). And all believers – who receive wisdom by the Spirit – should heed proverbial wisdom and forsake worldly foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:8-16).

The Hebrew term for “fool” (כְּסִיל) used in Proverbs plainly means stupid or ignorant. One of the primary themes of Proverbs is that Godly people are urged to pursue Godly wisdom and to forsake worldly foolishness. Many of these Proverbs about fools and foolishness read as if directly written to the social media generation:

  • The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” – Proverbs 14:15
  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” – Proverbs 18:2
  • Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” – Proverbs 28:26
  • Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” – Proverbs 13:20

According to Proverbs, foolishness is not Godliness. Believing everything you read is not a sign of spiritual maturity. Spreading gossip about untruth is contemptible. Being a blowhard that recklessly spouts hurtful opinions without seeking to understand others is not laudable behavior. Being quick to speak, slow to listen and quick to anger is flat-out sinful (James 1:19). Trolling, insulting, bullying and gossiping reflects worldliness – not Godliness. Our nimble fingers can spark a conflagration just as well as our tongues (James 3:5). And – worst of all – our lack of wisdom simply demonstrates that we don’t fear the God that created wisdom itself (Proverbs 1:17, 9:10; Psalm 111:10).

I’m not saying that we should become social media Luddites, who act like we live in the pre-technology 1700s. But I am saying that our spiritual maturity should help us recognize that social media is a factory that encourages and rewards our foolishness:

i-saw-it-g7yhz3I once chided a former church member for re-posting a Facebook meme that roving gangs are staging crime scenes with bloody carseats with fake injured babies on the side of the highway in order to lure unsuspecting concerned motorists into traps. The notice supposedly was issued by the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC). Common sense would tell us that TDOC has nothing to do with either gangs or highway patrols. The TDOC patently denied issuing any sort of notice about bloody carseats death traps. I shared information on the hoax on snopes.com. Not only did I NOT dissuade this former church member from spreading this false rumor, more and more people chimed in to defend the post as the honest-to-God truth!

Even worse, many professing believers affirm theologically ignorant statements on social media:

  • Jesus says, ‘If you really love me, share this picture”: Does it affirm in Scripture that we will be known as Christ followers by our social media shares? Certainly, social media shares are the highest level of works for Christ, right?
  • Click ‘like’ for Heaven … Ignore for Hell”: So your eternal destination is based on your personal preferences on social media?!?
  • Share this picture and special blessing from God will come your way”: Yup … Keep waiting on that one.
  • Repost this message if you love God”: So you’re insinuating that I don’t love God if I don’t repost this message? Hmmmmm.

hoaxes3When we affirm such statements, we are affirming a different Gospel than Scripture: A God who craves our attention instead of His glory … A faith watered down into personal preference … A salvation based on “shares” an “likes” alone instead of faith alone … A Christ that panders for our peanuts like a circus monkey.

Social media shouldn’t make believers lose their sound judgment and – more importantly – their sound doctrine. Paul warns his protege Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Not only have we wandered off into the forest of myth, we’ve been kidnapped by Bigfoot to boot. Gullibility is one thing … Using social media to promote false doctrine is wholly another thing: Unconscionable.

One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I think we fall into the trap of thinking that our behavior on social media doesn’t matter. It’s a hobby disconnected from real life. It’s a lark. It’s an alternate reality. Or it doesn’t matter. But social media still falls into the “whatever you do” of 1 Corinthians 10:31. And if social media can be used to glorify Christ, what we do on social media really matters.

So let’s stop our foolishness.

Let’s stop spreading false doctrine.

And let’s glorify God in whatever medium He has given.

Whatever you do … Do it to the glory of God.

And if you read the title of this blog and expected to win $1 million, you really are foolish.

Turning Christianese

christianeseEvery time the new year rolls in, Time Magazine holds a humorous reader poll to ask the American public which words should be banned from the English language. I’m not sure why the American public should be allowed to vote on this matter, because I’m pretty sure the American public is the source of these nasty earworms in the first place. In previous years of the Time Magazine poll, the American public has voted out text speak “OMG,” the nasty rump shaking craze “twerk” and the most easily discernible life observation of all time: “YOLO.” Because – you know – no one’s ever died twice. For real.

This year, Time Magazine’s list of words to potentially be “banned” included such cultural idioms and worn-out catchphrases as “bae,” “bossy,” “turnt,” “said no one ever” and “om nom nom nom.” Time Magazine also got into some hot water for humorously suggesting that the word “feminist” by eliminated from the English language. Oops.

(For the record, I think that “bae” should clearly be “banned” this year. Any word developed simply because it’s lazier to pronounce one syllable instead of two simply must go. By 2025, we’ll be a monosyllabic culture for sure. But I digress …)

Christians, it’s time to start voting some of our own secret language off the island too. You know, the “Christianese” words and phrases that only people who grew up in church understand. “Christianese” is the secret code language that Christians use like the Freemasons use secret handshakes (or do they?). You can tell whether someone has been inoculated into the Christian subculture simply by the way that they speak.

So here’s thirteen Christianese terms that I would suggest that we stop using in 2015. I’m sure there’s many additional phrases that belong on this list, but allow me to pick on these pet peeves for a moment:

  1. “He’s still on the throne”: Thank you Captain Obvious. Christians usually roll this phrase out to attempt to reassure someone going through a hard time. The intent is well-meaning. But when a family member has died or a doctor just informed someone they have inoperable cancer, folks undergoing grief and pain need a listening ear, prayer and your physical presence more than trite catchphrases and misappropriations of Romans 8:28.
  2. “I’ll pray for you”: Usually Christians use this phrase when they mean the exact opposite. Chatty old Margaret from church has cornered you in the church parking lot at the end of the prayer meeting. Your stomach impolitely won’t cease rumbling … Your youngest child is screaming from his carseat … Your wife is rolling her eyes and pointing to her watch … Your heart already belongs to Chic-Fil-A. But dear, sweet Margaret won’t stop talking about her boyfriend’s niece’s hairdresser’s infected goiter. You need an exit strategy. You utter the ultimate conversation shut-down: “I’ll pray for him.” Conversation over. But do you really mean it? Probably not … But now the family can get along to its sweet tea and chicken tenders. If you’re going to actually take the time to pray for someone, go ahead and say “I’ll pray for you.” But if you have zero intention of actually praying for someone, just tell them something genuine instead of dishonest … Like “I wish I could keep listening but I’ve got to somewhere else to go.”
  3. Anything related to “open doors” or “closed doors”: There is no door. It’s a figment of your imagination. Just prayerfully do something. The end.
  4. “Jesus wants a relationship – not a religion”: Arguably the greatest oversimplification of Christianity ever uttered. And simply absurd, unclear and untrue. It’s really like saying “my wife wants a relationship – but not marriage.” My wife would slap me, because she does wants commitment. And Jesus does too. This phrase is simply code language in hipster churches for “you don’t have to be too committed to Jesus like those fundamentalists,” which is Biblically inaccurate (see Luke 14:25-35). Right, let’s start producing some marginally committed people loosely affiliated with Jesus … I’m sure that’ll work out well. And it’s also a confusing and unhelpful phrase for the unchurched attempting to understand what Christianity is all about. If the term “religion” simply means an organized collection of beliefs about the world (see: dictionary), then – yes – Christianity is a religion because (surprise) we have organized beliefs about the world. Sometimes a spade is a spade. And here’s the kicker: The Bible describes Christianity as religion (see James 1:27). Stop the insanity.
  5. “Hedge of protection”: Because in a car crash, a shrubbery probably will not protect you. Pray for the airbags to properly function. Because #YOLO.
  6. “Traveling mercies”: Are there multiple categories of mercies? Are there some other types of mercies I should be praying for? And are “traveling mercies” the opposite of “loafing around in my sweatpants while sleeping in on Saturday mercies”? I could use more of those.
  7. Any terminology for a room in a church facility that does not exist in any other plane of reality: Like “narthex.” Narthex sounds like a prescription drug that alleviates indigestion: “Honey, did you remember to take your narthex?” Or “sanctinasium” and “gymuary” … Which really means that your church hangs out in a gym because you can’t afford a sanctuary. Or “fellowship hall” … A term which single-handedly and permanently associated Biblical koinonia with friend chicken. In the real world, it’s called a “cafeteria.” Or a “crying room.” Who’s crying? Should I be crying? Should I anticipate crying at this worship service? Do I need tissues? In all seriousness, could we possibly use any term that sounds more like “our church hates you and your crying baby”? I mean, even Chic-Fil-A and McDonalds don’t even have a “crying room,” and there’s usually a lot of babies crying there.
  8. “God has led me somewhere else”: Meaning God really hasn’t led me somewhere else, but I’m bringing God’s name into it so you won’t challenge me.
  9. “Missional”: Which really is a condescending way of saying that our church REALLY serves Jesus through its commitment to social justice and your church is a bunch of pansies hosting a tea party. Boom.
  10. “Unspoken prayer request”: Other than church, name one place where we ask someone to do something but don’t tell them exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. I never say to my wife: “Honey, please fix me something extremely specific for dinner … but I’m not going to give you any hint whatsoever about that extremely specific thing I want you to make.” It’s a recipe for disaster. And it is for prayer too. If we really took Galatians 6:2 seriously, “unspoken prayer requests” should never exist.
  11. “I’m not gifted in that area”: Meaning I’d rather set my hair on fire than work with kids.
  12. “Community”: OK … This one really makes me want to rip my hair out. The old school traditional church talks about the mellowship of “fellowship” … A term which engenders visions of fried chicken, one crockpot meals and opaque jello casseroles in the aforementioned “fellowship hall.” To establish a contrast, the kool kids have developed a new word for Biblical fellowship to distance themselves from traditional church: “Community.” Here’s the problem: Clearly, the term “fellowship” is pretty alien to the outside world … But the phrases “community” or “life in community” or “living in community” have virtually zero meaning outside of church either. Not one single unchurched person texts their BFF: “I have a real desire for authentic community today so let’s go see Anchorman 2 together.” Not one single unchurched person meets a friend at Starbucks because they want to “do life together.” To the contrary, I have heard unchurched people talk about spending time with others or – as the 90s kids called it – “hanging out.” Can’t we just talk like normal people? I really want to do life separately from anyone who suggests that we do life together.
  13. “Be authentic” or “be real”: For crying out loud, don’t be authentic, be you, be real, be transparent or be yourself. The only thing you to need to be is to be Christ. So imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). And lead others to imitate Christ. We need less of you (and me) and more of Jesus. If you’re busy being yourself, then you’re not focusing on being Christ.

