It seems to become a more and more frequent response. I don’t know if it’s a the result of the church reflecting culture more, a desire to not appear ‘judgey’, or just a general lack of biblical knowledge. It sadly seems though that any discussion of right vs wrong when it comes to our actions within a church service is supposed to stop when placed under the umbrella of ‘their heart is in the right place.’ Whether it’s in relation to singing songs with questionable theology, singing secular songs in church, preaching something of a self-help message rather than the gospel, the list can go on and on (and I'm sure you’ve had or heard of this discussion before).
I understand the desire to fall back on this; we want to think the best of people, we don’t like confrontation, it’s easier to just ‘have grace’ in these situations. But while we are called to grace, we are also called to truth — both/and, not either/or.
"While we are called to grace, we are also called to truth — both/and, not either/or."
‘But it’s not hurting anyone.’
‘But we like that song.’
‘But the sermon makes me feel good.’
‘But their heart is in the right place.’
But the problem is when we compromise truth for what is easy or fun or pleases others, people do get hurt. We may not always see it immediately, but if you are a worship pastor/leader in any regard, your calling is to shepherd the flock.
"When we compromise truth for what is easy, or fun, or pleases others, people get hurt."
There was another worship leader and shepherd who you could make this argument about too. Take a minute to read about him now:
"David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brothers who remain in all the lands of Israel, as well as to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasturelands, that they may be gathered to us. Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.
And when they came to the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to this day. And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had." (1 Chron. 13:1-14)
When David set out to bring the Ark of the Covenant back, you could easily make the statement that his heart was in the right place- he desired for God’s presence to return to Jerusalem, so the Israelites could worship their God when/where they were supposed to. He had the support of commanders of thousands and hundreds, of every leader, and all the people went with him and "it was right in there eyes."
But Uzzah was still struck dead by the Lord. Why?
Exodus 37:4-5 "And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark." (emphasis mine)
The Ark was central to Israel’s worship, and God had given them instructions on how to transport the Ark; carry it. David instead chose to move it on a new cart. One of the oxen stumbled and Uzzah (who I imagine, had his heart in the right place too) reached out to stop the Ark from falling into the dirt and was struck dead.
David, because of his zeal for the Lord and desire to see the ark return to Jerusalem, thought he could do things a better way, and someone lost their life over it. David’s heart was in the right place, but was his head in the right place?
"It’s not enough for our hearts alone to be in the right place because the heart is deceitful above all things."
And the means to transport the Ark wasn’t a mystery. There was no hidden password or secret handshake to gain this information, it was plainly explained in Exodus, part of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), which David would have grown up hearing read in the synagogue and meditated on. Either he missed that extremely important detail, or he thought he could do it better another way. What’s worse, in all his council with the commanders of thousands and hundreds, in presenting the idea to all of Israel, did not 1 person speak up with the truth of how God had told them to carry the ark? We don’t know for sure one way or the other, but the important detail is that because David used his heart over his head a man lost his life.
‘But wait, this was in the Old Testament, so how can you say this applies to us today?’
Because Jesus reinforced this in John 4 when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. While the New Testament doesn’t give many details or prescriptions for Christian worship it is very clear on this point;
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
It’s not enough for our hearts alone to be in the right place because "the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9a)." Our heads need to be in the right place. But in the same way it’s not enough for us to simply have the right knowledge if it doesn’t move us to worship. If David had said ‘the Ark must be moved with the proper carrying poles’ and then didn’t bring the Ark back to Jerusalem he still would have been in error. For our worship to be acceptable before God it must be how He prescribes it.
"It's not enough for us to simply have the right knowledge if it doesn't move us to worship."
Spirit AND truth.
Head AND heart.
Both/and, not either/or.
In some ways David was fortunate because he was able to witness the repercussions of his error immediately when Uzzah was struck dead. This led him to be able to fix his mistake in 1 Chronicles 15 by doing it the right way.
Worship leaders and pastors, we won’t always get that same chance. If we choose to sing songs with poor/wrong theology it will impact the lives of our people in ways we can’t imagine. If we choose to try and ‘wow’ the crowd with warm, fuzzy, feel-good messages rather than clearly present the gospel, there may be souls in the seats of our service who spend eternity separated from God. At that time, it won’t matter if our heart was in the right place. I’m sure those words would not have comforted Uzzah’s family or friends had someone tried to reassure them that way.
"For our worship to be acceptable before God it must be how He prescribes it."
So as a brother in Christ, who loves the church, loves Jesus, and loves you, I plead with you today— yes, make sure your heart is in the right place, but make sure that that place is falling in line with your head. And above all else, make sure your head is filled with the knowledge of the word of God; His truth, His wisdom, His commands. Meditate on them, memorize them, delight in them with your mind, and then your heart will be in the right place.
"Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits…" (Psalm 103:2)
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.