Monday, September 29, 2008

What's Right With the Church?

It seems everyone wants to be a naysayer these days. Everyone wants to say their piece about how bad things are in Christianity. Non-believers love to point out seeming inconsistencies and laugh about the supposed “crutch of religion.” Professing believers point out the apostasy of other professing believers. Slight nuances of Scriptural interpretation are blown way out of proportion. Or truly heretical, on-the-fringe sects of professing “Christians” are put in the spotlight (by both believers and nonbelievers alike) and made out to be the stereotypical church of the 21st century. Like the picture above so poignantly points out, I almost get the feeling that Christian naysayers are getting too much sadistic pleasure out of “cursing the darkness.”

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not advocating a live and let live ecumenical practice. Yes, the Bible is clear that we need to take a stand against false doctrine & apostasy and stand for what the Bible teaches. Indeed, it is quite easy to point out what’s wrong with the church. Criticism always has been easy.

But I hear little of what the church is doing right, little of the mutual encouraging of each other’s faith (Ro.1:12). Romans 15:5-6 says “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet this isn’t seen as much as is the blasting each other for the littlest foibles. We spend so much time worrying about our own misconception of what other Christians and churches are doing (which often these misconceptions have no basis in personally known reality) that we completely miss the opportunities to encourage one another. Perhaps it’s because this is the harder road to follow. I know that I have certainly been guilty of this.

So what is right with the church today? Here are a few observations from my perspective, first about the church in general and then as I have seen personally in my church.

On the Macro (big picture) level

1. First and foremost is the fact that no matter what we see in the world around us, God is still sovereign, God is still in control – God is still GOD. Jesus gave the promise in Matt. 16:18 that he would build his church, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

2. There seems to be an explosion of ministries and servants of God whose purpose is to point out, expound on, and magnify the glory of God. And as technology advances, more and more resources are available from such ministries as Desiring God and Sovereign Grace Ministries and countless others. Count among these the parachurch organizations such as The Voice of the Martyrs, Samaritan’s Purse and others that seek to keep the church’s focus both on encouraging those in persecution and helping those through the grace of the Gospel.

3. Many churches are standing firm against false doctrine and error, testing new teaching to see if it conforms to the Word of God. For every infamous preacher that makes headlines in the Christian world by compromising the truth, there are 100 others, unknown outside their communities, that remain firm to the Bible.

4. There seems to have been a resurgence recently in theologically sound music – music that actually says something. A few years back, the church was in the middle of the “worship wars” and it seemed virtually every musician in the Christian music genre (and even some not normally considered such) was putting out a “Worship” album. The difficulty was that the majority of it was all the same emotion-driven, content-free stuff. But out of this, there were many musicians that created or re-interpreted some really great music, including some older hymns as well as writing new hymns. Some of my favorites (among many) are Keith & Kristyn Getty, Fernando Ortega, Sovereign Grace music, Chris Rice and Third Day. Their music seems to be filled with songs of encouragement, songs that put the emphasis back on God.

On the Micro (local) level

I am very thankful for Grace Church and the family of believers that make up this church. I have been attending Grace Church for almost 10 years now and here are a few things that I am thankful for and how, in my opinion, Grace Church exhibits what is indeed right with the church today.

1. The teaching of the Word of God has consistently been at the forefront of everything that is done. I don’t have to wonder on the way to church whether or not what will be taught from the pulpit will be from Scripture. Our pastor approaches the Bible from a redemptive history aspect, which I have come to truly appreciate since it shows how all the Bible is in some way pointing to Christ.

2. The community of believers is strong and seems exactly that – a community. My family has personally experienced this in so many ways, from the total support and encouragement we received in the adoption/birth of our children, to the love and care shown in the wake of my father-in-law’s death, to the sense of family in our small group. It is through the fellowship and encouragement of believers that the power of the Gospel is shown and communicated in far stronger ways than simple words can express.

3. I’ve never gotten the feeling that at Grace Church, the minor things are blown out of proportion. This was drastically exampled when I first began attending Grace Church almost 10 years ago. At the time, there was an adult Sunday School class on eschatology, particularly the millennial reign of Christ. To my surprise, three different men who held to the three main millennial teachings (a-, pre-, and post-millennial) were given one or two weeks each to teach their view from Scripture. It was recognized that each position had Biblical support, but more importantly that the Bible was not clear on the subject and Christians could differ with one another.

4. Pastor Tim has truly been a blessing in my life. I have never known a man who has such an incredible heart for people and passion for the Gospel as he does. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Tim on a (more or less) weekly basis and through this friendship have found my faith challenged and strengthened. We have encouraged one another in Scripture memory, read books together and shared the ups and downs of family life together. Although I have to admit, I think he does far more listening to me than I do to him.

These are just a few observations that I thought I would share in what I thought is right with the church today. Whatever church you attend, wherever you are, I’d encourage you to do this exercise. You may find there’s a lot more right about the church than you realize. Then share it with someone – it may be the encouragement they need.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yesterday, I came home to find a note on the door from my wife…

“Please read the entire note before entering the house…..Happy Anniversary!!”

The note had some instructions on it that I was to follow carefully and precisely. After completing one set of instructions, I found another note with another set of instructions, then another. Meanwhile, the house was eerily quiet.

I followed each set of instructions, with the last being that I had to put on my favorite music (I chose Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do, I do it for You) and wait in the living room. By this time, of course, I’m dying with curiosity.

The music plays and into the living room comes Sarah, dressed very beautifully and elegantly and quite proud of herself for pulling off this surprise. She told me that a friend of ours is keeping our kiddos ALL NIGHT. But that’s not all.

