Recent Posts
Kevin T. Bauder The American Council of Christian Churches published its whitepaper entitled <em& [more]
In Let the Little Children Come, my goal is to convince church leaders and parents [more]
What happens to people who never hear the gospel? What an awful question—to consider [more]
Kevin T. Bauder Ten years ago I authored a chapter and three responses for the [more]
We have already showed the importance of imagination for shaping on overall Christian outlook and [more]


There is a cry today for authenticity in worship. This comes in several different forms, but most commonly it relates to worship and music style compared to the prevailing culture and an individual Christian’s tastes, and it is usually used as the foundation for arguments that every generation needs their own songs and that people cannot worship unless they have songs in their own “heart language.”

I have mixed feelings about the use of this term as it relates to worship because, on the one hand, of course I am in favor of authentic worship. Who really wants worship that is fake? But on the other hand, I object to the way in which this word is used with worship, and the kinds of things it is used to defend.

I think it comes down to a couple different definitions of the word, “authenticity.” Here are the two most common ways the word is used, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

not false or imitation : real, actual

true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

If the definition one uses when arguing for authentic worship is the first, then I am fully in favor. God does not desire worship that is false, fake, or put on. In fact, this was what God condemned of the post-exilic Jews (see Malachi 1) and the New Testament Pharisees (Matthew 15:8). God desires sincere worship (Hebrews 10:22) that follows his commands.

However, it is usually the second definition that is implied when people talk about authentic worship today. In other words, in order for worship to be truly “authentic,” people have to be real to themselves. As I mentioned, this is usually in reference to worship and music style. I can’t worship, the argument says, unless I can do so in styles that are my own–styles I am comfortable with and that are part of my culture and preferences.

This is really at the root of most contemporary and missional worship philosophies, and it also drives ethnodoxology as well. When a person comes to Christ, they insist, that person certainly changes his beliefs, but in order for his worship to be truly authentic, we dare not insist he adopt our musical or style preferences; he should be permitted, and indeed encouraged, to worship with whatever is most natural to him. This is also why each new generation needs its own songs; how can we make a new generation sing the songs of eras gone by? That would be inauthentic!

David de Bruyn deals with this issue here quite well, but I wanted to explore some additional problems with this view.

“Authentic” expressions are often sinful.

Songs are products of human creation. They are mediums of human communication. And since humans are totally depraved, there is always the potential that the way a man communicates could be sinful. The Bible teaches that every person is totally and completely depraved.

Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Ephesians 4:17-19 “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

Both man’s will and understanding are corrupt.

Titus 1:15 “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

The natural man cannot do anything good, nor can he understand spiritual things.

John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

He does not and cannot seek God, nor does he desire to do so.

Romans 3:10-18 “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”

Depravity consumes man’s body (Romans 8:10), mind (Titus 1:15Ephesians 4:17-18), heart (Ephesians 4:18Jeremiah 17:9), will (John 8:34Ephesians 2:3), and emotions (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Thus man is totally and completely depraved. Total depravity does not mean that man is as depraved as he could be, but that all of man is completely depraved. No part of man escapes the reach of depravity. Not his will, not his actions, not his preferences, not his culture, and certainly not the way he communicates.

Now, with this in mind, it is true that when talking about authentic worship, we are talking about believers. Some people will insist that although unbelievers are totally depraved, believers have been changed, their desires have been renewed, and they have the Holy Spirit to lead them in their judgments and expressions.

This is certainly the case. New creatures in Christ have made made new. They are no longer slaves to sin. The Holy Spirit indwells them.

Nevertheless, although believers have been delivered from the penalty and power of sin, they have not yet been delivered from the presence of sin. Even believers still struggle every day (every moment?) with the influences of remaining depravity. Perhaps one of the strongest biblical examples of this is Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:

Romans 7:15-25 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Even believers cannot fully trust their own judgments and expressions without clear guidance from God. True, the Holy Spirit indwells believers, but He does not somehow supernaturally lead them to right decisions. The Holy Spirit leads us through His Word and by giving us wisdom to rightly apply it to our lives. We must study it and apply its teachings to every situation in our lives, and sometimes this will lead us to recognize that our “authentic expression” is actually not pleasing to him.

