A Theology of Worship

1I was recently asked this question:

What is your theology of worship? Specifically, how do you understand God at work in corporate worship and your purpose and role in worship? 

And I wrote a really long answer. Here’s what I said:

God is infinitely worthy of worship because of who he is and because of what he has done. He is great, he is greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. His greatness and his glory are supremely displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God has lavished his children with undeserved kindness and the glorious riches of his grace. God, the creator and ruler of the world, the judge of all men, and the loving Father who sent his Son as a ransom for many and poured out his Spirit on all flesh, is the object of all of heaven’s praise, and will receive unceasing worship for all eternity.

The glory of God in Jesus Christ must be the central element to a theology of worship. That is the core to which we attach all secondary, yet essential, discussions of corporate worship, music, songs, services, and worship leadership. When the core is compromised, all the branches will die. Worship is, fundamentally, the revolving of oneself around the greatest greatness in the universe: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Why should we revolve our selves, our lives, our families, our songs, our Sunday mornings, and our chapel services around this God? Is it because he’s needy? No. It’s because we’re needy.

In the words of John Piper, “God’s demand for our supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness”. Is the deer that drinks from a stream to be accused of being deer-centered? No. Is the baby who feeds from her mother to be accused of being selfish? Certainly not. When one expresses his worship, his neediness, his longing, his utter dependence on another, this is not selfishness. In the same way, we worship God, in view of his mercy, in the light of his great glory, as objects of his mercy who should have known wrath, because it is only in worshiping him – in making much of him – that we are satisfied.

With the glory of God in Jesus Christ as the core of a theology of worship, and his demand for our praise (with the goal of our supreme joy) as the impetus for our corporate worship, we can see that God is at work during corporate worship drawing people to himself. The Spirit of God is moving in the midst of the people of God, pointing them to Jesus, convicting them of their sin and neediness, filling their hearts with songs of praise, guiding their prayers, illuminating the very Word he inspired, comforting the afflicted, and stirring up gifts that he gives as he pleases. The Spirit is not pointing to himself. He is pointing to Jesus. And Jesus points to his Father. We are invited into this community of joy during corporate worship, and reminded yet again that it is purely a gift of grace.

My role as a worship leader is to use music as a tool to help people exalt and encounter the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. With a pastoral heart of humility, musical gifting, prayerful preparation, and skillful leadership, I primarily serve as a pointer to Jesus. I should be like a tour guide at the Grand Canyon who points out the greatness of what the onlookers have come to behold and then gladly steps back so they get as clear a view as possible. My role is to not overly interject myself into the process of God’s revelation to and work amongst his people. At the same time, if he really is great and greatly to be praised, then I should do the best job I can to help people see him and encounter him. A worship leader doesn’t lead anyone into God’s presence. Jesus leads us into God’s presence by his blood. So a worship leader points to Jesus.

Music won’t save anyone’s life. A good song won’t bring anyone eternal joy. A good show won’t feed anyone anything nutritious. Jesus changes lives. Jesus brings eternal joy. Jesus is the bread of life. The fruit of a theology of worship that revolves around Jesus is corporate worship and worship leadership that exalts him above all things.

We Believe Our God is Jesus?

1What do you do when one word introduces theological imprecision to an otherwise good song? This is the dilemma in which we find ourselves with a song titled “Once and For All” featured on the new Passion album “Let the Future Begin”, written by Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jason Ingram and Matt Maher. It’s a great song written by great worship leaders, but I want to highlight how one word can present a problem.

The first verse, second verse, and bridge have solid lyrics and a memorable melody. They say:

Verse 1:
Once and for all, the Father’s love
He is the light in the darkness
He took on flesh and took our place
The weight of the world on his shoulders

Verse 2:
Once and for all, our debt is paid
There on the cross it is finished
The Lamb of God for us was slain
Up from the grave he is risen

Bridge:
Jesus, Jesus, God from God, Light from Light
You are our salvation
Jesus, Jesus, God from God, Light from Light
Your Kingdom is forever

Nothing is the matter so far. The verses and bridge all point to the person and work of Jesus, him being the demonstration of the Father’s love, the one who secured our salvation once and for all, and the one who is very God and the light of the world. Great stuff.

But then we have the chorus. And in the chorus is one word that presents a dilemma.