We hop in the van and drove…and drove…and all the time I’m trying rather unsuccessfully to figure out where in the world we were going. It’s not until we pulled into a parking lot that she divulged her long kept and long-planned secret. We were going to go on a romantic 2-hour dinner cruise on Smith Mountain Lake aboard the Virginia Dare.

It was a very lovely cruise. The food was delicious. The night was a little chilly and windy. But being with Sarah was the best part of all. We talked and talked, went up to the deck of the boat and talked some more, just enjoying being with each other. We talked about the past year, the highlights and struggles of the year, and about our family. With all the chaos of vacationing (doesn’t that seem like an oxymoron?) and other stuff, it was good to just relax and reconnect with one another. This past year has definitely had its ups and downs, but God has been faithful in strengthening us and using these ups and downs to bring us closer together.

And now, here it is Saturday morning. We both were quite lazy this morning and slept in perhaps later than we have in a loooong time (or at least, in about 2 years or so ;) ). We’re going to go see the movie Fireproof, which I’ve heard is supposed to be really good, get some lunch and then go pick up the kiddos. It’s been a wonderful weekend so far. (Sarah will probably have pictures soon on her blog.

Thank you, Sarah, for a wonderful anniversary surprise! I eagerly look forward to Lord willing many more years being married to you. I love you “a little more than yesterday and a little less than tomorrow – always and only yours!”

[If anyone is looking for something out of the ordinary to do, I would definitely recommend taking a dinner cruise on the Virginia Dare - not necessarily for the food (although it was good), but rather for the ambiance and the experience.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Music Monday - God and God Alone

Steve Green's God and God Alone is still one of my all time favorite songs.

God and God alone
Created all these things we call our own
From the mighty to the small
The glory in them all
Is God's and God's alone

God and God alone
Reveals the truth in all we call unknown
And all the best and worst of men
Won't change the Master's plan
It's God's and God's Alone

God and God alone
Is fit to take the universe's throne
Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise
For God and God alone

God and God alone
Will be the joy of our eternal home
He will be our one desire
Our hearts will never tire
Of God and God alone

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Grand Day Out

On Thursday, I decided to take Carlos and Jeremiah out on a date. Or maybe it’s more manly to say we had a guys’ day out. At any rate, we went out for the afternoon for a little bit of fun and managed to throw in a little education as well. Jeremiah was especially excited since this was his first official “date” with Papi.

Since it was a such beautiful day, we went to ride in a paddle boat at nearby Timbuk II in Corolla. It was rather fun just floating around the little lagoon, looking at the many turtles poking their heads out of the water. Those turtles were everywhere!

Then it was off to the Currituck Lighthouse. According to the web site, the Currituck Lighthouse is 162 feet tall, has approximately one million bricks, 214 steps to the top (no we didn’t count them!), and was the last major brick lighthouse built on the Outer Banks, finished in 1875. I was a little worried how the boys would do, especially Jeremiah. But surprisingly both boys did great and didn’t need me to carry either one of them one step. Carlos was a little worried about the wind at the top, but both seemed to enjoy the view, especially being able to see the beach so far down.

Afterward, we rewarded ourselves with some tasty ice cream. It was a very enjoyable day out. Enjoy the pictures!

Here are Carlos & Jeremiah about to head out!

First stop - paddle boats!

Here are we are at the lighthouse. Better get our muscles stretched and ready for the climb!

And just to prove we made it to the top......

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Public Service Announcement

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled blog to bring you the following:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ray Boltz and John Owen

For years, his name has been synonymous with great Christian music, with such songs as “Thank You,” “Watch the Lamb,” and “Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb.” In a shocking revelation yesterday, Christianity Today posted an article with the blaring headline, “Ray Boltz Comes Out.” This announcement is sure to rock the CCM world, fuel the fire for those who might oppose the CCM style of music, and create not a small stir among conservative evangelicals.

Which leads me to question what exactly should our reaction be? I am of the firm belief that the homosexual lifestyle is condemned as sin in the Scriptures. But that’s not the point of this post. How should the church react to someone who confesses a struggle with a “big-ticket” sin such as this (or any sin for that matter) or even that they no longer wish to fight against it but to accept it as “just the way God made me”? There will be many in the church who will want to burn his music, forbid ever singing “Thank You” at a missions conference, and thoroughly castigate Boltz for his sin.

I’m not entirely sure this is the most gracious way of handling Boltz’s tragic decision. I believe that it is decisions such as this throughout Christianity that may reflect a lack of compassion in our churches. I am deeply saddened by something Boltz is quoted as saying in the Christianity Today article. He states “I prayed hard and tried for 30-some years and then at the end, I was just going ‘I’m still gay. I know I am.’ And I just got to the place where I couldn’t take it anymore…. If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live.” I wonder if there was anyone in his church or circle of Christian friends that was willing to help him in his struggle. I wonder if he got the feeling that if he admitted to this struggle, he would be thrown out of the church.

John Owen in his excellent book The Mortification of Sin, stresses that the fight against sin, even one particular grieving sin, is ongoing and may indeed never stop until we’re dead! I think that often we may fight and fight against a sin until at last we give up because we’re under the impression that at some point we’re not supposed to struggle with it anymore. Owen writes, “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in the world; therefore it is always to be mortified.” Or perhaps one of the best, most succinct phrases from this book is “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” This should help us in two areas. First and most obvious is that while we will always struggle with sin, God’s word promises the power to have continual victory over that sin. Fighting against sin is never easy, as Boltz eludes to in that he “prayed hard and tried for 30-some years.” But the second area in which this truth should help us is being able to reach out to others offering the same love, grace, prayer and encouragement we ourselves need in our struggles.

