The lyrics of music selections for congregational worship have evidenced a regrettable lack of discernment in recent days. Consider the song we’ve used recently which suggests “Come, just as you are, to worship.” Certainly we can come to God boldly (Heb. 4:16). But we are never told that we can come carelessly, thoughtlessly, flippantly or casually. The very same NT writer says, “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart” (10:19-22; emphasis added). This writer goes on to remind his readers of the certainty of judgment for those who continue to sin willfully (10:26-31) and later urges his readers, “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire [=Deut. 4:24]” (12:28-29). The OT lays down humility and purity (achieved through obedience and atonement) as absolute requirements for worship
(Psalms 15 and 24). The expression “come as you are” in English usually connotes a casual disregard for one’s state or appearance, an openness to sloppiness. The song “Just As I Am” certainly cannot be cited in support of the lyrics at issue. The song “Just As I Am” clearly suggests coming to God for forgiveness in humble acknowledgment of personal inadequacy (i.e., sinfulness) on the basis of Christ’s atonement. The same song which suggests that we “come as we are” later suggests that though every knee will someday bow to
Jesus’ authority, there is a “greater treasure for those who choose You now” [emphasis added]. “Greater” is a comparative adjective implying there will be a reward for those who will someday be forced to bow the knee before Christ, but a greater reward for those who choose Him now. There will be no reward for those who reject Jesus in this life. There is no second chance at the Judgment Seat.
This theology seems to support a universalistic view of the atonement which is at odds with Scripture. Or perhaps the writer merely means that the sooner we choose Him in this life the greater our reward. While accepting Christ sooner rather than later provides greater opportunity for service (and hence reward), it does not assure greater reward, for our reward will be based on our service, not on our opportunities. Whether this is simply sloppy song-writing or determined heresy, I do not know the writer’s heart, but the lyrics are at best ambiguous.
Another song with a seemingly universalistic message is “Shout to the North” by Martin Smith. The song suggests that “Jesus is Savior to all.” Jesus’ work on the cross provides the potential of salvation FOR all (i.e., unlimited atonement), but not all regard Him as Savior. When I say that someone “has been a father to me,” I mean that he has functioned in that role and I recognize it. Jesus is, indeed, “Lord of heaven and earth” whether we recognize Him to be or not, but He is not Savior to all. This particular song has numerous other problems which make it impossible to sing in any congregation which treasures biblical truth.
Sometimes a song may simply have an incomplete message. We have sung a song drawn directly from Acts 4:12, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The problem is that the song nowhere contains the name that the context of Acts states so clearly: “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (4:10). Will an unbeliever in the service learn from this song? Not unless it is clearly coupled with either other music or an explanation which completes the message. The same could be said of other songs which merely say, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” and variations thereof. Or songs whose lyrics are drawn solely from the Psalms—I have never yet seen Jesus explicitly named in the Psalms, not even in the Messianic prophecies given there. These songs may make an appropriate call to worship or a response to revelation, but fail the content test on their own, that is, the church cannot live on a steady diet of such songs alone. Such songs often talk about worship (“Let us worship…”) but on their own they are not worship but only a call to worship. Like oatmeal, such choruses are warm and mushy—and they have their place—but they do not constitute a balanced diet.
Other songs are not coherent, mixing ideas—or merely patching together titles or names of God—in a random and meaningless way. Such songs fail the content test. Yet other songs have a serious “I” problem or a “little piggy” problem (“we, we, we, all the way home”). Certainly there is a place in our music for proclaiming our wretchedness (“I once was lost, but now am found”) or weakness (“We are weak, but He is strong”) or our desire to serve the Lord (“I’ll go where You want Me to go, dear Lord”), but some songs are so filled with “I will” statements that they become reckless and boastful. Such songs are of dubious worth. Though I have chosen some of the newer, more popular songs for these examples, I do not mean to suggest that we simply need to sing only old songs which contain a version of the King’s English that is no longer comprehensible. Some of our old hymns need to be updated or explained! Our people probably need to be reminded occasionally what an “Ebenezer” is. The heretical universalism of Henry van Dyke’s “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is widely known (and this hymn is #1 in the hymnal currently in use in the church I attend!). And there are also some incredibly good “new” songs coming out—Twila Paris’s “Lamb of God” and Stuart Townsend’s “How Great the Father’s Love for Us” both bring me to tears almost every time I sing them (And if our worship leaders knew this, they would undoubtedly ban them forever. Since almost half of the psalms are laments, why should worship music be aimed solely at expressing happiness? Do we harm the hurting by denying we feel pain? Do we harm ourselves by leaving no place for crying out to the Lord in pain and confusion and even doubt?).
There is no denying that there will be some disagreement on some specifics. “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes” is almost certainly inaccurate if it means that Jesus never cried as a baby, though the writer may merely be picturing a moment when all was still and silent. “Emptied Himself of all but love,” in an otherwise exquisite hymn, must be taken as poetic exaggeration at best, for the Son of God did not become less than God in becoming the Son of Man. Nevertheless, some songs contain such gross inaccuracies or serious doctrinal errors that they are irredeemable and we must reject them as unbiblical. Some, indeed, may suggest that I’ve misunderstood the songs that I’ve used as examples above. Yet if the lyrics of some songs are so ambiguous or open to misunderstanding, why should we be singing them when we can sing songs that clearly and forth-rightly teach God’s truth? If the purpose of music in worship is didactic, let’s choose songs that “didact”!