Melodious Theological Dilemmus

From,com_mojo/Itemid,45/cat,7/ :

Should we sing Hillsong songs?

In the January issue of The Briefing (Matthias Media, Issue 340) Ian Carmichael raises and answers a question which has been much discussed lately in Sydney evangelical churches – should we sing Hillsong songs?

To clarify, “we” refers to evangelical churches who agree with many of Hillsong’s beliefs, but disagree with some of their teaching and practices, particularly on points such as the prosperity doctrine and music as a form of sacrificial worship. The author gave three reasons against using Hillsongs:

1. When we sing their songs, we endorse a church whose teachings we disagree with;
2. When we sing their songs, we contribute financially to the propagation of “harmful teaching”; and
3. When we sing their songs, we compromise our theology (even if the lines look okay, there is usually a “pentecostal” way of understanding them which isn’t okay).

“Personally,” he concluded, “I think these three reasons are sufficient for us to place a blanket ban on Hillsong music in our churches. What do you think?” (Ian Carmichael, “Should we sing Hillsong songs?” The Briefing 340 (January 2007): 34)

As a band we have vigorous debate over what songs should we put on our CDs, and what songs we should lead congregations in singing when we play live. Yet it never occurred to us to place a blanket ban on songs from a particular publisher, any more than we would unquestionably accept songs from a particular source (not even Emu). The first time we came across this type of policy was when, in preparing for a gig at a small Anglican church, we were asked to remove three songs from our set because the host church had a policy of not singing any Hillsongs. Two of the songs they wanted removed weren’t actually from Hillsong, but the issue of the final song remained…what should we do? The issue is made more complex by the fact that Garage Hymnal has contributors who are evangelical but come from charismatic backgrounds, including some who attend Hillsong.

I agree there may be a point at which you might be wise to stop singing songs from a particular church, but where that point is and whether we have reached it with Hillsong is not as simple a question as Carmichael seems to suggest. Indeed I think the need for caution in making pronouncements over that church is recognised by the far more cautious article by Philip Percival in the same issue of The Briefing.

I want to add to the discussion a few questions which I don’t think have been adequately addressed by those making a case in favour of a ban.

(1) How far do we go? How “significant” do the differences in our theology have to be in order to justify a ban? We need some threshold – otherwise we would not be able to sing much; most hymns would be out for sure! Do the disagreements between evangelical churches themselves count as “significant”? If you support women preaching and I don’t, can I still sing the songs you write about calvary?

(2) Do we still have sisters and brothers at Hillsong? Have we really reached the point with Hillsong where we wouldn’t want even the royalties from a single overhead transparency going to support their ministry? Churches buy things from people they disagree with all the time (our church’s plumber has some strange views on predestination); for us to decide to positively make an effort to boycott, embargo and disassociate ourselves from any group of believers is a serious thing indeed. Isn’t this the type of action we reserve for churches who, after tearful exhortation and loving rebukes, walk away from the most central of gospel truths? The early church had huge disagreements over issues which everybody felt very strongly about (food sacrificed to idols comes to mind), and yet they were clear that they were still on the same team. Are there enough commonalities between our situation and the early church’s to require us to mirror their humility and grace? Are the real opponents of the gospel those who read the bible differently, or those who have stopped reading it at all?

(3)  Is a boycott really the wisest, most loving, most beneficial way of dealing with the situation? It is very hard to make people listen to you when you look for all the world like you are being prejudiced and unreasonable. And it is hard to not look prejudiced and unreasonable when you are refusing to sing any songs from a particular church regardless of what the songs themselves actually say. Normally when we think someone is in error we seek a way of dealing with them which engages with the issues in contention, and doesn’t burn our bridges too early. We seek to be clear on what we oppose, and just as importantly to affirm them when they do right – not blindly oppose them either way. When we make it personal, and refuse to have anything to do with them regardless of what they say, there can be no hope of change. We just look arrogant and unreasonable, and they are therefore never challenged. Let’s not forget that Hillsong Publishing covers a lot of different songwriters, many of whom have far more evangelical beliefs than their senior pastors. Their influence over the Hillsong movement is considerable, and is only bolstered by their music’s success.

(4) More generally, should our acceptance of songs (or anything else: books, ideas, arguments etc) rest on their institutional source, or on how their content measures up to scripture? Should we teach our congregations to avoid material from certain sources, or teach them to discern the truth based on the bible?

(5) Are we being inconsistent when we don’t also ban songs from UK or USA Pentecostal churches? Is it just that we don’t know anything about them? Or does our own church’s unique situation and context rightly make a difference to how wise it is to have such a ban? I don’t know of any church which has gone through the hymn book and removed those written by people whose biographical data tells us held aberrant views (and there are a lot, trust me!).

Our response

I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. I am not wise enough to know what is the right thing to do. But I don’t think those advocating a blanket ban have addressed these questions satisfactorily. For this reason, as you have probably guessed, for the moment I disagree with the idea of a blanket ban on songs from any source as much as I disagree with blanket acceptance from any source. Instead, let’s continue to do what we should have been doing all along; let’s carefully examine each song on its merits, discard the bad and mediocre, and use what we think is great.