Things like this convict me of my own gracelessness and encourage me to reach out to those struggling in sin. I am so thankful to God for those he has placed in my life who have often listened to me pour out my struggles and have lovingly prayed with and for me without condemnation yet at the same time being willing to point out where I am wrong. Yes, I could say that God made me prone to pride, selfishness, impatience and lust. But the fact is that all of these things are still wrong, still sin and only the power of God can help me continually win the battle against these sins, for sins they are. And to continue the fight against these sins, I need the prayer and encouragement of others. I can’t help but wonder if Boltz had such Christians around him to provide this much needed support. May God help me to be the listening ear and praying heart for another Christian who may be in fervent battle with their own sin.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Music - A Conclusion

I have decided to end my responses to The Desert Pastor’s series on music and worship. There are several reasons and I’ll try to enumerate them below.

First and foremost is that DP, in his 7 parts written thus far, has failed to adequately address the topic of musical styles from Scripture all the while claiming that he has the Scripture to back up his position. Instead, he has chosen to use historical inaccuracies, personal opinions, and very shallow eisegesis (reading preferences into Scripture) to prove his argument. The few Scriptures that he does attempt to use say nothing about musical style nor what any perceived differences there are between “worldly” music and “Christian” music. Further, he claims that those who disagree have already made up their minds and subsequently uses that argument as a cop out for providing Scriptural support. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would honestly reexamine my position on the musical styles if DP (or anyone else for that matter) could show from Scriptural or even applicable Scriptural principle where God’s Word limits the choice of musical style. While it is true that he may very well intend on writing more articles, the sad fact is that he has not in his first 7 addressed the issue from a solid Biblical foundation. As such and until he can support his claim from Scripture, I see no point in arguing a personal opinion not based on Scripture.

Second, his arguments are so inconsistent as to be incredibly mind boggling. He wants to claim that he is writing solely from personal preference and conviction and not trying to judge anyone for their musical choices. If this were true, I would have absolutely no argument from him as I believe the Bible is clear that we have this liberty as Christians. However, this is not the case as he has shown by his tone and his continual attacks on those who disagree with him, saying that those who disagree are doing so by “ignore[ing] Scriptural principles in order to satisfy what is pleasing to the flesh.” Although he would try to say otherwise, by his very tone he condemns all those who disagree with him. He gives absolutely no room for the possibility that God-honoring, God-fearing musicians use what he might deem “worldly music” and still be glorifying to God. In his stated opinion regarding Christian Contemporary Music, “everybody no longer pretends it is ALL for the glory of God! Today it is ALL about how CLOSE can we get to the world without being the world!” To say that he knows the heart and attitude of those he knows nothing about simply based on their style of music is Pharaisical and legalistic at best. I would point the reader to Col.2:20-23 and note the similarities between what is being decried in that passage and what DP is attempting.

Third, he is very selective in how he applies his standards. He wants to show how certain styles are associated with the world, yet is seemingly unwilling to admit that ALL styles are associated with the world in some form or fashion. He wants to take issue with the performers of certain musical styles and apply it carte blanche to the style itself, all the while trying to apply Scriptures that say nothing to the argument. He wants to use spiritual language (that nobody would argue against) and non sequiturily (if I may coin term) apply it to the choice of music. For example, he states that “Holiness is not up for conjecture.” I absolutely agree! The Bible is 100% clear on this. But he then jumps to the still-baseless conclusion that using “worldly” music is somehow mutually exclusive from holiness. Once again, he refuses to acknowledge that there are God-honoring Christians who use many different styles that do not ever compromise their call to holiness. He wants to use such broad terms as “rock and roll” or “worldly music” without ever clearly defining what musical styles would fall into those categories and why exactly they do so. He ignores the plethora of authors, both Christian and secular, who have consistently stated the there is no difference, indeed no such thing as a dichotomy of “worldly” and “Christian” music nor is there any inherent morality in the musical style itself.

Fourth, he wants to somehow make the argument that if music affects the human body, it must somehow be evil. This shows an incredible ignorance of music in that music, by its very nature, is supposed to have an influence on the listener. Jonathan Edwards once noted “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”

So what exactly do I believe concerning this issue of music? As you may have guessed by now, I firmly believe that there is no Scripture that delineates what style of music should be used. As Bob Kauflin points out in his (highly recommended) book, Worship Matters, “God obviously wants us to worship him with music, but he hasn’t given us as many details as we’d often like to know. Scripture doesn’t come with an accompanying soundtrack….God is too great and the human experience too complex to think that one kind of music will always best express the dynamics of our relationship with a living God.”

However, the Bible has plenty to say about the heart issues in how we do all things. 1 Cor. 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [including making/singing/listening to music] do all to the glory of God.” If a person is truly seeking to bring glory to God in what he does, he is fulfilling this Scripture. If we are worshipping “in spirit and in truth” (John 4), God can be and will be glorified.

Jesus in John 16:13 gives us the promise that “When the Spirit of truth comes [the Holy Spirit] he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare it to you.” Further, in James 1:5, we are given another similar promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Believers are promised wisdom and guidance from God to discern what is truth. If I am following Scripture in living a life of humble dependence on Him with continual confession and repentance of sin, seeking to glorify God in all things, I am assured this wisdom and guidance. This applies to the area of Christian liberty, music included. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that there are many areas of life, music included, that are not forbidden, but can rather be an instrument of praise to God. However, I recognize that others will come and have come to the opposite conclusion. I can no more do the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they can in mine. I have read and listened to testimonies of Christian musicians of all musical stripes and can only give praise to God for His using them in the way that He has.

This also bleeds into the secular world and allows the freedom to appreciate art of all kinds. I can listen to a secular artist such as Josh Groban, John Tesh, Glen Miller, or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and recognize the wonderful talent that God has given each of them and praise Him for it. Same goes for art: there is nothing explicitly Christian about a painting by Thomas Kinkade, Monet, or da Vinci, but yet an appreciation for the gifts God has given to them should lead us not to praise the artist, but rather the Giver of the art.

