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.”


Anonymous said...

I would encourage reading the following...it provokes some interesting thoughts about various artists and forms of "worship".

In Christ,

A Checklist for Church Music
(By Nathan Busenitz)

What type of music is appropriate for church worship services? While the question is simple enough, the answers given are often both complex and controversial. Yet, the question is a crucial one to consider because music is a central part of Christian worship. If our music does not please the Lord, neither will the worship that music is intended to produce.

So how can churches be God-honoring in the music they use? In order to answer this question correctly, we must begin by looking to the principles of God’s Word. Neither personal preferences nor cultural trends can be our guide. Even in the area of music, Scripture must be our authority.

Below are ten questions that pastors and church leaders (along with the congregation as a whole) should ask about the worship music they use. Drawn directly from biblical principles, these questions may not answer every specific case, but they do provide a theological check-list for examining church music.

1. Is your church music God-focused? Without question, true worship must be God-centered (Ex. 20:3–6) for He alone is worthy of our praise (Ps. 148:13). He deserves our most fervent devotion and our highest priority. He is our exalted King and He must have center stage. Anything short of God-centered worship is idolatry (cf. Jer. 2:13, 27–28), and false worship is clearly unacceptable (Deut. 12:29–31; 16:21–22; Gal. 5:19–21).

Because the purpose of church music is to provide a vehicle for worship, it must be God-focused rather than man-centered (cf. Ps. 27:6; 150:3–4). Any other purposes or priorities are secondary. From the style and performance to the audience and their reaction, nothing should ever usurp God’s place as the supreme object of our affection. Because biblical worship demands a God-centered focus, church music (if it is to legitimately be called worship music) must begin and end with Him.

2. Does your church music promote a high view of God? It is not enough for church music to merely focus on God, if the view of God presented is inadequate. Too many Christian songs come dangerously close to violating the commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7) by treating Him in a common, almost mundane fashion.

Music that is worthy of our Savior must promote an accurate and exalted view of who He is (cf. Is. 40:12–26). Throughout Scripture, all who encountered the living God were radically changed (Moses in Ex. 33–34; Isaiah in Is. 6; Peter, James, and John during the Transfiguration in Matt. 17). There was nothing ordinary about the Lord they saw or the trembling worship-filled response they had. Our music then, if it is to facilitate heartfelt worship, must clearly convey the majesty, glory, and honor of God (cf. Heb. 10:31; Rom. 11:33–36; Rev. 14:7).

3. Is your church music orderly? The God whom we serve is a God of order. This is most clearly seen in His creation of the world, where He brought form and function out of a watery mass (Gen. 1; cf. Rom. 1:20). It is no surprise, then, that the Apostle Paul commands the Corinthians that “all things [in the church] must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40).

Along these same lines, Ephesians 5:18 commands believers to continually be under the control of the Holy Spirit at all times. Church music, then, should never encourage participants to exchange the control of the Spirit for the control of some other force—be it emotional, psychological, or other. Rather, church members are to be under the influence of the Spirit-empowered Word of God (cf. Col. 3:16). Mindless emotionalism, often hyped up by repetition and “letting go,” comes closer to the paganism of the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 6:7) than to any form of biblical worship.

4. Is the content of your church music biblically sound? While instrumental music is certainly appropriate during the worship service (cf. 2 Chr. 5:13), most church music includes lyrical content. At the very least, these lyrics should be both intelligible and biblically accurate—readily conveying Scriptural truth to all who sing them (cf. Eph. 5:19–20).

Beyond accurate, lyrics should also be clear and in keeping with the biblical context. For example, songs that come from the Old Testament (even when the lyrics are directly cited from a passage) should not be made to apply to the church today if they only apply to Israel before Christ. (An excellent example of this is when Psalm 51:11 is sung without any explanation of the context.)

Lyrics should never be trite or flippant in their treatment of great biblical themes. Instead, church music (no matter the style) should deepen the biblical and theological understanding of the congregation. A song that is inaccurate, out-of-context, or trite only hinders the spiritual growth of those who sing it.

