Last week, I wrote a blog about the apostasy, the falling away from the faith, of two well known Christians. The first, author Josh Harris, has confirmed that he no longer considers himself a Christian. The second, songwriter Marty Sampson of Hillsong, clarified that he has not left the faith, but that his faith is on shaky ground.
I stated last week that the Bible gives numerous reasons for apostasy, and therefore we should not assume a single cause. I also mentioned the apostasy of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10. Since Demas was a part of Paul’s ministry team (Colossians 4:14), we have to assume that he was well-trained in the gospel. It is, therefore, not accurate to blame all apostasy on the lack of Biblical training and preparation. In some cases, the apostate was well-entrenched in the faith.
But since the announcement of Marty Sampson, a number of people have weighed in. John Cooper, the lead singer of the Christian band, Skillet, has said that we should “stop making worship leaders and thought leaders or cool people or ‘relevant’ people the most influential people in Christendom.”
That statement got me thinking. I don’t know what Cooper means by “thought leaders”, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue. Cooper is arguing that we must stop allowing worship leaders to be the most influential people.
I would argue that those who write worship songs will always have an enormous influence. Bernard of Clairvaux, who died in 1153, gave us a number of songs we still sing today. They include, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”, “Jesus Thou Joy of Loving Hearts”, and “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”. What is fascinating about Bernard is that in his day, he was one of the most influential clerics of Europe. He was also known as a keen Bible scholar and effective teacher. Martin Luther called him, “the best monk that ever lived.” Today, we remember little of Bernard’s teaching, but we remember his worship hymns.
Or consider Charles Wesley. Wesley wrote close to 9,000 hymns. We still sing many of them today. Charles Wesley was a pastor, educated at Oxford, and a scholar in Latin. But it is his hymns that made the greatest contribution to the faith. It has been said that without the hymns of Charles Wesley, the Methodist Movement may have gone nowhere. That is to say, the worship had a great impact on the revival. Indeed, the revival might not have gone anywhere without it.
One further example. Isaac Watts was an English Pastor, theologian, logician, and hymn writer. He is credited with some 750 hymns. We remember, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, and “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”
My point is simple. The great worship leaders of the past were almost always profound theologians. Their hymns rose out of the breadth and depth of their studies. That is one of the reasons people learned their theology from what they wrote.
By the way, I am not suggesting there are no such hymn writers and worship leaders today. Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Matt Boswell, some of the Sovereign Grace Music, CityAlight, and others come to mind. There really are options today, options that give us rich biblical content.
But I want to come back to the comments that it is time we stopped making worship leaders influential. I would respond in a different manner. I think it is time we stopped looking for worship choruses that come from the mind and pens of men and women who have very little, or no biblical and theological training. We also should stop singing songs that are the equivalent of eating empty calories.
One reason for apostasy is that we make leaders out of people who don’t have the biblical or theological capacity to lead. I only wonder why more of them have not apostatized.