I’ve recently subscribed to a new suite of blogs that can pretty much be described as “anti-Rick-Warren.” Besides sharing this ignoble purpose, many of these neo-fundamentalist, self-appointed “watchdog” sites (see 10 Principles of Biblical Discernment, Part I and Part II) are very critical and doctrinaire about issues, and some stray into Pharisaical territory.
I recently read a mostly good article on Faith & Practice entitled A Checklist for Church Music (since removed), which I need to bring some, um, balance to. (While you’re reading this post, you might also want to check out our Worship articles).
The main topics below are from their original post, with my added commentary.
1. Is your church music God-focused?
Good: “Without question, true worship must be God-centered ”
Bad: “Because the purpose of church music is to provide a vehicle for worship, it must be God-focused rather than man-centered”
What’s Missing: The primary assumption here is that the only valid purpose for music in the church is worship. While man-centered music is not what we want, these are not the only two options. There are many others that are equally valid:
- Declarative Worship: Rather than singing to God, sometimes in worship, esp. when doing spiritual warfare, we sing about God in the third person (“He is the Lord, and He reigns on High”), in effect, we are declaring His Lordship to the powers and principalities.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
- Evangelistic Music: There are, in one manner of speaking, two types of Christian music. God-focused, which is worship, and man-focused, which is singing about God to men. Think of it as preaching to music. Evangelistic music is not God-focused, though it is about God. This is a totally valid type of music, as long as we don’t confuse it with worship.
2. Does your church music promote a high view of God?
The Good: “Music that is worthy of our Savior must promote an accurate and exalted view of who He is.”
The Bad: “There was nothing ordinary about the Lord they saw or the trembling worship-filled response they had.”
What’s Missing: What’s missing here is that God is both awesome AND intimate. The Pharisees only knew God as the fearful and just judge. And while this view is correct, Jesus also came along to let them know that God can be approached boldly as our Father. While fear and trembling are certainly a valid approach to our holy and awesome God, so are joy and childlike familiarity. While this can stray into careless disrespect, respectful and light banter as one might do with a real father certainly are acceptable. A “high” view of God doesn’t always mean being on your face trembling.
3. Is your church music orderly?
The Good: “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”
The Bad: “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. 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.”
What’s Missing: This is an obvious swipe at Charismatic worship. There are many, many things wrong with this perspective.
The main problem here is that, like all true hardened religionists, they mis-apply the scriptures in order to have a God that they can control. A safe God. Again, the Pharisees liked a God of decency and order too. With this attitude, the day of Pentecost might never have happened.
- Paul and Corinth: Paul was correcting an abusive situation, and restoring balance, not trying to tame the untamable God by prohibiting anything like tongues or prophecy. In fact, in the same book in which Paul asked for order, he also recommended “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Of course, many cessationists traditionalists have explained away NT prophecy as “anointed teaching” rather than the amazing gift we see used (and abused) in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches.
- Mindless emotionalism: While I agree that some churches engage hype, and think that a high-energy rah-rah event means that God’s presence is there. But on the other side, if we always keep our emotions in check and never allow our hearts and emotions to flow to God in worship, is that really worship? In many stiff congregations, people have never experienced the joy of the Lord so fully that they need to jump and dance like the healed paralytic, nor weep like one thankful or convicted. They often don’t know the joy of losing self-consciousness in worship in a way that befits a God-focused event.
- Letting go: I once had a pastor who used to say “I’d rather have a little wild fire than no fire at all.” Sometimes letting go is exactly what is needed. We should apply the type of principle that we do with our children, logical, loving limits allow them to explore new territory without fear of reprisal, but with enough safeguards that they don’t hurt themselves or others.