This is not to say that I prefer any and all kinds. To be quite honest, I would have a hard time worshipping to various styles of music, including some of the more modern day praise and worship songs like some of Sovereign Grace’s music. However, what I cannot say is that just because I do not prefer that style, nobody else can worship with it either. The Bible does not give me this leeway to say what other believers can and cannot use to glorify God. I can only honor God and praise him that there are those who see fit to use such styles, not to gratify the flesh, but to bring all glory to Him who alone is worthy. That is the ultimate point of music – to glorify God. I will close with another quote from Bob Kauflin: “The best music enables people to genuinely and consistently magnify the greatness of the Savior in their hearts, minds, and wills. That’s a standard that will never change from culture to culture, generation to generation, church to church.”

Monday, September 8, 2008

Music Monday - More from the Getty's

If you haven't guessed by now, I love the Getty's music. I would highly recommend their album In Christ Alone. The songs are beautiful and the lyrics are incredible! Here is The Power of the Cross. "What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross!"

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Music - The Golden Calf #5 - A Response

Part 5 of “Music – The Golden Calf” can be found here.

The Desert Pastor (DP) begins by making some very true statements about worship and music. Music can indeed be the object or even the driving force behind much of Christianity’s so-called “worship.” It should never be about what “feels right” or based on some emotional experience brought about by listening to certain styles of music. To this I would also add that it should never be about what “feels wrong” either. If we are going to exclude what drives our feelings (and we should!), then both sides of the equation should be negated, both what feels right AND what feels wrong. Music in and of itself should never, I repeat NEVER, be the impetus or driving force behind our worship. When it becomes that, as D.A. Carson once wrote, we start worshipping worship instead of worshipping Him who is worthy of all worship.

DP also makes what is perhaps a true statement in that many church attendees could not accurately analyze the theological content of the song they just sang. This is certainly a sad statement about the condition of the church and one that we should be constantly fighting against in teaching and instructing believers. If we are unable to judge the theological content of a song, then there is definitely room for someone to slip a song into the musical line-up that does not reflect truth.

As an aside, I find two things interesting about the quote from Bob Kauflin. First is that DP quotes him in the first place, given that Sovereign Grace Ministries - of which Bob Kauflin is a leader - is very charismatic in their style of church and corporate worship. A quick perusal of their music offerings (which I would highly recommend, by the way) would reveal that the music is most definitely not of the conservative stripe. Second, is that DP does not also quote Bob Kauflin when he states in the same interview that “Looking throughout the history of Scripture and since then, it seems that God doesn’t have a particular kind of music that he likes or a particular era of music that he likes. [It seems] that God likes music of all kinds. That’s the way he created the world. [Just to] celebrate the diversity of music that God has given us with which to praise him….Truth transcends tunes.

But once again, DP is trying to confuse matters here by comparing apples with oranges. The controversy has not ever been about the content of the music. As I’ve stated before, I will continue to completely agree with DP on the issue of lyrics. I’m sure there will be very few in evangelicalism that would disagree with his statements on the content of music. But that is not the issue that DP started with, nor the one that he keeps bringing into the discussion. Even in 4 questions of his 6-question test, he comes back to the issue of musical style. He tries to throw out the question of “Why can’t I take any style or genre of music and use it for the glory of God?” when this question is THE question that should be asked. I am more than a little shocked that he would attempt to throw this question out and replace it with 6 others that simply do not address the bottom line. It almost implies a reluctance to deal with the question and since he cannot come up with a Biblical answer, he simply throws it out as irrelevant when it is anything but irrelevant. The Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly places this issue first and foremost when in the very first question it asks: “What is the chief end of man?” to which we should reply “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever!” So to ask what can be used to glorify God is exactly the issue. If you can answer that question, the 6 questions he poses will answer themselves.

Allow me to demonstrate. I firmly believe that, because the Bible is absolutely silent on the issue of musical style, I can take any style of music (again, NOT lyrics) and use it to glorify God and encourage others to do to the same. My answers then would be:

1) What does God require of me in my worship of Him? Quite simply, to honor him, not just with my lips (Matt.15:8-9), but with my whole self (Ro.12:1-2), worshiping with gladness (Ps. 100:2), recognizing that he alone is worthy of worship (Rev.4:11)

2) What is there in the world’s music that I must use in order to worship the God Who has called me to be separate from the world? There is nothing there that I must use, but I recognize God can and will be glorified in everything. I recognize that there is no such thing as a difference between “worldly” musical styles and “Christian” musical styles, but that all styles should be brought under the dominion of Christ to bring honor and glory to him. This is also why I can appreciate all kinds of art (not simply music) because all beauty should cause us to think on Him who is Beauty.

3) What is there in my music selections that I choose because of the way it makes me feel instead of whether it is theologically correct? Musical style does not have theological content. Further, all music, by its very nature, is designed to cause an emotional response; to state otherwise is to show a lack of knowledge of the subject of music. However, the content (lyrics) that I choose to listen to should reflect truth and beauty as Christ Himself is Truth and Beauty. I can appreciate Steve Green songs just as much as I can appreciate Josh Groban songs, but on two separate levels.

4) How can I take the name of Christ and use it as a label simply for the purpose of approving what my mind tells me is not truly honouring to Christ? This question unfairly assumes that whatever “worldly” music I choose (again, not sure how this music is defined as DP has not given any answer to this) is chosen against what I know is “right.” This is simply incorrect. If something is truly not honoring to Christ, then it should not be participated in. But again, I believe that the name of Christ can be honored in any kind of musical style.

