Monday, September 8, 2008

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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