Monday, May 23, 2016

Music 19 - Why Do We Have Music in a Church Service?

That is an interesting question. The answer is even more interesting because your answer reveals the underlying philosophy that builds your church's music program. This philosophy will influence your church's musical direction, and in turn that musical direction will influence your church's corporate culture, its DNA so to speak. stock-footage-dna-strand

This is because music is a bigger part – timewise – of a church's corporate services than anything other than the preaching. Music takes up more time in a church's weekly schedule than prayer, more time than meetings, more time than discipleship, more time than evangelism, and more time than fellowship. In some churches it event takes up more time than the preaching of the Word of God itself.

There can be no doubt that music is highly influential in the life of the average 21st century American. For example, I once heard Lady Gaga, who has won six Grammys and sold 146 million singles in the last ten years, interviewed. She was asked how she became the way she is. Ironically enough for one whose early albums included the infamous "Born This Way" she said on ABC News May 26, 2011, "Don't spoon-feed me the Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Elton John, and expect for me not to turn out this way." In other words, she is the way she is because of how the music of her past influenced her. That statement could easily and absolutely should be applied to every American generation of young people since the 1950s.

This assertion – that music is highly influential – applies to a church's corporate music as well. No less a guru than Rick Warren said in his bestseller, "The Purpose Driven Church", "Once you have decided on the style of music you're going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose." In other words, a church's music style directly affects everything about what that church is and becomes.

In my view, the reasons a person or an organization does something are more important than the something itself. Somethings change but the underlying philosophy is continual. Reasons are more permanent than actions, and thus are telling. Anybody can see where a person, organization, or church is at. I want to see where it is going. And the foundational reasons why you do what you do reveals that to me.

hqdefaultWhy does my church choose to use and perform the style of music we do? What is our underlying philosophy? Simply this: our philosophical approach to church music can be summed up in one word – edification.

The vast majority of the references in Scripture to music are in the Old Testament. Of the minority remaining in the New Testament only three passages are specifically set in the context of church.

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Colossians 3:16 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.

Notice that while this singing is done to the Lord that does not mean it is done primarily for His benefit. Like any other work we do, we should sing in church heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men (Colossians 3.23) in the sense of seeking to please God with our music rather than pleasing men. But these two passages are crystal clear – church music is designed to primarily benefit the people assembled. In corporate music we are speaking to ourselves. We are teaching and admonishing one another.

In plain language then we see that church music was designed to edify the brethren. It was designed to comfort them in distress, to teach them doctrinal truth, to draw their hearts toward God and so build their most holy faith. It was designed to minister to them in need. It was designed to warn them, encourage them, motivate them, etc.

Church music was designed primarily to help build the saints who are singing and/or listening to it. It was not designed primarily to help the preacher. It was not designed primarily to minister to God. It was not designed primarily to reach the lost.

Music is an emotional language. Because of this it is vital that church music be understandable. The third direct New Testament reference to music in the local church is I Corinthians 14. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. (I Corinthians 14.15) If the music in a church service was for God it would not matter what language it was in; He understands them all. But it is not. Music in a church service was designed primarily to edify the saints assembled. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (I Corinthians 14.26) It only edifies me if I can understand it. Thus we see why it is corporate music must be understandable - because its purpose is edification of the brethren.

You say, "Okay, but why does it matter?" Because when your intentional purpose forphilosophy_dictionary church music is different than the above explanation it begins to take your music in some bad directions. Over time, given enough rope, an incorrect philosophy of church music will breed incorrect applications of church music. This, in turn, becomes hardwired into the church's DNA and errors then abound everywhere.

Contemporary American Christianity has taken music in some strange directions. Not coincidentally, they have taken the whole concept of church and perhaps even the whole concept of Christianity in some strange directions. A major part of the reason why is that it completely misunderstands the purpose that music plays in a church service. A wrong philosophy has errantly built an entire movement.