Right worship is not natural; it must be learned.

Second, this view assumes that right worship will come naturally to all Christians. These people assume that the moment a person comes to Christ, he will instinctively know how to worship, and therefore his natural impulses are the best guide. In fact, on this reasoning, unbelievers know how to worship as well; they just need to change their beliefs and they’re all set to go.

While it is true that Christians are new creatures with new hearts and new desires, ingrained habits, misguided assumptions, and remaining depravity prevent anyone from simply “knowing” how to worship. Many people assume that worship comes naturally—that people should just worship with whatever language is most comfortable to them. But this is simply not the case. If the Scriptures and church history reveal anything to us about worship, it is that left to themselves, even God’s people will worship poorly. They must be taught to worship.

This is one of the purposes of ordered worship. Those with more Christian maturity structure worship in such a way that it shapes the affections and teaches others how to worship rightly.

Time-tested expressions are often more dependable than novel ones.

Insistence upon new, fresh songs (with an implicit rejection of old songs) fails to recognize the worth of the community of faith in nurturing Christian worship tradition. I have written about tradition elsewhere, so I won’t belabor the point here.

I am certainly not arguing against writing new songs; far from it. But we must recognize that anything new we write will always be built on something that has come before. The “authentic” expressions of new converts or people immersed in the world’s culture will naturally build upon the value systems and expressions of that culture. I would suggest that the more biblical pattern would be to build new songs on the expressions of those mature Christians who have come before us, and this requires actively cultivating that tradition.

The need for “my expression” is post-Enlightenment individualism rather than biblical thinking.

This leads to the next significant problem. This insistence that “I need to express my faith with my songs in my own authentic way” is based more on post-Enlightenment individualism than upon biblical emphases of community and unity of the body. As I argued , constant clamoring for “new” and “fresh” is not a biblical perspective (biblical Christianity is old and stable); it is one that comes from a self-focus and the cultural realities of a post-Enlightenment and post-Industrial Revolution Western mindset.

With music specifically, there was a shift post-Enlightenment that made the focus of music “my authentic expression” that fails to reflect a biblical worldview centered on preserving biblical tradition and community. Quentin Faulkner makes this point in Wiser Than Despair. He summarizes Enlightenment views of music that are diametrically opposed to the Judeo- Christian tradition and that affected all of Western culture:

  • The goal of music is to excite human passions rather than to calm them.
  • Music provides entertainment and diversion rather than the shaping of content.
  • The best kind of music is characterized by constant variety rather than order and modesty.
  • Individuality and originality are virtues in musical composition and performance rather than cultivating a noble tradition.
  • The gauge of music’s excellence is popular acclaim rather than its ability to shape content in an appropriate manner.
  • The best kind of music is “natural” and unlearned rather than skilled and ordered.
  • Music is purely scientific without any ethical dimension.
  • Music is unimportant rather than that which orders men’s souls.

Those who clamor today for “my authentic expression” may need to step back for a moment and recognize where that perspective came from; it wasn’t Scripture.

Truly authentic worship is that which conforms to God’s standards.

Actually, I think there is one more definition of “authentic” that best describes what is necessary for worship:

worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact

Truly “authentic” worship is not that which is based on my own natural instincts, “heart language,” or preferences. Truly authentic worship is that which conforms to a standard–the standard of God’s Word.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

15 Responses to Authenticity

  1. I would like to ask a few questions as a response. I'd like to open the discussion to Scott, and also to the other authors here — and to all visitors, too.

