Saturday, June 25, 2016

Music 23 - Contemporary Music’s God Problem

"Really? Another blog on what's wrong with CCM? Honestly, you just need to move on already."

why-hire-usNo. I am not moving on. Indeed, I plan to camp here for quite a while yet. To mix metaphors entirely, I have been loading my gun for a long time, and since this series may be my only chance to shoot said bullets I aim to fire 'em all. We independent Baptists are fairly good at telling people what to do and what not to do. We are also fairly lousy at explaining why. In a very real sense this blog series is my attempt to address that latter weakness in the area of music. So I plan to keep saying "here's why" for a long time to come.

In point of fact, in my view there are about a dozen good reasons to avoid CCM. Thus far I have indirectly addressed several of them – CCM produces in Christians an incorrect understanding and application of worship, and CCM has a tendency to convert the church service into a show. I have also directly addressed others such as the fact that CCM blurs the clear distinction that ought to divide the church from the world, and that CCM produces stars instead of servants. In today's post I offer you this thought: contemporary music lowers God.

What do I mean by the phrase "lowers God"? I mean that CCM essentially redefines God as being oriented toward us instead of us being oriented toward God. It drains God of His majestic holiness and thus us of an appropriate view of Him. Isaiah famously said, In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (Isaiah 6.1) Philosophically, however, CCM reduces God. It explains Him as essentially existing in order to minister to us, to meet our needs when the scriptural fact of the matter is the exact opposite.

"Hold on a second there, Right Reverend Brennan. You best climb off your high horse. CCM sings more praise to God in a week than you old-fashioned IFB duffers do in a month. For crying out loud, it was exactly for this reason we switched from those tired old hymns and that depressing organ. And it worked. We got the people up, we got their hands in the air, and we are singing praises to our Lord."

Good. No, seriously, good. I am heartily glad CCM sings praise to the Lord. In fact, if it has a strength it is indeed that. It is wonderful about teaching people the importance of telling God He is amazing, and I am not afraid to admit that. Indeed, I love it. Having said that, however, I want you to back up and notice a word I used a paragraph or two up – the word "philosophically". The philosophical foundation on which CCM is built and for which the average church embraces it lowers God. It changes Him; it orients Him to us rather than us to Him.

0787a35ee8b6482a2da72214a405aa42For example, take a moment and contrast the approach CCM takes in reaching people with the approach a traditional preaching-heavy church takes. Preaching is specifically designed to directly confront the individual with their hopeless sinfulness in the eyes of a holy God. It tears an arrogant man down brick by brick. It stacks the Word of God up unapologetically beside our rotten lives and demands that we change.

To say the least, CCM is not preaching in this sense; it is art – and art was never made for preaching. Art was made for self-expression. Art was made for beauty. Art was made to produce an inner emotional response to that beauty. In this context CCM seeks to produce in the audience a good feeling. It is specifically designed to make people feel relaxed and comfortable at church. In order to accomplish this it must of necessity go easy on scriptural concepts such as sin, judgment, hell, and condemnation. Contemporary music was not made to confront; it was made to mesh unchurched Harry with the church. As such it presents God as being conveniently approachable. The philosophy of contemporary music is the philosophy of a 24/7 warm welcome. It is Motel 6 and "we'll leave the light on for you." It is not the philosophy of conviction and repentance. It is not the philosophy of a God high, and holy, and lifted up who commands and demands.

The proof of this is revealed in the service structure of the typical contemporary evangelical American church. Take for instance the following quote by John Frame (one of only two men I know who have written a book defending the use of CCM):

These nontraditional forms of worship have displayed some fairly common patterns: more contemporary language and music, informal atmosphere, greater emphasis on joyful celebration, less on mourning over sin. The church seeks to encourage an atmosphere of welcome and friendliness. CW [Frame's preferred term, contemporary worship music or CWM] avoids 'turn-offs' like ancient liturgy, emphasis on denominational history and theological distinctives, ten-minute prayers, forty-minute sermons, uncomfortable seats, ministers' begging for money, and crowded parking lots and restrooms. The preaching assumes little congregational knowledge of Scripture and doctrine, and avoids technical theological language. It begins by addressing 'felt needs.' Sometimes the church uses drama, films, and multi-media, usually to pose questions the sermon seeks to answer...CW is often called 'seeker-sensitive' or 'user-friendly'...

