Steve Camp has drawn up a document titled “The 107 Theses – reclaiming a reverence for God in ministry.” The document can be read in total here
My aim is to work through each of these theses statements, addressing at least one a week, interacting with the Scripture texts as well as the truth stated in order to challenge myself as well as those who read.
1. “All our works, both musical and written, must produce a high view of God-with our chief aim being to glorify God and worship Him forever. (Job 40:6-41:34; Psalm 29:1-2; Jeremiah 9: 23-24) “
This is a powerful statement to make initially, and I believe is the summation of what is to follow. Just reading the Job passage is sobering. God challenges Job and by the end we (Job and the reader) realize that man’s not as big and bad and we think we are. Part of our problem is we fail to really see ourselves in light of God and His greatness. We tend to think ourselves pretty highly when it comes to our worth. We (Christians) give lip service to God’s being God, but when it comes down to it, we have to side with Job in saying “I have heard of you with my ear…” We have heard of Him, but not really experienced HIM in the way Job was being confronted. When questioned by God, Job was left speechless. The questions God posed to Job were questions prompting Job to compare himself to the Almighty. Just the sheer power of God ought to cause us to see that we are nothing and that He is everything and to be regarded as such.
The Psalmist tells us in chapter 29 of the Psalms that we are to ascribe unto The LORD to glory due Him. Jeremiah tells us that the one thing we have God’s permission to boast in is not our wisdom or strength, but in knowing HIM. We were created for His glory, and it’s in knowing Him and reveling in that knowledge that we glorify Him. It is in realizing this purpose and in living it out that we should do all we do to glorify Him and to also produce a high view of God in the hearts and minds of others. In short – all we do is worship of The Almighty.
What I see indicative of the “church” today is just the opposite. Ministry is man-centered. Whether it be the pastor trying to generate revenue so as to build his ministerial dream, or whether he’s in the ministry “just ‘cause I love people”. The books written are intent on convincing man that God thinks him special and really wants to make great things out of him, if man will only recognize the hidden potential that is clear as the sun to God. The music becomes shallow, the Sunday sermons become dry, God is not to be found anywhere near our social clubs we call church; yet we don’t realize it because we’re to busy dancing our golden calf as our preacher yells “behold your god!”. Ministry isn’t done in worship of Jehovah, nor with the aim to generate more worship of Him. Humanity is the god most worship today, so much that we even have god bowing down to man. We love this god because He so worships us, how could we not love someone who so prizes us above all else?!
But ministry is not primarily to help people, rather ministry is to exalt God. The main purpose of Sunday morning church isn’t to evangelize the lost, the reason for worship music isn’t to try to draw the youth in hopes to keep them drug-less and pure, and the primary motivator for mission work is not because we just love people and can’t stand the thought of them not going to heave. Yes, we long to see the lost saved and thank God for each new profession on a Sunday morning. Yes, we are thrilled when youth come to worship The LORD! And Yes, we long to see God save men from hell. But these are not the primary reason we do these things. If so then we are guilty of idolatry, for we serve who we worship. Paul admonished us that whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God.
May God have mercy on us and grant us repentance that we may return to true worship. May the songs we sing, books we write, and ministries we develop have this as their primary aim – to glorify God and worship Him forever.
What does Scripture say anyway?
Scripture doesn’t address music style (this is really the main argument between “traditional” and “contemporary” church music), but there are generally three passages that those who do not accept contemporary church music will submit as biblical footing for their stance.
“Harping” on the wrong thing:
I Samuel 16 records the event where King Saul had an evil spirit that plagued him and was advised to hire a skilled musician to play for him. He hired David, who was skilled at the harp, and when David would play the evil spirit would leave Saul.
Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
It is apparent that music does have an affect on the individual. That is a point that is agreed upon by both sides of the debate. If music didn’t affect us in some way then there would be no point in employing it in worship, or love sonnets to our spouses, etc. Music can calm and relax us, facilitate in a workout or give us the perfect rhythm to dance around the room with the love of our life. I would not play “Eye of the Tiger” to a room full of 4 year old children if I was trying to get them to lie down and nap. This passage does not address musical styles, simply that music is influential. To use the passage as definitive on style would be the same as trying to say that only music played with the harp is God honoring music.
