Who Do We Worship? (Oneness/Jesus-only Worship Songs), Part 1
by Karl Kemp 10/18/2011 / Bible Studies
by Karl Kemp; July 2007; expanded and finished in November 2007; slightly revised in September 2009; slightly revised in August 2011
I need to mention three of my papers/articles that are relevant to this paper: "The Name 'Yahweh' and God the Father and God the Son: The Name 'Yahweh' and a Listing of Some of the Large Number of Passages in the Hebrew Old Testament Where We Can See God the Son Along with God the Father" (published in September 2009 and significantly expanded in August 2011; 9 pages); "Who Do We Pray To? (published in July 2011, 33 pages); and "More on the Trinity: Some Key Passages from the New Testament Where We See the Full Deity and Preexistence of God the Son with God the Father and Some Key Bible Passages Used to Teach a Oneness View of God" (published in September 2011, 33 pages).
An important preliminary statement. The motivation behind this discussion is the desire that we (all true Christians) would come to believe the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches about God and to worship Him in truth (which includes living in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God [cf. Eph. 4:24]), with some emphasis on the words of the worship songs we sing. I am not writing this article to attack Jesus-only/oneness Christians (I believe that many of them are true Christians - God is the Judge!); I want to be a blessing to them, but I do believe (along with orthodox Christianity from the beginning) that the oneness view of God is wrong and that it is one of the most serious doctrinal errors that needs to be dealt with in the body of Christ.
I believe I am obligated to God (the triune God) and to the body of Christ (which embraces all true Christians) to say what I am saying in this article. I want to be faithful to God and to be a blessing to the body of Christ. One of the primary points I want to make in this article is that I don't believe it is at all reasonable or proper for Christians who believe in the triune God (with three distinct Persons in the Godhead) to sing "worship" songs that deny the existence of the Person of God the Father (and the Trinity and the Person of God the Holy Spirit). ((I'll comment further on this as we continue, but I should explain what I mean by "worship" songs that deny the existence of the Person of God the Father (and the Trinity and the Person of God the Holy Spirit). Oneness Christians in our day typically believe that the God they worship manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In that sense they are not denying the existence of the Father. But they don't believe in the three distinct Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (they don't believe in the Trinity), and they believe that Jesus is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When they worship Jesus in a song, they are not thinking of the Person of God the Son, like we should, according to the use of the name Jesus in the Bible. The name Jesus is never used for God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity in the Bible. When we worship Jesus (or pray to Him), using the name the way the Bible uses the name, we are just worshiping God the Son. In that sense, the existence of the Person of God the Father (and the Trinity and the Person of God the Holy Spirit) is being denied. Oneness Christians typically speak of Jesus being the One Person we will worship in the eternal state.)) But this is being done on a regular basis by many Christians. I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to prayerfully check out the words of the worship songs they are using. And it doesn't make any difference whether the songs were written by oneness Christians who deny the Trinity or Christians who say they believe in the Trinity.
Is it really a big deal if we use "worship" songs that deny the existence of the distinct Person of God the Father? I believe it is a very big deal. The primary issue for me is that I believe we are insulting God the Father, and I can't imagine that God (the triune God) considers this to be acceptable worship. I know God is generous with His people, but Christians who believe in the Trinity singing songs that deny the Person of God the Father? If the words of a "worship" song contain serious error, the songs should be rejected. Nothing can begin to compensate for error, including a superb melody, a catchy tune, a great musical composition and excellent performance of that composition, or the fact that people are significantly stirred by that song. Furthermore, it is a significant fact that Christians are often strongly influenced by the words of the songs they sing, even if they don't stop to think about the meaning of the words. The words of songs can get embedded in our hearts and minds and have more influence over us than verses of the Bible.
I am not writing this article to criticize the writers of these songs. And I am not writing this article to criticize Christians who have been singing some "worship" songs that are inappropriate. I realize that many Christians don't stop to think much about the words of the songs they are singing, and sometimes the problems aren't obvious. But this doesn't mean that this problem isn't serious, and ignorance isn't a sufficient excuse. I also admit that I may be misunderstanding the words of some of the songs that I mention in this article. I want to be corrected where I am wrong, and I'll apologize.