- Hyped up by repetition: OK, this hits my button. Since the inception of modern worship, traditionalists have maintained a superior, patronizing attitude towards modern worship, treating it as mindless, simple, doctrinally shallow, and certainly inferior to their hymns from the 1800’s. They use the pejorative term “choruses” to distinguish it from their vaunted King James English treatises set to child’s music (ostensibly so that anyone could sing it). And while some of that criticism is true, what they missed was that repetition is something that occurs not only in all excellent music (every repeat a stanza of A Mighty Fortress? Powerful), but the Evangelical bent towards intellectualism and away from emotions at all has made them often blind to emotional engagement with God *apart* from doctrinal understanding. God is so much bigger than our narrow ability to lock Him in with doctrine.
Decently and in order? Sure, that’s scriptural. But lets not forget stuff like this, God is not just theology to music, it’s heartfelt celebration with LOUD music:
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
4. Is the content of your church music biblically sound?
The Good: “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.”
The Bad: “Lyrics should never be trite or flippant in their treatment of great biblical themes.”
What’s Missing: Not much missing here. As long as your application of “trite or flippant” does not include a father/child familiarity, as mentioned above.
5. Does your church music promote unity in your church?
The Good: “The right approach to church music never selfishly demands personal preference, but always looks out for the interests of others.”
The Bad: “Moreover, if something we do tempts a fellow Christian to fall into sin, we must proceed with great caution and care”
What’s Missing: This last principle, from Romans 14, is not a bad one to apply to music. But traditionalists often apply both of these principles in a way that makes inclusion of modern music something we should avoid. You know, “Rock and roll music upsets the older parishioners, and we don’t want to cause division,” i.e. we don’t want to change, because any change is “divisive.” But what about the scores of younger people you fail to reach because you are hopeless locked into an 1800’s culture?
Jesus was never afraid of causing Pharisees to stumble over their traditionalism. Neither should we. However, we should be considerate of all generations in our churches, we are not, hopefully, churches of only the young or old. Let’s accomodate all, by singing hymns (even if given updated orchestration or melodies) and modern worship. However, I think we should lean towards the modern, since God is a living God, not a God of the dead ;) Let’s remember our history, but not live in it. God is still acting, he is not caught in Elizabethan England, nor in frontier America.
Regarding “causing someone to stumble,” the same type of dumb argument is often made, “Well, some people used to get high to reggae, so we can’t use it in worship because it might cause them to start getting high again, or it will confuse them.” This logic is less Pharisaical, and may have some validity, but it needs to be balanced with, again, allowing people to worship in their natural language, which includes musical styles, AND, we need to re-educate people that music itself is inert, it’s the content and intent that can steer it towards or away from the Holy.
6. Is your church music performed with excellence?
The Good: “He certainly deserves the very best that we can offer.”
The Bad: “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.”
What’s Missing: Since the author was careful to mention that we must worship with our hearts, we pretty much agree here. Often, Xian arts have suffered from a lack of excellence because we think it only means having the right heart. But this shames us and God, and gives excuse to those who are too lazy to become excellent representatives of God.
My only small quibble with this point is about churches that “can’t afford the resources for a full orchestra.” This begs the question, should a church have a “professional” (i.e. paid) orchestra? Isn’t this just a ministry of the church? I think having a paid worship team (other than the Worship Pastor or Leader(s)) is the road to spiritual death. I’ve known of many churches that hire musicians for such orchestras, and the musicians aren’t even Christians!
If you can’t have an excellent worship team with your congregants, paying for one may be OK, but I’d say it’s risky. Your mileage may vary.
7. Does your church music prepare your people for the preaching of God’s Word?
The Good: “Worship through song should compliment the proclamation of the truth.”