No… that’s really music, Josh:
Exodus 32:17-18 is another passage, probably the most favorite of the traditionalist.
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
In this passage, Moses and Joshua go up the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments from The LORD. While away, the people convince Aaron to make them an image of God. They make a golden calf out of their jewelry and as they celebrate and worship their newly made god they employ music. Joshua hears it and thinks it’s war going on. Moses has a more discerning ear and correct Joshua by telling him it is not a victory cry nor cry of defeat, but singing that he hears. The point that is often attempted to be made by this passage by the traditionalist is that Joshua thought their celebration sounded like war. Most contemporary music employs drums and other rhythm instruments differently that classical, baroque, or other westernized styles. The heavy rhythm is equated to war-like sounds and lumped into the genre that Joshua must have thought he heard. It is over looked that Moses corrected Joshua, as well as the fact that since they were on a mountain and the people in the valley below, the distance alone would have distorted the clarity of the music along with the voice of the people.
Again, style of music must be superimposed on the text. If one side wants to employ Joshua for their purposes of saying the music sounded like war, the other side can just as easily side with Moses and say it’s really music. Moses wasn’t enraged with them over the idol they had erected. The text doesn’t even allude to the music tipping him off to their idolatry. It wasn’t until he saw what they were doing that his anger burned hot. It is notable, however, that music is such a vital part of worship, that it is even included in idolatry as if not even idol worship would be “complete” without it.
Music & Glory:
II Chron 5
1 Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God.2 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 3 And all the men of Israel assembled before the king at the feast that is in the seventh month. 4 And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites took up the ark. 5 And they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the Levitical priests brought them up. 6 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 7 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 8 The cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 9 And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. 10 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. 11 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, 12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; 13 and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord,
God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). When we worship Him in word, prayer, song, or sacrament He is there with us. This passage makes a clear statement, yet with a positive example, that music is most definitely a part of worship. The ark was brought into the Holy Place, the priestly attire was being worn, but it wasn’t until the musicians played and sang that the cloud filled the Lord’s house. Yet we do not have a comment on style. We can imagine what it might have sounded like by familiarizing ourselves with whatever Jewish music we have available to us today, but that is about as close as we can get. We do know that whatever it sounded like, it poured forth from a heart of worship to God.
Music is an outgrowth of our worship. We express our emotions through it, and communicate them to others. But at the end of the day we are not left with anything definitive about music styles. This is when the traditionalist will turn to secular musicians for support. They will quote Mic Jaggar to Frank Zappa. Trying to prove the music controls people. The assumption is that if it makes you want to tap your foot, then you’re under it’s control and it could just as easily make you want to punch your parent in the face. I understand that secular rock musicians use their music to promote rebellion and wickedness. I also understand that it is a swinging away from the previously accepted genre. But this pendulum swing is what has happens in cultures. For example. The classical period, the period lasting about 70 years (1750 to 1820) and cushioned between the Baroque and Romantic periods, is just one example of the same “cultural rebellion”. It wasn’t always called “classical” in it’s own time, it was the contemporary genre of the day. In contrast to it’s predecessor complex harmonies and multiple coexisting melodies, it was more simple with clearly defined melodies as opposed to emphasized harmonies. The new music was a result of the emphasis upon ideals of classical Greek culture. Interestingly enough, in a book I read by one who is opposed to contemporary music, and in support of the classical style, the author quoted Henry David Thoreau saying, “Music… has helped cause the destruction of the Greek and Roman empires and it will sooner or later destroy America and England.” [“Music Matters” by Cary Schmidt pg. 21] I have read Dr. Jack Hyles quoting Plato as saying in his Republic, “The introduction of a new kind of music should be shunned as imperiling the whole state.” [sermon titled “Jesus Had Short Hair!” by Dr. Jack Hyles] But music styles have changed since Plato, and it’s these “new” styles (now become old) that they are wishing to cling to.