Chorus:
We believe our God is Jesus
We believe that he is Lord
We believe that he has saved us
From sin and death once and for all

Did you catch it? It’s in the very first line of the chorus. The other lines are good and strong, but the first line, “we believe our God is Jesus” is the issue. You might think I’m being incredibly picky. Maybe I am. OK, I probably am. But let me try to explain:

To be clear: we do certainly believe that Jesus is God. There were early Church fathers who spent their lives defending this doctrine. Jesus is fully man, and he is fully God, and this is a clear and foundational doctrine of our faith. 

But to be just as clear: we believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We worship a God who is one in being yet distinct in three persons. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit is any more or less “God” than the other “person”. It’s a mind-boggling truth, but it’s one we embrace, and it’s one that this good song, in one little line, makes unnecessarily fuzzy. And the fact that it’s the first line of the chorus makes it a prominent fuzziness.

To say “we believe our God is Jesus” should feel just as odd to sing as it would be to sing “we believe our God is Spirit”. Your reaction should be “well, yes he is, but he’s also Father and Son”. To say that “our God” is only one person of the Trinity is a bit of shame, particularly in a song that will be downloaded and purchased hundreds of thousands of times, be incorporated into thousands of churches’ repertoire, and inwardly digested by the people singing the words on Sunday mornings all over the world.

When I heard this song for the first time, I wondered whether anyone else thought it was odd to say “our God is Jesus”. As I looked at reviews of the album online (which, I have to say, is a really great CD and has some wonderful songs on it and I recommend it) no one raised any concerns.

I did read one review that mentioned this song and said, interestingly, that it “…is a remediation of the Nicene Creed, and… proclaims the attributes, character, and mission of Christ”.

Not quite to the first part of that statement. The Nicene Creed is a robustly Trinitarian statement of faith which begins: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty…” continuing with: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light…” and concluding by saying that: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…”

So while this song does feature the phrase “We believe…” and “God from God, Light from Light”, it could hardly be called a “remediation of the Nicene Creed”.  But I agree that it proclaims Jesus’ “attributes, character, and mission”.

I really do like the song! Just not the first line of the chorus and I wish they had changed the one word to avoid all of this confusion. If the line said “we believe our King is Jesus”, I think that would be an improvement.

I asked Dr. Lester Ruth, Research Professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School, whether he thought I was being unreasonable in my criticism of this line in the song. He kindly responded and said:

Great question. You hit the nail right on the head. If our God is Jesus, then one has to wonder who the Father is in “The Father’s love” and who the God is of “Lamb of God”. Does this just mean “Jesus of Jesus”? Of course not…

I don’t think that single line (“…our God is Jesus…”) should disqualify the song, particularly if you can couple it with other liturgical items that bring out a more Trinitarian, New Testament way of speaking. Put the song in a good, strong, more balanced context. The line is not wrong per se but it is not the best way to express things.

I thought that was very helpful feedback.

I also asked Simon Ponsonby, the Pastor of Theology at St. Aldates Church in Oxford, for his thoughts. He said:

In an age when so many worship songs are little more than self-centered emoting, void of theology and a vision of God’s glory, I am grateful for song writers who are attempting to write in a modern idiom, biblical, theologically robust songs, that exalt God. This song is just such an attempt by a gifted song writer.  The question for me is not so much about the phrase “we believe our God is Jesus”  – though the sentence does sound unusual to my ears –  rather, in a song that echoes the Nicean Creed, I personally would have liked to see a similar Trinitarian completeness.  The statement “we believe our God is Jesus” without reference to Christian belief also in God as Father and Spirit, might appear to some observers to reduce God to Jesus per se.  And that is not what I believe.

So from all of this, there seem to be 5 takeaways:

  1. To say/sing “We believe our God is Jesus” is not technically wrong, but misleadingly incomplete.
  2. This line doesn’t disqualify this otherwise good song, but raises the stakes of completing its theology with the other songs/liturgy surrounding it.
  3. If the song really were a remediation of the Nicene Creed, it would have been more careful.
  4. One word can make a huge difference in a song.
  5. I need to use the phrase “per se” more often in my writing.

I’m grateful to God for worship songwriters like Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jason Ingram, Matt Maher, and so many others who seek to serve the church by providing it with fresh, congregational songs of praise to the glory of God. It’s harder than it looks to write good worship songs, and these guys consistently do a good job and I am one of millions who have been blessed and edified by their work.

