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Singing Songs From Questionable Sources

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I had already been working on this post when I received this email from Ethan:

“For the past year, I’ve struggled with the idea of playing ‘good’ songs (obviously room for defining some terms there…) from questionable ministries. In playing their songs, am I advocating for their entire ministry? In playing their songs, am I necessarily pushing my people toward their church (i.e., when the CCLI info pops up at the end of the song)?”

I took a stab at this question eight years ago when I wrote “Does it Matter Who Writes the Songs We Sing?” Since then, I’ve been asked the question so frequently I’ve tried to refine my thinking on this topic.

What Makes a Song Source “Questionable?”

Songs can be from “questionable” sources in at least three ways:

  1. It’s recently come to light publicly that the composer of a song is living or has been living in unrepentant sin.
  2. A composer is part of a denomination that teaches what you consider a distortion of the gospel.
  3. The song springs from a church or ministry that has theology or practices you think are unbiblical.

Interestingly, I’ve visited websites and blogs that view Sovereign Grace Music as one of those “questionable sources,” usually because we’re continuationist, Reformed or use contemporary music styles.

So whatever your reasons for questioning the origins of a song, here are some thoughts.

First Things First

Let me start with some general observations.

First, to dismiss this conversation as irrelevant, petty or unnecessary (e.g., “Who are you to question my sincerity?”) fails to appreciate the diverse and deep ways songs affect our thoughts and emotions. It also minimizes the importance Scripture gives to singing (Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16-17). To say, “It doesn’t matter who writes the songs we sing,” isn’t helpful, because it does matter to many people. In fact, I’m asked this question more than any other. By a long shot.

Second, exercising discernment isn’t the same thing as sinful judgment. Our culture often wrongly equates disagreement with disdain and insists that to make distinctions is to be condescending. But God tells us in Scripture to judge rightly, distinguish between those who should hear our message and who shouldn’t, be able to discern who a fool is, avoid people who cause divisions, and know the difference between sheep and wolves in sheep’s clothing (Jn. 7:24; Mt. 7:6; Prov. 13:20; Rom. 16:17; Mt. 7:15).