That said, I think those who advocate a ban are mostly right – we do need to be more aware of the theological baggage that the songs we choose come with. I have written elsewhere about the need to be very thoughtful in the process of adopting songs. We should not just reject songs which contain wholesale heresy, but also those which are unhelpful in their language because they connote theological discourses we think are misleading, or just plain wrong (singing as sacrifice, church as temple, etc.). My next paper will take a look at some common questions raised by standard pentecostal songs which we often sing (including Carmichael’s example, “Shout to the Lord”).

(But what did we do about the church which did have the blanket ban? Well, we did the gig, and we just didn’t do that song.)

24 thoughts on “Melodious Theological Dilemmus

  1. There’s still young people writing music from a solid biblical foundation – you just can’t have a “mosh pit” experience with them!

  2. The music dilemma is a worthwhile conversation to have.

    Personally, I’d agree with the author that songs from anywhere can be adopted, but preferably thoughtfully.

    I’ve left c3 because of having too many doctrinal differences these days, but I still have songs from years ago that come to mind at certain times, and some of them are pretty helpful.

    A church that has discomfort with using the songs because of their stance on Hillsong may end up not being able to sing anything at all if they look into the background of all their origins. Perhaps a statement of their policy regarding song selection would give them the freedom to select good songs from anywhere.

  3. I don’t sing a song at a particular moment if it doesn’t reflect the truth in some way.

    For Example: If the song says something like “I’m so happy” when I am feeling like a wrung out dish-cloth then I don’t sing … even if everyone else is.

    Also, if I know the theological background behind a particular song and it’s wrong in some way, I don’t sing it either.

    For Example: “Majesty, Kingdom Authority …”

    This is a Vineyard song that I have sung many times. However, now that I know that the phrase Kingdom Authority refers to the authority of the end-time apostles and the “manifest sons of God” heresy, I have no option but to refrain from singing it.

    We need to sing the truth. It’s where we get most of our theology from after all.

  4. I agree, Bull. There were always some songs that I couldn’t sing. I used to love that ‘Majesty’ song though – didn’t think about the ‘Kingdom Authority’ bit. I thought at the time that it referred to God’s authority in his Kingdom. It never occurred to me that it would mean anything else. But if I had known it was different, I couldn’t have sung it either.

    My all time favourite for worst song that I couldn’t sing was ‘Dance, dance, before the Lord’. It was a rap number, and I just felt so stupid trying to sing it, that I decided it was better just waiting for it to finish. Had plenty of friends who did the same. If there was ever a worship killer, that song was it. But Phil Pringle seemed to love it!

  5. Just to expand on that… that song had these words – ‘And Oh I feel like dancing…’ (but I didn’t), followed a little later by, “…like I’m dancing now…’ (and I wasn’t), followed by a chorus, ‘Dance, dance, before the Lord’.

    I know that David danced, but I felt like an idiot. If anyone else wanted to dance, that was fine by me, but it just felt wrong! Too orchestrated. Just because you sing something doesn’t mean you are going to feel it!

  6. But I just looked up the author of that song, who used to go to CCC at Brookvale, and I really liked a youtube video he did about church. So I’m going to post it up here for comment.

  7. HILLSONG Lyrics:

    “Bless those who dwell in your house
    For they are ever praising you…

    Hear our prayers, Oh Lord God Almighty!
    Come bless our land, as we seek You!
    Worship You!”

    More Than Life
    “I love You more than Life…”

    Love Unfailing
    “Jesus I believe in You and I would go
    To the ends of the earth
    To the ends of the earth…”


    In The Quiet
    “In the quiet
    In the stillness I know that you are there”
    (and then the song doesn’t go quiet)

    Send Down Your Love
    “Send down Your love! Send down Your love!.. As we call out Your name! Call out Your name! Your name, Yahweh!”


    I Can Sing Of Your Love
    “Oh I feel like dancing
    It’s foolishness I know
    But when the world has seen the light
    They will dance with joy like we’re dancing now”
    (and no one is dancing)

    Those were some at the top of my head. Vineyard did some odd ones and so too does Matt Redman and M W Smith. Hymns are the most safe! 🙂

  8. From:

    Top 5 Worst Worship Songs…

    …Draw Me Close

    Not a big fan of the emotional ‘Jesus is sitting next to me’ type songs. “I’d lay it all down again/ To hear you say that I’m your friend.” Not so bad, I guess. Just wait. “You are my desire/ No one else will do/ Cause nothing else could take your place/ To feel the warmth of your embrace.” What on earth does that mean? Grammatically speaking, we have a monster on our hands. To what does ‘to feel the warmth of your embrace’ refer? Peter, please back me up on this one.

    Come, Now is the Time to Worship

    This song is one of a few in a category I like to call “Ha, ha. You have to sing me first.” For a Worship Planning Team director, this is maddening. Not to mention the weird chorus that doesn’t seem to fit and the way we must all say ‘come’ at the end of the verse in an unnatural sing-whisper.