    First: If a Christian individual — or a Christian worship group (whether it be "traditional", or "choral", or "instrumental", or "rock" or "pop" or "rap") proclaims, "Our Lord, Christ Jesus, is our influence; and we have peace in our hearts and spirits that we are worshiping as God would intend us; He has moved us to worship in this way, and He even moves us during and after our worship, affirming the holy and pure nature of our worship as we thank Him and praise Him and glorify Him throughout our worship, which uses cymbals (viz. Psalm 150) and the snare drum (indeed a percussion instrument, as is the cymbal): which among any of us would doubt them and the positive responses/affirmations they claim to have received from The Lord? Which among us would condemn them and say, "You are not following Our Lord's purpose and commandments for worship (individual and/or corporate); when you say you have received such affirmative and congratulatory responses from Him, you either have been deceived, or you are somehow receiving the messages from somewhere else — not from Our Lord, Christ Jesus." Who is right? Who is wrong? How do we know they are wrong when they say that their hearts confirm their worship — whether it be rap or rock?

    Second, — and I realize this may not really apply directly to the original post — If Christian worship hymns or Christian spiritual songs indeed *have* been derived from, developed from, or influenced by, "Bar Songs" or "Bar Tunes", what then? Where is the evil in that? I can remember attending worship services in a young adults group more than 20 years ago and they were singing a Christian praise song, the melody of which was *exactly* and *precisely* the same melody as a popular modern rock/country song, only with the words changed to reflect worship of Christ. If at that time, we would have questioned the singers in that praise group, I have no doubt that their hearts were spiritually pure and that their minds were well-intentioned. If some Christian songs have come from "Bar Tunes", where is the sin in that? It is a question for which I don't know the answer.

    And third: Roger Scruton has said, "There is growing, within pop, [a] practice . . . in which the movement is no longer contained in the musical line but exported . . . to a center of pulsation that demands not that you listen but that you submit. If you do submit, the moral qualities of the music vanish behind the excitement. . ." What do you reckon he's saying there? and do you think it's applicable to your views on pop? And if there is some sin that is somehow hidden within pop or that is enveloped within pop — whether the pop be secular pop or "Christian pop" or "CCM" — what is that sin, and how can we call them sinners who are apparently full of love and devotion and respect for Our Lord Christ?

  2. Hi, Todd.

    Let me pose another question to you in response to your first question: If two Hebrew priests–sons of the High Priest, no less, proclaim, “Our Lord, Yahweh, is our influence; and we have peace in our hearts and spirits that we are worshiping as God would intend us; He has moved us to worship in this way, and He even moves us during and after our worship, affirming the holy and pure nature of our worship as we thank Him and praise Him and glorify Him throughout our worship," and the proceed to offer fire to the Lord that he had not authorized (see Leviticus 10:1-5); which among any of us would doubt them and the positive responses/affirmations they claim to have received from The Lord? Which among us would condemn them and say, “You are not following Our Lord’s purpose and commandments for worship (individual and/or corporate); when you say you have received such affirmative and congratulatory responses from Him, you either have been deceived, or you are somehow receiving the messages from somewhere else — not from Our Lord, Christ Jesus.” Who is right? Who is wrong? How do we know they are wrong when they say that their hearts confirm their worship?

    The point is, first, the of course we have the right to question someone's worship. No individual's personal "word from the Lord" is substance enough to defend their practice if that practice is not explicitly authorized in Scripture. That's point one.

    Point 2: the very basis of defense by your hypothetical worshiper is proof of the problem itself. Worship practices are never justified by what "I feel" God is leading me to do in worship. Worship practices are justified only based upon what God has clearly revealed in his Word. No "peace in our hearts and spirits" or "moving" during worship justifies any action. The basis of worship is never individual feeling.

    Third, I'm sure you recognize the reductionism to claim that biblical warrant for cymbals justifies rock or rap.

    To your second question: For me, the most important criterion in evaluating the worth of a particular tune or style in worship is whether that tune or style fitting communicates sentiments appropriate for the truth it supports and the worship of God in general. So if a particular tune or style is borrowed from a culture outside the church and it fits that criterion, then I consider it useful. It is wise, I suggest, to also consider what conventional associations might be embedded in the tune or style, and what distractions it might cause. But the fundamental question is what the style or tune communicates and whether it is fitting for worship according to the guidelines and examples we find in Scripture.