So upon closer examination, “Christianese” really falls into two categories with two different problems: (a) Complete gibberish; and (b) Polite lies.

In the case of the complete gibberish (i.e. “unspoken prayer request” or “hedge of protection”), the problem is that Christians have created their own distinct culture with its own terminology and taxonomy. The only purpose that this specialized language really serves is to clearly communicate with others involved in our little Christian club … And to ostracize others who only speak the vernacular. It’s like walking into a hospital room, hearing the laundry list of medical terms and realizing that you’re not qualified to be a doctor or nurse. If an unchurched person walked into your church’s worship service or small group program and heard the discussion, would they feel like they’re not qualified to be a Christian? How much confusion do we create for the unchurched by forcing them to learn our secret code language and trying to figure out where in the world the narthex is? If our language reinforces an “in crowd” vs. “out crowd” mentality, it’s time to change the way that we speak.

In the case of the polite lies (i.e. “I’m not gifted in that area” or “I’ll pray for you”), we need to realize they are lies. They might be polite, but they area still lies. When we put protection of someone’s feelings over the truth, then we have made the wrong decision. Ephesians 4:15 informs us that speaking the truth and loving someone are not mutually exclusive concepts. We can speak truth in a genuinely loving fashion, and sometimes the most loving things to do is to speak a difficult truth into someone’s life. We would do well to remember that both the words of mouth and the meditation of our hearts should be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14). Imagine the damage we actually do when we say that we will pray and we don’t. And imagine what would happen if we really did pray.

Believers, let’s commit to speaking clearly and thoughtfully in 2015 and beyond.

Church vs. Abominable Snowman

abominable-snowman-520169“I can’t believe there’s only two lines open … I can’t believe there’s two lines open …”

While patiently waiting in the self check-out line at Wal-Mart with my one lonely item (a battery operated cell phone charger), this mantra was being no-so-quietly muttered by the panicked and overtly frustrated lady behind me. It was Saturday … the polar vortex was coming tomorrow. Her cart stacked sky high with bread, milk and driveway salt. I think she single-handedly cleared out the water aisle. A condescending scowl and furrowed brow contorted her face. Her incessant chant was just loud enough for the also frustrated Wal-Mart employee working the self check-out line to hear.

“I can’t believe there’s only two lines open … I can’t believe there’s two lines open …”

Suddenly, a third (but not fourth) self check-out line opens! The woman behind me exclaims loudly in tense rejoicing: “FINALLYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! … But AAAAAAAARGHHH! … Why aren’t all four lines open?!?!?” The Wal-Mart employee’s decision to open a third – but not fourth – self check-out line was apparently an apocalyptically bad decision worthy of full thermonuclear warfare. It was on.

More than amused, I could tell this was not going to end well. For a split second, I thought about cracking a joke wither her about patience being a fruit of the spirit to break the tension. I turned and saw her scowling and thought the better of it. I painfully grimaced as she whispered to me: “Can you believe this?!?” Vainly, I tried to engage in small talk to get her mind of the stress. Alas, this woman was NOT in a joking mood! As I reached the promised land of the check out counter, I caught the woman out of the corner of my eye taking the time to verbally lambast the poor Walmart employee instead of checking out. I got my one item or less out of there post haste before any kung fu fighting broke out.

Awwww yeah … Snow season …

After the novelty and beauty of newly fallen snow wears off, there’s something about a winter snowstorm that puts everyone is a much, much worse mood. The rush to Wal-Mart for bread and milk. Shoveling snow. Cable and power flickering on and off. Frozen or burst water lines. Hypothermia. And the worst fate of all: Being stuck inside with a bored small child with a serious case of cabin fever who just wants to play CandyLand over and over. Is it Spring yet?

In the case of a major snowstorm, the local pastor also tends to get put in a classic “no win situation”: To close or not to close the church for worship services. I have found that church members desire to fight to the death about opening or closing the church building. Strong feelings emerge on both sides of the argument. Even in the rough and tough Midwest, some folks completely freak out once the 1st snowflake of winter hits the pavement and hibernate away from church services until Punxatawky Phil rears his ugly head … Some are just comfortable to “worship where they are” and gather the family round the old piano to worship … Some use the severe weather as an excuse to focus on the NFL game instead focusing on Christ. On the flip side of the coin, other hearty folks claim that you should never, ever, ever close the doors of the church until Jesus comes back riding on a white horse. Some of this attitude stems for sincere reverence for corporate worship and the lordship of Jesus Christ … Some from self-righteous legalism (“That’s the way we’ve always done church!”) … Some from testosterone fueled machismo and braggadociousness (“Look at me! … I skidded down the highway 45 miles in 2 feet of snow over 3 hours while endangering small children and woodland creatures to get to church … I’m soooooooooooooo righteous!”). In midst of severe weather crisis, there’s always somebody complaining or second guessing that the church leadership made the wrong call about plowing, salting, sanding, sidewalk conditions, parking lot conditions or the setting of the thermostat. To some extent, petty criticism comes with the territory as a pastor … But the griping that emerges between believers during times of severe weather is confounding.

The advent of worshipping on Sunday stems from the practice of the early church. While the Jews traditionally worshipped on the Sabbath (as well as other religious festivals) in obedience to the Law, Christians in the early church began the practice of gathering to worship on the first day of the week (Sunday). The Christian practice of gathering on Sunday seems to commemorate the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 records believers meeting on Sunday for breaking of bread (communion) and preaching: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” Similarly, the apostle John gives the first overt reference to the “Lord’s Day” (“te kuriake hemera”) in Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet …” Interestingly, the book of Acts seems to inform that early Jewish Christians (such as the apostle Paul) gathered to worship both on the Sabbath as well as Sunday (see Acts 13:13-14, 16:13 and 17:2).

Given that believers are no longer constrained to the legalism of the Law, Sunday quickly became a more important day of worship for believers in the ensuing centuries. In his Letter to the Magnesians in 110AD, early church leader Ignatius of Antioch argued: “[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” Several centuries later, the defender of orthodoxy Athanasius argued in On Sabbath and Circumcision (345AD): “The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation.”

In this vein, the apostle Paul argued for the freedom of the believer regarding the day of worship. Romans 14:5-6 states: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” The passage seems to be arguing against the legalism of worshipping on the Sabbath (or the Lord’s Day for that matter), holding that the believer should convinced in his own mind about the day of worship. Similarly, Colossians 2:16-17 contends: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” As our worship on earth is merely a pale reflection of our heavenly worship of Christ, the frequency of our corporate worship – whether weekly (Sabbath), monthly (new moon) or irregularly (festivals) – is not as important as the object of worship (Christ). So Christians have liberty to gather at Noon on Saturday, 11AM on Sunday, 3:42AM on Thursday or 5 o’clock somewhere to worship the risen Christ. Honoring the Lord is what’s important.

