What I’m about to say isn’t new, but hopefully will address this topic in a different light that will make it more understandable or reach a different audience that needs to hear it. Worship (referencing the music of the church) is suffering. We have aimed it more towards entertainment and self-edification than praising the Lord. This has led to songs in church that are increasingly Scripturally unsound and outright defame God by defining Him with negatives.
A very good example of this is the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury of Bethel Church. Right off the bat there’s the fact that the Love of God is described as reckless. It’s right there in the title. Let’s look at what that word means.
1)utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of): to be reckless of danger.
2)characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness:
Is that really a word to describe God or His love? Scripture says our salvation was planned out before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4,1 Peter 19-21). The Bible describes God as wise (which is not only knowledgeable but using good judgement with that knowledge) and His wisdom so vastly outdoes our own (Isaiah 55:9). He is also patient and unchanging (Galatians 5:22, 2 Peter 3:8-9, Hebrews 13:8). None of these Characteristics line up with the definition of being reckless. People have argued that the writer(s) of this song didn’t intend the word in such a negative way. Giving the benefit of the doubt that may be the case, but words have meaning and placing that word in the lyrics to describe our God was itself reckless.
The song is premised primarily off the Parable of the Lost Sheep and this creates another issue. One of the arguments for the usage of “reckless” is the misunderstanding of this parable. The parable is describing a common practice, a shepherd leaving his flock to find a missing one. At face value it looks like the Shepherd is leaving 99 sheep unattended to find one, but with a little bit of historical insight and application of common sense find this is not the case. Sheep are some of the dumbest animals on the planet. Without a Shepherd to guide them they would end up extinct, they cannot take care of themselves, and can’t really defend themselves from predators. When a shepherd left his flock, he left it in the care of either other shepherds or hired hands. This was common knowledge at the time. Add to this the fact that God is Omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-12) and promised to never leave or forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6,8) and the image of God abandoning 99 to save one dissipates and the idea of recklessness fades.
People have also argued that is God’s love is reckless because God gave up His life, not knowing if we would accept Him or not. Leaving the Calvinist vs Arminian arguments aside, this is an absurd argument. Lets go back to the definition of reckless: to be careless, without caution and utterly concerned with consequence. This in no way fits the mold of God’s behavior. In addition to the attributes of God listed above, Jesus taught loving your enemies and the cross demonstrates God practices the very thing He commands us to do. (Romans 5:8-10) For arguments sake, let’s say God doesn’t know the outcome of who all will be saved, it doesn’t make Him reckless. The outcome is not so much for His benefit but for ours, for “He is not served by human hands as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:25) God would get glory for His sacrifice regardless.
Another argument is that God’s love is reckless from the view of an outsider. Ok I can buy that, Afterall “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18a), but why on earth would we worship God as outsiders? Are we not insiders, part of the Body of Christ? As we indeed are insiders, then I would argue that kind of “worship” has no place in the Church. Even if our narrow view and understanding gives us the perception of God through the lens of circumstance, it does not make it true. Perception does not equal reality.
Scripture also ALWAYS describes recklessness, in it’s many forms, as CONTRARY to God (2 Timothy 3:2-5 ESV, Proverbs 14:16 ESV, Proverbs 12:18 NIV, 1 Peter 4:4 NIV, Jeremiah 23:32 NKJV). Recklessness is always is equated with the wicked. How then can we use this to describe God, or even a single aspect of God? After all He is Holy(1 Samuel 2:2, Psalm 22:3, Psalm 77:13, Proverbs 9:10, Revelation 4:8). Yep that’s another attribute of God, and that attribute applies to His entire Being. It is not simply one of His many attributes, but one that permeates all the others. If recklessness is at odds with holiness, then for any part of His Being to be reckless then He would not be holy. This attacks the character of God possibly more than any of the other contradictions recklessness poses to His character.
Some more appropriate words are relentless, faithful, steadfast, unfailing, just to name a few. Sure it will change the flow of the song a bit, but more importantly makes it more in line with Scripture. Why has the Church not made a bigger effort to make this change? Afterall, John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” got the lyrics to his song changed in what seems to be a majority of churches because complaints of the use of “Sloppy wet kiss” which was changed to the use of “Unforeseen kiss”. I don’t really see the controversy here, as he wasn’t using the term to describe our direct relationship with God or some sort of earthly sexual relationship, but either the meeting of space with the earth or the way the spiritual and natural worlds intertwine. The Bible itself has more “unseemly” references than this and if you don’t believe me just read Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs) and that’s just some of the positive stuff. My main point from this seeming rabbit trail is, why are we so quick to jump over this benign lyric from “How He Loves”, but few churches are jumping on changing this heretical lyric from “Reckless Love” or abandoning the song altogether?