The truth is that our music in church was designed by God to edify His people. Any other approach is simply unscriptural.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On the Passing of My Predecessor

Fourteen years ago the Lord began to work on my heart about leaving the church I had begun in rural Pennsylvania. I was not frustrated with my people or my work, but I was frustrated with our church's location. After two different churches contacted me unsolicited asking me to consider candidating I sought counsel from some older pastors. Following their advice, I began to pray that the Lord would send me to an area with more people. I asked God to keep it east of the Mississippi River so that we might be within driving distance of our families.

7ad4e966-85e1-4d66-adc1-60266abfdb12Thirteen years ago I picked up the phone one September day and for the first time I heard a voice say, "This is Bob Heath in Chicago." He was 68 years old, and had been at his church for 23 years. A recent severe disappointment in the church combined with a ministry no longer in its heyday forced him to ask some hard questions. The answers included a transition into a different kind of ministry for himself, and a phone call to me.

Thus began a relationship between him and me that was unique to us both. I pastored the church to which he and Nancy had given their best years, decades of their life. He loved these people and this work in a way that is impossible to explain to anyone who has not been a pastor. Such a love is a curious combination of a mother to a child, a groom to a bride, and an entrepreneur to his dream. Now he had stepped aside and another had assumed his place. In turn, I sat in his office, counseled his people, preached in his pulpit, and lived in his house. Only now all of those things were (temporarily) mine. In choosing which things to leave alone, which to adjust, and which to expand I passed judgment on 23 years of his life. I was powerless to go back in time and change anything. He simply had to trust the Lord that I would build on his life's work and not tear it down.

I respected him from the moment I met him. His carriage and service here brought it out in me instinctively. Through these thirteen years that respect only grew. You see, there were only two men alive who understood all that it meant to pastor an independent Baptist church on this corner of this great American inner city – Bob Heath and myself. Through the years I gradually came to the deepening conclusion that what he and Nancy accomplished here was nothing short of amazing.

At his passing many family members spoke of his love for them, and many ex-members spoke of his ministry to them. But only one man can speak of his pastoring with any deep knowledge. That man is me. And I want you to see the Bob Heath I see because my view of this amazing man is totally unique.

When Pastor Heath arrived at Maplewood in 1981 the church was probably at its lowest12932851_10209724848584495_9131958321237352931_n point in its history. Spiritually, it resembled a bunch of inbred cats fighting vigorously in the monthly business meetings over whether to purchase a new vacuum cleaner or not. Disproportionately elderly and white in a neighborhood that was neither, it unknowingly faced demographic oblivion. He told me one time that a dozen of these "saints" voted against him in every business meeting for years no matter what it was that he was proposing. In his 23 years he buried nine of them leaving me to only have to deal with the three remaining. Bickering, fussing, cliquish, white, resistant to pastoral leadership, used to running pastors off in fact – they ran into a buzz saw when they ran into Bob Heath. Only two men in this church's 125 year old history have pastored it longer than five years – him and me. And I would not have been called here if he had not already been here first.

I have pastored 19 years. I have scores of pastor friends. My father was a pastor for 38 years. It is incredibly difficult to change the culture of a church, and to do so without splitting it or killing it. He did. When he came it was allied with Moody Church. He led it to be loosely aligned with Hyles-Anderson College. When he came they had zero concept of personal evangelism. He developed them into a vigorous soul winning institution. When he came the church was debilitated with mutual indecision. He transitioned them to follow him. When he came the church had no outreach. He pushed and prodded and shamed and drove them into running so many buses and bringing in so many children there was not room enough for either. Somehow, he took a fossilized, hidebound, feuding declining church and turned it into a thriving evangelistic machine.