While there is freedom for the believer regarding the day and frequency of our worship, the early church also urged believers to participate in the assembling of the local body of believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 states: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Of course, this passage is often used inappropriately as a religious billy club to brow beat tender young believers into legalistic Sunday School attendance. Nonetheless, there is a force of emphasis that believers should be regularly meeting to stir up one another to good works and to encourage one another in the faith. Corporate meeting time (or “community” to you Christian hipsters) is essential to the spiritual health of the believer. At the same time, the injunction in Hebrews 10:24-25 is that believers “not neglect” (meaning to desert, forsake or leave) meeting together. Therefore, the injunction seems to be more against desertion of the faith than playing hooky one Sunday. The essence of the question is: Does the believer value community with other believers?

So back to church services and the polar vortex: Is it OK to miss worship or – Heaven forbid – for the church to close its doors during severe weather? If you’re using the weather as another lame excuse to avoid worshipping Jesus, you’ve definitely got a heart problem. But distress over missing one Sunday of church stems from a different heart problem: Legalism. We must learn that the object of our lifelong worship is far more important than a temporary interruption in the frequency of our corporate worship. I delight whenever someone misses a Sunday of worship, come back the next week and declares: “I missed being at church!” I miss community and corporate worship too. The heart of the believer should long for fellowship with other believers. And that’s a good thing.

My plea to you who is reading this is thus: Please support your local church leadership during times of severe weather. I don’t know a single local pastor that takes the decision to cancel worship services lightly. In every circumstance, the decision to hold or cancel worship services is always difficult and always prayerfully considered. As much as your church leadership desires fellowship with other believers and desires the corporate worship of Jesus Christ, your leadership also doesn’t want any harm to come to you on their watch either. Regardless of whether your church closes at the drop of a hat or never closes at all, the church severe weather policy isn’t a primary Gospel issue and isn’t something that believers should divide over. If you disagree with whether worship services are on or off, don’t get cranky … Don’t grumble … Don’t openly stir up dissension in the church … Don’t give in to a consumer-like attitude of church (“I want church when I want it and how I want it!”). If your church is open during severe weather, grab a shovel or bag of salt and assist your church leadership in preparation … Then rejoice in the Lord publicly. If your church closes worship services during severe weather, grab a cup of coffee and the Word of God … The rejoice in the Lord privately. Whatever the circumstances, stop complaining and just rejoice in the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord … Even if you’re in the self check-out line at Wal-Mart.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” – Philippians 4:4

I’m Not Dead Yet (Or Why Denominations Still Matter)

headstoneWhile recently visiting a church member in a nursing home, I struck up a conversation with an old veteran in a wheelchair playing solitaire. I began with one of my stock questions: “Do you go to church anywhere in town?” Immediately dropping his cards to the table, he squinted at the ceiling through coke-bottle glasses – seemingly deep in thought – and started counting on his fingers.

“Well … Let’s see … I grew up at the Church of Christ … Then I went to the Methodist church for a while … Then I started going to the Latter Day Saints church … Then I got mad and started going to another small little Christian church that I can’t remember … I’m thinking about going back to the Church of Christ … Or maybe the Mormons again.”

After I picked my flabbergasted jaw up off the floor, I spent the next thirty minutes attempting to explain why none of these churches were the same and what they actually believed. Over the course of our discussion, he repeatedly recoiled: “The Mormons don’t actually believe that!” … “The Church of Christ doesn’t believe that!” … “You’re wrong!!!” In the end, talking to the deck of solitaire cards may have produced better results. Remaining unconvinced, the old veteran finally wheezed out a sigh and proclaimed: “Oh well … All churches are the same, really.” Then he began plopping his cards down again in regimented order.

Herein lies an extreme case of the “que sera sera” attitude of post-denominational America. Christians are boldly hop-scotching across denominational lines would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. I have a good friend who has meandered from Southern Baptist to Catholic to Lutheran over the past ten years without batting an eye. Another set of friends have jumped from Southern Baptist to United Methodist even though they have openly disagreed with their pastors on major points of church doctrine; their church is just full of “good people.” Being fundamental, evangelical, progressive or no religious affiliation now means more than actual affiliation with a denomination, such as Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or – even – Catholic.

As America grows increasingly more post-denominational, the Christian blogosphere is ready to throw dirt on the grave while the body’s still warm. And the denominations cry out like the “dead man” from Monty Python and The Holy Grail: “I’m not dead yet!” Case in point A is the recent Relevant Magazine article about ending denominations because they are confusing and distract believers from the Great Commission. I’m going to swim against the proverbial stream here, and argue that denominations still matter for one major reason: Because sound doctrine still matters. 

Before we go any further, please answer the following questions:

  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
  • What happens to people when they die?

If you were able to give an answer to any of the questions listed above, then -congratulations (and maybe surprise) – you’ve got personal doctrinal convictions. “Doctrine” has turned into the scary boogeyman giving every post-modern Christian south of Rob Bell cold sweaty nightmares. The pious shadowboxing and hand-wringing over the “dangers” of doctrine is a colossal snipe hunt. On it’s basest level, all “doctrine” really means is that you have a set of principles or positions that you hold. If you have more than one belief about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church or salvation, then – again, congratulations – you have “doctrine.” The boogeyman is really just a reflection.

While it may be true that Jesus never spoke about denominations, Jesus spoke boldly about doctrine at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:15-23)

In Paul’s final charges to his proteges Timothy and Titus, Paul mentions the need for “sound” doctrine seven times (1 Timothy 1:3, 10; 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10). The need for the local church to adhere to “sound” doctrine is the pervasive warning of the pastoral epistles. Why? Because wolves are trying to devour the sheep. Because false teachers with unsound doctrine are attempting to harm the flock. Both Jesus and Paul warn about the unfortunate reality that the presence of unsound doctrine and false teachers necessitates sound doctrine and spiritually mature teachers. As the wolves are seeking to devour, the sheep need to draw nearer to the protection of the Shepherd. “Sound” doctrine protects the church. And sheep that wander from the Shepherd become a tasty snack for the wolves.

Here’s where the post-modern argument typically jumps the shark better than the Fonz. Many progressives hear all of this talk of doctrine and believe that evangelicals are asking every church member to write a 12,162 page Volume 2 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Not so. Having “sound” doctrine does not mean that you’ve got every nuance of theology right. Having “sound” doctrine does not mean that any man will figure every detail about theology correct … Or that all Christians must agree with every detail or be cast out of the tribe Survivor-style. Having “sound” doctrine simply means that core points of orthodoxy exist: That there is one God in three persons … That Jesus was fully God and fully man … That salvation is by the grace of God alone through faith alone … Major league etc.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that many of the issues that divide churches today are horrifically mundane and inexcusable reasons for division – particularly traditional vs. contemporary worship style or whether (coffee/tattoos/revealing outfits/”funny-looking” people/mullets) (pick one) are permitted in the worship center. We should be horrified when deacon Joe Bob and 13 other church members split their local church simply because they don’t like the pastor’s preaching style. We should weep when sister Sally Mae decides to quit her church because it’s just not contemporary enough. We should be angry when believers scream and point menacing fingers at one another because the church organ is exchanged for a drum set. Non-doctrinal issues of personal preference should not divide our churches. When our churches focus downward on petty and pathetic pity-parties, the high elevation of the Great Commission summit gets lost beyond sight.

On the other hand, you can’t just stick your fingers in your ears, cover your eyes, sing “na-na-na-na-na” like a toddler and pretend that the last 500 years of church history never happened. During the Reformation, real and meaningful divisions in the big “C” Church occurred based on the role of faith vs. works in salvation, the authority of church leadership and the role of church ordinances. These divisions are still present and unresolved today. We should not naive enough to believe that every denominational divide is merely based on trivial matters of personal preference. Core Gospel issues are at stake. Critical questions such as “Are we saved by faith alone?” and “Should infants be baptized?” really do matter and have implications for how the church conducts itself. Like it or not, the repercussions of the Reformation still resonate today.

On top of those Reformation issues, there are other legitimate doctrinal questions that emerge anew:

  • Are those that do not speak in tongues saved?
  • Are those that have not been baptized saved?
  • Should believers be baptized in the name of “Jesus only”?
  • Does God really know the future? Is the future “open” to different possibilities?
  • Can you be fully perfect in this lifetime and stop sinning altogether while on earth?
  • Does Hell exist? Will everyone on earth be universally saved by Jesus in the end?

You simply can’t argue that such questions are irrelevant. Weighty questions demand clarity from the church instead of sticking our collective heads in the sand and singing “Kumbaya” on matters of sound doctrine.

Denominations are important because each denomination places a flag in the sand staking out matters of sound doctrine. A church’s concern for sound doctrine does not amount to fiddling while Rome is burning. A denomination’s statement of faith etches out the boundaries of sound doctrine and protects local churches from the wolves. Of course, the concern over doctrine will lead to inevitable inter-denominational skirmishes and “family” squabbles about the boundaries of doctrine, but we argue because we are resoundingly convicted about what we believe. But you might object at point: Non-denominational churches have statements of faith too! Yes, that’s the whole point. The double standard is palpable. Every church believes something but denominations get razzed for their conformity to doctrine.

