Theological Mistakes: Worship Songs

your-love-never-failsI wrote a couple of weeks ago about the takeover of the Sunday morning service by the worship departments of most larger churches: Worship Domination and Theology in the Church. In that blog I said that much of the doctrine that we teach our church members now comes from the words of the worship songs we sing. I think this has always been somewhat true of the church. Paul’s writings contain such things as the “Philippian Hymn” (Philippians 2:5-11), recognized as an affirmation of faith in the origin, nature, and mission of Christ. This was likely used as some type of worship song in the early church. This may have been written by Paul himself (it feels like something he might write), or by another Christian. But such things point to the value of formulating doctrine in a lyric form so that it can be used by the congregation in unison, and thereby committed to the memory and the heart easily.

This is all good and well as long as these worship songs and hymns are teaching sound doctrine. Alas, that is not always the case. There are many examples of this in the older hymns, but lots of current examples, too. One that has become very popular is “Your Love Never Fails,” attributed to  Chris McClarney and Anthony Skinner, which recently received an award as the #1 Radio Hit of the Year. It has received a reported 11 million hits on YouTube, so we are talking about a song with a major impact. I cannot tell you exactly in how many different churches I have heard this song, but dozens at least.

What’s the problem? The song seems to be a restatement of Scripture drawn from Romans 8, one of the most inspiring and famous chapters in the Bible, labeled by one author as the “Mt. Everest of Scripture.” My problem comes with the final line of the song:

You make all things work together for my good.

As usually presented, this line is sung many times at the end of the song, a repetition that drives its words into the souls of the singers. Whether we admit it or not, this line is mesmerizing, leaving an impression that will spring to the consciousness of the singers many times after the worship service is over. That is the intent, and that is not bad. If we are using worship songs to teach doctrine and help us remember Scripture, they should be memorable.

The problem is this is not exactly Scripture. The songwriters have added a word here, “my.” This is Romans 8:28, and I will admit that there are differences of opinion on how it should be translated. The most straightforward translation I can offer would go like this:

But we know that for the ones who love God, all things work together for good.

Compare these two:

You make all things work together for my good.
All things work together for good.

There is a personalizing in the McClarney/Skinner interpretation that is not in the original, and this is common in worship songs. But here is the problem. I’m afraid this makes the singers think that God works for them. That God is on their side. That they are the center of the universe and that God is focused solely on their welfare.

Sorry, I know I am exaggerating. But there is a subtle shift here that I don’t think is healthy. God doesn’t work for me, I work for him. God is not on my side, I am on God’s side (I hope). I am not the focus of God’s attentions, God should be the focus of my attentions. In some mysterious way, God makes all things, all events, all circumstances, work together for his purposes, his good purposes. That includes me.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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12 thoughts on “Theological Mistakes: Worship Songs

  1. I agree with his premise that there are some songs, both old and new, that have poor theology. I think there are probably better examples than this song though. Paul includes “for those who love God” and “for those who are called according to His purpose.” I think the writers put themselves in that category so I’m not sure that their lyric is a stretch in saying “for my good.” Thanks for the reminder, though, that the theology behind a song is always more important than the catchiness of the tune.

  2. Dr. K,

    I understand what you’ve said in your blog. I suppose to some degree the argument is merely semantics. Then again, your concerns are valid.

    Could it be that a minute shift of tainted theology has crept into our worship/churches? Or could it be that believers are passionately moved by the Word and the Spirit and have responded with songs that some of us are examining too closely?

    I don’t know.

    When I read your concern about the final line, “You make all things work together for my good,” I saw it merely as a juxtaposition of the wording in Romans.

    Rom 8:28: But we know that for the ones who love God, all things work together for good.

    The ones who love God = believers, Christians, the writer of the song, the worshipers who wholeheartedly engage in the worship of Him, and me. All things work together for good – caused by Him and His Will. In essence, He is the cause of all things that work together for good = He makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him = He makes all things work together for my good…as long as I accept my good as something that will ultimately glorify Him – even if those circumstances aren’t “good” as the world defines the word.

    James

  3. Pingback: Theological Mistakes: Worship Songs | krausekorner | Christian Music Jukebox

  4. There is a serious theological error in this article, and unfortunately, it’s reflective of the state of evangelical churches in this culture. Churches are not taken over by “worship departments.” You are referring to music departments/ministries. Worship and music do NOT mean the same thing. Worship is the single primary function of the church. Music is the door through which doctrinal error most often enters the church. So long as our music fails to be a reflection of solid biblical doctrine, our theology will continue to deteriorate.

  5. God is not on your side? Well then, I’m glad He’s on mine! ” If God is for us, who can be against us”? Romans 8:31
    If God is for ME, ( because I love Him), then He is on my side! Sorry charlie, you’re one of those who like to make mountains out of molehills, create a problem where there is none. Why can’t you focus on what UNITES us as opposed to picking apart hymn lyrics and criticizing them?

  6. I believe this is an area where many in the church seem to know there’s a problem but have the hardest time trying to articulate . As you know music can be cohesive or divisive. And in the church too many times, tradition trumps theology..(especially in smaller rural churches). If grandpa fervently sang a song as he praised the Lord, then to the decendents, it HAD to be theologically correct or grandpa wouldn’t have sung it! (that’s a direct quote I’ve heard in the past). We are by nature selfish and self centered..and I believe if believers have not embraced the ‘new nature’ through Christ (carnal Christians if you will)..then the songs we emit will likewise embrace the ‘self’ songs we hear in the churches today. Instead of the songs being about the adoration of the Lord we serve, the songs will tend to be about ‘us’ and what ‘we’ get out of it all. However……the battle…is teaching and preaching us out of the traditionalism of it all. Or in other words,we never let facts fog up a good fantasy.

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