Can We Swear in Church?

I’ve been a big fan of Hillsong United since 2007 when I was introduced to “Mighty to Save” at a youth missions trip. My influence from them grew even more when I went to college and it seemed like EVERYONE loved them and sang their songs. They’ve put out many songs I’ll sing at church often (Hosanna, Lead Me to the Cross, Search My Heart, the whole Zion album) and they recently came out with a new album called ‘Empires.’ I was once again looking forward to having many new songs to introduce at church at some point, but after listening to the album a couple times I’m a little disappointed with this album. Nothing stuck out right away as a song we should sing at church (as I quickly thought of “Oceans”). From following many of the members of the band, I understand that this album was born out of a period of immense suffering because one of the members’ baby sons had many complications and was in the hospital for an extended period of time. That suffering is most acutely felt on the song “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)” Thematically it’s very similar to something like “Blessed Be Your Name,” and I musically really enjoy it (as most previous albums have done, Hillsong United is able to blend modern music with worship in a beautiful way). The chorus says

Even when my strength is lost
I’ll praise You
Even when I have no song
I’ll praise You
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise

I would gladly sing that part of the song at church and fully embrace it. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 says, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s the second chorus that I have a problem with.

Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise

Can we use a phrase “hurts like hell” in church? Is it ok to swear to God? Most often it depends on who you ask. Part of the reason Mark Driscoll got as popular as he did was because he was known as “the swearing pastor.” I remember one time when I was younger reading about John Piper swearing during a sermon (I looked it up and couldn’t find anything at this time). Piper said he could point to instances in the Bible where the writers used stronger language, but he still shouldn’t have done it in a sermon. This is one of those issues that Millennials have seemed to more often embrace. Swearing is fine because it’s funny! Or done to make a point. Anyone who says swearing is bad is a legalist! Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I think it is important to separate our corporate times of worship with our personal times of worship in this issue. During a church service, I would not be comfortable singing something like that. Ever. Even when it’s done to make a point I think there are better words that can be used that are more conducive to building the body up toward Christ. At the same time, for my personal time of worship, if I was really struggling, I wouldn’t hesitate to use some strong language in my prayers. Jesus on the cross said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thankfully I will never have to deal with the same kind of separation he experienced, but I don’t know what my future holds. I have two friends who have held their still-born children and have wrestled through intense periods of grief, and still came to the conclusion that God is still good and he cares for me. Even when my life hurts like hell I know it isn’t the end. Christ has defeated sin and death and will use everything in my life for good and his glory.

Advertisements

Using Music From People With Wack Theology

There have been a few articles I’ve read recently about why people will not sing songs at church from specific groups, the most often quoted are Hillsong, Elevation Worship, and Jesus Culture. They do not want to endorse any kind of theology that may be questionable or lead people to study more about specific churches. But what if the words of many of the songs they write are biblically true, or a resurrection of an old hymn? Personally, I have chosen to do songs from almost all these churches. They have written many songs that are very catchy, easy to sing (sometimes! if you lower it a lot!), memorable, and theologically rich. I’m grateful for these people who have been gifted with combining biblical truths with good music that won’t put me to sleep! The main reason I use music from these churches is because if we were going to ban music from anyone or any group with a questionable past or questionable theological bent, we wouldn’t sing any songs. Moses was a murderer, David was a murderer and an adulterer, Paul was a murderer (there was a lot of death in the Bible) and Jesus saved all of them, and used them for his good. The disciples even wanted Jesus to lead a revolt against the Romans, I think their theology was completely off at that point! I also know that at times my theology has been completely off. If I think I have it all figured out I’m still off! Thankfully God is still God and can and will work despite me and my completely wack theology. Yet in the midst of that, we will still do our best to worship God and equip the saints to better understand God through the gift of music.

Singing to Teach

Whenever I’m asked why we spend so much time singing during a church service, there are two passages I cite. The first is Ephesians 5:18-21 where Paul says,

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The second is also by Paul in Colossians 3:15-17 where he says,

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In the first passage, Paul writes about one of the purposes of singing “addressing one another.” He words it similarly in Colossians when he says, “teaching and admonishing one another.” That means that we need to spend time singing to each other, and also means that the congregation needs to be able to hear each other! Mike Cosper, a worship pastor in Louisville, KY says, “we sing so that we can teach and admonish one another.” (Rhythms of Grace, 156)  Harold Best, a music professor at Wheaton college, words this even more strongly in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith where he writes, “a congregation is just as responsible to sing the gospel as the preachers are to preach it.” (192)

The common thought among many Christians today is that the church is run by the pastors and leaders, which leads to a passive approach to church. People come to church to be fed instead of coming to serve those around them. This also is manifested when people refuse to sing during our corporate times of worship. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes that the job of the teachers is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (4:12) This also applies to music as it is done to equip those in the church to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, singing plays an essential part to the ministry of the church. We must not neglect singing together, as some are in the habit of doing, instead let us continue to sing to build one another up and help teach each other the richness of the gospel message through the power of God to the ends of the earth.