To come full circle, there is fresh danger when people join churches without diligently investigating their church’s doctrine whatsoever. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has expressed to me their finger-pointing, red-faced and whole-body-quivering disdain upon learning about their church’s official position on women in ministry, homosexuality, pastoral leadership or – my personal favorite – church governance. I can almost hear brother John Doe screaming outside the business meeting: “Who gave the pastor so much authority?!? The (deacons / elders / backsliders) (pick one) should be running the church!” Ironically, most churches aren’t hiding their doctrine whatsoever … It’s right there on that “boring” statement of belief portion of the church website that everyone ignores.

In the absence of concern for doctrine, the sad fact of the matter is that many will choose their church based on whether the worship band is good, whether the preacher isn’t boring, whether the nursery is safe and whether the bathrooms aren’t cramped and gross. And then they quickly hit the bricks to the next church when the worship service “no longer speaks to me” (whatever that means). It’s consumer-driven Burger King church culture, where people choose to “have church their way” by checking off a list of personal preferences. Friends, this trend is not good.

I wholeheartedly agree that the splintering of the local church based on small-minded concerns is dangerous … But the fast food horizon where churches sweep doctrine under the rug in order to cater to the consumer is even more bleak. Should you overlook the heresies of baptismal regeneration or modalism just because the pastor’s got a tattoo, the worship band plays the new hit Chris Tomlin song and there’s a coffee bar next to the worship center? Is having a good “worship experience” more important than outright lies and falsehoods being perpetrated about Jesus? Is it better to choose a church affiliation based on convictions or coolness? Are believers being trained to chase fads or follow Christ?

Worship style, preaching, nursery, facilities and a million other issues might be important to church health, but a church’s doctrine is exceedingly more important. The church cannot afford to get Jesus wrong. That’s why denominations are not dead yet.

God Has Seen You Naked

Going_to_Sunday_school_at_the_Baptist_Church._Lejunior,_Harlan_County,_Kentucky._-_NARA_-_541344My parents have some of those photos from the 1970s where my brother and I are dressed up in super-fly J.C.Penney leisure suits for Easter Sunday. It’s one of those pictures where you thought your outfit was really dope … But 40 years later you look like a dope from Awkward Family Photos. Here’s a sample:

Scan 2

Before you laugh too hard, I bet you have some of these awesome photos back in the dark recesses of your parent’s closet too. And I’m not above calling your parents to get my hands on them.

I grew up believing that what you wore to church matters. For me, it really didn’t come from my parents … It came from my church culture where the motto about clothing was “give God your best” or “wear your Sunday best.” And that meant occasionally rocking out a baby blue leisure suit. While the church where I grew up wasn’t the most conservative one of the block, there was still a dominant perception that what you wore to church mattered. The church choir wore those hot unisex choir robes … The pastor wore the really itchy looking wool suit (even in the summertime) … Even the musicians on stage wore jackets and ties. It was a far cry from the modern hipster landscape of contemporary worship leaders wearing graphic t-shirts, Rob Bell glasses, well-worn jeans, flip-flops and white belts.

If you look at photos from the 1950s, you realize that it wasn’t too long ago that the philosophy of “Sunday best” dominated our churches. Most states had “Blue Laws” that prohibited stores from opening on Sundays, so that entire families could go worship in their local churches together. Mothers would spend their Saturdays preparing elaborate meals for both Saturday and Sunday. Men and boys wore heavy suit jackets and stylish hats and sweat profusely through long worship services without air conditioning. Ladies were decked out in their finest dresses, high heels, hats and gloves. Sunday worship was the center of attention … Not Sunday football.

Today, the only place closed on Sunday is Chic-Fil-A, and I’ll admit that I’ve absentmindedly driven to a Chic-Fil-A after Sunday worship and then felt like a complete idiot. And I wouldn’t even have the foggiest idea where to buy a fedora for church.

In the 1990s, the combination of “worship wars” and the increasing acceptance of the “business casual” dress code in most workplaces effectively killed the 1950s “Sunday best” approach to church attire. Some churches made this effort an intentional move to appear culturally relevant. Other churches unintentionally changed their dress code when their membership shifted to a younger population. The suits simply died out when the population that revered them did. Middle aged pastors are now wearing untucked graphic t-shirts, jeans and horn rimmed glasses to blend in with the casual church trend. Even at funerals and weddings, I’ve noticed that the younger generation is wearing more “business casual” and dramatically fewer suits and ties.

Despite the cultural shift away from “Sunday best,” there are still lingering hints of this approach in most church-going households. Don’t believe me? Just look in your closet. Think about all of the different categories of clothes in your closet. There’s the “bum-around” clothes: The sweatpants and comfortable t-shirt that you wear on a lazy Saturday morning while lounging on the couch while catching up on Shark Week. There’s your pajamas: The comfortable outfit that you wear to bed and the occasional late night trip to Wal-Mart to pick up a prescription. And then there’s the “church” clothes: The one suit hanging in the back of our closets that we singularly reserve for church on Sundays. Not to mention work clothes/uniforms, school clothes/uniforms or the million other occasions that our wives consider. The “bum-around” clothes are not for church and vice versa. Our segregation of clothing betrays our lingering belief that you can’t just wear any old thing to church.

And there are other inklings of our lingering belief that what you wear to church matters:

  • Have you ever told your child or grandchild: “That’s not appropriate to wear in church?”
  • Have you ever had to explain the difference between “good” jeans and play jeans?
  • Or have you ever had to explain to a teenager why a tank top might be appropriate to wear to church on Wednesday night but not on Sunday morning?
  • Have you ever worn a jacket or sweater to cover-up an outfit that you would normally wear outside of church without said cover-up?
  • What about the afore-mentioned “special” outfit for Easter or Christmas?

In these cases, our actions seem to indicate that we DO still hold on to a lingering conviction that what we wear to church really does matter. In this manner, we all seem to be guilty of holding tighter to the traditions of man over the commands of God (Mark 7:8). If we were to truly admit it, most Christians remain confused about whether church clothes really matter or not.

Based on this confusion, let’s take a look at what the Bible actually says about clothing:

  1. Be Modest: In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Paul essentially tells ladies to keep their junk inside the trunk. The actual passage states: “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” More or less, he’s telling the ladies not to dress like a prostitute, which is something I’ve repeatedly overheard shotgun-wielding fathers tell their teenage girls when I worked in youth ministry. In terms of clothing, we should consider whether that outfit (or lack of one) will draw eyes and attention away from Christ. The first thing that you should notice about a woman is the size of her good works for the sake of Gospel. Of course, the guiding principle would apply to men as well: Don’t dress like a stripper from Magic Mike. Here’s the key question: Are you boasting in Christ alone or in how good you (think you) look?
  2. Don’t Be Vain: You’re so vain … You probably think this verse is about you: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). In similar force to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Peter urges restraint in dress to avoid vanity. God places more value in our inner beauty than our external adornment. Dressing purely to impress others should be eschewed. Here’s the key question: Are you dressing to make yourself the center of attention? Or are you allowing Christ to be the center of worship and adoration?
  3. Don’t Show Partiality: James 2:1-4 conveys a horrific church situation where the well-dressed wealthy were given prized front row seats in worship and the poor were hidden from sight. Imagine a church that was utterly embarrassed by how their poor worshippers dressed … Or a church that was starstruck the caliber of jewelry and golden rings being worn by the rich. Sadly, I’ve attended that type of church. I’ve seen many churches grumble and complain that a non-believer wore a ragged beer t-shirt and hole-filled jeans to church instead of welcome and share the Gospel with that non-believer. We must remember that there is no favoritism in “love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). Even if someone wears dingy, decrepit clothing unworthy of even Goodwill, that person is still loved and valued by our Savior (1 Timothy 2:4). Thus, we must love and value them as Christ does instead of treating them as an embarrassment or a burden.

Of course, we can’t do a blog on clothing without addressing the bizarre legalistic quagmire of Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” While the passage deems cross-dressing to be a sin (sorry Monty Python fans), legalistic Christians take the passage one step further by arguing that women cannot wear pants because – you know – pants are a dude thing. The problem with this legalistic interpretation is that the definition of menswear is extraordinarily culturally constrained. Case in point: Women have been wearing pants in the United States ever since actresses like Marlene Deitrich and Katherine Hepburn scandalously wore them in movies in the 1930s. In 2013, no one sees a woman in khakis walking down the street and says: “Hey! She’s a cross-dresser!” The main point is that God created gender, God deemed gender good and gender should be celebrated. But gender appropriate clothing varies based on time, location and culture. Good luck telling the ginormous Scotsman wearing the kilt that he’s a cross-dresser.