5) Does the so-called silence on the issue of music style give me the liberty to violate other biblical principles in order to seek my own pleasure? If there is a Biblical principle that is being violated in order to satisfy my own flesh, this is absolutely wrong and is sin. But if I am truly seeking to honor God and “present my body a living sacrifice (Ro.12:1-2), then the silence on music does indeed give me the liberty to choose a musical style.

6) Have I allowed music to become my own little idol, and in doing so violated the command not to have any other gods before the God of heaven? This is a very legitimate question and one that should be asked continually. It is most definitely idolatry when we want to have our music simply to satisfy our flesh and not for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

(to be continued...)

Music-The Golden Calf #4 - A Response

In Part 4 of his series on worship and music, the Desert Pastor (DP) attempts to show a few more examples of times where God did not accept a person’s action seemingly because of their attitude. He first examines the infamous account of Uzzah. In 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13, we are told of how David wanted to bring back the ark of the covenant to its rightful place. As they were transporting the ark, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Almost instinctively it seems, Uzzah put his hand out to steady the ark and touched the ark. God immediately killed him for his disobedience. The DP correctly states that it was “expressly forbidden to touch the ark” as instructed in Numbers 4:15. However, the second reason DP gives is completely false since nowhere in either of the two passages is it mentioned or even inferred that God killed Uzzah because of Uzzah’s irreverence. 2 Samuel 6:7 says “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” 1 Chronicles 13:10 states very similarly, “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.” That’s it. Nothing further. God had given a very explicit command not to touch the ark and Uzzah had disobeyed. This example is not one that pertains to worship or music at all! DP once again seems to be reading into a passage what he wants to see there in order to make a point.

Nextwe come to Nadab and Abihu, poster boys for the “God-didn’t-say-anything-about-it-so -we-shouldn’t-do-it” argument or its more formal title, the Presbyterian Regulatory Principle. Tim Challies gives a very good and succinct definition of the regulatory principle as saying, “The only acceptable worship is that which is explicitly taught in the Bible. By extension then, anything that is not explicitly taught in the Bible is implicitly forbidden.” I would highly recommend reading Challies’ full post on the subject where he gives an excellent definition and interpretation of the regulatory principle. For further reading on the subject, I would also recommend D.A. Carson’s Worship By The Book. The majority of DP’s fourth article rests entirely on this argument. But let’s take a look at this passage and the subsequent argument.

Leviticus 10:1-3 gives the account of Nadab and Abihu. Allow me to quote the passage in its entirety: “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace.”

In Leviticus 9, we read where Aaron the High Priest and his sons (Nadab and Abihu included) have just offered up a burnt offering to the Lord. The sacrifices were killed and the blood sprinkled all in accordance with the very specific commands given by God. The result was that “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it they shouted and fell on their faces.” Immediately after this, Nadab and Abihu, caught up in the excitement, decided to offer their own services. The problem here is that they “offered unauthorized [or “strange”, in some translations] fire.” Adam Clarke, in his commentary, states: “In the preceding chapter we have seen how God intended that every part of his service should be conducted; and that every sacrifice might be acceptable to him, he sent his own fire as the emblem of his presence, and the means of consuming the sacrifice. - Here we find Aaron's sons neglecting the Divine ordinance, and offering incense with strange, that is, common fire - fire not of a celestial origin; and therefore the fire of God consumed them.” Here, too, we see direct disobedience of very specific instructions given to Aaron and his sons.

But what of the phrase “which he had not commanded them?” Much is made of this phrase and again, is the primary text for the argument of regulatory principle. Keep in mind that God had given extremely specific instructions for the priests and high priests to follow. Nadab and Abihu, in their rush to offer incense, clearly did not follow these instructions, but rather did something that God had not commanded them to do. God said do it this way, but they did it that way. God had not left any room for self-interpretation. Here is where DP’s argument and application of the regulatory principle breaks down for several reasons.

First, unlike the situation with Nadab and Abihu, God has not given such specifics for worship today as it pertains to musical style. Even the majority of the proponents of the regulatory principle recognize this, as is evident by the Westminster Confession. D.A. Carson points out that “the Regulative Principle, well articulated by the Westminster divines, opposed the introduction of new observances in worship but does not deny culturally appropriate arrangements of the circumstances of worship.”

Second, let’s assume for argument’s sake that DP is correct in that our New Testament worship is not to include anything that God has not explicitly allowed. How then does musical style fall into this argument since there is not one mention anywhere in Scripture of what music is to sound like? Yet repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms, we are encouraged and even commanded to “Sing praises to the Lord” (Ps.9:11, just one of many). What music are we to use in our singing to the Lord? The answer is quite plain that the Bible is incredibly silent on this issue. How then do we handle singing and music? Which style do we use? Do we use the early church (i.e., 1st century) style? Do we chant? Even that we cannot be sure of from Scripture since chanting too has cadence and a musical rhythm to it. I would be interested to hear how DP argues for his preference in music and yet still stay true to the regulatory principle which he is trying so desperately to invoke here.

Let me pause for a minute here to add a clarifying thought. If we are talking about the condition of our heart in which we come before God, then absolutely yes, we cannot come before an Almighty, thrice-Holy God any way we want to. But here, too, the beauty of the gospel shines through in that we do not come in the power of our own might, but through the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is he that has fulfilled every single part of the sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament, including doing away with altars, incense, burnt sacrifices, and holy fires.