It is well worth noting that he did all of this in the middle of a great American city. We are not in a suburb; we are smack in the middle of working class Chicago. Within one mile of our church building there at least 150,000 people, including thousands of gang members, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, and a socially and politically liberal culture that is both deep and wide. Independent Baptists fled American inner cities in the 1970s with the vigor of a man being chased by a Siberian tiger. Their lily white congregations sold out and ran for the supposed haven of the suburbs leaving the decaying inner city to spiritually rot. To their everlasting credit, that generation of Maplewood's members did not. To Bro. Heath's everlasting credit he worked it with everything he had until he made it work. Today our church is an incredible exception to a rather nasty rule – we are a conservative, traditional, ancient inner city church of clear denominational affiliation that is growing. In fact, our church's biggest problem at the moment is space, the lack of it I mean. None of that would be remotely true without Bob Heath.

Along the way, he dealt prudently with the finances. He expanded the footprint of our building by adding a foyer and two offices. He led the church to purchase an unattached parking lot a block away. When he handed me the keys he also handed me a healthy bank statement, two buses, three vans, six city lots, a church building, a parsonage, and zero debt. I cannot possibly express how helpful that is to the succeeding pastor.

Week after week, month after month, season after season, year after year, he shoveled the snow, scrubbed off the graffiti, repaired the vehicles, dealt with the city, counseled the troubled, handled the crises, cast the vision, motivated the workers, preached the sermons, and in the face of opposition within and without led this church forward for the cause of Christ. And he did all of this without the hint of a breath of scandal. He was compassionate. He was firm. He was consistent. He was sacrificial. He was aggressive. And he was right.

12717983_10209681183972907_3148268301043470120_nHow do you measure a man's life? Surely part of that measurement must include his work. And from the perspective of the man who knows that work better than any other man living I measure it as a grand life. Two thousand years ago our Saviour said, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12.24) On April 9, 2016 Bob Heath died, and went to his reward. But the truth is that Bob Heath died many years ago. He died to himself, and his lifelong dreams and ambitions. He died to leisure, good living, and the peaceful pace of his Southern rural upbringing. Instead, he gave his life away. And in the process he rescued, nay, practically resurrected an evangelistic independent Baptist church in one of America's great inner cities. And it bringeth forth much fruit.

On behalf of the past, present, and future members of Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago I thank Bob and Nancy Heath for their decades of ministry among us. At the risk of a premature announcement I feel absolutely confident in asserting that he heard his Heavenly Father say, Well done, thou good and faithful servant. (Matthew 25.21)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Music 18 - Prove All Things


The average American listens to hundreds of hours of music a year often with little more rationale for his choice than "I like it." Music is an emotional language and highly influential in our lives. Thus it behooves us to choose our music with much greater care than just the shallow reasoning of "I like it." Last week we examined three tests our personal music should pass before we allow it into our lives. Today I want to give you three additional thoughts to consider in this context.

First (or fourth, if you are following along from last week), might this music cause my brother to stumble? Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (I Corinthians 8.13) I do not mean "offend" as in bother. If my music bothers you or your music bothers me – ruining my concentration, aggravating my peace and quiet, etc. – that does not mean this test has been failed. I mean "offend" as in causing another person's spiritual walk to be negatively affected.

Leadership is influence, and the more influence the Lord has allowed you to have over other people the more important it is that you abide by this. Let's take folk music for a brief example. There is a point at which folk slides into the beginnings of country. On the other edge country melds into rock, and on all sides it long ago edged into glorifications of alcohol and adultery. If I listen to folk music, and discuss it publicly in a positive manner it just may provoke in one who follows me a much poorer choice simply because they possess little discernment.

I am not saying that your life has to be held hostage by the immaturity of others. I am saying that you and I need to think about every influence we allow in our lives – not just from the standpoint of "Is this acceptable?" but also from the standpoint of "Will this influence a weaker brother to make a bad decision."

Along this line I confess I am mystified at what God's people will "like" with a Facebook button, especially God's people in positions of leadership. I am not advocating hypocrisy and a double life. I am however advocating that we think through what we praise or what we express affection for. It just may be that what some of us can sense in the way of spiritual boundaries others cannot see at all. If that's the case we are wise to avoid any actions or commendations or expressions that may spiritually damage a weaker brother's spiritual walk.