Above all things, believers must remember that the heart truly matters to God. Consider God’s words to the prophet Samuel as he was sent out to anoint a king: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). The biggest problem with the “Sunday best” philosophy of clothing is the belief that God is somehow pleased with our sacrifices of clothing. This is not true. We cannot please God with any of our works – including how we dress. What good is wearing the finest suit possible if it merely covers up a corrupt heart that refuses to bow down to the true and living God? God values our broken and repentant hearts – not the finery of our clothing and jewelry (Joel 2:13).

Unfortunately, I’ve frequently heard this counter-argument in favor of “Sunday best”: If you’re going to dress well to visit the President of the United States, then certainly you would dress well for the Creator of the Universe. Well, the President hasn’t seen you naked … But God has. That’s right: God has seen you naked. The President doesn’t know the character of your heart … But God does. God knows our inner most thoughts … He knows ever action before we even take a step. He knows the number of hairs on our heads … He knows our name. God knows us: Baggage, hang-ups, problems, issues and everything. He’s seen us at our darkest and our worst and still loves us so. He witnesses our every bitter and angry tantrum and still wraps His arms of love around us. There is no article of clothing that we could wear to make Him love us more than He already does. He knows our hearts. You can’t fool God.

God has already seen you naked: Physically, spiritually and emotionally. And all of the finest clothing in the world isn’t going to alter His love for you.

Confessions Of A Former KJV Only Advocate

2011-02-16-08.02.57While working on my last blog post on KJVOnlyism, I asked one of my church members, who comes out of KJV Only background, to give me some insight into the KJV Only movement. He gave me a response so well-thought out that I thought that I’d share his thoughts on the KJV Only movement in its entirety. So without further ado, here is a guest blog post from my church member and friend Brice Giesbrecht:

I grew up reading only the KJV so when I started attending an IFB church when I was 18 I had no problem with the KJV position of the pastor and the church. The position being that the KJV was the most accurate translation. Unfortunately, at that time (and until quite recently) most of my beliefs were held not because I examined them and came to the conclusion that they were indeed correct, but because I just accepted them at face value from my teachers and those I considered learned, and therefore I did not feel the need to challenge or question my beliefs. 

We had a Bible study on Sunday nights that lasted about 3 weeks where we compared different versions and translations available. Looking back, I realize that this series was a textbook case of both railroading and straw man arguments. The main focus was not an overview of textual criticism and the state of the manuscripts that we had now, but rather a list of reasons crafted to uphold the supremacy of the KJV. One church family was so upset over the way other translations were being disparaged and mocked that they left the church in the middle of that meeting and never came back. The main reasons for holding to the KJV that were presented came down in my mind to 2 essential arguments. 
 
The first being that the KJV had content that other Bible translations erroneously left out. How could the Word of God be less than what was authored in the KJV? This was a convincing argument to me at the time, primarily because explanations for this were not presented. How could other translations leave out parts of the Bible? That was horrible! Had they not read the warning in Revelation 22:19?
 
Second, the KJV had stood the test of time. It had survived countless attacks and yet remained and this was proof or evidence that this was indeed God’s translation. This also seemed good to me at the time, but again, it was not rooted in my own study, or even a look at earlier translations (such as the Geneva Bible) that have by definition also remained and survived the test of time.
 
At the time, this study strengthened my inner conviction that the KJV was indeed the translation to use, but the whole exercise was intellectually dishonest. Reasonable explanations were not offered, competing viewpoints were not discussed, earlier translations were not even mentioned, it was an appeal to emotion and tradition and the information that could lead you to another conclusion was conveniently omitted.
 
This was the most direct teaching I had on this issue at any IFB church. In the two decades that followed, all the IFB churches I attended held to this position and who was I to disagree?
 
The real problem that I have come to see is that this is not looked upon as a matter of accuracy, it is a binary position. You either believe in the KJV and have truth, or you have a different translation (or worse, multiple translations) and have not the truth. Now to be fair, some of my pastors would say that they preached out of the KJV and would always do this to uphold the integrity of the Word and the Church, with the implication being that other translations might be used by the congregation or even for pastoral study, but I do not recall ever hearing the words “And the NIV says” or “An alternate translation puts it thus” come from the lips of these pastors. Maybe it did happen, but I did not hear it. I was probably doing security detail to keep the Lutherans from breaking into our cars in the parking lot. It was not that you held the KJV as 100% accurate and the NIV as 92% accurate and the ESV as 96% accurate and therefore ‘mostly’ profitable for teaching and doctrine, it was KJV or not. There were people in the congregations who did not hold to this view, but this was the party line and espoused by the pastors and teachers.
 
This used to be my position but out of the west came the knight who would slay this dangerous dragon of the dogma of tradition. I tried reading the Purpose Drive Life by Rick Warren but to no avail. I was just not used to reading this type of book. There were no Thou’s and Thee’s and the cover was not leather, it was not even black! How much truth could it really contain? But before I put it down, Rick talked about reading different translations in an attempt to gain insight into the Word. In his book, he gave different translations of well known verses and I realized that they spoke to me in a way that the KJV did not. Since then, I have started using a few different translations in my reading and this has been very profitable for several reasons.
 
1. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ Since I had read the same translation all my life, the words became too familiar to me. This can happen in any translation, not just the KJV. When I would read the Bible, my mind would engage auto pilot at the beginning of most my reading and then come out at the end. This really impaired my reading and the benefit I had from it. Coupled that with my memorization of key verses, at those verses, I would literally skip them and not read them when I encountered them. This is about the worst thing that could ever happen with your reading. Now when reading other translations, I am forced out of my rut, and I read the verses, I see them again.
 
2. In addition to my desensitization of the Bible due to familiarity (memorization) of the text, the words and concepts that I did not FULLY understand, due to the language of the KJV and the difference of modern English to KJV English, locked into my mind a kind of barrier by which understanding could not pass through. It was like playing word association with only 75% of the words being words you really know. Take Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh: Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
 
I had no idols or statues in my room so I was good. Sedition, um, not sure,so  I must not have it otherwise I would know it. lasciviousness, ditto. Variance, emulations, revellings, ditto. Hatred, wrath, stife, they are all the same thing and I don’t hate anyone so I am okay.
 
This barrier prevented me from having even a surface level understanding let alone a deeper understanding of the truth being presented. Using different translations has helped me to understand what was meant.
 
3. Realizing 1 and 2 has caused me to drop my KJV baggage at the door when I read the Bible. I have to make an effort to not reclaim my presuppositions about the text I am reading. This has been key to having the Bible, God’s Word, work in me and truly renew and regenerate me.
 
The ESV and the NLT are the two translations of God’s Word that I use currently. They have built upon my KJV foundation and I have been strengthened in my faith and my love of God and my amazement at His mercy and grace.
 
I love the KJV and I still read it. It is a familiar and dear friend. It has nourished me, it has edified me, it has taught me. But it has done these things not because it is the KJV, but because it is a translation of the Word of God.

If It’s Good Enough For The Apostle Paul …

1611_KJV“If the KJV was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for me.” – Alfred E. Newman

Within a couple of minutes in a Christian bookstore, someone will inevitably come in and ask the staff for help in purchasing their #1 bestseller: The Bible. Now there’s generally two reasons why someone asks a salesman for help purchasing a Bible. Either the buyer is completely confused by the 2,784 iterations of the Bible lining the bookshelves, including the Dubstep Bible, the Fire Eating Carny Bible and the Duck Dynasty Bible. Or the buyer wants to figure out how to buy a copy of the “real” Bible: The King James Version of the Bible (or the “Authorized Version”). And then browbeat the poor grimacing cashier for selling “fake” Bibles, such as the NIV, to the unwitting public.

Yes, the belief that the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is the “real” Bible is alive and well in America. It’s a belief that has even generated its own name: KJVOnlyism. Ride through any rural Mid-Western town, and you will likely find a church advertising the singular use of the KJV on the ornate wooden church sign outside. The accompanying claim is that the KJV is the “perfect, pure and preserved” version of God’s word. I remember one young Texas pastor telling me about receiving an invitation to preach a revival at small Oklahoma church, where a giant plaque was placed on the pulpit: “Don’t step into this pulpit unless you use a copy of the 1611 King James Bible Authorized Version.” Unfortunately, he didn’t read the plaque before stepping up to the plate with his trusty NIV.

Before I start turning over dirt about this topic, I want to be careful in not painting KJV Only advocates broadly under the same brush. Many people remember their great-granddaddy reading a giant family-sized KJV or find comfort in a certain familiar soul-stirring eloquence of the KJV. They don’t denounce or decry other Bible translations … They’d just rather stick with the horse they rode in on. On the other extreme, there are others staging book burnings of translations other than the KJV and works of “heretics” such as Billy Graham. It’s this more extreme garden variety of KJVOnlyism that I want to address.