In this instance, I think this line slipped past some theological editing that would have made the song a lot better. My hope is that this post will convey my thankfulness to these songwriters for their work, and encourage all of us to be careful in what words we put on our congregations’ lips.

You Don’t Have to (And Can’t) Know Everything

1There has been an encouraging trend recently in many circles in the worship world to emphasize the pastoral role of the worship leader (the Doxology and Theology conference is just one example) and challenge worship leaders to think more deeply and theologically about how they’re serving their congregations.

This is all very good.

But, if there is any downside to this much needed emphasis, it could potentially be that worship leaders who already struggle with feeling like there’s so much they have to keep up with, who are already scraping by with relatively little musical training, who don’t have an awful lot of spare time to study anything except all the dirty dishes in their kitchen, and who don’t think reading 18th century German theologians is their idea of a good time, could end up feeling unqualified and unable to measure up.

That would be very bad.

You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to be really smart. You don’t have to have a seminary degree and be able to notate string parts in your sleep while reading Luther in your sleep while reharmonizing 300 year-old hymns.

Having said that, if you’re a worship leader, you are a theologian. By virtue of the fact that on a Sunday morning, you are responsible for what words people are singing and praying to God, you are therefore a person who is shaping people’s (for the lack of a better word) study of God, which is the meaning of the word theology. And so you do need to heed the challenge to think more deeply and lead more pastorally and take more seriously your responsibility to not just throw together a string of songs or a cool light show.

You need to know: (1) Who you are in Christ. You were dead and now you’re alive. (2) Who you are as a person. You’re you, you’re not that other guy. Be you. (3) Who you are for God. If you exist for his glory then you’re on a church staff for his glory too. You point people to, you celebrate, you magnify, and you never move past what he’s done in Jesus Christ. (4) Who you are for your congregation. You are a servant, not a celebrity, you’re a pastor, not a performer, and you’re a facilitator, not a famous rock star. (5) Who you are as a musician. You’ve been given some gifts and not given others. Use the gifts you have.

Beyond these things, anything else you know is extra. If you’re an amazing composer, that’s great. Compose awesome stuff for God’s glory. If you love reading 18th century German theologians, then read as much as you can and it will ooze out in your leading.

But, if you’re not an amazing musician or a budding doctrinal scholar or a curator of old hymns, you can take a deep breath. You don’t have to (and can’t) know everything. There are a few foundational things that really matter. Get those right and the rest will fall into place.

God is Not Like Kim Jong Il

On Friday night I watched a fascinating National Geographic documentary on North Korea. Lisa Ling travels there with a camera crew accompanying a Nepalese eye surgeon. He’s allowed in on a humanitarian mission to perform 1,000 cataract surgeries in 10 days.

You might have seen the clips on the news from when Kim Jong Il died this past December. The mass display of mourning and weeping was, literally, unbelievable. This is an entire nation driven by indoctrinated fear to worship its “dear leader” or “great leader” or “supreme leader” or “eternal president”, whomever that may be. This documentary shows this worship up-close, even in the living room of a blind North Korean woman, who dreams of having her blinding cataract removed so she can gaze upon a portrait of the dear leader himself.

The final scenes are breathtaking. Filmed one day after the surgeries, when their eyes have had time to heal, and their eye patches are removed, one-by-one, the North Koreans approach the giant portraits of their dear leader and “eternal president” to, literally, praise him, thank him for healing their eyes, and promise to serve him even better.

I still can’t get past what one woman said. Immediately after having her eye patches removed and realizing she could see again she declared: “Great General, I will work harder at the salt mines to get more salt to bring you more happiness”.

I realized I was watching a worship service. It was unlike the services you or I are a part of every Sunday, but it was unmistakably a worship service. Kim Jong Il was God, the people in the room were his servants, they were there to praise him for what he had done for them, and the goal of it all was to make their dear leader happy. It was dutiful. You could tell they were afraid of him. It felt forced. But it’s what they have to do if they don’t want to get sent to a death camp.

It reminded me of John Piper’s letter to the atheist Michael Prowse who had written in a newspaper article of the absurdity (to him) of Christian worship. Prowse’s main objection was that if a morally perfect God did exist, then he surely wouldn’t demand praise. Isn’t it evil to demand praise?

