I touched on this issue in passing in this past Tuesday’s radio interview with Monk Boone and I thought it worth the time to unpack a bit more. As pastors and music ministers, we are constantly looking for new songs to integrate into corporate worship. Right now, I’m teaching three new songs to the Praise Team and when our Choir returns in a few days, I’ll begin teaching three or four new ones to them. Currently, our Approved Song List has approximately 200 songs on it and have carefully been (and are still continuously being) tested against the veracity of scripture as to their acceptance on that list.
It’s hard enough to know enough of the bible to discern a song’s lyrical condition. It’s one thing to write a song that is artistic. It’s another thing to write a song that is artistic and biblical. But another question that I see come up quite frequently is the spiritual condition of the song-writer. With Ray Boltz’s admission of being a homosexual a few years ago this subject moved even more to the forefront.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind—lyrics are objective. We can clearly evaluate how accurate or inaccurate they are. A songwriter’s spiritual condition is not objective. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Cor. 2:11) There’s no way to absolutely know if someone else is truly regenerate. We certainly have tests of saving faith given in God’s Word (especially in James, 1 John, and Jude) but nowhere are we to declare someone born-again. Even when dismissing someone from church membership, Jesus did not say “declare them a publican and tax-collector” (which, in historical context, was pagan) but “treat them AS a publican and tax-collector” (Matt 18:15-18). Scripture writer’s designation of folks being born-again (or terms in that vein) were almost always on a corporate level, not usually on an individual one.
What am I then saying? I’m advising any pastor or music minister who is responsible for selecting a church’s repertoire to evaluate a song primarily on the biblical accuracy of the lyrics. Then evaluate the song on the cultural appropriateness (if it’s stylistically distracting for a congregation, it probably shouldn’t be used). If I had to worry about whether or not every hymn-writer of history or every current songwriter is truly regenerate, we wouldn’t be singing any songs—including the ones I’ve written!
Is there ever a time when we should avoid using a song—even though it’s lyrics are biblical—because of the songwriter’s spiritual condition? Yes. If, as in the aforementioned Boltz case, the news of the songwriter’s bold rejection of the bible is so well-known among your congregation as to cause congregants to stumble (Romans 14) then I abstain. It makes no sense to force a congregation to sing a song while distracted by the open godless testimony of the songwriter and his association with that song.
However, those occasions are few and far between. You can, I would say 99% of the time, be rest assured that this will not be the case in selecting songs for congregational singing. To give an example, how many folks in your church even know that Robert Robinson actually turned from the faith for many years, even bordering on being a Universalist, before finally repenting and returning to orthodoxy late in life? Every time you sing “Come Thou Fount” you are singing his work. I’m not about to stop singing that song simply because Robinson had his major spiritual struggles. What about William Cowper? He attempted suicide three times! Should I stop singing “There Is A Fountain” because of that?! God forbid!
With all of that being said, I wish more folks would just care that their song lyrics are biblically accurate….(sigh)