I can hear it now… "But, Pastor Brennan, I have Christian liberty!"

This is not about liberty; it is about discernment and influence. It is about putting another person's needs above my own preferences. It is about being conscious of their condition rather than my rights.

Second, is this music a weight holding me back from running my best race? Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12.1) Sin and weight are two different things. The former is the transgression of God's law. The latter is anything else that would otherwise be acceptable if it will hold me back from running a good race.

Bro. Hyles used to often use an illustration in this context of a footrace. Is it a sin to show up for a footrace in an overcoat and combat boots? No. But it would be a clear hindrance. The weight and encumbrance are unnecessary and actually detrimental.

The applications of this principle go far beyond my personal taste in music but they certainly apply there as well as elsewhere. For example, being a father is one of the great privileges of my life. …and talk about a race that needs run with patience, huh? I would be foolish to foster musical tastes that made my parenting job more difficult, that developed unhealthy appetites in my children, or that distracted me from my responsibility to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Lastly, is my choice in music excellent? "Well, duh, she won a Grammy." Um, no, you have missed my point. Paul expressed a fervent desire that the Philippian church would approve things that are excellent. (Philippians 1.10) Grammy's and Emmy's and Oscar's are the world's standard of excellence. God's standards are entirely different. My mother used to quote the little ditty

Good, better, best;
Never let it rest
Till your good is better, And your better's best
Daniel is a superlative example of this. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him. (Daniel 6.3) It was not a question of a bad spirit; it was a question of differing grades of good spirit. Daniel's was not merely good. It was not even better. Daniel's spirit was downright excellent.

It is precisely at this point that we find the great error with the question that is so often hurled in musical debates, "Well, what's wrong with such-and-such a song or an artist like so-and-so? Huh? Just prove to me what is so wrong about them!" The question itself – while logically valid and almost always worth an answer for reasons of teaching and understanding – reveals an awful philosophical approach to choosing music. It assumes not just neutrality, but actual moral goodness on the part of the music in question. It assumes innocence, and then demands guilt be proven before a negative verdict can be rendered.

The problem is not with your right to ask such a question. The problem is that it essentially reduces to a minimum what is necessary to deem a song or an artist or a genre acceptable and then marches off into the sunset proclaiming victory. The Holy Spirit inspired Word of God explicitly calls for us not to be satisfied with the minimum, to skate by the edge as long as we stay within the lines. He calls for us to trade in our fleshly minimums for His maximums.

Excellent musical choices will never be arrived at by asking, "What's wrong with this?" They can only be arrived at by asking, "What's right with this?" Instead of demanding that someone show you the error of music seek to actively establish its spiritual health. Does this music make me want to be a better person? Does it increase my capacity to feel and express genuine love? Does it teach me something excellent? Does it create an excellent spirit in me? Does it draw people together? Does it bring comfort? Does it lend strength? Does it provoke me to good works? Does it cause my heart to well up in praise? Etc. etc.

I realize all six of these suggestions I have offered you over the last two weeks are subjective. But that's ok. The independent Baptist movement could do with a few less musical guru's approving everything for everyone. I am convinced that if you will actively seek to live by biblical principle under the guidance of the Holy Spirit He will lead you to choose correctly when it comes to music.

…but above all, take your personal music choices seriously. Throw out once and for all the simplistic and dangerous "I like it." Put your music to a sterner test than that.
Paul said it this say, Prove all things. Test absolutely everything. Assume nothing. And then, once you have painstakingly established your music's spiritual health, hold fast to that which is good. (I Thessalonians 5.21)


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Music 17 - Growing Beyond “I Like It”

super-like-btnThe average American listens to hundreds of hours of music a year. The average American also has very little understanding of just how much that music affects them. To add insult to injury, the average American does not have any further reason for choosing the music they ingest beyond "I like it." I like ice cream for breakfast after sleeping in until 11 AM but over the long term that is going to do me a whole lot of damage. There must be some higher and better rationale for a choice than just "I like it."

