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O Come All You Unfaithful?

By Tim Cantrell
December 2023

‘Pastor, can we sing this new Christmas song, “O Come All You Unfaithful” (see lyrics)?’  Answering this question lately has proved to be a good pastoral and theological exercise for some of our leaders and music team, and perhaps could be for yours too.  This popular new carol is not heretical; I’ve tolerated hearing it sung elsewhere (and I deeply appreciate the music ministry of Sovereign Grace).

However, I find this song theologically weak and too reminiscent of the spirit of this age. As a pastor, I’m called to guard what doctrines are taught to the souls entrusted to my care, and that includes discerning which songs are best and most Christ-exalting and edifying to our flock (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 3:16-16; Tit. 1:9; Php. 1:10). Each church must decide for itself; but by way of testimony, here’s three reasons our church won’t be singing, ‘O Come All You Unfaithful’:

1.      It Undermines Positional Sanctification– The writer (Lisa Clow) misunderstands and misrepresents the original carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, by confusing positional and progressive sanctification.  Clow wrongly suggests that the classic hymn was written only for perfect/sinless believers, not for struggling ones (see her song’s back story, after a very hard year and some “deep relational bitterness”).

It is biblical to call all Christians “faithful” (Eph. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:12) and “triumphant” (Rev. 2-3), regardless of feelings. Our fixed, permanent position in Christ is the very ground and motivation for living the Christian life: “Consider/reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus”; ‘Become what you already are in Christ, practice your new position’, this is the heart of biblical sanctification (Rom. 6; Eph. 4; Col. 3).

Our unchanging identity in Christ is a source of great joy and comfort to the believer, no matter what our circumstances or emotions.  It is unfair to suggest that Christians are hypocrites if ever they sing a joyous Christmas carol amidst deep suffering or fierce struggles against sin.

2.      It Disregards a Treasured Song – “O Come All Ye Faithful” is one of my all-time favourite carols, which our congregation loves to sing wholeheartedly.  It is one of the most biblically rich, Christologically profound, soul-nourishing of all the Christmas carols (see original lyrics).  It is part of our Christian heritage to be received gratefully and preserved, not discarded. Why would we want to distance ourselves from the historic and global Church that has sung this great carol in many languages for centuries?

In our anti-historical age that destroys monuments, redefines marriage and gender, and deconstructs everything, Christians are a people who “remember” and appreciate the shoulders we stand upon. Rather than ripping off classic hymns, let today’s songwriters craft their own original songs to edify the Church (as we know Clow and others are doing with many good songs).

Instead of proclaiming biblical, objective truths, Clow’s carol focuses on self and on subjective, personal emotions that reflect our therapeutic age.  Far better to anchor our faith in lyrics grounded on the massive, ancient bedrock of biblical truth.

3.      It Minimises Repentance – Clow tells how she wrote the song out of “deep bitterness”, and her lyrics speak also of the sin of fear and the resulting guilt; yet there is no mention of repentance in the song or its story.  Instead, it sounds more like commiseration with others who are failing, “know you are not alone”.  Antinomianism is already ravaging the Church again today.  We don’t need more songs that minimise sin or cheapen grace.  Our age exalts the emotions of being ‘real and raw’ over the biblical virtues of faith and obedience.

Where in Scripture is our fundamental Christian identity called “unfaithful”, “unstable”, “bitter”, or “guilty and hiding ones”? No doubt we are still sinners (Jam. 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Pet. 2:11; Gal. 5:16-26), tempted and stumbling in many ways, and sometimes weak and failing; but we are ashamed and repent of that, we don’t normalise it (Psalms 32 & 51; 1 Jn. 1:6-10; Rev. 2-3). Has Clow inadvertently turned a Christ-centred call to worship into group therapy for us to wallow together in our misery and failure?  Have we turned the deep joy of advent into a shallow lament?

No doubt the Psalms gives us many examples of how to bring the whole range of human emotions honestly and humbly before our Lord in worship (even in our weakest and worst of situations) – and I’m sure that is what Clow’s song is attempting to do. But by framing her song as fixing a traditional Christmas carol, it seems misleading to me.

It is a biblical mandate to “sing to one another” and to “rejoice always”; these are Christian duties (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; 1 Thess. 5:16; Php. 4:4), regardless of how we feel. When we disobey this command, we can repent, be forgiven and receive God’s grace to sing even louder next time to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith – to point them away from self and upward to Christ. “O come let us adore Him!”


NOTE: After writing the above was I notified of Bob Kauflin’s response last year to apparently the same concerns I’m raising that others have raised (and showing indeed how popular this new song has become): (Bob is a dear brother and a proven, faithful servant of Christ & His Church – so this is very much a little in-house, family debate among friends.)

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