Moving on to another example, we have “Scandal of Grace” from Hillsong United. Once again, the problem should be quite visible just from the title, calling God’s grace a scandal. Just like “Reckless Love”, the song is beautiful and seems on point until you reach the chorus. The problematic line reads, “The scandal of grace, you died in my place”. Here’s the problem: Jesus taking our place on the cross was NOT a scandal. To help clarify why here’s the definition of a scandal.
a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.
an offense caused by a fault or misdeed.
damage to reputation; public disgrace.
defamatory talk; malicious gossip.
Now some of the confusion here may be on the account of the definition of a “public disgrace” as Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified, so again from a surface level view this may seem accurate, but here’s the thing, that shame belonged to us. He took it upon Himself willingly. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13), so what was done was the noblest of deeds, not disgrace. God is also good and just (Exodus 34:6, Psalm 25:8, Psalm 34:8, Mark 10:18, James 1:17; Deuteronomy 32:4, Job 34:12 Isaiah 61:8 Isaiah 30:18, Romans 3:26). How can the Lord with these qualities commit something that could be a scandal? He can’t! The cross was not merely an act of grace, but an act of justice. If Jesus had not gone to the cross willingly, we would have a scandal. If God had extended us his mercy and grace without Christ incurring the penalty for our sins, we would have a scandal. Yet here we are with grace extended and justice fulfilled. There is no scandal here! The cross was not an act of disgrace, but part of the demonstration of His glory and power as Christ first died and then rose again conquering death, to describe it as scandal is to slander our Lord. To find scandal here you have to be thinking from the lack of understanding of the unbeliever (Romans, 11:8, 1 Corinthians 2:14). Again this should not have place in our worship and why would we want it to?
We need to take care in the words we use to worship the Lord. A trend started many years ago, possibly before I was even born, where negatives started being repurposed to act as positives. The words I recall growing up were “sick” and “wicked” being used to refer to something cool or awe-inspiring. While we could debate the appropriateness of this trend in everyday language, we should be able to agree that it should have never let it infiltrate the Church, especially how we worship our God.
Some of you reading this are probably thinking, ” It’s just one word, you’re making a much bigger deal about this than it should be.” I think normally i would agree, but these small details, in otherwise great songs, are directly attacking the character of God. Just a small drop of poison makes the whole glass of water so. A drop of dirt makes the garment dirty. “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump”. So it is with these songs and others like them. Now it’s one thing for somebody in the congregation to struggle with wrapping their mind and heart around the attributes of God, but it’s an entirely different thing to lead a congregation in professing these falsities as worship before God, adding to what He has clearly said about Himself in His Word. Do we not fear God that we would make our perception of God worthy to worship Him on the same level as His own perception (that is infinitely higher and more complete)?
Proverbs 30:5-6 5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
For those in the congregation,I recommend that before you start singing along in church, especially new songs, that you just be still, listen, and analyze what is being said, that it actually glorifies God and not slander Him. If our worship is skewed it can skew how we approach Scripture. Scripture should be shaping our worship not the other way around. Feel free to address it with your pastor(s), but do so respectfully. If they won’t hear you out (and especially if you are noticing the preaching to be following a heretical path) consider finding a new local church, not because you didn’t get your way, but for letting heresy in uncontested.
For those leading, I highly caution you about what you lead your congregation in. Study the lyrics of the songs and compare them with Scripture itself, not just somebody’s interpretation of it, before bringing it before the congregation. That is not to say you should not get help from the Pastoral staff and the elders of the church in doing so, for “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:24). Also consider the source. The two songs listed above come from heretical sources (Bethel and Hillsong). Anything coming out of places like that should be screened thoroughly if not rejected outright due to the source (as at least one church has done.) Either scrap the songs or change them, else wise you are failing your flock. Your job is not to entertain, but to lead the congregation into the presence of the Lord in the fear of the Lord.