Why the Church Needs War Songs

When I was a teenager, I loved listening to Christian hardcore music. You know, the kind where someone “screams” into a microphone, where you can barely understand it. Guitar and drums rhythmically pound in the background. Many Christians identify it as “satanic” music, because it sounds very—well, serious and adamant. As I began studying theology, I began to move away from listening to this kind of music for the sake of not upsetting my brothers and sisters in Christ, in favor of listening to what I considered to be more theologically sound (and less offensive sounding) Christian music.

But over the past few months, as my wife and I have gone through some difficult times—having a miscarriage, uncertainty in my pastoral position, and our closest friends moving away from us—we’ve had times where faith (the kind of faith where you take God at His word for what He says He is for His people) is hard to come by in our house. As a worship pastor, I should be captivated by the thought of singing God’s praises, but hymns and praise music have been unable to stir my soul the way they used to. But the other day, I hopped in my truck and the CD I’ve been listening to was not in my CD player, so I dug through my old CDs to find something to listen to. That’s when I came across some of my old Christian hardcore music.

It was here that I found what I’ve been needing—and I don’t mean hardcore music in and of itself. You see, Christian hardcore music has been popular because they have captured an element of Christian worship that has been historically neglected, and that is the war song.

When I say “war songs” I would classify a few different biblical ideas into this. The first are the obvious songs which were sung on the way to war. 1 Chronicles 20 is an example of this type of song—where singers are appointed to lead the army to battle with song. But there is also the war song of victory. These would be sung after God has won a victory for His people—such as in Exodus 15, where Miriam led the people in song and dance, celebrating that Yahweh had thrown “both horse and rider into the sea.” We also see this in Psalms like Psalm 18:6-19:

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

There aren’t a great deal of praise songs or hymns that deal with the terrifying (from the world’s point of view) aspects of God’s deliverance of His people. This is a niche that Christian hardcore music has filled well. Some of the more sound, and realistically Christian, artists write songs about the despair of being trapped in sin. Songs about the imminent call to repent of sin, and the results of failure to do so. Songs about the strength and power that Christ has afforded us to wage war against sin and the enemy. We need these sorts of songs, and we don’t need them to sound “happy clappy,” we need them to sound like we’re headed to battle—and not just any battle, but a battle that is already won.

When I hear lyrics in Christian hardcore music such as these, it helps stir my spirit to fight on:

“An army approaches, Arise! This is the word from the mouth of God, and in it you will find life!”

– For Today, Ezekiel

“Prepare the way for the Lord to enter in! We must become a people who value righteousness again!”

– For Today, Elijah (the Forerunner)

“We will not be forgotten! Hold Fast! … Save me for the waters have come up to my neck! (We will not be forgotten!)”

– The Devil Wears Prada, Hold Fast: This song is sung as a call and response, from one who feels trapped either in a trial or their sin, with the response refrain being “We will not be forgotten, hold fast!” This sort of call and response is often missing in all but the pulpit (if you’re lucky), and should be an important aspect of Colossians 3:16: Teach and admonish one another with Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

“Such a bitter friend, change can be: Remind me God, refresh what’s been turned to grey! Oh my intentions, you vanish with the wind!”

– The Devil Wears Prada, Mammoth: This song reads like one who is in the midst of difficult circumstances and is lamenting their seeing things from God’s perspective.

Though some artists tend to write differently, many hardcore artists are able to lament lyrically, without wallowing. I feel this is often why Christian artists tend to shy away from songs of lament, because it is easy for those songs to simply become a sort of wallowing that is unbiblical. But much of this music is lined with hope and a call to right action—which we need. The first step of rerouting one’s thoughts is not simply to replace them—but to acknowledge our wrongdoing, and prepare for war.Subscribe to

While I certainly don’t encourage the use of hardcore music in the congregation, I think we need to learn to lament sin, prepare for war,and celebrate God’s terrifying victory over sin through song. And we need to do this in such a way musically that it doesn’t sound like a love song or a children’s song—it needs to sound like we’re preparing for war. Sometimes we need to take up our armor and weapons (Eph. 6), teach and admonish one another through song (Col. 3), both to pull up bitterness and unbelief that have taken root, and to strengthen our weakness (Heb. 12), and prepare for a war while celebrating the victory that has already been won. Are you ready to go to battle?

This article originally appeared here.

Mike Leake

Mike Leakehttp://mikeleake.netMike Leake serves as an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Jasper, Indiana, and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Nikki, have two young children. Mike’s writing home is mikeleake.net. Mike is also the author of Torn to Heal:God’s Good Purpose in Suffering.

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