DP makes an excellent point in mentioning 1 Cor. 10:31 and Eccl. 12:13. Every single aspect of our lives should be done as worship to God. Ro.12:1-2 makes this quite clear. But unfortunately, DP’s conclusion once again completely misses the point of heart issues and again reverts to externalities. He once again resorts to clich├ęs about the world being in the church, and if he were speaking of heart attitudes, then I would agree with him on many of these points. But He runs off in a mind-numbing rabbit trail that includes movies and dress standards, all the while trying to keep the regulatory principle applied and not once defining what exactly makes a certain musical standard (since that is his stated topic) worldly or “Biblical.” He should indeed, as we all should, rightly take issue with the world infiltrating our lives if this is evident in lifestyles of ongoing sin. Churches that teach that it’s okay to live in sin that God has clearly forbidden in his Word are indeed allowing the world to come in. Yet this is not his point as he continually brings it back to what is seen on the outside, namely the type of music being used. Even in his quote from Christian Worship missed the point the authors made in the following sentence: “A church calling itself Christian, but denying any portion of the character of God, the incarnation of His Son, the reliability of His Word, or promoting things contrary to godliness, transgresses this commandment.” I could not agree more with this statement. It is DP’s forced application that goes awry when he does not show, nor indeed can show from Scripture as has been seen, how a musical style in and of itself is “denying any portion of the character of God, the incarnation of His Son, the reliability of His word, [or even] promoting things contrary to godliness.”

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Music-The Golden Calf #3 - A Response

Part three of “Music – The Golden Calf” can be found here and, once again, I would encourage you to read it before reading my response.

The Desert Pastor (DP) continues his argument against musical freedom in the church by attempting to show its negative connotations in the origin of the term “rock n’ roll” and its influence in the realm of CCM. Based on the observations of a local record store owner that more white teenagers were buying rhythm and blues (R&B) music – then performed almost solely by black musicians - Alan Freed became one of the first white DJs to play the music for his largely white teenage audience. It was due to the unfortunate racial prejudices at the time that Freed coined the new term “rock n roll” to make the music more acceptable to white audiences. The term may have been borrowed from a song sung by The Dominoes in 1951 and was used as slang for sex or dancing. In his historical account, DP seemingly adds his own embellishment to this by saying that it was describing “sexual relationships outside the bonds of [marriage],” which is not entirely accurate since the term was slang for sex in general in the black community. However, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Freed is quoted as saying he called the musical style rock n’ roll because “it seemed to suggest the rolling, surging beat of the music” – a definition having nothing to do with sex. Further, the phrase “rock n roll” was even being used as early as 1916 with a religious connotation. Still further, in the 1930s the term was even then being associated with music that had a good beat to it. In actuality, the usage of the term by Freed had absolutely nothing to do with “the reaction of the beat on the human body” or “the perverse sexuality that went along with the music.” It seems that DP is resorting to implementing some little-researched self-interpretation of musical history to make it fit to a preconceived notion.

There is no denying that many in society struggle with the relevance of religion or Christianity in specific. This is certainly nothing new and is even a defining struggle in Christianity. Christianity always will and indeed always should struggle with relevance. Jesus, in his prayer in John 17, states “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Paul also points this out in his letter to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Peter also indicates this in 2 Peter 3:3-4, “Knowing this first of all that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’”

DP is indeed correct in that the church, in an effort to be more relevant, has looked to marketing gurus and strategists to fill the church instead of looking to God in continuous preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Books, seminars, programs, and more are created in abundance to “help” pastors and elders bring people into the church. However, DP mistakenly assumes that part of making the 20th century church relevant was incorporating the “world’s” style of music. This is a false assumption because it presumes that the church’s style of music was, up to this point, in a class of its own. A study of music history will show quite plainly that this is not nor ever was the case.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in an effort to simplify the ever growing realm of music, demanded that the music played and sung in masses must be done so without the influence of polyphony, or the use of multiple harmonies in music as opposed to one melody. In doing so, it has been noted that this decree slowed down the process of musical development by restricting a musician’s artistic impression. In this act, in can be seen that the style of music used in the church was the same as, and indeed had a profound impact on, the music outside the church. Further, many classical musicians throughout the centuries have added their artistic abilities to the services of the church, thus being perhaps the original “cross-over artists.” Later in history, more and more hymns were being put to popular tunes that the common man would already be familiar with. At the same time, there have been those “stick-in-the-mud types” who have with ill-informed and misguided gusto opposed this supposed intrusion. For example, the House of Lords of the English Parliament in 1644 ordered the “speedy demolishing of all organs…throughout the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales: the better to accomplish the blessed Reformation so happily begun, and to remove all offences and things illegal in the Worship of God.” Today, we would immediately associate such musical instruments almost solely with churches (and high churches, at that).

The answer to making the church more relevant was not to incorporate the “world’s” music for the simple reason that using the “world’s” music has always been done. What the church has done, however, is replaced songs that actually said something with songs designed to make the listener and singer feel better about themselves or at the very least evoke some sort of emotional response. Gone was any conviction not because the listener was comfortable with the musical style, but rather was comfortable with what he was hearing in the words of the song and the preaching (or lack of) from the pulpit. But this then brings us back to the issues of lyrics and heart attitudes. To say that the musical style accomplished this great compromise is to be immensely fooling ourselves and falling right into a trap I believe created by the devil’s own hand. If we spend our time worrying about the musical style instead of what the song actually says, we haven’t accomplished anything at all.

The remainder of DP’s third installment builds on this entirely false supposition that the compromise was found in the musical style. I would agree with the quote by Dr. Tim Fisher in stating that “When outreach is your stated purpose, you will go to any lengths to justify almost anything in attempting to reach the lost.” I would, however, change the word “outreach” to numerical growth since outreach can also be used and often is used to signify evangelical outreach of the Gospel.