For those less familiar with the KJV Only debate, here’s the history of the KJV in an extremely abridged and (hopefully) non-technical historical nutshell. In 1516, a Dutch scholar named Erasmus hastily produced the first published copy of the Greek New Testament based on a small handful of available Greek manuscripts. Erasmus’ Greek New Testament became a huge hit, because it gave the common man immediate access to the New Testament in its original written language: Greek. After several published editions, Erasmus’ Greek New Testament would subsequently be enshrined as the “Textus Receptus” (which is Latin for the “Received Text”). The “Textus Receptus” takes its name from the preface to its 1633 edition: “You therefore have the text now received by all: in which we have nothing altered or corrupt.” In 1604, King James I of England commissioned a new English translation of the Bible, since other English translations floating around contained terms that he found critical of the monarchy. The Textus Receptus was used as the basis of the 1611 “Authorized Version” of the Bible, which was the only translation King James authorized for use worship in Church of England. This translation would become what we know today as the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

At this point, you’re asking: “Yes, yes … Stop the history lesson … So what’s the problem, really?” Well … The problem with the KJV goes far beyond the fact that most people today do not speak in antiquated English like the comic book character Thor or Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The problem is that KJV Only advocates argue that the KJV perfectly and supernaturally preserves the Word of God. The KJV Only position is not about a personal preference for a particular Bible translation. KJVOnlyism is the fundamental belief that the KJV is the faith once for all entrusted to the saints mentioned in Jude 3. The key word for the KJV Only camp is “preservation.” The King James Bible is viewed as the fulfillment of God’s promise to preserve the words of Scripture word-for-word through the centuries. The KJV has endured the test of time for over 400 years, and now (supposedly) preserves the critical words and verses that other modern translations leave out. The translators of the KJV are viewed as being divinely guided by the Holy Spirit to preserve the words of God. Therefore, the actual English words of the KJV are considered not only accurately – but also inerrant. The term “Authorized Version” is tossed around with a MMA swagger, as if God authorized the KJV instead of an English king.

Since this concept of preservation is the central core of this position, it’s no wonder that KJV Only advocates balk at changes from the text of the KJV. Or want to fight you out in the church parking lot when you faintly suggest their Bible is “wrong” on any level. Even worse, more radical KJV Only advocates take preservation to the extreme by arguing:

  • Satan himself inspired translations other than the KJV.
  • Christians that use the other translations are “spiritual cripples” or – even worse – consigned to Hell.
  • The translators of other Bible translators are conspiring to lead believers away from the true faith.
  • The proliferation of “new” translations is a sign of the end times. Only true believers follow the KJV. Those that use other translations have been deceived by Satan.
  • The English in the KJV is actually more inspired than the other Greek and Hebrew documents of Scripture.
  • Those that use a “new” translation are heretics preaching “another gospel” as mentioned in Galatians 1:6-9.

And no, I am not making this stuff up.

Bible translations really do matter, because we want to the get the divinely inspired words of the Scripture right. Because we love God and want to correctly hear what He has to say to us, we want to get every divinely inspired word and nuance breathed into the New Testament authors right. Today, we have access to thousands more Greek manuscripts than the small handful manuscripts that Erasmus used in the early 17th century. Many of these manuscripts are actually older and more reliable than the mutilated ones Erasmus used. In short, the King James Version is not theologically heretical, badly written, misleading or impractical, but most translations produced in the last 100 years do a better job at reflecting the original documents of the New Testament. And if we love God’s voice, authenticity in every little nuance and detail matters.

If believers are going to be beholden to any text, it should be the word of God as breathed into the Bible’s authors in their original manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. And we should not be beholden to a document written in Old English 1600 years after Jesus and the apostles walked the earth. While we do have any of the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic manuscripts that compose the Bible, we do have a certainty of what these texts say due to prevalence of reliable manuscripts available. And languages change over time. Just consider the fact that our teens speak in text message jargon (“LOL”) and not in 80s valley girl (“Grody to the max!”) anymore. Also, languages change from location to location. In rural Indiana, we never use the word “wicked” as an adjective, but they sure do in New England. If language varies based on time and location, there will always be a need to communicate the Gospel message of the original documents into languages where the Gospel message can be clearly understood.

But let’s not allow the argument essentially gets lost in the weeds … So let’s take a timeout and be clear about what we’re advocating. The vast majority of critics of the KJV (including me) aren’t arguing that you should burn your KJV. You will not be misled to a false god by reading your KJV. If you find some sort Shakespearean eloquence in the Old English rhetoric and phrasing of the KJV, then go ahead and use the KJV. If you find comfort and peace in reading the same words that brought new life to your ancestors, then – by all means – take, eat and be filled. God has saved many through the 1611 Authorized Version and many more be saved through it. More importantly, there is no massive doctrinal shift between the KJV, NIV, ESV or any other Bible translation. Last time I checked, Jesus died on the cross to rescue sinners and then rose from the grave in every translation. Aside from – you know – being written in modern English, there are not earth-shattering textual differences between the KJV and other modern translations. So delight in the Gospel found your KJV … Just don’t consider it a perfectly supernatural preservation of God’s Word.

One of my church members who comes out of a KJV Only background says this: “I love the KJV and I still read it. It is a familiar and dear friend. It has nourished me, it has edified me, it has taught me. But it has done these things not because it is the KJV, but because it is a translation of the Word of God.” And that’s the correct attitude in a nutshell: The treasure of the Gospel is exceedingly more valuable than the packaging it comes in.

More importantly, the whole argument about KJVOnlyism is short-sighted because it is so Americanized. In an assured future where people from every tribe and tongue will fall down at the feet of Jesus in worship, there is an incredible arrogance in stating that there is divine inspiration of late English words. Or that the Bible found in Heaven is Ye Olde English KJV. Frankly, many believers throughout the world would just love to have ANY translation of the Bible. Wycliffe Bible Translators estimate that just under 2,000 of the 6,800 languages throughout the globe do not have available Bible translations. And there are millions of blind and deaf persons throughout the world that need the Word of God conveyed through varying non-written means. From the house churches of China to the Islamic world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are persecuted and imprisoned just for possessing any copy of the Bible. Just consider the collective weeping, fervent prayer and unhindered rejoicing in the video clip below of the Kimyal tribe of Indonesia, who are receiving a translation of the Bible in their language for the 1st time:

In our safe and cushy American churches, we do so much squabbling over the “proper” translation of the Bible and not enough to ensure that the words of life are available throughout the globe. We have such a luxury in driving down to the neighborhood Christian bookstore in our gaz-guzzling land yachts and being able to choose between the 2,784 editions at the Bible that range from an absurd $50-$100 in price (not including engraving and monogramming). And as much as we harp on the KJV Only tendencies of many traditional churches, the same translation snobbery goes on in many “hipper” churches, caring more about the Message, NLT, NIV, ESV, Holman or whatever translation flavor of the week than the Gospel message it contains. Shame on usBible translations do matter, but the Gospel matters more. Overall, the translation argument is the theological equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning. Regardless of whether you read the the KJV, NIV, ESV or even The Message, the startling weight of the Gospel should drive us to let go of our petty little personal preferences and get on with the real business of carrying the message of Christ to the ends of the earth.

Grey Matter (Or The Hazards Of Dancing At Seminary)

Legalize-Dancing1True story: I once got asked to leave the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Back in high school, I participating in our church’s youth choir summer mission trip. Sensing that the kids (and the adults) couldn’t possibly endure much more time trapped on a tour bus that smelled of farts and dirty fungus feet, we took a pit stop in Louisville, KY at Southern Seminary to fumigate, delouse and disinfect. Our church’s Music Minister was a Southern graduate, and was going to take us for a stroll around the campus to work off some pent-up energy. After we hurried off the bus, we wound up milling around for a few minutes at some sort of reception area on campus. Some of us, who were overjoyed at our release from tour bus bondage, starting throwing a dance party in the lobby. That’s when I noticed it: The beady menacing eyes, scowling frown and folded arms of the young Southern Seminary employee working behind the welcome desk. The smoke coming out his ears indicated that a conniption fit was forthcoming. In no time flat, he stomped his feet over to where our dance of joy was taking place and condescendingly informed us: “There is no dancing permitted at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary! I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I don’t remember exactly what occurred after that, but I do remember that the matter was serious enough that the adult chaperones intervened. I’m also sure that we didn’t dance again while our feet were planted on the seminary grounds. And somewhere the welcome desk guy is now pastoring the church from Footloose.

Recounting this story, I am reminded of how confusing being a young Christian actually was. I’m pretty sure that we had no clue what a seminary was or why the seminary staff would get so upset about dancing. From that point on, there was so much grey area in Christianity to debate and work through. When I hung out with my church friends, we didn’t spend a ton of time discussing the Gospel, because we all agreed about how you got saved. But we’d spend hours talking about how the older generation frowned upon guys with long hair and earrings who listened to prog rock and industrial music. We agreed that we were saved by God’s grace, but we were confused about how to follow Him as His disciple. Our adult mentors weren’t a ton of help in answering our questions: One would tell us rock music was unquestionably evil and Satanically inspired … Another would show off his KISS record collection.