    To your third question: this deserves a more involved answer, but I'll attempt a simple one at this point. I think what he is discussing is the inherent nature of pop music to titilate the senses and visceral impulses alone, what the premoderns would have called the passions, rather than modestly nurturing the noble affections. This is the very essence of what pop culture does–it immediately gratifies by stimulating the "gut" feelings and "excitements." I, for one, do not argue such stimulation is necessarily always wrong, but it is not worship, and it can, if left uncontrolled, lead to wrong.

  3. Dear Scott. Perhaps the main difficulty I have with your argument is that I'm not sure we can equate personal affirmation with "feelings" or "emotion". Are believers not able to receive positive affirmations of their worshipful thoughts/actions without "feeling" something? Or, is every instance in which we are worshiping God and experience His righteousness and approval of our worship characterized instead by feeling and emotion? I'm not arguing that feeling or emotion is good or bad in-and-of itself, nor am I arguing that feeling or emotion is good or bad in the context of individual or corporal worship. I just am wondering when do we label our worship responses as feeling and emotion? Are feelings and emotions wrong or shameful in the context of being in love with someone? (I don't mean to equate worship of God with being in love of a human being. But is it not permissible for a Christian man to have deep emotions or feelings for his fiancee or bride?)

    If I may point to Leviticus 10:1-5 in this context, God gave Aaron's sons a specific command. One would probably infer that Aaron's sons probably recognized and understood that command, but out of sin (whether jealousy or hatred or selfishness or whatever particular sin caused them to disobey), they disobeyed that command. When we're gathered for corporate worship, are we bound solely by scriptural precedent, so-to-speak? If we use pop music in our corporal worship sessions in church, are we automatically — by definition — disobeying God's command? If so, what is that command? In Scripture, has God commanded that we not use pop or rock music? God wants us to worship in spirit and in truth. If we worship via rock music, are we thus worshiping in a manner contrary to truth? Are (a) worshiping via rock music and (b) worshiping in spirit and in truth, — mutually exclusive? Are Christian rockers sinning?

    According to my recollections, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (the big one, in Lake Forest, Calif.), has stated that Saddleback made a "strategic decision" in selecting more contemporary style(s) of worship than hymns. Perhaps Saddleback's worship philosophy was that hymns would not be as conducive to their church philosophy, which has often been called "seeker-centered". (As a paranthetical, I believe they recently installed hymn worship in one or more of their church venues. In other words, at any one time they might have several venues, each with its customized "style" of worship music. But I think for several years, that was not the case.)

    (Also paranthetically, I would like to add that I've spoken with Pastor Rick Warren one-to-one a couple of times, and he's been good to me in our brief times together. And I've had the opportunity — going back several years ago — to meet with a few of singers who have sung at Saddleback Church, and although we might have slight differences regarding musical preference or worship preference, I don't know that I can say anything bad about them whatsoever. Likewise, you've been kind and generous to me, and I greatly appreciate it and I appreciate the opportunity to read your essays and correspond on these topics.)

    God Bless. Looking forward to your reply.

  4. Hi, Todd. Thanks for the interaction.

    No, I do not believe that we receive any "affirmation" that our worship is acceptable other than the Word of God. God does not "affirm" our worship in any special way inwardly. He has given us his Word to affirm our worship, which is why it must govern and regulate our worship.

    That said, no, I do not believe feelings are wrong in worship at all! We are physical beings, and we will always experience some sort of physical feelings to one degree or another. But (a) these feelings are not the essence of what worship is, and (b) feelings are never affirmation that we are doing something according to God's will. His Word is our only standards for that.

  5. Scott,

    You note: >>True, the Holy Spirit indwells believers, but He does not somehow supernaturally lead them to right decisions. The Holy Spirit leads us through His Word and by giving us wisdom to rightly apply it to our lives. We must study it and apply its teachings to every situation in our lives, and sometimes this will lead us to recognize that our “authentic expression” is actually not pleasing to him.<<

    This raises some questions in my mind.

    First, how well imbedded in the word must I be for the Holy Spirit to lead me to a right decision? I'm only a layperson; I am not very familiar with OT or NT concordances, neither in Hebrew, nor Greek; even if I were to study a passage and looked up words in concordances (or, say, the OED), I might find several definitions or explanations. I could, I suppose, use a "Study Bible" — but how am I to know whether the explanations in a "Study Bible's" footnotes are correct and biblically sound? Am I to trust every single footnote in the NIV Study Bible? What if it's only 98% correct and that some parts are not really correct?