The “miracle pill” that DP blames for compromise in worship – CCM – is indeed partly to blame, but not as he concludes. Once again, it is not the style of the music that is at fault, but rather the content of the music. To use DP’s conclusion, you could take a Christian young person, throw in some “worldly” music (remember, we are speaking strictly of style, not lyrics at this point) and the end result would be a young person so backward in his way of life as to call into question his Christianity. In response, I would posit that the miracle pill was indeed doctrine, expository preaching and teaching – but in the negative sense that there simply was none! It was the lack of doctrine, the lack of expository preaching and teaching and subsequent lack of revival that has revolutionized the church.

I would agree with DP’s statements that a great compromise has occurred and indeed is still occurring. There are way too many Christians wanting to be relevant in the eyes of the world and in doing so, bring down God to their own level to make Him their “buddy” or cosmic genie or jovial Grandfather type. But this is once again, an issue of the heart. When we focus on externalities such as whether or not we agree with a certain style of music, we completely skip over the most important step of dealing with the heart.

To close this part, I would sadly point out that DP’s article contained not one whit of Biblical support. As stated before, DP has yet to show from Scripture where certain musical styles are persona non grata in the church. His argument is filled with conjecture, presupposition and reading of his own preferences into an argument that he wanted to prove. By mixing in some very true statements about the condition of the church, he then jumps to absurd conclusions couched in the most spiritual garb in order to make his point. His final statement shows further this sad condition in that he condescendingly lumps every single artist, every single song and every single listener of what he would deem the “worldly” CCM music into the category of doing it entirely to please self. Even in this conclusion, he skips right past the heart of those he has absolutely no way of knowing and into externalities that don’t fit into his preconceived notions of what “godly” music should look like.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Music - The Golden Calf #2 - A Response

(The second part of DP’s article can be found here, and I recommend you read his article before reading my response).

Continuing the discussion on musical styles in worship, DP asks a very valid question: Does God “accept any type of style or worship simply by my telling Him that this is for Him?” DP then takes us back to Gen. 4 to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel had brought their offering to God where Abel’s offering was accepted while Cain’s was rejected. DP’s main argument is that Cain’s sacrifice or style of worship if you will, was rejected because of the kind or type of sacrifice it was. According to DP, Cain figured he could bring to God anything he wanted and be accepted. The problem with Cain’s sacrifice was that it was not a blood sacrifice, but rather of the farm produce that Cain had grown. Cain subsequently got angry and killed Abel out of jealous rage, abruptly ending the world’s first “worship war.”

But was Cain’s sacrifice rejected because it was the wrong type? Let’s look a little deeper.

Commentaries differ as to the proper interpretation of this passage, in particular this very issue of why Cain’s sacrifice was rejected. Most agree that Abel’s sacrifice was symbolic, a foreshadow of the Lamb of God’s death on the cross for the punishment of sin. What’s missing in this passage is the reason behind Cain and Abel’s offering. Was it an offering to atone for sins? Or was it an offering to express gratitude to God? Further, as some commentaries argue, the sacrificial system of bringing an animal for the atonement of sin was not laid down until Leviticus 2, hundreds of years after Cain and Abel. Furthermore, God also instituted a sacrifice whereby the people were allowed to bring both animal and food for certain kinds of sacrifices. It is argued that God must have told Adam and his family what his requirements were; however, this is an argument from supposition and can just as easily be countered that God may not have said anything about it.

So if it wasn’t what Cain brought, then what was it? I firmly believe it was because of the manner in which he brought it. Instead of dealing with externals, God right from the start shows that he is way more concerned about the heart issue. In Heb. 11:2, Abel is mentioned as having brought his sacrifice “by faith” and his offering was more acceptable because of it. Cain on the other hand did not bring his through faith, as evidenced by his quick anger in having it rejected. Cain’s heart was not in the right place from the start and God knew it. DP would have us believe that both brothers came with equally reverent attitudes and wanting to worship God, when this doesn’t appear to be the case at all. It was not in what Cain offered that God had issue, but in how Cain offered it.

DP’s use of the account of Uzzah does not seem to apply to the discussion since this passage nowhere even mentions worship, but rather one man’s disobedience to what God had very clearly instructed.

Yes, I would agree with DP that there are churches today that expect God to accept their worship, while during the week living like the devil. Where I disagree is the broad brush that DP is painting with in his assumption that ALL churches who use certain kinds of music are doing so with this attitude. Again, we are not dealing with externalities but rather matters of the heart and DP is even hinting at that since he does not mention musical style but rather heart issues.

Here, DP leaves off attempting to support his argument with Biblical reasoning and instead resorts to emotional rhetoric. Emotion aside, DP has not yet shown from Scripture or even sound reasoning the difference between “worldly music” and “Christian music” other than to mention a few musical styles that he apparently does not enjoy. He seems to indicate that there is some sort of musical style that is distinctly Christian, but has not yet expounded on what that is exactly. Once again, I would point out a statement from Edward Dickinson’s Music in the History of the Western Church: “The vitality of ecclesiastical art has always seemed to depend upon retaining a conscious touch with the large art movements of the world, and church music has certainly never thrived when, in consequence of neglect or complacency, it has been suffered to become inferior to its rival.” That music is a part of culture no one can deny and this can be seen in the changes down through the centuries in church music. If this were not the case, we would still be singing with the same musical style as the early church fathers.

Lastly, DP would have us believe that the world is not seeing a difference in churches because they hear the same musical styles as heard all during the week. If this were true, how easy it would be to simply change our musical style to something unheard of during the week and to sit back and watch the curious world come to our doors to see what the difference is. No, John 13:35 does not say “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have a different music style than the world.” No, time and time again, the Scriptures consistently point to attitudes of the heart: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world is not looking for a different set of songs or musical style. They are looking for a difference in how people live and act toward one another. And only the power of the gospel will provide such a difference.