5. Does your church music promote unity in your church? As noted above, the primary goal of church music is worship. Yet, Scripture also speaks of Christian songs as a form of edification (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19–20). Because the church is a body (1 Cor. 12), our worship toward God includes our service towards others (Rom. 12:1–9).

The goal of corporate worship then is to glorify God while serving others. With this in mind, the right approach to church music never selfishly demands personal preference, but always looks out for the interests of others (Php. 2:1–4). Moreover, if something we do tempts a fellow Christian to fall into sin, we must proceed with great caution and care (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8).

6. Is your church music performed with excellence? Church music, along with everything else we do, should be done for the glory and honor of God (1 Cor. 10:31). As our perfect Master and loving Father, He certainly deserves the very best that we can offer. To give Him anything less falls far short of what He demands. Even Old Testament Israel was expected to give the first and the best to the Lord (cf. Lev. 1–7; Num. 18:32).

Needless to say, if it bears His name, it’s worth our best. While a church may not have the resources to hire a full orchestra or recruit a large band, the music should still be done whole-heartedly and with excellence. Music that is not sincere, from a pure heart, is not worship (Ps. 24:3–4; Amos 5:23). And music that is done without excellence is usually distracting, thereby taking away from the God-centered atmosphere essential to true worship.

7. Does your church music prepare your people for the preaching of God’s Word? Second Timothy 4:2 commands us to “Preach the Word!” Just a few verses earlier, the Apostle Paul expounds on the sufficiency of Scripture and its importance in our lives (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is only through God’s Word that we learn about Him; it is only through the Bible that God reveals Himself to us. The Scripture, therefore, must be the centerpiece of corporate worship—providing both the construct and the climax.

For this reason, times of singing (when God’s people speak to Him) should never overshadow or eclipse preaching (when God speaks to His people through His Word). Instead, worship through song should compliment the proclamation of the truth. Church music that takes place before the sermon should prepare the congregation for what the Holy Spirit wants them to hear. And church music that follows the sermon should be an appropriate response to what has just been received (cf. Col. 3:16–17).

8. Does your church music adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ? The New Testament model of church life implies that the local assembly is to primarily function as a place of worship and edification (cf. Acts 2:41–42). Evangelism, on the other hand, is expected of believers “as they go” throughout the rest of their daily activities (Matt. 28:18–20).

This being said, the local church (as an assembly of Christians) must still present a good testimony before a watching world (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23–25). After all, Paul commands us to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10), and Peter exhorts us to “proclaim the excellencies” of God (1 Peter 2:9). Church music, then, should be a wonderful witness to the greatness of our Lord and Savior. It should never tarnish His reputation or confuse unbelievers as to what the gospel teaches.

9. Does your church music promote passionate worship? As noted earlier, church music must be God-focused, reverently presenting Him in all of His majesty. At the same time, it should never be boring, dry, or stale. After all, God is not boring. And heaven (where the primary occupation is worship) is also not boring (cf. Rev. 4–5).

While maintaining a proper respect for God, biblical worship is always brimming with personal passion and Christ-exalting emotion (cf. 1 Chr. 15:29; 16:4–6). Of course, the expression of this passion will manifest itself differently in different congregations. Furthermore, this passion must be expressed in an orderly, Spirit-controlled manner. Nonetheless, passionless worship—sounding more like a lullaby than a glorious anthem—is not really worship at all (John 4:23).

10. Is your church’s philosophy of music based on biblical principle? Although numerous preferences and opinions exist, your church’s philosophy of music must be based on biblical principles. Church leaders should not simply adhere to certain standards because they have always done so. Nor should they blindly permit any type of music to be played in their church services. Instead, they should search the Scriptures (like the Bereans of Acts 17:11), determining the biblical principles that undergird a right philosophy of music in worship.

Once the principles have been established, the music leader has the liberty to apply those principles in different ways depending on the specific needs of his congregation. In the end, pastors must be careful not to exalt personal preference to the same level as biblical principle, or to ignore biblical principles under the assumption that everything about church music is preferential.

Stephen said...

An excellent article, Michael. It says many of the same things (only more succinctly) that Bob Kauflin says in his book, Worship Matters. Thanks for the article.