The Bad: “It is only through God;s Word that we learn about Him; it is only through the Bible that God reveals Himself to usâ€¦.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”
- God only through scripture: I’m sure this was an oversight, but we also learn from God in creation (Romans 1), and through experience. In worship, we experience God, and he can speak to us in ways that a sermon can not. Many of us have strongholds in our minds, and the intellectual filter through which we listen to a sermon may prevent the truth from reaching us, even with the Holy Spirit’s ministry. However, worship often circumnavigates our fallen intellect and will, and can reach our hearts in ways that preaching can not. God’s presence in worship is a powerful ministry of the Spirit. As it is said, “experience without doctrine leads to heresy, doctrine without experience leads to Pharisee”
- Songs that match the sermon: While it may be “easy” to match the content of the sermon with the music, this is only true in highly structured environments – like if you know at least a week in advance what the preacher is going to preach on, and if you have time to work up the right music. If you are using a hymn book, it may be as easy as searching for relevant hymns. However, in many churches where the spirit is moving, either the preacher or the worship team may be experiencing the presence of God in different ways. Do they have to be coordinated? It is a nice to have, but not required. Coordinating them can be a tough burden on all. What if the preacher had to write a sermon that matched the worship material? It is just as hard a thing to ask the Worship Pastor to match the content of a sermon.
8. Does your church music adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?
The Good: “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.”
The Bad: 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.
- Disdain for Contemplation: While this point seems to be an extension of the former point (preaching is primary, worship is secondary), I want to re-iterate that modern evangelicalism’s bias towards intellectual apprehension of truth, with the concomitant distrust, even avoidance of the experiential, is in part to blame for the excesses of the post-modernist Emergent movement. Having nearly entirely abandoned the more contemplative side of faith, they have created a black market church that revels in it in exclusion to doctrine.
- Evangelism lifestyle, not in church? Funny thing, even though this is a narrowness that irks me, I mostly agree with the principle that church services should be for believers, not unbelievers. It should be for the building up of the church. However, I could make the same argument against evangelistic small groups (which I do NOT like), but I think this would be unnecessarily narrow. Some churches have chosen to tailor Sundays to unbelievers (church “lite” some have called it), while maintaining a believer’s service on Wednesday. That’s not a bad model. And if someone has success with evangelistic small groups, who am I to lay down a prohibition that is not really clear in scripture? So while I agree thatevangelism should be done OUTSIDE of the large gatherings as a rule, I don’t mind some evangelism as the exception, or within a larger framework that accounts for ministering to the church, not just the world.
9. Does your church music promote passionate worship?
The Good: “passionless worship – sounding more like a lullaby than a glorious anthem – is not really worship at all”
The Bad: “Furthermore, this passion must be expressed in an orderly, Spirit-controlled manner.”
What’s Missing: Not much to disagree with here, as long as “orderly and Spirit-controlled” isn’t narrowly enforced.
10. Is your church’s philosophy of music based on biblical principle?
The Good: “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.”
The Bad: “Nor should they blindly permit any type of music to be played in their church services.”
What’s Missing: The author never actually articulates a philosophy, unless he means the entire preceding post. I agree that the Worship Leader should have some set of principles that they apply, but sometimes, they are more practical than biblical. For instance, the church I currently attend would not let me join the worship team until I had attended a small group and attended Sundays for at least six months, so that they don’t add some fly-by-night person to the team.
I’ve also been on teams where the Worship Leader had some principles that irked me, but we did them anyway. For example, he didn’t want any of us to close our eyes during worship, because he wanted to be able to give us visual clues during worship while he was singing. I guess that’s reasonable, but I like to close my eyes sometimes. Also, he asked us to make eye contact with the audience during worship in order to “involve them.” But I always figured that if we worshiped God and looked to him, the people would follow.
The warning of “not blindly permitting any type of music”, however, seems to smack of the belief that some music styles, like angry ones (rap, grunge, metal) are not fit for Sundays. I just say that if the genre fits the mood of the content, use it. However, in practice, I must admit that while musical solos can be worshipful, a screaming lead guitar solo often merely ends up being a fleshly indulgence.
All in all, I think the author did a great job of outlining principles for worship. I just think some anti-modernist, and anti-Charismatic undertones slipped through in what was implied, and what was omitted. So that’s my two cents.