    If I don't know a lot of the Word, does it follow that the Holy Spirit is somehow not leading me and guiding me, although I pray to God Almighty that His Holy Spirit indeed lead me and guide me? What about Jn 16:24: "Ask anything in my name, and I will grant it."

    I asked on a related topic whether the message I received regarding my voice in worship was from the Holy Spirit. The message was (is) that I should refrain from singing in tenor, and focus on singing in a bass or baritone voice, lest I get anxious. That indeed does seem to have Scriptural basis: "Do not be anxious for anything" (Philippians 4:6-7). But should I doubt the message I received? and should I also doubt whether the message that a friend of mine received — counseling him to name his own son a shortened form of a name (rather than the longer form) — was indeed from the Holy Spirit. Should I doubt that the words to my friend were actually from the Holy Spirit?

    I am still mystified as to why the Holy Spirit doesn't affirm things to us during worship. And if not, where is the counsel within God's Word forbidding use of heavy-metal-thrash music in worship? Or rap music in worship? Or "alternative rock" music in worship? Or "pop-flavored" music in worship?

  6. Again, Todd, like I said in the other post, I do not believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us today except through his Word. Therefore he neither confirms OR condemns our worship practices. It is up to us to actively apply principles in the Word, using common sense and reason, to issues we face today.

  7. Thanks Scott for your thoughtful work on this. I appreciate how you addressed that 2nd meaning of authentic, which if not handled cautiously by Christians could come perilously close to a 'what it means to me' application.

    For what it's worth, two observations:

    1. 'Authenticity' is in danger of becoming the new self-righteousness in our times.

    2. Biblical worship should not change to suit me; I can be changed to suit Biblical worship.

    Blessings and keep up the good work!

  8. Thanks for your insights, Dan!

    We easily forget that sin is often our most authentic expression, too, don't we! :)

  9. Yes indeed and I'm reminded of Paul's teaching on our struggles with sin.

    Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:24-25 ESV

    I also find hope from Paul that we can through God's grace be 'men of sincerity':

    For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God… 2 Cor 2:17 and 3:5 ESV

  10. I know this article is a couple years old, and who knows if this will ever reach anybody or if get a response, but I am a part of a worship team and we do pretty modern contemporary songs. I have been saved for about eight years now. My life has been a rough one for the most part so I am definitely rough around the edges, not very educated and I’ve always had a love for singing. I became a part of the worship team about six years ago. And when I’m up there singing I can’t help but to move around and express the joy inside my heart for Him saving me and turning my life around. And it shows through my worship. I’m a very intense person and it comes through when I’m singing. Lately I feel like other people(leaders within the ministry) think I’m faking it or aren’t authentic in my worship. And it hurts to think that people think I’m ingenious. I guess my question is is it wrong to be fully expressive when a part of a worship team?

  11. Hi, Jay. That’s certainly a big question, but let me attempt a simple answer. No, it is not necessarily wrong to be expressive, to be sure. But I would just caution you to recognize that corporate worship isn’t primarily about expression, per se, but rather formation. In other words, often what kind of expression comes naturally to us is not the best, mature reflection of ordinate affection for the Lord, and thus what we choose for corporate worship should help to refine, discipline, and mature our responses to be fitting unto the Lord.

  12. Hi Scott, what I am picking up from this article and have always had as a mindset over the last decade or so is that anything a Christian does needs to be stemmed from faith and the truth set forth in God’s word. Our feelings are subject to change ALL. THE. TIME, if and when we don’t control them. A lot of Christians are blatantly rejecting the truth of God’s word. Still Christians? Of course, if they’ve received Christ as their savior, but there is A LOT of compromise based on people’s fluid feelings. The word is a rock and teaches and guides in all things.

    2 Corinthians 5:7 — “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

    I’ve always generalised “sight” to encompass all our natural tendencies and wants.

    Galations 5:24 “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts”

Leave a Reply