Solomon discusses several types of people in Proverbs. The simple man is not rebellious; he is just ignorant. He does not even know what he does not know. The foolish man knows better but rebelliously refuses to heed instruction. A wise man chases knowledge and understanding passionately so that he can make the best possible decisions.

In the context of personal music choice the simple man has no more to go on than "I like it." The fool knows better. He has been taught the dangers of the wrong kind of music. He chooses to purposefully ignore those dangers because "I like it." A wise man, while certainly liking his music, makes his music pass a whole lot more tests than that before it begins its influential work on his life, mind, and emotions.

In today's post I am going to give you three tests your music should pass before you allow it into your life. Bear in mind, I am not of the belief that all of our music has to be spiritual any more than I am of the belief that all of our time has to be spent in church. I am, however, of the belief that Scripture should inform our choices in all things, and especially so in cases where those choices influence our thinking and actions.

First, what does this music make me think about? In Philippians 4.8 Paul gives us a list of the types of things we ought to think about. Why? For as he thinketh in his heart, I-Love-Music-HD-Wallpapersso is he. (Proverbs 23.7) Paul wants us to ask ourselves if this music is true. Is it speaking the truth into my life or telling me a lie? Is it deceiving me about some aspect of how I ought to live, or love, or learn, or be, or a thousand other things. Paul wants us to ask ourselves if this music is just. Is it fair? Is it right? Paul wants us to ask ourselves if this music is pure. Is it morally clean? Does it promote a chaste modesty or a flaunting wantonness? Paul wants us to ask ourselves if it is lovely. Well – there you go. Do you like it? =) Paul wants us to ask ourselves if it is of good report. Is this kind of music and what it speaks into my life generally well thought of? Does its message have a good reputation? Paul wants us to ask ourselves if it is virtuous. Does it contain a moral excellence? Paul wants us to ask ourselves if this music can be praised. Can you give your friends a glowing a report about it? Can you tell God it is good stuff? Can you thank Him for it?

Second, does it bother my conscience? And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. (Acts 23.1) Conscience as my ONLY guide is dangerous; ignoring my conscience as A guide is foolish. Some time ago I was discussing a certain situation with my wife. It was in regards to a person who had chosen to leave our church. Very few people knew the whole story, and I could not share with others what I did know. I said to my wife, "My conscience is clear." In other words, others may look at my decisions and accuse me of what was essentially malpractice. But my conscience was clear. Lying on my bed at night it did not accuse me that I had been unjust. It is in this sense that I use it here. If you have been reading my blog for these months that I have discussed music you have become decently educated on its roots and effects. Knowing what you know as you listen to your music does your conscience bother you or leave you alone?

Third, what is the context of my emotional response to this music? Emotions are almost always right or wrong depending on their context. Hate – are we talking about your parents or about sin? Lust – are we talking about your husband or someone else's husband? Joy – in the Lord or in revenge? Etc. Music is an emotional language. I cannot help but respond to it emotionally, but what is the context of that emotional response? The emotion that it induces in my heart – is it directed in the right way or the wrong way?

This last one is so absolutely essential because how I think and what I feel produces in me my behavior. How I act is directly tied to what I think and feel. We do what we do because we want what we want. Thus, if I am ingesting something that is instructing me or moving me or influencing me to act in the wrong way I ought to stop listening to it. For example, if I have a friend who is always talking up how easy it is to embezzle money from the church I would be foolish to continue to listen to him. I may not have YET embezzled money but regardless I should stop listening to him.

iLMML_Rainbow_585px_v21Solomon said it this way under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19.27) Music instructs us constantly. As a Christian I am foolish to listen to music that glorifies adultery, encourages divorce, advocates rebellion, celebrates drinking, etc. Is my music producing in me an inappropriate emotional response? Because if it does that emotional response will influence me in the direction of wrong, and thus I am foolish to continue to listen to it.

There must be more to your music choices than "I like it." These three tests are a good starting point in your personal music choices.