A few years later, I remember visiting a church friend who was attending the Christian college Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. It was like going on safari to the surface of Mars. Liberty was less mega-campus and more of a bunch of ramshackle office trailers back then. My friend informed me about the now famous demerit policy at the school, where your behavior was held accountable by your peers. I remember how he was deathly afraid of stepping foot on the grounds of the local Lynchburg movie theatre, because he seriously believed that Liberty University had spies stationed at the theatre to ensure that students weren’t watching R-rated movies. As he recounted all his restrictions, I remember thinking how paranoid that he’s become … So concerned about illicitly holding hands with girls. But – most of all – we couldn’t understand how different (and more restrictive) this version of Christian life was from our local church back in Richmond, VA. How could living for Christ mean two different lifestyles in two different places?

Even for mature Christians, the grey areas of Scripture still remain a confusing place. As a Mid-western pastor, I frustratingly find myself answering more questions from people about worship style than major theological issues. There are simply places where we would like further clarity from God about how to walk with Christ:

  • Can I get a tattoo?
  • Can I dance in worship? Or can I dance at all?
  • Should I homeschool my kids or send them to public school?
  • Can I get a nose ring and my tongue pierced?
  • Can I have one glass of wine with dinner?
  • Should I use my free time for missions or rest? Should I even take a vacation?
  • Can my kids celebrate Halloween?
  • Can I use an electric guitar in worship?
  • Should I go see a PG-13 rated movie?
  • What translation of the Bible should I use?

And the reason that most believers ask these questions is their earnest desire to seek the will of God for their life. We simply desire to love and honor Christ. But you start to consider these issues and you wind up in a massive theological shouting match with your Christian brothers and sisters. You could attend two different churches within the same denomination within the same town and experience two different church cultures and levels of social acceptability.

So how do we best navigate the deadly Scylla and Charydis of these grey areas of Biblical interpretation?

One approach that some Christians take to solve the quandary of Biblical grey areas is legalism. Overall, the approach of legalism is to attempt to take the grey areas and turn them into clearcut black and white zones. Legalism delights in filling in the blanks of the moral code of the Bible with numerous stricter regulations. Biblical prohibitions against drunkenness turn into more rules about avoidance of even using alcohol to cook food. Biblical commendations for women to dress modestly turn into more rules about floor length skirts and no pants on women. Legalists always want more rules and less grace. They also use fear, guilt and gossip as crafty tools to keep other believers in line with the rules. There is also an air of condescention: “Thank God that I’m a good person that obeys all the right rules and I’m not like those sinful people outside our church!” Reminds me of the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:9-14. There is an unrighteous comfort found in safely obeying the rules while furrowing your brow at all the other “sinners” outside of the church grounds. But the danger of legalism lies in attempting to justify “thus sayeth the Lord” when the Lord clearly did not “sayeth” in any form or fashion. And the heavy burdens of legalism become deadly when the man-made rules become the litmus test for obtaining or maintaining salvation.

On the other end of the spectrum, other Christians approach grey areas with antinomianism. That’s a big theological word meaning “there is no law.” You probably have never heard this label, but the practice is pretty common in Christian culture. The essence of antinomianism is this: If God forgives all of our sins, then why bother to obey God or stop sinning? If God is so gracious, then God will unwaveringly love me even when I party like a rock star, shack up with my girlfriend and sleep in on Sundays. While one of the founding principles of the Protestant movement is that believers are saved by their faith alone, antinomianism takes this principle to extremes by arguing that believers don’t need to worry about their works, morals and behavior at all. Only faith in Christ is important. God is love and love is God and love is all you need. Antinomianism tells us that not only are there no grey areas … There are no boundaries whatsoever. Of course, antinomianism runs completely counter to the foundational New Testament truth that the believer’s spiritual transformation produces obedience and spiritual fruit (Ezekiel 36:26; John 14:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:22; James 1-2; 1 John 5:3).

When it comes to interpreting the grey matters of Scripture, the central issue is simply how we read the Bible. We don’t approach the Bible as a humble student eager to learn or as a menial servant seeking instructions from his master. We approach the Bible as a prooftext to support our pre-formed positions. When we disagree with the Bible, we don’t allow the Bible to change us … We seek to distort, manipulate or ignore the Bible to hold onto our beliefs with our kung-fu grip. In our sound-byte culture, the Bible often gets reduced into whatever slogan can easily fit into a tweet or Facebook status bar. More Bible readers are asking “What passage do I like?” or “What makes me feel good about myself?” instead of asking “What is God saying to me through this passage?” The optimistic verses about God’s love and the believer’s joy are highlighted and virtually everything referring to wrath, judgment, sin or repentance is ignored. In a pick and choose Bible reading strategy, the Bible becomes our blunt-edged instrument of force … Our means to an end.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer states: “God breathed on clay and it became a man; He breathes on men and they become clay.” The voice of the Lord is not to be minimized or ignored … It is meant to correct us, criticize us, train us and scold us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible is meant to be God’s instrument to change our hearts and not vice versa. But I would also add to Tozer’s statement that God can just as easily shatter a hardened pot as He can mold moist and supple clay. One way or another, God will have His way regardless of our most stubborn objections and sophisticated argumentation. Our model for reading Scripture should be the famished sojourner who longs for more and more of the broad banquet table of God’s Word … Not the petulant toddler who clamps his lips shut and refuses a mock airplane ride full of solid food. If we have truly tasted and seen the goodness of God, our unceasing hunger should be an increasing supply of His Word and less of the forgeries and mirages of our heart.

Herein lies the real problem with the interpretation of the grey areas of the Bible: Many simply cannot bear the investigation, refinement and transformation that the voice of God produces. Legalists deflect the Bible by arguing that somebody else needs the burning light of investigation … And the antinomians slough the Bible off by arguing that nobody needs transformation. In the end, both sides have the same objection: “I don’t need God to tell me what to do.” Many Christians want protective armor against the double-edged sword of Scripture … Others simply desire to dull the blade into impotence (Hebrews 4:12).

Truly experiencing God through the Bible means that we let go of the safety of legalism, public policy bullet points and the comfort zone of the church walls. On the other side of the equation, it also means God desires to use His word for our spiritual transformation – not stagnation. It’s no better to add your own personal preferences to God’s Word than simply ignore it. Either way, the sin is merely a desire to listen our prideful hearts instead of humbling ourselves in submission to the King. So we must allow God to give us ears to hear His voice speaking to us … And then to pursue Him in love, submission and obedience.

Yes, plenty of people are reading the Bible … But who is allowing the Bible to read them?

Here’s the middle path to approaching the grey areas of Scripture: Learn to lovingly submit where God has spoken … And experience joy and freedom where God has not spoken. And become wise enough to realize that most of the time we don’t need to speak at all.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging about the grey matters of Scripture. I’ve already posted the first blog here. Buckle up … it should be fun.

A Broken Hallelujah

Sheet MusicState of Mind. That was the name of the college worship band that I was a part of. Just like every college band, we were full of youthful, brash egotism and thought we were pretty hot stuff. I mean just look at the one or two ever-so-holy Christian girls with floor-length skirts swooning all over us.  Oh, the animal magnetism of the mash-up of Jesus and “amps to 11” rock music. Our most clever move was doing a cover of Bad Company’s “I Feel Like Making Love” … Except we changed the lyrics. Instead of singing “I feel like making love to you,” we sang with conviction and hubris “I feel like praising God with you.” Get it?!? Pretty clever, hunh.

To quote Wayne and Garth: “Not.”

Every year, there seems to be some Christian co-opting of a pop song that contains the words “God,” “Jesus,” “cross” or “religion.” I mean … Who hasn’t heard some sermon series attempting cultural relevance that lends its title from Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One Of Us,” Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” or Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”? I once heard an entire three-month sermon series on Galatians based on R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” They even played the R.E.M. song as the intro music to every message. I was attending another church where the sermon series was (*and I kid you not*) 10 sermons based on the hidden truth of pop songs … And the worship team stumbled through each song that the pastor selected right before the message. Imagine your vaguely talented worship team playing a poor cover of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and you get the picture. For that matter, it seems like every horn-rimmed hipster worship leader keeps trying to surreptitiously slip U2 and Dylan tunes into the song service now a-days.

