Category Archives: Christianity

What’s Wrong With Christian Music?

We recently sang a song during our Sunday morning worship service that prompted me to do some research. Here’s the song:

Friend of God
© Israel Houghton, 2003

Verse 1
Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing

Verse 1 Again
Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing

Chorus
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

Verse 1 AGAIN
Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing

So amazing, it’s amazing

Chorus
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

Random Repeated Phrases Similar to Chorus
God Almighty, Lord of Glory
You have called me friend
You have called me friend
You have called me friend

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend
He calls me friend
He calls me friend…

Granted, we also did some traditional hymns, and I appreciate that, but this one encapsulates so many of the issues I have with the music we’re singing in church. There are three verses, but they’re all the same. The chorus is just the same phrase over and over.

Compare to the same message as expressed in these classic hymns:

Christ a Redeemer and Friend
John Newton, 1799

Poor, weak and worthless though I am
I have a rich almighty Friend;
Jesus, the Savior, is His Name;
He freely loves, and without end.

He ransomed me from hell with blood,
And by His power my foes controlled;
He found me wandering far from God,
And brought me to His chosen fold.

But, ah! my inmost spirit mourns;
And well my eyes with tears may swim,
To think of my perverse returns:
I’ve been a faithless friend to Him.

Often my gracious Friend I grieve,
Neglect, distrust, and disobey;
And often Satan’s lies believe
Sooner than all my Friend can say.

Sure, were I not most vile and base,
I could not thus my Friend requite!
And were not He the God of grace,
He’d frown and spurn me from my sight.

He cheers my heart, my needs supplies,
And says that I shall shortly be,
Enthroned with Him above the skies;
O what a Friend is Christ to me!

And this one:

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Joseph Medlicott Scriven, circa 1885.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

There are important differences. First is the density of doctrinal content, yet without taking away from the poetry. Second is that Jesus, rather than the writer is the object of adoration. That is, in Friend of God, I am a friend of God. In What a Friend We Have In Jesus, it is Jesus who is my friend. The former is name dropping; the latter is praise. The former lifts me up, the latter lifts Jesus up.

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)

Catholics, Protestants, Denominations, and Christianity

Catholics Expressing their Unity

A friend of mine recently commented that one of his Catholic relatives refused to listen to the gospel, saying, “All you Protestants are always fighting with each other and starting a new denomination. How can you claim that any one of them is correct?” While this sounds like a good argument, it’s based on a false understanding of church history.

In the years following Jesus’ death, local churches were formed in the cities to which the gospel message spread. With the exception of their deference to the Apostles in the very early years, these churches had no common leadership, hierarchy, or organizational structure. Each was independent, and each considered its sister churches in other cities to be a part of the larger “body of Christ” on Earth.

Over 200 years after the death of the last of the Apostles, a Roman emperor with Christian and pagan roots brought together hundreds of church leaders from throughout the Roman Empire and began a process that would result in the formation of the Roman Catholic Church.

By adopting a central leadership and placing the opinions of its bishops over the authority of God’s Word, Catholicism separated itself from orthodox Christianity. Catholicism was the first successful “denomination” that split from Christianity in those early years.

In the early 1500’s, a group of Catholics grew dissatisfied with the rituals and doctrines of their church. They split from the Catholic Church, which labeled them “Protestants” because of their protest.

Protestants, argued by my friend’s relative to just be a bunch of disagreeable folks who can’t figure out what they believe, are disgruntledĀ Catholics, not disgruntledĀ Christians. When Protestants (disgruntled Catholics) split from each other, they become yet another group of disgruntled Catholics.

Throughout history — before and during the rise of Catholicism — there have been churches that held to the fundamental doctrines of Jesus and the Apostles. They may have varied on some points, but they retained their independence from hierarchy, their congregational polity, their reliance on the Bible as their sole authority on matters of faith and practice, their commitment to evangelism, and their belief in salvation by faith apart from baptism or other “sacraments”. These churches were severely persecuted by the nascent Catholic Church and continue to be opposed by the Catholic Church and its Protestant brothers and sisters.

