During my time off from writing this blog last month, I spent a lot of thought pondering music and the church in general. Last week, I spoke of a shift in my thinking regarding “Testimony” and “Therapy” songs in worship. This week, I want to speak to an issue I find good for believers to think about, not only in the area of worship but in all areas of our Christian life. It is summed up in the difference between “Cat theology” and “Dog theology.”
“A dog may look at you and think, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me -- You must be god!" On the other hand a cat can look at you and say, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me -- I must be god!’"
If we sit down and theologically ponder the question, “Who is God?”, all true Christians would say that Yahweh is God, our Master, and we are His servants. However, it doesn’t always practically work itself out that way. It’s easy, especially in an affluent society, to become conditioned to expect all things to work out for our pleasure. Entitlement sets in and we quickly find ourselves complaining over the smallest of inconvenience.
Thousands pack churches that, rather than focusing on the Word, focuses on making them feel comfortable about themselves. We complain when something is said, or done… or sung that we don’t personally enjoy. Is life about our enjoyment? Or is life about God’s glory, even at the expense of denying ourselves? That’s the difference between a cat and a dog.
In 2003, Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison wrote a groundbreaking book called “Cat and Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship with Our Master”. In it they say,” It all begins with a simple joke: It's been said that "Dogs have Masters - Cats have Staff. Cats may call you Master, but tend to live a self-centered life–where you are there to serve and take care of them. On the other hand, Dogs are eager to see and please their master.”
I want to take this concept and apply it to our worship and the songs we choose. Do we personally come into a corporate worship setting thinking “How can God receive the most glory from this means of grace?” or is our thought more along the lines of, “I sure hope they sing the songs I want to hear today.”
As a worship leader, I first look to what God has said about how He wants to be worshiped. I view it as a stewardship of a gift that God has given me. He is the Master, not me. I will be held responsible to God for how I have used the gift of music and the talents and songs available to me to bring Him glory. I don’t want to squander a single note of melody or a syllable of lyric to serve myself. Every minute we have is precious, and should be used for the purposes He has designated.
As I stated last week, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for personal testimony or personal encouragement in our songs. We see that in scripture, and while scripture is profitable for doctrine, it is also profitable for edification and comfort. The spectrum of our lyrics should encompass all of this. Last week, I looked at the possible imbalance of not enough testimony, and today, I want to look at the possible disproportion of songs that reassure to songs that admonish, reprove and instruct.
In our corporate worship, as well as our Christian walk, we need to ask ourselves who is the focus? Who is the intended recipient of the honor? Too often we fall into the common trap of redirecting the funds designated for God’s glory to the expense account of our own pleasure. That ought not be among God’s people.
Another common error in worship is a reinventing of Biblical ideas to make them more man-focused. Take the word love, for example. It is such a broad term and permeates so much of our worship… and rightly so. However, when the Bible speaks of God’s love for us, we are not the hero of that story. We are not the central figure of the Bible. All of God’s providential work is done for His majesty. Christ is the focus. While God does work all things together for those who love Him, those who are called, everything God does is ultimately for His own glory first.
David Platt says in his book “Radical”, “The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him—his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness—known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.”
This lack of Biblical understanding in many songwriters today is one of the reasons we see so much “romantic language” in our worship. Romance is all about how I feel, how my spouse or person I am dating makes me feel. That’s romance, and when we apply that to God, it becomes all about how God makes me feel. We become the center. It’s all about us. It’s cat theology. I hate to burst some bubbles here, but God’s love for us, in sending His Son to die for us, was not all about us. It was all about God receiving glory for displaying His mercy and grace. When we view God’s love in this biblical light, we see that we are “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God’s glory is not His only goal, but it is the highest goal, and should be our highest goal. That’s dog theology. We are here for Him, not the other way around.
So, in conclusion, I’d just like to focus everyone on the worship and glory of God. It is one of the main reasons we gather together corporately. We explain the scripture, we worship through giving, we do all of the “One Anothers” of scripture, and we honor God with our praise. We need to make sure that God is the reason we sing, the focus of our worship.
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship, not only in their home church (Mt. Airy Bible Church), but around the country. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.