Worshiping God Only In Part

Shouldn’t we praise God for ALL his attributes when worshiping?

 
 

I wrote this on June 11, 2002


   I read the article below in a Christian music magazine and found it to be quite disturbing.  I'm afraid it's an indication that the secular views of God are infiltrating the evangelical church.  I'll comment more after the article.


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THE CHRISTIAN AND ART

by Kemper Crabb


    In a recent conversation I was having with a songwriter friend of mine, he mentioned with sorrow and exasperation that a song he had written for a worship project had been partially changed at the behest of the project's producer, because the producer felt that the lyrics at one point of the song misrepresented God, and would be offensive to the project's potential buyers.  I was not surprised to learn that the offending lyric made reference to the fact that God will act in judgment on behalf of His people.

    The producer felt that it was in bad taste for Christians to make reference to, and especially rejoice over, that fact in their worship, and he said as much to my friend.  When my friend mildly (and correctly) pointed out that judgment on sin is integrally tied up with the holy nature of God, the producer responded that he felt it would be offensive to the buyers of the recording, and needed to be changed anyway, since it might negatively affect sales and radio-play of the project.  The song was summarily edited.

    Although I'd like to think that the producer in question was wrong about the sales impact (and I do think a case for that could be made), it is undoubtedly true that he was responding to a widely perceived  preference in the evangelical church's worship practices to deliberately exclude anything about God that is deemed unpleasant or distressing.  (For the record, the reason I was not surprised at my friend's story is that, as a writer of worship songs myself, I have frequently been bedeviled [literally] by objections to the "unpleasant" Scriptural contents of some of my songs.)

    How has this attitude arisen in the bosom of evangelicals, the supposed theological bastion of such doctrines as the fall of man, the existence of hell, the final judgment, and the necessity of Christ's blood-atonement for sin on the cross?  After all, we evangelicals are the heirs to a church that has from earliest times sang the Psalter (all of it), hymns that laud God for both His justice and His mercy, and the chanting and singing of virtually all of the words in Scripture at one point or another in our two-millenia-long history as the Church.  This was true up to relatively recent times.  So what happened?  How have we as a people come to the point where we restrict the range of characteristics we are willing to praise God for, when He plainly is so much more broadly and fully revealed to us in Scripture?  Well, in seven words, bad theology and a failure of nerve are to blame.

    As to theology, we have ceased to believe that all of Scripture applies to us in some fashion (the Older Testament, it is held, is for the Jews; only the New Testament is for us.  This is taught despite the fact that, when Paul declares that all Scripture is inspired and useful for training a man in all godliness in 2 Timothy 3:16-18, he was referring primarily to the Old Testament, since much of the New Testament had yet to be written).  As a result, like the other ancient heretics who viewed the God of the Old Testament as different from the Christ of the New, we seek to drive a wedge between the unity of the attributes and character of the Triune God (a very odd belief, since God is shown as loving in the Old Testament and new, and as a judge in both Testaments as well, as Psalm 107 & 103, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, and Revelation 15 & 16 demonstrate).

    The result of this is that we only want to think of God as loving and merciful and peaceful (which He is, of course), but don't want to think of the supposedly "negative" aspects of God: his justice, holiness, and wrath.  This attitude results in our progressive failure of nerve.  There is not question that it is uncomfortable to think of those aspects of God's character.  We prefer a nicer, safer, tamer, more predictable God.  You know, a God who won't hold us accountable when we sin or interfere with our lifestyles: a kinder, gentler God whom we can control.  The problem is that such a view is myopic; we only look at part of God, who, like Aslan in the Narnia series, is neither tame nor safe.  God is not safe, but He is good.

    "OK," you say, "I see your point.  But what does it matter if we only praise God in worship for part of who He is?  We're still worshipping Him."  Are we?  If the God we worship looks only somewhat like the Lord revealed in Scripture, eventually our view of Him will conform itself to that partial view.  Leaving aside the fact that Scripture commands us to worship God in all His attributes, as He truly is, there is a concomitant practical truth related to all this:  we become like what we worship.  It is inevitable that we will conform to the image of whatever we worship.

    If we worship a God who is unconcerned with accountability for sin, or justice, or holiness, then why should we be concerned with such things?  If God is not concerned with particular attitudes toward sex or violence, then why should we be?  (When was the last time you heard a sermon on, or much less, sang the words of, or a song about, the Song of Solomon or Jesus' command in Luke 22:35-38 to His disciples to sell their cloaks and buy a sword?  Yet the divorce rate among evangelicals continues to climb, and confusion about the role of violence, and our response to it, plagues us as a church and a society.  Do you think there is a connection between the church's silence on these things and her silence on them in worship?)