All that has been determined by the Scriptures given thus far, is that music is influential and can be used for good or bad. If the traditionalist is to assert that their style of music is godly and contemporary is ungodly then there will need to be more than an assumed dualism. The topic of musical styles and the morality of them should be founded upon Scripture alone and not a mistaken premise or faulty illustration.
My desire is to be thoroughly “Sola Scriptura” in all I do, as I hope
is evident quickly as you read through this. Although I am going to
begin with a premise given to me many times over by those who condemn
contemporary music. I address this mistaken illustration initially
because anything can be proven from a false premise.
The illustration often used to prove the morality of music goes
something like this:
If I write a letter, then that letter has no moral quality. It is
neither good nor bad as it stands alone, but when I put letters
together to form words it then has value as it communicates something.
Color is the same way. Red is neither good or bad, but can be used to
paint pictures that have moral value.
The illustration then says music is the same. A single note is amoral,
but string that not along with other notes and it begins to
communicate, and once communication occurs the it is either good or
The problem with this illustration is that it is not founded upon an
accurate understanding of any of the forms of communication it uses in
the illustration. It is true that all three forms of communication are
moral, and it is true that a single letter, color, or note does not
have moral value. It is also true that once communication occurs it
carries a moral message. It fails to realize that all three of these
are not just communication forms but art forms as well. This
illustration, in not allowing for variation of style, subtly
encourages one to subjectively place the moral value completely upon
the style instead of the what is being communicated. Let me show you
what I mean by recasting the illustration in a more accurate light:
If I write a letter, that letter has no moral quality, but letters
combined make words. Even still, these words do not have a moral
quality unless they are combined to communicate ideas. It is the
sentence that communicates. I can use the word “God” positively or
negatively. It is not just the word, but the context in which it’s
used. Then there is style. One can employ prose (and in various forms)
essay, etc. Various styles will better carry the message. Even
Scripture employs different writing styles throughout, which will
determine how the words employed are interpreted.
A color, standing alone, is neither good or bad. But when employed to
paint a picture, that picture takes on a moral quality. But this
picture can be painted in the style of Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, or a
myriad of others.
Now let’s move to music. A stand alone note is not good or bad, but to
string them together in a melody begins to communicate. But I can take
the melody to “Twinkle, Twinkle” (a Mozart melody) and play that in
All factors combine to make a whole, not just the stringing together
of letters to make words, colors to make pictures, or notes to make
melodies; but one must also account for style in the evaluation of
music. Monet was an impressionistic painter, his lines were not as
much defined as Rembrandt’s’ seemingly exasperatingly detailed
portraits, but both have beauty and both can be used to draw
positively and negatively moral things. But style in art enables us to
say things through the combination of all those elements in powerful
ways we otherwise would not be able to say.
Just as there are some forms of art that are truly not art but the
equivalent of setting of a bomb in a paint shop, so every style of
music is not acceptable – but then again it would be agreed that both
in artistry and music those unacceptable styles have no symmetry or
beauty to them but are products of chaos. We must be careful not to
impose our musical preferences as the determining factor of what is
good and what is not.
So, a quick recap before we move on:
1.Music is not just a language, but an art.
2.Art have varying styles in which it communicates
3.The same style can be used for good or evil
4.There are some exceptions to the rule above, but those exceptions
are few (styles rooted in chaos)
5.We must not elevate our preferences as the determiner of good and pad style.
Does this sound complex? If so then you’re beginning to see that the
reductionism taken by those who want to simply dismiss contemporary
music out of hand has skirted the issues. This reductionism fits quite
well when trying to make areas black and white that Scripture doesn’t
address in those terms.
(to be continued…)
The stated purpose of this blog is “Engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ”.
Yet I am becoming increasingly aware of a dangerous mindset that I was adopting. It is possible that I may be the only one frequenting this blog with this erroneous thinking, but I would still like to take this time for a bit of friendly admonishment – just in case.
