Thursday, September 4, 2008

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.

(Continue reading here....)

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