Yes, if your name is Kim Jong Il. No if your name is God.

Piper wrote:

“…God’s demand for supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness. Deep in our hearts we know that we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something great. The best joys are when we forget ourselves, enthralled with greatness. The greatest greatness is God’s. Every good that ever thrilled the heart of man is amplified ten thousand times in God. God is in a class by himself. He is the only being for whom self-exaltation is essential to love. If he ‘humbly’ sent us away from his beauty, suggesting we find our joy in another, we would be ruined.”

He continues:

“…the reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be complete until he gets it. He is seeking our praise because we won’t be happy until we give it. This is not arrogance. It is love.

Our churches are full of people who, whether they realize it or not, think that God needs their worship. And this is why our churches are full of people who don’t enjoy it. Why should they? If it’s all for God and not for them, then why in the world are we singing for 25 minutes? Isn’t one song enough for God? Why should I clap or lift my hands to try to impress God? Why didn’t I just sleep in and run some errands or work on my lawn?

God is not like Kim Jung Il. Or any other “human tyrant puffed up with pride”. We don’t approach God to tell him how much harder we’ll work at the salt mines to bring him more happiness.

We approach God like a deer coming to a stream of water (Psalm 42:1) to drink. We approach God’s throne of grace with confidence because of his son (Hebrews 4:16) to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. We come to God as his children to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:5-6).

As I watched these oppressed, malnourished, terrorized North Koreans approach their wicked dear leader’s portrait to offer him praise and dedication to make him more happy, my heart broke for them. If only they could see, and freely worship, a kind and merciful Redeemer who will save them, love them, and satisfy them.

If only more of our churches could see him too. We may not live in North Korea but we can often be just prone to dutiful, joyless worship as those people in the documentary.

God is not like Kim Jong Il. His demand for our supreme praise is not for his happiness, but for ours. May we pursue joy in God and lead people in that pursuit as well as we can.

Handiwork and Jesus

The barbarians are at the gate.

And they play the electric guitar.

This is the main point of the first chapter of Can We Rock the Gospel, by Dan Lucarini and John Blanchard, and it gets even better from there.

“…rock music is worldly, evil, and something to be avoided.”

“Rock music is a stumbling block and a scandal to many Christians today and it is dividing the church.”

“…What is undeniable about rock is its hypnotic power.”

“…using [rock] in God’s service is spiritually perilous.”

“There is music that reflects God’s glory and there is music that does not.”

“…Christian rockers are… imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who… have rejected the God of the Bible.”

“The central paradigm of rock ‘n’ roll is a kind of voodoo… that’s far removed from the sober values of western culture.”

“…Put out the fire. Demonstrate once and for all your allegiance to Christ and your opposition to Satan by clearing these musicians’ material out of your life and out of your home.”

“If you are serious about being a disciple of Christ you should not lay yourself open to possible demonic influence through these records.”

“The throbbing beat of rock-and-roll provides a vital sexual release for its adolescent audience.”

“Anything that might help to create that kind of syndrome (proclivity towards drug addiction because of rock music) should be avoided like the plague.”

“Kids at a heavy metal concert don’t sit in their seats; they stand on them and move – it’s the spirit of rebellion.”

“Rock music and tattoos have also seemed to go hand in hand… some Christian teenagers are rushing to get a tattoo… in direct violation of the fifth commandment.”

“Under rock music, the secretion of hormones is more pronounced… which causes an abnormal imbalance in the body’s system… and impairs judgment.”

“The low frequency vibrations of the bass guitar, along with driving beat of the drum, affect the cerebrospinal fluid, which in turn affects the pituitary gland, which in turn directs the secretions of hormones in the body.”

“…The essence of the actual musical form tends to reproduce itself in human conduct.”

“Rock music… opens the door to psychological manipulation.”

And there are still five more chapters to go!

“’Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God’ (James 4:1). No Christian in his right mind would want to play around with this warning!”

“Can a rock ‘n’ roll song explain what is meant by God, sin, judgment, the death of Christ, repentance, faith, or justification? If not, how can it convey the gospel?”

“Can we truly touch peoples’ hearts by tickling their ears?”

“The drum trap set arrived on the platform about two months ago. The respect, reverence, and humility have vanished from our sanctuary.”

