Levites, Worship Leaders, and Musicians…


I was reading a post not to long ago on FredMckinnon.com and have really been pondering it. I wanted to respond to it there on his website, but as I collected my thoughts, I realized this was a deep answer that was too long to really be a comment. So instead I have been thinking about it for a few days and am putting my thoughts here. If you click the link above, you will see the original post, and a melee of opinions and answers. There are quite a few differing thoughts on the topic.

Here was the original Question he asked. “Should Secular Songs Be Used in Church?” As you read this, you probably had strong opinions and answers rise up inside of you. However, I hope that you will take some time to really think about it before you decide for yourself. With that let me answer the question with my thoughts.

The short answer from me is No, but this is a complex thing and no short answer will suffice. The question was raised in Fred’s discussion, what counts as “In Church” Yesterday, we had a baby shower in our church and the couple who were having the baby played secular songs in the games and such. However, for the purposes of my discussion, I am going to define “In Church” as songs used in the Church Service.

Back in the days of King Solomon and The First temple, the Bible records an occurrence in 2nd Chronicles 5. The Levites were bringing the Ark of The Covenant into its resting place within the Temple. This place is commonly known as “The Holy of Holies” This passage, which you can read for yourself, describes the process of bringing it in, denotes a time of bringing offerings before the Lord, and describes a time of purification. After these, The passae tells us about the first worship Service in the Temple. Every priest had been in the Holy of Holies and sanctified, the offerings had been brought, and all the elders of Israel were present.

When the worship commenced they simply reminded Themselves, and the Lord of His Goodness and Mercy. With trumpets, stringed instruments, cymbols, and voices. As they worshiped, they continued until The Lord’s presence met them. Not with goosebumps or happy thoughts, but with a thick dark cloud. So thick, and So dark that The Bible tells us they had to stop ministering.

I imagine this was because the Cloud of his Presence was so thick that they could no longer see their instruments or each other, or anything besides the presence of the Lord. Now the Bible doesn’t go into this much detail, but it does specify that the cloud came and the priests could not stand to minister. Now most of the people I know would call this a good worship service. Then after the cloud came, King Solomon got up and preached of The Lord. So we see worship and the Preaching, which is the model most churches follow today.

In the Psalms, David who was one of if not the most prolific worship writer in the History of mankind continually taught us to praise the Lord. Psalm 96 gives us some of David’s views on worship. In reading this passage, it seems to me that Christian worship should be focused upon the Exaltation of the Lord, His nature, character, and his salvation.

In those days, The Temple and the Tabernacle were Holy places and there was a requirement of Holiness and Righteousness, and a strong dose of the Fear of the Lord if you were going anywhere near the Altar of The Lord. It is for this reason that I feel worship should be done with a deep reverance, and the music we do should be music that was written with the purpose of exalting the Lord.

I love U2, and “Where The Streets Have no Name” is one of my favourite songs, but it is not worship. Bono did not write it to be worship. If you disagree, here is a quote from the man himself.

Bono (from Propaganda 5, 1987): “Where the Streets Have No Name is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it’s a sketch – I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling. I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don’t hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making – literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name.” (thanks, Bertrand – Paris, France)

God desires pure worship, in spirit and in truth. The Ark of The Covenant was kept seperate for  areason. The one time it was mixed with a pagan or ‘secular’ altar, it utterly destroyed it. (see 1 Samuel 5) So when we sing songs that are not written with the purpose of worship, with our christian worship, we create a mixture. We are taking Bitter water and sweet water and trying to put them in the same Jar. God is not up for that. He has a way he desires to be worship, and has a habit of letting you know when he is not happy with your worship. Just ask Cain.

[[ Amendment 1: I would like to add, You should always follow the direction of your pastor, as was the case for Fred. His pastor requested that he sing “When a Man Loves a Woman” Thus, he was obedient to his leaders, and I respect that greatly. This post was not to challenge that at all, just in case anyone got that idea. I love you fred, you are an awesome worship leader and Levite in the house of God. I pray he continues to bless you and your church richly.]]

Well, that seems like enough for now. What are your thoughts on the matter. I know this is a discussion that brings out many opinions and emotions, what are yours? Feel free to share stories and personal experiences, just keep it civil.


About matreames

I am a Man on a Mission, A Missionary. I worship, I Love the Word, and I love the Glorious Gospel. How can I help you pursue Christ more?

Posted on July 11, 2011, in Worship and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Great thoughts, Mat. I think for me personally, I have to really examine my own convictions when it comes to defining the “Holy of Holies” – obviously, as you pointed out in the Old Testament it was pretty cut and dry, what and where the Holy of Holies was. As we move into the “New Testament Era” we have this shift where the veil is torn in two and the “way” into the Holy of Holies is paved by Jesus himself (as our sacrificial Lamb AND High Priest forevermore).