   If we, for reasons of commerce or comfort (or whatever false god) refuse to worship God as He has revealed Himself in all of His complexity (and as He wishes to be worshipped), we will find that, after we bend our knees and heads in worship, that, as we look again after we raise our heads, the god we are worshipping has morphed strangely, and looks increasingly less like the God of the Bible, and more and more like Mammon or Moloch.  And if we chance to turn and look into a mirror, we should not be surprised to see the image of those gods looking back at us from our own eyes.

   What is to be done?  We must recognize and worship in our words, lives, and music, the God of the Bible in His full-orbed character and range of attributes:  His justice as well as His mercy, His holiness and well as His compassion, His righteous wrath as well as His love.  We must worship Him, in our sermons, words, and songs as He has been revealed to us, regardless of the cost in commerce, comfort, or public perception.  It is time for judgment in the House of God.


(At the time this article was published, Kemper Crabb worked at Grassroots Distribution and was a member of Atomic Opera.  Email him at kemper@kempercrabb.com.)

from HM magazine, May/June 2002 Issue #95, pages 86-87.

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   (By the way, I have an old album--from 20 years ago, by Kemper Crabb called The Vigil.  It would be considered SO politically incorrect today that I cannot imagine any Christian record label releasing it, especially a major label like Star Song, which is what label it was on.  It is an album of songs representing the prayer vigil that warriors would engage in before going on the Crusades!)


    I was quite disturbed when I read this article.  Certainly, Christian music labels are for-profit ventures and decisions need to be made as to the marketability of songs, but I really have trouble with the words in worship songs--of all types of songs!--being changed for the market!!  Of all types of Christian songs, worship songs would seem to be the most holy, the ones where Biblical accuracy must be most rigidly adhered to, for these songs are to be used in direct worship to God!  How disturbing to realize that even such holy songs are being altered for the sake of the dollar.

   But as Kemper Crabb points out, this problem goes much deeper than just the dollar.  The temptation is very real to water down the gospel to make it more palatable to the masses, especially in the current political environment where the big word is "TOLERANCE" and ideas such as sin and judgment will get you immediately branded as intolerant, or worse, hateful, and also means your ideas won't be heard but will be rejected out of hand.

   I am all for seeker-sensitive churches, where a special effort is made to present the gospel in ways that non-Christians can relate to, for example with the use of clips from TV shows and movies, popular songs, drama, etc.  I am all for this AS LONG AS the total picture of God does not get distorted.  It's easy to attract big crowds and make a big church if you always paint God as someone who is deeply concerned about you and wants to make you happy and is so loving and so kind.  It reminds me of an article Keith Green wrote about 20 years ago, complaining about the watered-down gospel that made God seem "so loving, so kind, so gentle...that after awhile you end up thinking, 'Aw, he wouldn't hurt a fly!'" 

   If a church paints God in such a way, it has made a self-centered religion where God is more like My Genie, or My Buddy who supports me no matter what I do.  The Bible paints a very different picture.  How about in Philippians 2 where it says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"??

   Liberal Christians and those who know something about Christianity (but not enough) criticize Christians who speak of sin and judgment as getting it all wrong--after all, they say, Jesus was loving and forgiving; his only harsh words were against religious authority, like those people today who are so cruel as to criticize sin and speak of God's judgment.  After I hear so much of this, I want to dig into my Bible and find all the words of Jesus (these people don't put any value on any other Biblical words, only those of Jesus himself) and show them that Jesus is not some wimp who "wouldn't hurt a fly."

   But it seems to me that people like that aren't really interested in following God anyway; they just want to justify themselves.  What really alarms me is that such an attitude is creeping into the evangelical church, the people who have historically been very concerned about being true to the Bible.  If we leave out God's holiness, wrath, and judgment out of our sermons, songs, and teaching, then we are no longer being true to the Bible.

   Let us not be ashamed of our God, who is righteous, holy, and will show His wrath at evil on Judgment Day.  While we want to present the gospel in ways people can relate to, the message must never be watered down.  Be sure your church is including all aspects of God in the songs chosen for worship and the sermons and teaching.

Pondering God & Church is a sub-website of J Lee Harshbarger’s personal website.  To visit other sub-websites, click the links below.

Buddy Jesus, from the movie Dogma

The comments in the second-to-last paragraph represent my views in 2002, and while my theology on this point is no different today, I would not likely express myself quite this way today.  For more on my current spiritual thoughts, see my 3-part series, Identity Crisis of an Evangelical.

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