6/14/2015 Mike’s Blog: Contemporary Worship Survey 2015


It has been a few years since I last posted a survey of the contemporary Christian worship music that thousands, if not millions, are singing in their cars, homes, and churches across America every day. Songs influence our thinking in powerful ways, because music has a way of filtering through our conscious mind [the guard at the gate allowing what is right and turning away what is wrong] to our subconscious mind [where influence takes place whether we want it to or not]. After recently completing an updated version, including approximately 3 hours of listening to the most popular Denver Christian radio stations, What I suspected I would find, I found. We are indeed living in the age of Laodicea.

For those who haven’t been following my blogs, that means we are pursuing the model of the church at Laodicea in Revelations 3. Laodicea, like America, was an environment rich in wealth and all it buys: comfort, security, and convenience. This environment led its people into thinking they were “rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing.” However Jesus examined their deeds [the real proof of what anyone truly believes] and responded, “You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”

What Laodicean environments like the one we’ve enjoyed since the end of WWII always result in is the delusion that comes from too much pampering of the flesh, and not enough challenging of the spirit, inevitably culminating in the fashioning of idols that allow people to think all is well when it’s not. The church at Laodicea obviously had done this, inasmuch as they thought they were in good standing with Jesus when He had a decidedly different take on it. What I call our “American idol” is the idol of grace.

An idol is anything, anyone, or any illusion we fashion and place above the true and only God as our object of worship. In this case it is an illusion—a part of the real and true God we extract from the whole because it is comfortable to us. The Pharisees extracted the law from God, and it became their idol. Today we have extracted grace from God, and we bow to it. Again, it is because grace is comfortable, and comfort is what Laodicean environments lull us in to seeking. Ah, but Jesus, the God of “grace and truth” does not allow us such comfort, and so the truth part must be done away with so we can continue living the illusion without conviction of the truth.

There is no group of leaders in Christendom today that has bought more in to the idol of grace than our worship leaders, as the survey will document. In a way this is understandable because worship is such an emotional thing. Grace scores high on the emotional scale, while truth wants nothing to do with it. Truth is, and it cares not how we feel about it. Truth cannot be altered, and that is why in Laodicea it must be done away with. Jesus always confronted people with truth, even as He loved them in grace. Together they make a powerful team. But take either part from the other and you have the model of Christianity yielding the tragic polling results today, or the Phariseeism Jesus encountered that yielded equally tragic, yet different, results in Israel.

Understanding some of this is subjective in nature, and different people performing the survey would probably come up with somewhat different results, the overall message is not debatable. The survey is divided up in to two parts: How God’s character was referred to by individual song [one per song], and then how that character relayed into how He felt about us [each time the characteristic was mentioned]. As one of the popular radio station’s mantra states, the way God’s character was revealed was most certainly “positive and encouraging.” God was referred to [see survey attached for specifics] over 40 times in a positive light: merciful, loving, gracious, comforter, friend, good, etc.

He is indeed all of these things, but is that the whole truth? Truth demands the entire story be told, not just the parts that make us feel good. How about singing about some of His other equally true characteristics? How about singing of Jesus as our judge? Will that not be an important part of what He does? Will that not matter to us? John 5 states, “Even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” In 2 Timothy 4 Paul states, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.” In a scene in Revelations 19, we see Jesus coming from the clouds on a white horse, “judging and waging war clothed in a robe soaked with blood.”

These and many other verses portray Jesus as the One who will come judging in truth. No more grace will be extended to men at that point in time. The truth of our words and our deeds alone—that all important fruit of the Spirit we bore—will determine the outcome. What of this Judge of all mankind do we find in contemporary worship? How many times did I hear Jesus referred to as Judge? Only once, and that was to reassure all who bowed to idol of grace God was not a God of judgment.

How about the One to be feared? Again, from John 5: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” The word for “honor” here means to fear or revere. In Luke 12, Jesus is telling people whom they should truly fear, and it is Him: “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Paul tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling in Philippians 2, and Peter instructs us to conduct ourselves in fear while on this earth in chapter 1 of his first epistle. These and many other verses speak of Jesus as a God to be feared even as He is loved, yet how many references did I hear songs exalting Him in this light? None. Not one.

And how about Jesus our commander? There are approximately 60 verses in the NT referencing Jesus or the Father commanding us, and yet how many times did I hear Him referred to as commander? None. How about the just One? Ditto: zippo, notta, nil. The lopsided, myopic vision of Jesus as loving, graceful forgiver to the exclusion of all else cannot be denied.  Behold our idol of grace: the whole God of the Bible stripped of truth, judgment, and the reverence so richly due Him.

How were these characterizations displayed in the lyrics concerning how Jesus sees us? Again, reference the attached survey for specifics, but they are equally lopsided. Some of the highlights: I heard how beautiful, perfect, flawless, and valuable I was to Jesus 28 times [this in itself is an illusion because I am not. I am redeemed, but a sinner nonetheless], about His forgiveness and grace 35 times, and [wait for it] about how much He loved me 100 times! All totaled, I heard 220 “positive and encouraging” messages. But what of that One I should fear? What of that One who commands me and requires obedience? None. And while I heard song after song concerning salvation and coming to Jesus, how many times did I her the word “disciple”, or “discipleship” mentioned? At the expense of sounding redundant: Zippo, notta, nil.

The gold standard for those who call themselves Christian, and the goal for all who evangelize, preach, or teach the Gospel is one. It is stated in the Great Commission: Go make disciples…who observe all I command.” There is no lesser standard. Jesus did not command us to make converts and then warehouse them in our temples. He said we were to make fully functional citizens of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and there was never a lesser acceptable mark. But do we in Laodicea herald that, or any uncomfortable “truthful” aspect of our God in modern worship? Do this survey for yourself and you decide.

Let me make it clear I have no problem with people singing about the positive and encouraging aspects of God, but the imbalance here is beyond disturbing and ample evidence of how we have fashioned a Laodicea idol, and now worship him rather than Jesus.

There are other disturbing trends in contemporary worship, and I will follow up on those in my next blog. Until then, I hope we will all consider the truth of the God we serve, as well as His grace. The idol of grace is a small, impotent god who cannot provide men with the challenges they require to remain engaged, and this is to a large extent why they have become so disengaged in what modern religion in America is serving up. The God of grace and truth, while definitely uncomfortable at times with His dismantling rebukes and admonitions, is in the end imminently more exciting and worthy of our attentions…and our worship.

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