It is super-important for us to believe the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on every topic, but some topics are more important than others, and what the Bible teaches about God is certainly one of the most important topics. All of us Christians need to humble ourselves before God and seek Him for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. It's unbelievable how many different opinions we have on essentially every topic, and (amazingly) just about everybody knows that somehow they and their group already have the balanced truth, even if nobody else does. (Much theology has been done in the flesh, which includes pride, and there is a strong demonic input.) We desperately need the balanced truth! Every error damages the body of Christ - some errors cause great damage - and robs God of glory, glory we owe Him. Things wrong in the body of Christ also make it more difficult for people to come to know God and His truth and salvation through the church.
It's a blessing to learn that we have been believing and/or doing something wrong. At least then we have an opportunity to make the necessary corrections, which will work for the glory of God and for our great good. We certainly don't want to learn after this life is over that we were believing and/or doing things wrong.
We worship the triune God of the Bible, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (There is one God, three distinct Persons, but not three totally separate, totally independent Persons - not three Gods. It is very important to see that the Old Testament passages that speak of the fact that there is only one God (see, for example, Deut. 4:39; 6:4; Isa. 44:6-8; and 45:20-22) were written to refute the pagan idea that literally permeated the ancient world that there were many gods (polytheism), not to deny the Trinity, which was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament, but has been clearly revealed through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament. We are to worship God (the God of creation, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of the people of Israel) from our hearts (in faith, which includes obedience) all the time, as we live for Him (by His grace), having been born again and saved through new-covenant salvation. But there are times of special worship too, when we worship Him corporately (or as individuals) with prayer, thanksgiving, singing, etc.
The Jesus-only/oneness viewpoint, which is widespread in our day (even among people who say they believe in the triune God), denies the existence of three distinct Persons in the Godhead. They believe there is just one Person, who reveals/manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believe that when they worship Jesus they are worshiping God, the one Person of God, and that Jesus is the name of that one Person who manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One obvious problem with this viewpoint is that the existence of the distinct Person of God the Father (and God the Holy Spirit) is effectively being denied. But Jesus (and the Bible in general) taught us to first and foremost worship the Person of God the Father, to pray to Him, etc. (see below).
We are far from divine order when the existence of the Person of God the Father (and the Person of God the Holy Spirit) is being denied, and to a lesser extent we are out of divine order when God the Father is being ignored, which often happens in our day when, for example, most of the prayers are directed to Jesus and most of the worship songs are directed to Him too. For example, I was watching the Praise the Lord program on TBN (TRINITY Broadcasting Network) recently, and every prayer and praise song that evening was directed to Jesus. I am quite sure that the Lord Jesus Christ would be the first one to tell us that this is out of order. When we worship Jesus (using the name "Jesus" the way the New Testament uses this name, and we must use the name the way the New Testament uses the name), we are worshipping God the Son, not the triune God, or God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. The name Jesus is never used in the New Testament for the triune God, or God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. (I had a footnote: The name Jesus is used 904 times in the New Testament of the NASB, 1995 edition, and there are 7 more uses where His name is used with an apostrophe, Jesus'.
We learn from the New Testament that our prayers are typically to be directed to God the Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-4; John 14:6; 15:16; and 16:23-28). (See my paper titled, "Who Do We Pray To?") In the same way, our worship should first and foremost be directed to God the Father, the One who sent His unique Son to save us. (See, for example John 4:21-24 and Rev. 4:8-11 [with Rev. 4:2, 3, and 5:1, 6, 7]). (I had a footnote: To help confirm that the words "Who was and who is and who is to come" of Rev. 4:8 refer to God the Father, see Rev. 1:4, 5 (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all mentioned in these verses; they are often mentioned together in the New Testament). And especially note that the Lord Jesus Christ (God the Son) comes and takes the scroll from the hand of God the Father in Rev. 5:7. (God the Father is pictured sitting on the throne in heaven in Rev. 4:3, 10, 11; and 5:1.) The Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God the Father (see, for example, Acts 7:55, 56), is fully deity with God the Father in His Person (as is God the Holy Spirit), and He is to be worshiped with the Father (see, for example, Rev. 5:13, 14). However, God the Son is subordinate (I didn't say inferior) to God the Father in His role in the Trinity, and we should never ignore the Father. ((I had a footnote: See footnote 8 under my discussion of John 1:1 in my paper titled "A Verse-by-Verse Study of John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17." An abbreviated version of the paper is on my internet site. (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching.) I believe the fact that God the Son (and God the Spirit) are eternally subordinate to God the Father in their roles (not in their Persons) is important information that helps us understand the Trinity. For one thing, this information helps us guard against the idea of three Gods. See my three more recent papers that I mentioned at the beginning of this paper.)) This doesn't mean that it is inappropriate for Christians to sing worship songs that are directed to the Lord Jesus Christ, but at such times we must be aware of the fact that He is at the right hand of the Father, and He would be the first One to exhort us to never ignore God the Father when we come to the throne of God to worship.