    Your Love is Extravagant

    I’m pulling out of the ‘most recent’ file on this one. My friend Hannah introduced me to this song, and when she sings it, it’s great. She has a beautiful voice, and I can pretty much ignore whatever she is saying when she’s singing. But when forced to sing as a participant, I found this song problematic. (Again, grammatically). “Spread wide in the arms of Christ/ Is the love that covers sin.” No one told me we were moving back to Olde English on this one, and I spent an entire morning trying to figure out what I had just sung. I asked like 10 people what it meant, and understood even less when I was done. (I felt like a major idiot because it seemed like everyone else understood what we were saying. Maybe they just didn’t care). Later, Danny explained that we were saying “The love that covers sin is spread wide in the arms of Christ.” English majors.

  9. Hehe!

    Heart of Worship, by Matt Redman. Now Redman has written some amazings songs, no doubt, but this one is a stinker. I’ll cut to the chase:

    * “For a song in itself Is not what You have required”. Here we have the absurd situation that we are required to sing a song telling God that he doesn’t want to hear us sing the very song we are singing. Genius! Only a Christian song could come up with this logic.
    * “I’m sorry, Lord, for the things I’ve made it” Why in Flaming Hell am I apologising to God now? Rather than getting on with praising Him, the song makes you mumble a half-hearted apology about some supposed “thing” that we have made worship. I love worship. The only “thing” that gets in the way is the triteness of the lyrics we are forced to sing!
    * “Though I’m weak and poor…”. The irony of all those well-fed, Middle-Class White Christians singing such a line…

  10. RP, did that dance song go:

    Dance, dance, dance, dance before the King
    I give you all my heart, I give you everything

    I seem to recall that one. I have a friend who used to write for a pente church in the 80s and I used to think she was like super-spiritual but she is a good songwriter/performer and is now writing mainstream. Im going back to bed, got woken up by child…..

  11. That’s the one, mj! You remember well!

    I get it mixed up with the one S&P mentioned, “…I Can Sing Of Your Love
    “Oh I feel like dancing
    It’s foolishness I know
    But when the world has seen the light
    They will dance with joy like we’re dancing now”
    (and no one is dancing)”

    Both of them made me cringe, mainly because the words were so patently different from our actual behaviour, unless we were doing something most of us didn’t feel like doing.

  12. I can’t believe how much you people moan about stuff. Look, there’s David’s wife, Michal and there’s David. He danced, she was ashamed of him and moaned. He produced the next generation, despite all his faults, and she was barren! God decided between them.

    More people love to sing these songs than don’t.

  13. Well, I´m a bit puzzled about such ideas of boycotting songs that have a certain label (e.g. Hillsong) for theological or ecclesiastical reasons. I certainly know only few songs of them (Germany is quite far away from Oz), among these would be songs like “How great is our god” and “Hosanna” and maybe one or two more.
    In my local baptist church we have a songbook with contributions from songwriters of past centuries who worked actively (and violently) within the catholic counter-reformation in the 16th century or distributed a book of church hymns with texts written in “the spirit of the enlightenment” in the early 18th century.
    We could easily end up in censoring almost 70-80% of all songs if we make our perception of “objectionable teaching” or “objectionable persons and ministries” the ruling criteria here.

  14. We’d probably lose all our songs if we made the criteria ‘objectionable persons or ministries’, in that no ministry or person is flawless, and most denominations are distinct because of their various theological differences, yet they mostly do recognise one another as fellow Christians.

    Still, I’m more comfortable singing songs that at least fit the theology of the church I’m comfortable attending, rather than ones that clearly flout it.

    For example, I don’t know if there is such a thing, but I’d be very uncomfortable singing a song that praised a saint or Mary.

    Plus I don’t like songs that say I’m doing/feeling something when I’m probably not, like dancing!

    Mostly, I’m happy as long as the lyrics are something I can agree with in my head.

  15. “Shine Jesus Shine” is one I really cant stand. Its like we’re trying to tell Him how to do His job. What were they thinking when they wrote this?

    Shine, Jesus, Shine
    Fill the earth with the Father’s Glory
    Praise Spirit ….


  16. Yes, sometimes one wonders if telling God how great He is, which He is, might be a bore to Him and He might want more stimulating conversation :o)

    Also repeating that worship opens up “blessing” well what if im deaf or can’t sing, can I not worship quietly to my God

  17. I make up my own words anyway. So I would encourage Christian’s to do the same. Why let someone elses words get in the way?

    Truly great worship songs encourage the congregation to shift their focus off themselves and onto their Maker. Either this or enter into a rich moment where they can find intimacy with God, being counseled, assured or ministered to by Him, (directly from Him or by Him using others).
    Worship should be a spirit and truth-filled dialogue, worship being expressed through word and action, being sincere and transparent towards God.

  18. I recall vaguely hearing a worship song in the 60’s based on the scripture of God breathing his spirit into Adam.

    This was the line that stood out to me:
    “You breathe up through my nostrils
    Your breath of life in me
    Within this earthen vessel…”

    Then there was something like a bridge:
    “Your breath is in my nostrils
    You are the air I breathe”

    Hotshots2 comes to my mind whenever I think of this song.

  19. ‘You breathe up through my nostrils’… I think I’d have trouble singing that without wincing!

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