    Therefore WE become that holy seat, that holy altar. I think the one thing that a lot of believers do is to try and create a separate “holy” space on Sundays (or whatever day they gather to worship) and keep it compartmentalized from the rest of their life. I don’t get the feeling that’s what you’re talking about, but one thing that draws response out of me is this false notion that one day is an holier than the other and that because we meet in a building and call it a church service it some is more sacred than any other time. Either WE are the living stones that make up His Church, the living members that make up His Body, or we’re not. I believe that we are.

    In that sense, we’re all probably guilty of mixing the bitter with the sweet, and I think we will continually struggle with that until we’re no longer wrapped in these broken, frail flesh robes we call our bodies and souls.

    That being said, we are called to be holy, to be set apart. And I think the bigger problem is not whether or not we sing a “secular” song inside of church building and even more specifically the time we’ve set aside for worship, but that we would sing, watch, participate, live in that secular space the other 6 days of the week. I’m the chief of sinners.

    I think God wants the issue to be that our “sacredness” invades the secular in such a way that there’s no doubt about who we belong to. In my own life, and I’m sure in the lives of many others, there’s probably many times when someone couldn’t possibly tell that I am one of God’s living, breathing stones. Forgive us Lord.

    I guess I’m saying all that to say, if a person chooses to take a really strong stand against using “secular” music within that “sacred” space, I’d also like to know that their entire life reflects that same standard. Sure, there are songs for worship and songs that aren’t…but I will always continue to base my evaluation of such songs on whether or not they can help me or the team I’m playing with serve the congregation (by bringing up valid questions that are later answered by the teaching of God’s Word or by another song later in the same set).

    Wow, this is getting long here too! Ultimately, I’m ok with doing “secular” songs in church, because to me they are just vehicles. Some vehicles just spin their wheels and take us nowhere. Others spin up a lot of mud and leave us dirty. And still others can be reclaimed, restored, and used to serve a greater purpose (without changing the lyrics to something cheesy and christianese, I might add!) by pointing people to God.

    I’ve always believed that worship isn’t in the individual song anyways. Worship is in the hearts that come together to form the notes and words. Granted, there are songs that probably should never be sung anywhere, anytime for any purpose (let alone in church), but I’m pretty sure none of us are thinking of those songs anwways. Worship, isn’t even just the song set…worship is so much bigger than just us pointing people to God. God is the object of worship and it starts with Him. If he lays it on somebody’s heart to use a “clay” vessel for a specific purpose and they carry that purpose out well, I think the glory goes to God.

    And with that said, I DO BELIEVE there are certain songs that lend themselves better to singing worship. And then there are songs (sacred and secular) that lend themselves more to creating a space where questions are asked and answered.

    I’ve rambled a lot, probably contradicted myself, and probably sound like a fool…but I love discussion like this! Thanks for carrying it on!

    • Thanks for the thoughts Russ. I agree with you in saying that as believers our lives should be Seperated and Holy. That has been something I have been really working on a lot lately. I want my life to be the same in the house of God as it is in the streets.

      In our ministry, we have 2 main services, a Shabbat service every Friday night, and a Sunday morning service. I personally feel that the Commandment to Keep the Sabbath Holy is something that still applies to the Church today, but this is because I am of Jewish Heritage, and have a deep respect for the Jewish culture of the Church.

      Thanks again for sharing, You insights are great my friend. I hope I can find time to see you and Fred and the gang as I will be down in Jesup next week.

  2. Amen Brother! I agree and thank you for writing this. I can see that you put a lot of effort into making sure you’re bang on with scripture and it rings true in my Spirit. Bless You!

  3. Good Post, kind of disagree though. The holy of holies was a place only for the priest. A Church service is a place where everyone is suppose to be welcome. Not the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is inside of us…………………………..

    • True, Church is for everyone, but it is the gathering place where we come together to encounter God communally, and I believe that when we come to encounter God there should be that same reverence as we enter the Presence of the Holy God. that is not to say it is a sad, somber, or dry thing, but that it is not something that should be done flippantly. And yes, I agree that we are the Temple of the Lord, and as such I believe i a lifestyle of Holiness as well. I am not perfect, but by the Grace of God, he continues to mold me and make me more like he is.

      Thanks for your thoughts Guy. did you also check out the post from earlier today “The Soul of Tone?” My friend CJ Natale shared his guitar rig, and thoughts about tone in worship. I thought you might like it.

  4. Wow long post Russ, New Covenant. Some things really cant literally be transferred over from the Old Covenant.

  5. Great post, Mat! Even though I do not have a Jewish background, I can see how much of OT principles apply to the New Covenant. Perhaps many of us should do a study on the Holy of Holies (at least revisit it). Yes, only priests could enter the Holy of Holies in the OT, but Christ did tear the veil from top to bottom as to allow any God-fearing person to enter. The temple was still there for people to worship until 70AD (correct me if I’m wrong). Jesus also said that WE are the temple of God. So as God-fearing believers we should aim to make our worship pure before him or he will spew us out of his mouth because we are neither hot nor cold. With that said our sacrifices are with praise (Heb 13:15), and with our bodies to his service (Rom 12:1).

