Thursday, October 31, 2013

Unwillingly Stoking the "Strange Fire"

There has been a lot of talk about the Strange Fire Conference all around the blogosphere and twitterverse over the last few weeks. One of the arguments made by the continuationists is that the Charismatic movement has helped revived and greatly improved the quality of worship music in this country. Adrian Warnock, a orthodox reformed Charismatic with New Frontiers in Great Britain and outspoken critic of the Strange Fire conference, writes:
It is astonishing to me that the great modern choruses and hymns written by charismatics could be rejected so wholeheartedly. What of such popular songs as “In Christ Alone” written by a team including Stuart Townend, part of the same family of charismatic church’s as myself? Has that song not been a blessing? Has it not, dare I suggest it, added to biblical understanding for many? Does he really reject Hillsong music like [Man of Sorrows], not to mention Jesus Culture, and a host of others? The Charismatic Movement has contributed masses towards worship! Not just the songs, but a renewed passion for God, and dare I say it a more biblical approach to using our whole bodies to worship God at times noisily. [source]
Very few people would raise a finger about Stuart Townend and the folks at New Frontiers or Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music, who is also charismatic. Why? Because they preach Jesus and the Gospel; they make much of sin and the need for repentance. Other than maybe a misguided view of the Spirit's gifts to his church, they are pretty orthodox. Singing their songs may be like a calvinist singing a hymn by Charles Wesley. When we hear them sing about the gospel, we can know they mostly mean the same things as we do. Sin is sin. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is Penal Substitutionay Atonement. God is triune and Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. Suffice it to say, we can know word games aren't happening.

Often times in our hymnody, a good (or great) song comes from a poisoned pen. A heretic can pen a song that sounds great but the author believed the words meant different things. One of reason Arianism spread was by song. It can happen very easily. Andy Naselli offered some helpful advice in an article entitled, When a Good Hymn Goes Bad. He writes about how the Keswick movement that tainted some songs for him. He suggested:
So what do you do if you’re singing a hymn like this with a congregation that is generally unaware about the hymn’s authorial intent? I can think of at least two options: (1) don’t sing, or (2) if the lyrics are redeemable, sing but don’t interpret the hymn according to its authorial intent. In other words, a postmodern hermeneutic may save you from the dilemma of not singing versus affirming error.
While this may work for songs that are now public domain, this advice doesn't go far enough in the modern age of CCLI. What is CCLI someone may ask? This article does a good job explaining it. In a nutshell, whomever owns the copyright of popular worship songs will get paid a royalty based on song usage in churches out of a pool of money that churches contribute too based on size. It is a way of making sure Churches pay for fair use of a persons/groups artistic creation.

This is a generally a good thing. We don't want to muzzle the ox so to speak. Churches should act legally when reproducing content. The problem though is that this means the simple singing of a song on a Sunday and displaying the lyrics will contribute to a ministry that you may or may not want to support. The money given to a church to proclaim the the correct Gospel will subsidize a false gospel if care is not taken.

This very fact should cause us to do all that we can to make sure that if the song is copyrighted that the royalties don't go to something we are against. As many are (rightly) upset if tax money is used to fund abortions, so should they be if their tithes and offerings are used to fund heresy. It should beg the question for us, where do our songs come from? What churches are producing our songs? That's why I laughed recently that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing How Firm a Foundation and had How Great Thou Art in their concert I saw on They were singing songs that were written by orthodox Christians with a different view of God than that they had.

Unfortunately, the modern church has that same lack of discernment. Two organizations mentioned by Warnock as helping the modern church are Jesus Culture and Hillsong. Jesus Culture is based out of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Hillsong is a church in Sidney, Australia pastored by Brian Houston. Listen to the clips below and tell me how is Houston and Johnson orthodox?

Doesn't both of these guys sound like Health/Wealth Guys and Word/Faith? Do you hear a gospel that glory in the Christian and not the Christ? I could point to numerous examples of crazy things coming out of Bethel and Hillsong. They proclaim a corrupted version of Christus Victor that tweaks the tradition view of justification.

But yet, non word/faith churches sing these songs Sunday after Sunday and they receive the the CCLI royalty money from their participation. They sound orthodox but they redefine traditional Christian words to make them means something different. Like the odorless byproduct of incomplete combustion Carbon Monoxide can sneak into homes to poison, so do these songs in the Church.The Church then turns around and feeds the flame so they can poison us more. What a sad cycle.

Church after church from their pulpits are preaching against a "strange fire" but yet will sing songs that arise from the ashes of those same fire. Why aren't we consistent? Will somethings fall through the cracks? Yes. But shouldn't we be more careful of singing newer things for this reason? While this makes a really good case for public domain hymns, this doesn't excuse us from looking at from where do our songs come from. The language of our songs/prayers show us what we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If that is the case, we are all becoming word faith heretics.