In engaging the culture with the gospel, I had forgotten that I was to engage it WITH the gospel, not swim in it looking for neat little traces of the gospel. The engagement is to be confrontational not matrimonial. Now I’m not saying one is not able to see gospel truths in culture. There are traces of redemption in many places, movies, music, art, literature, etc, and it is precisely these points that we can use as a fulcrum to launch us into confronting others within our culture with the good news of the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, that He is both LORD and Savior; although there is another aspect of the gospel that must take effect during this engagement – that of sanctification. In other words, there will be points of confrontation, or areas within the culture we are engaging, that we must seek to change for the glory of God. Culture, by definition, is “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc”. So as we engage our culture we are engaging what those around us exalt as excellent or deem praiseworthy. Some of those things can be “redeemed” and other must be rejected. I’m not giving you a hard/fast rule by which to tell what aspects belong in which pile, but there are a few admonitions I would give (these are some things I have struggled with):
- Don’t confuse “high” class arts with godly and “low” class arts with carnal. Classical music is no more acceptable a style to God as folk music. (I pick this as it is a major point of contention among some Christians.) Each comes from different cultures and both contain beauty, style, require talent to play, etc. This would be like telling a man who painted a picture of the empty tomb that his picture is wicked because it’s not done in the style of Monet or Rembrandt.
- Don’t ignore the value system that is depicted by the aspect of culture. This is the other extreme pictured in an attitude of “license”. It takes the aspect (music, art, dress, etc.) and tries to redefine it. This redefinition can be done with some things, and others are so closely tied to the world’s system that they are inseparable (for at least the present time in the culture).
- Don’t cling to an outdated meaning of an aspect. For example, there was a time when beards in America were worn by those who were flaunting their rebellion. But to say that the same philosophy is touted by those who have beards today would be incorrect. If some today wear their beard for a rebellious reason then they are wrong; but the beard itself doesn’t carry that meaning per the culture.
- Don’t let your sense of right and wrong be set by the culture. To keep the beard example going, I don’t think one should refrain from having a beard necessarily, just because a majority of rebels do. If one’s reasoning for having one is that Jesus had one, I don’t see why one should permit popular culture to “high-jack” it. (Now, if the beard would stand in the way of the people in the said culture from listening to the gospel, then one should fore go the beard.)
- Don’t just follow culture. It’s okay to be “in style”, but it’s also okay to be creative. If we’re not careful we, as Christians, will simply let others create music, art, and dress and we will “hi-jack” their ideas. It is okay and expected for the church to be creative in those areas.
- Don’t associate a particular culture with Christianity. There are some who are stuck, as it were, in the 1940’s. They think Christianity looks, talks, and acts like a 1940’s American. This is grave misconception of most of the modern American Fundamentalist movement. When I say we must engage the culture we are in and thus replace some aspects, I do not mean impose an outdated culture on it. To do this would be to err on the other side so as to not accept anything of the current culture, assuming it’s all evil.
- Don’t think just because the unbeliever creates something that it’s evil. This is a product of dualistic thinking. Remember Jubal in Genesis 4:21? He was in the lineage of Cain. None of Cain’s descendants called up on The LORD. Yet we are told that Jubal is the father of all those who play lyre and harp. John Gill notes of Jubal in his commentary “he [Jubal] was the father of all such that handle the harp and organ: he was the inventor of instrumental music, both of stringed instruments, such as were touched by the fingers, or struck with a quill, as the “harp”; and of wind instruments, such as were blown, as the “organ,” which seems not to be the same we call so, being a late invention; but however a pleasant instrument, as its name signifies.” It would be wrong for one to say instrumental music is wrong, since an unbeliever invented it. There are many things we use today that benefit or enhance our lives that were devised by unbelievers.
So, in conclusion, what are the rules of engagement? I would say that they are given to us in God’s Word and it is our job, by God’s grace, to seek them out and employ them. We are to do kingdom work, we are to image God, we are to plant banners in every area of culture reclaiming it for the Kingdom. We are to be a light, and salt – to show others how to truly live. We are to engage our culture; and I don’t mean put a ring on it!!