“Rock music in all forms is controversial, closely associated with ungodly behavior, and at times downright dangerous. Why then would Christian musicians choose it to accompany the praise and worship of God… to proclaim the gospel of his grace… risk causing false conversions and creating soft disciples… (and) choose to offend millions of other Christians”

“…in our times we are dealing with a troublesome style called rock…”

“Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to ‘redeem’ music, nor does Scripture give any examples of God’s people redeeming the evil music of a secular or pagan culture.”

“Music about God should be like God…”

“Would you expect to find this kind of music in heaven?”

“It is our conviction that rock music… is… contrary to the teaching of Scripture.”

“Turning your back on rock music would set you free from the need to wrench your church music away from its grubby associations from things such as rebelliousness, occultism, sexuality, and the drug culture.”

“By abandoning rock music… you would be free to experience an infinitely healthier dimension of Christian life and witness.”

“Time saved in advertising, planning, organizing, supporting, and attending gospel concerts, religious road shows and the like could be put to better use in activities that have clear New Testament backing.”

I could go on with more quotes but the basic gist of the argument is this: rock music is satanic in origin. The music itself is dangerous. It cannot be redeemed for God’s glory. It must not be used in church. It is unbiblical. Those who enjoy or employ this style of music do so at their own and at their congregation’s spiritual and literal peril.

Their stories are sad: people who fell into deep sin and for whom a hallmark of that period was the presence of rock music, pastors who forced a new style on a congregation, insensitive worship leaders, hurt congregation members, and the sad temptation for some Christian musicians to seek their own glory or wealth through performance.

Their warning is dire: rock music is destroying the church, endangering the proclamation of the Gospel, and has power over anyone exposed to its beat. The beat itself is evil. It was designed to induce rebellion. It is a tool of Satan and it must be resisted.

But their arguments are fatally and fundamentally flawed. It all boils down to how you view handiwork and how you view Jesus.

1. Handiwork
Music is God’s handiwork. And guess what? We have been given dominion over handiwork.

Harold Best says it excellently in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith:

“As glorious as the creation is, it was merely created and not begotten. A strawberry, a galaxy, a dolphin, and a sea lion are not in the image of God. They are handiwork, pure and simple, thus of an entirely different order.

The next point is crucial. Having made the creation and having created us in his image, God has given us particular assignment that could not have been given to any other created beings. In telling Adam and Eve to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis 1:28), God was setting down a basic principle. Man and woman, created in the image of God… are neither the same as the rest of creation nor subject to it. While materially they can be outweighed by a mountain or overpowered by the force of the ocean, and while they are incapable of changing the speed of light, they cannot be morally, spiritually, or behaviorally overcome by anything in the creation around them.”

– The Creator Is Not the Creation and the Music Maker Is Not the Music, pg. 16

News flash, my Christian brother or sister: you have dominion over handiwork. Therefore, no beat, no chord progression, no rock band, no orchestra, no modulation, no snare drum pattern, no organ prelude, no electric guitar rhythm, and no brass trio has any power over you.

It would be absurd for me to look at a toaster and say to the person next to me: you better be careful standing next to that toaster. If it starts clicking to a certain rhythm, it will make you want to do drugs and have sex and rebel against God. It would be absurd because it would be granting a power to the toaster that it does not have. It would be making an idol out of the toaster to say that it has power over your actions.

We all know the power of music. The gift and the danger of it is that it moves us. All styles. All genres. All instruments. An unaccompanied chant can move us. A rock band can move us. Music moves us, and that’s how God (not the Rolling Stones) designed it. This is why anyone, whether it’s a choir conductor, a worship leader, an organist or a trombonist, must be careful. So God has given us the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17), to help us steward his gifts (like music) with wisdom.

But it’s one thing to say music has power to manipulate our emotions and it’s an entirely different thing to say that music has power to manipulate our behavior, expose us to demonic influence, or keep us from proclaiming the Gospel. To quote Steve Brown, that’s a lie straight from the pit of hell and it smells like smoke.

The Christian has dominion over handiwork. Therefore, music does not have dominion over us. Even more therefore, the Christian can use any and all sorts of music to the glory of God. Nothing is outside the bounds. This is real freedom. And unless this makes you slightly uncomfortable, you probably don’t get it yet.

