Monday, February 04, 2008

THE CHRISTIAN MUSIC CONTROVERSY


That the Creator God alone is worthy of the creature’s adoration is the undeniable truth revealed in Holy Scripture in the form of many commands, exhortations, and personal examples. But we also know by the same Holy Word that men separated from God because of sin cannot worship God in an acceptable way. True worship must come from one who has received spiritual life through the miracle of the new birth. David’s words of praise for God’s deliverance exemplify the wonderful joy of salvation experienced by the Christian: “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:2-3). Brethren, this is our testimony. Everyone who has been rescued from Satan’s dominion and transferred into the Kingdom of God has a new heart, the natural impulse of which is to boast, or glory, in God. The indwelling Spirit inspires such worship (John 16:13-14; Ephesians 5:18-19). It could be said that the chief duty of all who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19) is to praise and exalt His name together (Psalm 34:3). The assembly of believers is the one place where the proclamation of God’s faithfulness in word and song should never cease: “Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1). Our meeting places should be filled with loud hosannas and the sound of music which proclaims the glorious truth that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Revelation 19:6).

Thus far we may all be in agreement. God alone is worthy of our worship and must ever be the sole object of it. However, a question arises on which there is no agreement among God’s people. In fact, it is a question which has brought great division among true believers: How shall we worship God? Many of us have, perhaps, heard of the “worship wars” taking place in evangelical churches. The battle lines have been drawn; churches have splintered; saints have been wounded, and the cause of Christ has been hindered by this issue. More particularly, the frontline of the battle has to do with MUSIC. To add further confusion to the traditional or contemporary music debate, the Emergent church movement brings a worship style that is reminiscent of New Age mysticism.

Is there an answer to the question of what constitutes acceptable music in worship that will satisfy everyone? No, there is not; however, there are some other questions that should be asked to help guide our personal decisions. First and most important is the matter of WHOM the music is designed to please. This sounds a little odd when the point has already been made that we meet together as Christians to worship God. But if this is the purpose of our gathering, why does the style of music often dictate where Christians go to worship? Living in the generation of multiple choices when it comes to just about everything, could it be that we choose worship music no differently? Could it be that the sound of the music has to please the musician or listener first of all, rather than the musician or listener endeavoring to prove what is acceptable unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:10)? Someone has aptly labeled what I am speaking of as taste-generated music. It is much like choosing whether I prefer Starbuck’s or Seattle’s Best, except the choice is other than coffee. Maybe that is why a lot of contemporary music is theologically weak and hardly says anything about the great doctrines of the faith: The message is not as important as the music. As an unsaved young man growing up with the rhythm and beat of the rock music culture, I know just how pleasing to the flesh the sound of music can be. The flesh factor is clearly a danger many believers are ignoring: “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

The second question that must be asked is the WHAT of music. What is the purpose of music in the church and in the life of the Christian? I see a two-fold goal in the choice of our worship music. First, the glory of God is primary. The music must be centered on the greatness and majesty of God in the context of what He has done and will do according to the outworking of His redemptive plan. All music that speaks of God’s glorious attributes should, by definition, be sacred - distinct from secular music in its essential qualities. This means that it should be clearly distinguished from the music of the world. Just as the unregenerate are not attracted to godly hymns and other compositions that have served the church well for many years, the child of God should not be enticed by the pop music sound of Babylon that rises and falls on billboard charts. Can God truly be glorified in the selection of music that seeks to be popular with those who are very immature in the faith or who know not God? I don’t believe He can; however, this philosophy governs musical selections in many churches. It should not. The other goal of music should be the edification of the saint. Here too, I see little in contemporary music which would help to promote a solid spiritual foundation based on the revelation of God in Scripture. Paul labored in ministry to present every man perfect (mature) in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28). Music plays a vital role in developing spiritual maturity: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). We must guard against worship music that is geared to stir emotions but does little to bring the worshiper a greater vision of a holy God. Perhaps the church should begin to ask the question, “Where’s the beef in our music?” Theologian Millard Erickson believes that some of the great indicators of theological change are popular piety and practice. He writes, “One indication of what people believe, or what they will believe, is what they sing in worship.”[1] This is one good reason why music in worship should be carefully evaluated. While the preaching of God’s Word demands the place of prominence in the church, the words we sing to God and about God must not contradict or diminish the ministry of the pulpit. We must not come to church to feel good about ourselves, but to see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. There must be both joy and solemnity in our worship as we bow in our hearts before a majestic and transcendent God.

The final question to be asked concerning music in worship is the question of HOW. How shall we sing to God? This touches upon the form or arrangement of musical expression. Is there a balance between the melody, harmony, and rhythm? Melody is the musical story line of music, composed of notes in a pattern that we can sing. Melody helps us to remember the song. The term harmony originates in the Greek harmonia, meaning joint, concord, or agreement. Harmony is the relation of notes to notes and chords to chords, when notes are played simultaneously. The word rhythm comes from a Greek word meaning flow. It is the basis or heartbeat of music. Some have called it the flow or energy of music through time that moves the music forward. It is a critically important part of worship music. Professor of music Calvin Johansson notes: “Generally whenever rhythm engenders a response that attracts us to attend to our own feelings and desires, it detracts from worship and works against the maturing of God’s saints.”[2] Much more could be said about the how of music, but that is best left to those skilled in music whose music standards have not become compromised by the hedonistic age in which we live. The God of the Bible is a God of order, beauty, and variety. Our hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs should reflect that, not only with regard to the words, but also in the style and manner of presentation.

My concluding thoughts come down to the question of personal responsibility in our music. As an elder of the church, I can regulate congregational music, but I cannot regulate the music to which you listen. Each child of God must decide for himself in his personal life and give an account to God. I may seek to inform and persuade to some degree, but in the end the choice is not mine. One thing I can and will continue to do is to pray that God will direct your steps through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in all that you do, so that, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). In regard to the subject at hand, my prayer is that you will exercise your Christian liberty in this dark world in a way that does not violate the counsel of Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
In His name,

Pastor Tom

1 Erickson, Millard. “Where Is Theology Going”? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994) p.23
2 Johansson, Calvin. “Discipling Music Ministry: Twenty-first Century Directions”. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992) p.73