So far in his efforts, DP has not once shown from Scripture where God is concerned about the style of music or worship. In John 4, we read of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria. The woman, in trying to get the attention off her sinful lifestyle (heart issue!), asks Jesus whether true worship must be done in Jerusalem as opposed to “on this mountain” where they had been worshiping. Here would be the perfect opportunity for Jesus to lay down some ground rules for how worship should be conducted. But he doesn’t. Or rather, he does, but not in the way we would expect. He says “The hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” I’m sure that completely blew the mind of the woman – who fully expected him, as an Israelite, to insist on worship in Jerusalem, with all the trappings, sacrifices, order, etc of the temple. But Jesus once again goes straight to the heart – “if you want to worship me, you must worship in spirit and in truth.” Not, “you must worship me by doing it this way (externals)” but “you must worship me in truth (heart issue!). So to answer the original question of this post, I would say that yes, absolutely, God is honored and glorified in ANY style of worship so long as we are worshiping in spirit and in truth (God’s truth and not our own).

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Music - The Golden Calf #1 - A Response

The author of a blog I frequent has been posting a series of essays on the subject of music, worship, and the appropriateness or lack thereof of certain kinds of musical styles. I hope to answer his posts in the next few blog posts of my own.

First let me say that I commend The Desert Pastor (DP) for wanting to seek out a Biblical answer to this debate that has been raging for centuries. As believers, we are instructed to seek out wisdom and guidance from God through the empowering of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of the Bible. While I may not agree with his interpretations, applications or conclusions, it is encouraging to see a fellow believer make an attempt at studying and explaining what it is that he believes. I would recommend reading his articles on the subject before reading my response so as to have a better understanding of the arguments being made. Part 1 may be found here

The issue at hand is, as I mentioned, one that has been going on not just in recent years, but indeed for centuries. Edward Dickinson, in his book Music in the History of the Western Church published in 1902, stated “Song has proved such a universal necessity in worship that it may almost be said, no music no Church.” While this is somewhat of an overstatement, it does show the importance that music has in the church, and that this was no less an issue at the turn of the 20th century than in the 21st. Dickinson attempts to show – and seems quite successful in doing so – the evolution of music both in its importance and cultural understanding as seen in light of the church. He further states “The choice of a style of music which shall most completely answer the needs of worship as the conceptions and methods of public worship vary among different communities and in different epochs, and which at the same time shall not be unworthy of the claims of music as a fine art, -- this is the historic dilemma which is still, as ever, a fruitful source of perplexity and discord [emphasis added].” I point this out to show that the debate over music is certainly not new to recent years, as many critics wish to believe. I don’t expect his nor my articles to be the final answer since, should the Lord tarry, I have no doubt this issue will continue to be discussed 1,000 years from now.

DP begins his series by making some very excellent and very applicable statements. He uses the example of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf and says that “music in the church has become a golden calf. Instead of giving due reverence and worship to a holy and righteous God, the vast majority seem to be giving reverence to the worship itself.” How true this is! I believe it was D.A. Carson who once stated that instead of worshiping the one, true God, we are in danger of “worshiping worship.” When worship, with everything that the word conveys including music, ceases to about God, it is no longer Christian worship, but has moved into the realm of idolatry.

Before I go further, however, let me state that when I am discussing music in these articles, I am referring to the style – notes, rhythm, structure, etc – NOT lyrics. This is essential to keep in mind. Often when debating music styles, the argument slips past style and into musical content, or the lyrics themselves. You will not find any disagreement from me over what is acceptable for worship in lyrics. There is an abundance of songs passing as “Christian” that say absolutely nothing at all, but rather point the “worshiper” to a mirror in order to praise himself for how good he is. The best, most appropriate musical style in the world does nothing if the lyrics do not lend themselves to worshiping God, but rather ourselves.

That being said, where I would begin to disagree with DP is his assertion that deciding for ourselves what music is supposed to mean and what musical styles are acceptable as worship is wrong. I believe and hope to show in replying to DP’s arguments that any musical style – including every category he lists – can indeed be used to praise, honor and glorify God.

DP makes another excellent point when he states, “True worship can only be done when the individual has been made a new creation in Christ Jesus.” When we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2), we have neither the ability nor the desire to worship our Creator. It is only after he “makes us alive together with Christ” that we can know and sing of “the immeasurable riches of His grace.” The application of this truth is where DP goes astray. He assumes that when the old things pass away, this includes the taste for certain musical styles. The underlying assumption is that some musical styles are inherently evil and some art inherently good. This too, however, is a faulty assumption. Dickinson’s words are here applicable and worth quoting at length:

The soundest writers on art maintain that art, taken abstractly, is neither moral nor immoral. It occupies a sphere apart from that of religion or ethics. It may lend its aid to make religious and moral ideas more persuasive; it may, through the touch of pure beauty, overbear material and prosaic interests and help to produce an atmosphere in which spiritual ideas may range without friction, but the mind must first have been made morally sensitive by other than purely artistic means.”

In other words, music does not operate in a vacuum. The same piece of music can have completely different reactions from listeners, based on other influencing factors in their lives. Perhaps that piece of music was played at the funeral on one listener’s child and thus the music evokes a heartbreaking longing to be with that loved one. Perhaps at the same time, another listener is reminded of his wedding where that piece of music was played while his bride walked toward him, and thus (hopefully!!) the music brings about a feeling of rapturous joy. Same music, completely different responses.

I, too would echo, many of DP’s closing statements. As stated previously, there will always be disagreement among believers. However, we should, as DP said, be able to fellowship with them. Further, I nor DP should be the ones to finally convince anyone of what is Biblical or appropriate for personal worship. Only God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and study of the Bible can do this.

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