The Scriptures have a lot to say regarding the three distinct Persons of the Godhead, but I am not going to get into those details in this article (except for what I said above). In a reference section later in this article, I refer the reader to three places where I discussed this topic to some extent in my papers and to three books that I have recently read that deal with this topic. Also, there are many other articles and books available that effectively deal with this topic. At the beginning of this paper I mentioned three of my more recent papers that are very relevant to this topic.
Something is surely out of divine order if most of the worship songs are directed to the Lord Jesus Christ. But, as I mentioned, we have a much more serious problem with some of the "worship" songs being used by many Christian in our day. (I'm speaking of Christians who say they believe in the triune God, and in many cases they actually do believe in the triune God.) For one thing, many worship songs being used were written by Jesus-only/oneness Christians who believe that Jesus alone is God. (I'll document this point as we continue.) It is not surprising, of course, that some of the songs they write worship the one Person of Jesus and make it clear that there are no other Persons in the Godhead, thereby denying the existence of God the Father (and God the Holy Spirit) as a Person distinct from the Lord Jesus Christ, which is a serious problem. For example, you hear words like: Jesus - You are the only One; You are the One we worship; There is no one beside You, You are the One on the throne; You (and You alone) are our God and our King; You (and You alone) are the Mighty God; You (and You alone) are Yahweh (Jehovah); You are Abba Father; etc. I'll give some specific examples of such songs as we continue. Apparently many such songs were written by Christians who believe (at least they think they believe) in the Trinity. Regardless of who wrote the songs, we should not be singing songs that deny (or seem to deny) the existence of the Person of God the Father (and the Trinity, and the Person of God the Holy Spirit).
When I recently entered "oneness worship songs" and similar entries on Google, I found a relevant article titled "Jesus-only Beliefs Spread to Mainline Churches" by Fern Holm, posted April 10, 2007. ((I had a footnote: In the original version of this paper I gave the web address to Fern Holm's article in this footnote. Now, after communicating with Fern rather extensively through e-mails, I must caution the reader that Fern goes too far in subordinating the Son of God to the Father. She even denies that God the Son is called God in John 1:1; 20:28; and Heb. 1:8, for example. She said, for example (in an e-mail to me dated February 5, 08), that what John 1:1 says about Jesus is that He is "the vice-regent - the representative - of God - the same kind of usage as in Exodus 7:1, KJV: 'And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god (a representative of God) to Pharaoh,' which is similar to Acts 2:36 - 'God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.' ....")) I'll quote a few sentences from this article. "The non-denominational/charismatic/'community' churches seem to be the most obvious in their prayers to Jesus in Jesus' name, worship songs that acknowledge Jesus as their God, etc., but as you'll see in the quotes given below, traditional denominations are 'morphing' into Jesus-only churches as well." She is speaking (at least for the most part) of the fact that mainline churches are sometimes using contemporary worship music, very much including some Jesus-only/oneness worship songs.
I'll quote the paragraph from her article that was the most important to me. She was quoting from an article titled "Charismatic Music Permeating the Churches" that is posted on the internet "Updated July 12, 2006 (first published May 30, 1997) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service...)." "Many of the most popular 'praise songs' today were composed by men and women involved with the Oneness Pentecostal movement, which denies the Trinity and which baptizes only in the name of Jesus. A recent article in Charisma magazine (June 1997) noted that 'most popular praise anthems sung in charismatic and evangelical churches today were composed by Oneness believers.' " For the record, the Charisma article said, "Many of the most popular praise anthems...."