For that matter, who hasn’t heard some pop song inexplicably altered to suddenly contain church-appropriate lyrics? The great philosopher Eric Cartman once argued that all you needed to do to make a hit Christian record is: (1) Pick a popular secular song about love; and (2) Remove the word “baby” and insert the word “God” or “Jesus.” Can’t you just hear Peter Frampton singing: “Oooooooh Jesus I love your way”? On that note, there was the time at a nightclub where I heard an amazing blues cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” with the chorus: “He’s alright … Jesus Christ … Take His hand … He’ll take you to the promised land.” But my personal all-time favorite is “Baby Got Book”:

And then there’s the “is it or isn’t it” range of songs, where endless hours are spent in Christian small groups vigorously debating whether “Everything” by Lifehouse really is a “Christian” worship song. Or whether Switchfoot is a Christian band or a band made up of Christians. Then there’s that awkward moment when your worship leader and church member argue about whether “Jesus Take The Wheel” is an appropriate song for a special music selection during worship.

One secular song which Christians are now routinely abusing is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It’s a beautiful tune (especially the Jeff Buckley version), but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the original song is about unrequited love and sex. While the chorus does contain Hebrew word for “praise God,” there’s also a naughty girl described as a volatile combination of Bathsheba and Delilah and an awkward reference to the Holy Spirit and rhythmic sexual movement (“Remember when I moved in you … The holy dove was moving too … And every breath we drew was Hallelujah”). Several well-meaning popular worship leaders have recently eviscerated Cohen’s original lyrics to twist the song into a worship tune. Knowing the original meaning of the song (especially that Holy Spirit reference), trotting the song out as a worship tune seems incredibly creepy and uncomfortable to me.

Within the last 50 years, evangelicalism and pop music have had a pretty rocky relationship. During the 80s, I remember my youth minister having a “parents only” meeting where they showed the Christian documentary (and I use that term loosely) “Hells Bells,” which showed the supposed Satanic origins of metal music. The documentary goes out of its way to demonstrate the demonically inspired messages back-masked onto our Judas Priest and Iron Maiden records. (Note: For those who don’t remember the whole back-masking controversy, some conspiracy theorists with WAAAAAAAAAY too much time on their hands were arguing that pop artists were embedding secret Satanic messages that you could hear by playing their records in reverse.) Parents all over our church were FREAKED OUT, smashing record collections and instantly forbidding their kids from listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” while watching “The Wizard of Oz.”

Meanwhile, my brother and I were just trying to hide our cassette tape of Guns and Roses’ “Appetite For Destruction.” And I might add that we never wanted to play it backwards.

Surprisingly, much of the old Christian hokum about the Satanic danger of pop music is still alive and well thanks to the Internet, where old conspiracy theories never die. Not convinced? Here’s a test: Go to Google … Type in the name of any current pop artist and the word “Satan.” Within the top 10 results, you are almost guaranteed to find someone claiming that artist’s songs contain secret back-masked (or even direct) messages about Satanism. I mean … Didn’t you know that The Jonas Brothers were Satanists? And here’s a pretty funny YouTube clip about Satanic messages supposedly back-masked on Justin Beiber records (even “Baby”!):

Can Christians Listen To Secular Music?:

So let’s address the debate: Can Christians listen to secular music? Sure. There is no direct prohibition within Scripture. However, Paul provides an important regulating principle in Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” In other words, the believer’s love for God compels him to demonstrate His love for and obedience to God. If the believer truly loves God, his desire will increasingly be for the pure and lovely things that God declares good.

As so goes the believer’s relationship with secular music: Our hearts should be set on what draws us closer to Christ. As believers, we get too entrenched in the ever-changing nuances of what words are vulgar and what lyrics are offensive. Arguing about which lines of “Telephone” by Lady Gaga need to be bleeped completely misses the point. We fall back into a works-based mentality, seeking to stay out of trouble with God more than love God with everything we’ve got. Overall, we should be focused less on the question of “can we” or “can’t we” and more on the question of “why would we ever want to.” The most important question lies in reference to our hearts: Are we hungry for God alone? Once we have tasted and seen the goodness of Christ, our desire should be to feast on the extravagant riches of Christ alone and to let go of everything that is a pale, bland imitation. To truly taste God is to discover all else is worthless vanity. As A.W. Tozer aptly explains in The Pursuit of God, the paradox of Christ is that once we have truly found Him then we desire Him all the more and the world all the less.

A secondary question is thus: What will draw others to Christ? In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul addresses one of the many, many, many problems in the Corinthian church. Some believers are eating food sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience. Why waste good food? To others, the act of eating “idol food” reminds them of their old idolatrous life. The act is offensive. Neither group is willing to compromise. So Paul commands the church in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” And there’s the question that we so often miss: Will my actions lead to someone else being saved? It’s the essence of Christian love: Seeking to fulfill the needs of our neighbor instead of our own. Our actions should always seek to do what will draw other people closer to Christ. “We Are Young” by Fun is a catchy song, but the believer must question whether a song about drinking to excess will lead their neighbor to Christ.

I was in high school when 2 Live Crew’s infamously banned album, Nasty As They Wanna Be, was released. A friend in youth group somehow obtained a cassette tape of the uncensored version of the album. Right before one Wednesday night youth group, my friend flashed the album cover at me from behind his jacket as if he was smuggling crack cocaine. Curious, I was interested to hear what the controversy over the album was all about. So there we were: A litany of profanity and raw sex to a 4/4 beat unlike anything I’d ever experienced started blaring from his sub-woofer … With the windows of his beat-up Ford truck rolled down in the middle of the church parking lot. And then a funny thing happened. I started getting sick to my stomach at the vulgarity of the lyrics and ran away from the truck as fast as my legs could carry me. I believe that the Holy Spirit was convicting me to get out of there. At that point in my life, I had truly tasted God’s love and knew that cassette was a pale imitation of what God desired for my life.

Honestly, I hardly ever listen to secular music anymore. It’s not out of legalism or pride or an attempt to please God … I just don’t have a spiritual appetite for it anymore. I’d much rather listen to a good sermon or worship album. Yes, I’m that crazy guy singing at the top of his lungs and raising his hands in his idling car while the stoplight changes. God has gradually changed my heart and my appetites. My daily desire is to draw closer to Him. As the old hymn goes: “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”

Can Christians Use Secular Music Within Worship?:

But there’s a further question: Can Christians use secular music within worship? That’s an easier question to answer. Secular songs used as worship music is a battlefield littered with land-mines and the steaming wreckage of shell-shocked worship leaders. A couple Biblical cautions are pertinent. First, the song must be theologically sound. As Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:4, we must be wary of anyone proclaiming a different Christ, Spirit or Gospel than preached in Scripture. If the song has fuzzy theology, might just be about the songwriter’s girlfriend or speaks more of “how I feel” instead of who God is, you’d probably be better off to pick a different song that boldly and clearly expresses the Gospel. Regardless of whether you think “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons is a great song that just so happens to borrow a line from Psalm 57, it is far to ambiguous and open to interpretation to use as an actual worship song. We never want to be unclear about who we worship and why we worship. If you have to bother to ask “Is this song about Jesus,” then that’s probably a red flag.

Second, the song must be spiritually edifying to the entire body of believers (1 Corinthians 14). That song that you sing at the top of your lungs in your car might be best left in your car if no else can figure out the song’s meaning without an exhaustingly long explanation. Never be selfish in your worship. A pastor friend told me about one of his church members who left the congregation confused by singing “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash right before his sermon. Talk about awkward transitions.

But there’s a deeper theological issue regarding secular music in worship. There’s an old theological term that was once used to describe the character of God that we don’t use anymore: Omnificent. It means that God is perfect in His creativity. The omnificent character of God is described best in Psalm 139:13-18, where the Psalmist describes how God knits together each and every one of us. As God laid out the majesty and diversity of the stars and skies, God so created us as His fearful and wonderful handiwork. We worship a God who creative beyond our imagination. If God truly is omnificent, then surely God will inspire believers to craft awe-inspiring artistry that will cause man to lift his eyes to the heavens in wonder. In short, God makes U2 and Dylan look like hacks.

The Reverend Rowland Hill beat Larry Norman by give-or-take a hundred years when he preached in 1844: “The devil should not have all the best tunes.” This line really has nothing to do with rock and roll or pop music (contrary to the Larry Norman song). Here’s the real meaning of Hill’s statement: If God provided members of His church with the spiritual gift of music, then there’s no reason that “Christian” music has to stink worse than a dirty diaper. Our worship should never be based on our own cleverness or relevance for relevance’s sake. Our worship should be based on the Gospel story. Surely our omnipotent God has the power to inspire the human heart to produce great songs that exalt His unchanging goodness and unfailing love. It comes down to the omnificent character of God. Christians don’t really need to lean on the world for music when our God has gifted and inspired believers to craft higher and loftier songs to point to the greatest artist of all time: God Himself.

The question is simply this: Is Christ magnified? If yes, sing it at the top of your lungs with joy and without restraint to the glory of our Lord and King. And let the world shake at the joyful sound it hears.