    How does this relate to worship music? We MUST check our motives. Are we singing in pure worship unto HIM alone or are we trying to be “relevant” with the crowd that surrounds us?

    Lord, may you find hearts ablaze for you and you alone!

  6. Amen, great post Matt

  7. Great beginning thoughts, although I think I my disagree with your current conclusion. A place to start my questions are 1. Is the music secular because of the lyrics or the melody? This is an important question to answer. Obviously you can see so many places this leads. What about hymns that were written to popular bar songs so that when people heard them, they recognized the melodies and could sing along? Was that “secular” in nature? What about worship songs that incorporate lyrics previously “secular” lyrics? (Bridge over troubled waters anyone?) What about worship songs like “Healer” – the “I fake cancer to write and record a hit worship song?” I think I’d rather sing “Where the streets have no name.” I’ve been stewing on this topic for a while though too, and am looking forward to the conversation.

    • In response to the question number 1, I am not judging secular vs. sacred in terms of lyrics and melody. But the heart of the songwriter. There are people who can listen to any sappy 1980’s love ballad and find a way to make it about God. However does this make it a worship song? In my opinion no. I look at the motive for a song as much as the lyrics and melody when I am preparing to choose a song for the body. For instance you mentioned “Healer” I think this is a beautiful song, I really like it, but I would not lead it in service because I believe it wasn’t written out of a purity of Love and worship towards the Lord. When discussing the old hymns that were written to the tune of drinking songs. I can understand how this would pose an interesting thought. However, when men like Wesley were penning these, their heart was directed toward the Lord. They were writing for His honor.

      When trying to decide what is sacred, we really can’t just look at words, we need to follow after intent. For instance there is a Band called Lamb of God, and most people who have never listened to them think they are Christian because of the band name, however this is not true. In fact they are very anti-Christianity. On a website I thumb through occasionally http://jesusfreakhideout.com there is a forum thread called “are these artists Christian.” As I scanned through this thread, I found a majority of the questions went like this. “Is XYZ Christian, I heard their song on the radio and they quoted a Bible verse.” So does the ability to quote a Scripture make someone Christian? I do not believe so. I believe God looks upon the heart. and as Romans 10 says, “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth…” If you heart is not right, then you aren’t producing properly.

      Now I understand that people will have different views concerning this discussion and I am ok with that. Becuase this is a matter of personal convictions, I have become a bit more stringent than I once was because of my personal encounters with the Lord and how they have shaped me. I look forward to more discussion on this and seeing your thoughts in more detail

  8. Jackie Cuadrado

    In response to Russ, I believe similiarly to you that everyday our lives should reflect what we portray on a Sunday as worship leaders. It is not enough to sing the songs on sunday if monday through saturday our lives dont match up. We could fool who ever we want to fool on this earth,but one day we will all be before the Lord and he will judge our secret lives, the life we lived outside of the four walls of the temple. However, I could not disagree more with the notion of playing secular music in the house of God. There is a heavenly sound that as worsippers we are to raise unto the Lord. This can only be done through an intimate relationship with the Lord on a day to day basis. God doesnt need worldy music to bring His people to salvation. He simply needs clean vessels, filled with the Holy Spirit who are willing to lay their lives and talents down and be willing to be used by God. Mixing worldy music into the worship service is raising up a strange fire unto the Lord.

    Biblically we are tought that the spirit of a person is attached to their song, we see this in 1 Samuel 16 when Saul was tormented by an evil spirit and as David simply played the harp, that evil spirit would leave him. That is because David was a servant of the most high God and the Holy Spirit who resided in him was far greater that that tormenting spirit and it needed to leave in the presence of the Lord. So with that said, music taps into our spirit bodies just as much as our physical. Too many times we try to separate the two and say “its just music, it wont affect me” that couldnt be any further from the truth. What I am trying to say here is that music is powerful, it has the ability to tap into areas of the brain that mere speech cannot. God designed it along with everything else to bring glory and honor to His name. It is a form of praise, a form of worship! If the song was not written for God himself, then who or what is it praising? Who or what are you calling into your church when you play secular songs? It is a form of worship, a powerful one at that. As christians we cannot close our eyes to the schemes and tactics of the enemy, one of his greatest tools is the music industry because music has the ability to enter a message into you without your consent. It is scientifically proven that our brains have the power to shut out messages spoken that we are not in agreement with. However, our brains do Not have the ability to shut out the message in music that we are not in agreement with. Put a catchy beat to it and you will know the lyrics before you realize it and you have accepted that message in your spirit. All in all, God doesn’t need to songs of the world, He is the Creator of music. If His people would just seek Him, we would also stop trying to be the next hillsong or israel houghton and He would begin to deposit songs right with in us! Songs that bring glory and honor to His name and not to us or anything else. Music is worship regardless of the genre. Lets keep it Holy. God bless!

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