I had read that Charisma article (titled, "The Other Pentecostals," which was written by J. Lee Grady) back in 1997, but I had forgotten about it. This topic wasn't very relevant to me back then, but now that I can see that we have a serious problem, I was quite motivated to get a copy of that article. I have been saying for a long time that many of our worship songs must have been written by Jesus-only/oneness Christians. I obtained a copy of the article from Charisma (for a fee), but I have since found the article posted on the internet: www.rickross.com/reference/upci/upci2.html. I'll include a few excerpts from the Charisma article that I found to be quite informative later in this article, when we discuss the last song that is discussed in this article.
Fern Holm gave two "examples of Jesus-only worship songs, used widely among denominational and non-denominational churches." One of the two songs was "Here I am to Worship." (I'll quote that song and comment on it later in this study. I'll also quote and comment on several other songs, but there are very many more such songs around the body of Christ.) I'll quote the other song: " 'And I surrender to your ways' 'It's all about you, Jesus. And all this is for you. For your glory and your fame. It's not about me, as if you should do things my way. YOU ALONE ARE GOD, and I surrender to your ways.' PASSION - I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (disc 1)."
Whatever the beliefs and intentions of the songwriter(s), I agree with Fern Holm that the words of this song, especially the words "You alone are God," which are addressed to Jesus in this song (chorus), seem to clearly communicate the idea that Jesus is the only One to worship (which effectively eliminates the Persons of God the Father and the Holy Spirit). Surely this song will influence many Christians in that erroneous direction. The songwriter(s) may think that they are worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when they worship Jesus, but (as we discuss in this article) Jesus is the name of God the Son, and the idea that God exists in one Person is wrong.
Some References that Deal with the Triune God of the Bible - the Trinity:
See the three relevant papers that I mentioned at the beginning of this paper. See the discussions of John 1:1-18 and of Colossians 1:15-19 in my paper titled, "A Verse-by-Verse Study of John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17: The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the Trinity are Discussed in this Paper and Holiness and Victory Over Sin are Discussed Throughout this Study of Colossians 1:15-3:17." (The paper was published in November 2004.) An abbreviated version of the paper is posted on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).
See the discussion of Isaiah 9:1-7 in my paper titled, "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Selected Eschatological Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah." (The paper was published in August 2000.) An abbreviated version of the paper is posted on my internet site.
In the process of writing this article I purchased and read three relevant books:
The most important book (of the three) to understand the Jesus-only/oneness viewpoint and the Trinitarian answer to that viewpoint is "Oneness Pentecostals & the Trinity" by Gregory A. Boyd (published by Baker Book House in 1992, 234 pages). Boyd speaks of his "fifteen years of studying this movement, including four years from the inside...(page 202)." On page 21 he informs us that his "involvement with Oneness Pentecostalism began when [he] was, at the age of sixteen, converted into a United Pentecostal Church." He went on to earn a Ph. D. at Princeton Theological Seminary. I don't agree with everything Boyd says in the book, but I believe he thoroughly and effectively demonstrates that the Jesus-only/oneness viewpoint of God is wrong, seriously wrong.
I also read "The Forgotten Trinity" by James R. White (published by Bethany House Publishers in 1998, 224 pages). This book is a helpful presentation and defense of the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity. One issue where I disagree with White is that he (in agreement with many) doesn't see a subordinate role of the Son to the Father.
I'll include a few excerpts from the last chapter of White's book, which is titled, "Does it really matter? Christian Devotion and the Trinity." "True Christian worship is founded upon Christian truth. We have to have knowledge of our God to worship Him correctly. ... You know the longing in your heart to honor and glorify God, and you know instinctively that God is not honored by falsehood. You long for His Word so that you can grow in His grace and truth. ... I love the Trinity. I honor the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. ... Do you love the Trinity? I hope and pray that our journey through the Scriptures has solidified your faith in this divine truth and given you great boldness and courage to share that faith with others. But most of all I hope and pray it has helped you to fulfill the greatest commandment of all: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Truly I hope that you can join with me in singing, 'Praise God from Whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen!' "
And I read "Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism" by Thomas A. Fudge (published by Universal Publishers in 2003, 394 pages.) "Grounded in primary source research this...book examines the doctrine of salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism (United Pentecostal Church) from its origins through its several developmental stages" (quoted from the back cover of the book). This lengthy book, which is packed with details, deals with other issues more than it deals with the Jesus-only/oneness doctrine. The author is not saying that oneness Pentecostals deny the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation with his title for the book, but he is concerned about the great emphasis many of them put on other things, like how we are baptized.
This article continues in Part 2.
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.