There is a disturbing trend in churches lately that seems to only be growing: that being the trend of secular music being performed in worship services. We don’t do this at First Baptist Moncks Corner (even though we certainly have the talent to do so) and there are very real reasons why we do not which I and our staff have thought through. In interest of full disclosure, I felt led, as a pastor who desperately wants his flock to know the difference between truth and error, to write this blog post about the dangers of performing secular music at a worship service:
1) It does not glorify God
There is just no way around this. There is an argument out there that debates whether or not playing and performing secular music in worship is sinful. In some cases, it most certainly is – like when the language of the songs are clearly advocating sinful behavior. Believe it or not, churches have played these songs. In other cases, the songs are kind of “morally neutral” and may not be technically sinful. However, if a song is not directly speaking about the glory of God or his plan of salvation, then it doesn’t need to be in a worship service (I honestly can’t believe I had to write and explain that). And this leads us to:
2) Worship is for believers of Jesus Christ
Again, as I write these words I’m chuckling to myself that I even have to do so. I’m chuckling, however, so that I won’t get angry or even cry as I think about what “works” in the American church. Let me be very clear: Only believers in Jesus can worship Him. Therefore, a “worship” service should focus on worshiping God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. This is Christianity 101. The fact that many Christians in America have not even thought about this is concerning. This is a testimony to the poor theological preaching and teaching that is pervasive across the country. Therefore, when you have a culture that is raised on shallow doctrine, I guess we should not expect the children of this shallow teaching to be able to discern between truth and error.
3) Pragmatism is killing the church
I’ve heard several defenses to this point. First, advocates will say that they will do anything “short of sin” to reach people. I’m not sure how they define “sin” but in many cases, leading people to sing/watch these songs being performed is sinful for a variety of reasons. Let’s think about what goes through the typical mind when it watches a secular song performance at “worship:”
“Wow, that’s cool. I know this song! Yeah, it’s from that movie that is so popular. I think I’ll go buy it on iTunes now. Thanks ____ Church for making me think of that song!”
Obviously, this leads to many avenues of “It’s alright. It’s harmless. It’s not dangerous” for those who are young and immature in the faith to travel down. But, it is dangerous.
Second, some will say, “Aw, you’re just a hater.” No, I’m not. I don’t hate people. I don’t hate large churches (I grew up in one). I dislike that which is not glorifying to God. The Gospel is not some trivial thing. Church and worship is not just some funny game that we are playing. The Gospel is the difference between life and death. It is a serious matter. It’s not about not being able to have fun, or be silly. Those who know me personally know that I am always joking. This issue is about doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.
Third, advocates will say, “it works” as if pragmatism is the trump card of all things. “Well…we’ve seen more people attend since we’ve done this.” Since when does “it works” trump bringing glory to God? As a believer in Christ, your ultimate allegiance and ultimate mission is to bring glory to God – not people. Your love for the lost cannot trump your love for God. It just can’t. If it does, you do not love God. People are your god. Plain and simple.
Fourth, advocates will attempt to re-define what it is they are doing on Sundays. They say things like,
“We don’t really see this as a worship service. It’s more of a gathering or environment that is trying to reach unbelievers. We’re not really trying to cater to the needs of believers.”
This statement is wrong on so many levels. It’s wrong because (a) when you have two or more believers gathered “in Your name” you have a worship service. And it’s wrong because (b) the minute you sing the first words that bring glory to God, or, the second the pastor quotes a verse of Scripture, you have found yourself in a worship service. So you are being intellectually dishonest. And your church is like a bait-and-switch salesman.
If this truly was an environment designed for unbelievers then it would have zero scripture, zero praise hymns, zero to do about God. You would sing some secular songs, maybe give a motivational talk about how to do better at something and go home. THAT would be a gathering that is attractive for unbelievers.
But what these services have become is an unholy marriage of a worldly and Godly environment so that people can’t tell the difference between a seminar that the world would offer versus what only the church can offer.
Let me say in closing, that yes, lost people will be attracted to this type of environment. Who wouldn’t? Good music that is played by talented people and performed live? It’s like being at a free concert. But, that’s the point. You can get that at a concert. You can hear that on Spotify. You can watch that on television. But the church is not called to give the world that which it can already have and already does have. It is called to give those who are truly seeking truth that which they cannot get outside the world. What is that? A worship service completely and totally designed around Jesus Christ. All songs are about Christ. All preaching is about Christ. Everything is about Christ. This is the message the world needs to hear. This is what is life-changing.
Yes, people will leave not wanting that. Jesus is a stumbling block. He is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who the Spirit is truly working in their lives, He is living water. Jesus Himself is exactly the reason people are not saved. And He is exactly the reason why people are.
But, we’re baptizing so many more this way. Really? What kind of Gospel are you baptizing them unto? The gospel of “Jesus is for you”? or the Gospel of “Jesus is just about fun?” or the Gospel of “Jesus took your sin on the cross so that you would be spared God’s wrath.” That is the Gospel. That is the Good News that can only be found in a worship service centered around Jesus Christ.
So, moving forward, we are called to make disciples. This means telling people the Gospel. Not just part of it. Not just about the grace of God. But how the wrath of God is placated by the love of God. Thus, giving you God Himself, through the cross of Christ.