More from Harold Best:

“Let’s concentrate on something that almost never comes to mind: the music that Jesus heard and made throughout his life – the music of the wedding feast, the dance, the street, and the synagogue. As it turns out, Jesus was not a composer but a carpenter. Thus he heard and used the music made by other, fallen creatures – the very ones he came to redeem. The ramifications of this single fact are enormous. They assist in answering the questions as to whether music used by Christians can only be written by Christians and whether music written by non-Christians is somehow non-Christian. But for now, it is important to understand that even though we don’t know whether every piece of music Jesus used was written by people of faith, we can be sure that it was written by imperfect people, bound by the conditions of a fallen world and hampered by sinfulness and limitation. So even though we do not know what musical perfection is, we do know that the perfect one could sing imperfect music created by fallen and imperfect people, while doing so completely to the glory of his heavenly Father.”

– The Fall, Creativity, and Music Making, pgs. 18 and 19

Oh, how wonderfully freeing and exhilarating a thought: Jesus, the “perfect one”, the sinless, spotless, perfect Lamb of God, sang songs written by sinful people, in his generation, and he did so to his Father’s glory and pleasure.

God has given us music. It’s his handiwork. And he’s given us dominion over handiwork. If songs and melodies written by sinful men were still good enough for Jesus to sing, then we must not fear that we are in any danger because of them.

To say that a particular beat or genre or instrument can never be used to glorify God is to say that there are areas where God’s rule does not extend. And it is also to say that Jesus doesn’t offer full justification and redemption. And that leads to my final and most important point.

2. Jesus

“For by a single offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

One offering, once and for all (1 Peter 3:18), Jesus Christ crucified, makes me faultless before the throne (Jude 1:24), gives me confidence to approach the Father with confidence (Hebrews 10:19), not by my own merit (Ephesians 2:8), or because of my own efforts, but because I’ve been redeemed by Jesus (Romans 3:24).

Jesus covers all my sin. All of it.

And he covers all of my music too.

There is no indication in scripture that once you become a Christian and are “in Christ”, that is, reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18), God’s pleasure with you or your offering is based any longer upon your own or your offering’s goodness. The purest we can make ourselves is still filthy before a holy God. The most innocent we can make our offerings is still not enough to prevent them from defiling his most holy place on their own.

Our selves and our offerings are covered by the blood of Jesus when we put our trust in him.

No music on its own is acceptable to God. Suppose you discovered a man on earth who had sinned the least. And this man had never heard any music before to corrupt his ears, never read any tawdry gossip to corrupt his mind, and never been tempted by an image. Suppose this man composed a beautiful symphony, performed by nearly-as-equally sinless as him. We can call this the most-pure musical offering that man can offer.

Now suppose you discover a worship leader who has committed his fair share of sins. He’s listened to all kinds of music, some good, some not so good, and some really good. He only knows a few chords and he really enjoys using those few chords to write simple worship songs and playing them with a band. There’s a drummer and bass player too. The genre could be classified as “rock”. They lead the singing at a church that meets in an old warehouse in Chicago. It gets a bit loud sometimes. We can call this the below-average not-terribly-refined, loosely rock ‘n’ roll offering.

Which of these gets closer to being acceptable to God on their own? The one composed by really good people? Or the other one that’s composed by a guy who listens to Coldplay and leads worship on the side as a volunteer? Which one pleases God more?

Answer: neither. God’s acceptance of an offering has absolutely nothing to do with that offering’s or the offerer’s goodness.

Our being accepted – and our music being acceptable – is 100% based on Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. We come to the Father through Jesus. Period. No other criteria. No other basis. No other questions asked.

We can’t make music perfect enough to please a perfect God.

In God’s eyes there is no “more acceptable” or “less acceptable”. Its all or nothing.

The good news of the gospel has far-reaching implications. Farther reaching than we might like to believe. So far that our music making is implicated.

Those who maintain that rock music cannot and should not be used in church are making a grievous mistake: they forget that Jesus is the only thing that makes our music and us acceptable to God.

God is great and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3). Thrown into one giant pot, every worship team, choir, pipe organ, guitar, choir anthem, contemporary song, bass guitar pattern, trumpet descant, four chord progression, Handel’s Messiah, chant, sung Psalm, and drum set add up to about 1/900,000,000th of the glory God is due. His glory is unfathomable.

And so God says to us: here is music. Use it, and use it well. You have dominion over it. Use it to my glory. And here is my Son, he will redeem you and make a way for you to offer it in my very presence. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)