In the previous post, Brandon challenged us to employ our imaginations in creatively imaging God. An awesome challenge and much needed. I want to tie into his post, and the string of thought I want to tie into it is one that has been on my mind all week – that of the failure of the modern fundamentalist movement. There are many inadequacies with fundamentalism, and I don’t intend to address them all as that would take a good sized volume at least. I do, however, wish to approach the movement from the aforementioned perspective of creatively imaging God and show that it removes this God given mandate replacing it with man-made tradition.
Fundamentalism, as a whole, has abducted a culture and superimposed that upon Christianity. According to fundamentalism, Christianity sounds a certain way, looks a certain way, uses a certain translation of the Bible, etc. It leaves no room for fluctuation among various cultures, let alone fluctuation of the culture it is submersed in. I have even seen instances of fundamentalist “church plants” in other countries where the natives are taught to dress like the American Fundamentalist, the building they meet in looks the same as well. Pews and hymn books are shipped in – it’s a bit of “Fundamentalist Heaven on earth”. It’s as if they have teleported the building and the people thousands of miles across the sea and plopped them down in the middle of a village. Some breeds of fundamentalism even refuse to use a specific style of wireless Mic; insisting on a pulpit or lapel Mic., as “liberal” preachers use the other style. Apparently they forget that before the headset Mic, “liberal” preachers used lapel Mics as well. Some elevate the hymn book to the only God accepted way for congregational singing, placing it in opposition to the worldly projector screen. I’m not saying they don’t mean well, just that the error of associating a culture with Christianity is a dangerous one.
New music is sparse as one can’t write anything with a modern or contemporary style to it or it is considered worldly. Art, in most of the movement, is not even viewed as a possible outlet for worship. Everything must conform to a predefined standard of what the leaders of the movement deem to be “godly”. If it’s popular then it’s probably worldly, and a dualism emerges that supports the fundamentalists’ idea of creating their own culture that separates them from the rest of the populous. They force one’s creativity in a box, only permitting them to trace the same pictures drawn by the fundamentalist before them. The “artist” becomes so inundated with trying to stay inside the prescribed lines, that Christ is no more the subject of the picture. The style becomes the substance. The approval of those listening, many times, becomes equated with God’s approval; and one who produces a copy of the previous imagines themselves to have produced a picture pleasing to God. God has created us to be His image bearers and part of that task is carried out in our mimicking our Creator by creating as well. The fundamentalist movement redefines what imaging God is. It creatively takes biblical terms and attaches unbiblical meaning to them. There are songs to be written, art to be painted, buildings to be constructed – whole cultures to be employed – in imaging God and furthering His kingdom here on earth.
So what am I saying? Is this just a rant against fundamentalism because I seem to have a personal beef with the movement? No, not at all. I’ve struggled with how to speak truth without harming those who have ascribed whole heartedly to a lie. It’s hard. Sometimes I wonder if it’s similar to how a surgeon feels while removing cancer. Trying to remove the cancer without harming the patient. I can’t just ignore it any more than the surgeon can skip the surgery due to fear of being the bearer of bad news, or causing the patient some discomfort. So if you are in the fundamentalist movement, I am not attacking you; but as one who was raised in it (by parents who no doubt love The LORD with all they are), and is seeing the movement for what it is; please step back and see if what I say is truthful. I realize it is difficult, for legalism presents itself as holy and right. It has a form of godliness to it, but does it stand up to biblical examination? Sometimes truth looks more like a knife, and the one who appears to intend your murder is actually your savior, so I challenge you to step back for some examination. For those who were never in the grips of this legalistic movement, then pray for those who are. Maybe something said here will help you understand the effects of it in the lives of others. I realize that I have not dissected fundamentalism, exposing the heart of it. My intention in this post isn’t to dig up and expose it’s root, but rather to examine one of it’s fruits and cause the reader to think.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. ” Matt. 7:16-20
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27