This is a complicated question with a simple answer. Restated, the question is, “Can we sing songs written by someone that believes differently than we do?”
The question is all too common these days. A powerful, amazing song is written, and we love it! It is Biblical and teaches something we want our people to know. We want to sing it and can’t wait for our church to sing it. Then, we do our research and discover that they wrote it. Oh, no!
My opinion? Sing it. Here’s why –
- All truth is God’s truth.
If a song says something that is Biblically true it is not because the writer received some kind of revelation of truth now captured in a song. It is because the truth of the song was settled by God Himself and was true before the song was written and will be true after it is forgotten. Truth is eternal and the songs we sing in worship should bear the markers of His truth. The truth they express should never be attributed to a human author as if the writer came up with it. If a song is true, then God is the One who made it true.
- This is the slipperiest of all slopes.
If you think about it just a minute, you will quickly see how slippery this slope really is. I will resist naming names here, but if we started making a blacklist of compositions we can’t sing because of the theology of the composer, it would be shocking how much of our hymnal we would lose, not to mention masterworks and standards of choral literature. If we applied that same criteria to the great books and sermons we love to cite, our pastors would struggle to find very many source quotes for their sermons. God uses all kinds of people to instruct us. And, just because a person is wrong on one point, doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted with any other point. I’ve made a few subtle theological shifts in my life as any disciple growing in Biblical knowledge would – that doesn’t mean that every song I wrote when I was younger should be tossed out. (Granted, a lot of them should be tossed, but for other reasons, like they weren’t very good… )
- It deflects from what really matters.
If the theology of the ministry that supports the writer is a concern, then by all means, look even closer at the theology of the song. But, if the song expresses Biblical truth, then the most important step is still ahead. What the writer meant when he wrote it is interesting to know, but what the singer means when he or she sings it is absolutely critical. You can make application of a song in any context and apply an understanding of it to your congregation. Instead of pondering what the writer was doing, focus on what you are saying when you sing it.
That’s the part God is measuring. God will not hold us responsible for what they believe and teach. But He will hold us responsible for what we believe and teach when we sing it.
One more thought — don’t die on this hill. There is not a single writing team in the world that, if your leaders asked you not to sing their songs, would result in the collapse of your ministry. Pursue unity and understanding on this question and take care of your flock at all costs.
Approach this subject with humility. Be careful what you criticize. Shepherd your people well.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book (checkout his latest book: Worship Essentials). In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family (and his two new grand-babies). Visit MikeHarland.com to keep up with all that Mike has going on.