So despite my friend’s relative’s claims, it is the Catholic Church that split from Truth, and it is the Catholic Church that is fraught with schisms that manifest themselves as Protestant denominations. Meanwhile Christ’s true church continues undeterred; persecuted but prevailing; united under the umbrella of fundamental doctrines that are unchanged from the first century. It can do this because Christianity isn’t a local church, it isn’t a denomination, it isn’t a bishop, and it isn’t a hierarchy. It is a personal relationship with God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, entirely separate from any organization or ritual. The true church is the universal collection of such people. It is undivided and indivisible, as opposed to Catholicism, which was founded in division and whose history — often incorrectly identified as the “history of Christianity” — is marked by and moves forward through division.

Bumper Sticker Christianity

One of my pet peeves is people who post trite little “Christian” sayings as their Facebook status or on Twitter. They sound really good and they’ll get about 100 “likes” from all their like-minded friends, but most of the time they’re not defensible from scripture and as a result they do little more than lead empty-headed people in the wrong direction.

The other day someone said, “You can’t be like Jesus and hate politicians”. First, there are two ways to take that. The wrong way is: “Jesus hates politicians, and there’s no way you can be like him in your hatred of politicians.” The right way is: “You can’t uphold the biblical mandate to be Christ-like while claiming to hate politicians”.

The implication is that Jesus doesn’t hate anybody, therefore if we hate politicians, we’re not Christ-like.

First, I don’t think there are many people who truly hate anyone, let alone politicians. Real hatred wishes the worst for people and would rather see them dead. While I have a long list of politicians whose policies I hate, I don’t think there are any people I truly hate.

But second, and more important, the fact of the matter is that God does hate some people. I’ll vamp for a minute while you think about that. Who does God hate? There are plenty of verses that tell us that God loves everyone, but there’s at least one verse where God talks about people he hates.

Give up? How about Proverbs 6:16-19

16There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him: 17haughty eyes,
a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

So I responded that I only hate the wicked schemers and the ones who stir up conflict. My friend reminded me that Proverbs 6 puts judging in God’s hands, which is true, but it wasn’t the question. The question is, can we hate and be Christ-like. My argument was simple:

God hates schemers and conflict-stirrers; I hate schemers and conflict-stirrers; therefore I am like God; Jesus is God; therefore I am like Jesus. QED.

My point isn’t so much that God hates people so we should too, but rather that we need to think before we toss out nice-sounding trivialities as if they are scripture. Christianity isn’t that simple. It requires some thought and can’t be reduced to a bumper sticker.

Hebrews 4:12 and “The Word of God”

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a comment about Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

His assertion was that the “word of God” in this verse refers to Jesus, and not to the Bible as he had previously been led to believe. That prompted this response from me:

The “Word of God” is not a synonym for the Bible or the scriptures: In Lk 3:2 the Word of God came to John; he did not receive a Bible. In Lk 5:1 Jesus was preaching and the crowds were listening to the Word of God; he was not reading the Bible to them. In Acts 4:31 the disciples spoke the Word of God; they were not reading the Bible. In Acts 6:7 the Word of God kept on spreading; they were not distributing Bibles. In Acts 8:14 the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God; they weren’t talking about a shipment of Bibles. In Acts 11:1 the Gentiles received the Word of God; they did not receive BIbles. I could go on.

Paul defines the “Word of God” in Colossians 1:26ff as “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints… which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The “Word of God” is the message that God has for his creation. Specifically, it is the Gospel; more generally it is whatever God has to say — whether it was recorded in the Bible or not.

Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of the Word of God (John 1:1-4,14). I imagine your interpretation of 4:12 is coming from 4:13, which refers to “Him”, and 4:14 goes on to talk about Jesus. I don’t know that 4:12 is specifically talking about Jesus or if it says that the Word of God is the tool/sword that Jesus uses to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, thoughts and intents, during the process of judging. But I know for sure that the “Word of God” in Heb 4:12 is not our 66-book Bible, because it is never used with that meaning anywhere in scripture.