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not for one moment think we ought to be unfriendly or unwelcoming. But if the unsaved sinner does not feel uncomfortable in our church services at some point then what is the point? Contemporary music and its underlying philosophy recoils with horror at that last sentence. In turn, I recoil in horror at its recoiling.1813 If our church services are not confronting the sinner with his sin then what are we converting him from? What are we converting him to? The answer to both those questions is absolutely nothing. He does not feel any pressure. He sees no need to change anything. He experiences no sense of condemnation or shame but rather only one of approval and welcome. In his mind then God feels toward him just like the church service feels to him – it's all good. But God does not want your "come as you are." He wants you to come despising what you are and desperate for His grace to change.

A switch to CCM in a church is much more than a change in musical style. It is the embrace of a philosophy that lowers God and excuses man. And that is a problem.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Music 22 - Contemporary Music’s Star Problem

GMA DOVE AWARDS SCREENIt is no secret that the CCM movement has unashamedly copied the world. This is evident in its musical styles, its charts, and its awards. In so doing CCM has also inculcated the secular music industry's tendencies for self-promotion and glorification. In short, CCM has in its DNA a propensity to produce stars instead of servants.
For example, consider the following two examples of actual positive reviews of CCM concerts:

The thing that the band has going on for them is their fans singing along. Man, were those 13 to 16 year old girls going nuts over Matt and company!

Shrill screams reverberated off the sky-high ceiling. The beginning riff followed by an overwhelmingly loud 'whoa-oh' sent shockwaves through the violently undulating teenage sea. Small groups of girls stood in tight circles clapping like cheerleaders, practically running in place with mouths agape in screams as if the Beatles had just stepped on American soil.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul wrote in complete contrast, For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. (II Corinthians 4.5)

I am as human as the next man. No, I am not a singer or musician but as a preacher who holds a respected position and stands in front of people regularly I know the fight that takes place in my own heart. I want to think the growing crowds in our church show up to hear me. Imagine for a moment how much harder such a temptation becomes to me, as a preacher, if preaching was structured like CCM is structured. Why, surely I might qualify for the Preacher of the Year award. Ok, maybe not that, but at least the Sermon of the Year award. I mean, when I was younger and first breaking into the ministry I should have thrown my name in the ring for the Breakthrough Preacher of the Year award.
For instance, allow me the liberty to re-word an actual CCM CD review that appeared in "Christianity Today". I am just going to insert the equivalent of preaching in lieu of singing.

Tom Brennan deserves high praise for combining multiple interests into a single, cohesive preaching style. His talents are undeniable and promising. Brennan is wildly ambitious, intriguingly varied, and remarkably thought-provoking. He is known for his great opening lines, stunning delivery, amazing production, and enthusiastic storytelling. It seems only fitting that we pay tribute to Tom Brennan, this pivotal Christian preacher.

That does not strike the ear very well, does it? Such a paragraph is clearly not acceptableESEnSNi in reference to the man preaching to God’s people. Pray tell me then why it is acceptable for the man singing to God’s people? The simple truth is that while the world is all wrapped up in self-glorification the Christian is supposed to be living a life of self-denial. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Galatians 2.20) Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16.24) CCM's atmosphere thrives in complete contradistinction to these verses.

On the other hand, when you hear a choir sing in a traditional church, or you open up your songbook for a congregational song your attention is first drawn to the song. With CCM your attention is first drawn to the performer himself. There are no star song leaders that I am aware of, but there are lots of star worship leaders and artists and bands, are there not?
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not deny that I have occasionally heard preachers and singers in our kinds of churches whose ministry calls my attention to them first rather than the truth itself. But those are few and far between, and I am pleased to say that there is a growing rejection in the independent Baptist movement of the personality cult of the celebrity pastor. But CCM by its very nature inherently and practically demands it.

sgdkxrPGreatness in the kingdom of God is all wrapped up in being a self-effacing servant. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant. (Philippians 2.7) In this, as in so many other things, the growing American Christian music industry is moving in the opposite direction from God's kingdom. Which should not surprise anybody. CCM was birthed from and is still nurtured by the world's concept of a music industry. And that is a problem.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Music 21 - Contemporary Music’s Kingdom Problem

Colossians 1.12-13 never mentions music, let alone church music, but it establishes a principle that dramatically impacts church music all the same.

Figures_God_took_EnochI am saved. And I should be grateful to the Lord that I am saved for I certainly did not and still do not deserve saving. Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1.12) Further, this salvation not only allows me to partake of eternity's glory it also delivers me from the devil's power. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness. (Colossians 1.13) I am no longer under his curse or in his power; I am free. And here is the reason why: and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear son. (Colossians 1.13) Salvation ripped me out of the world and enmeshed me into the kingdom of God. Translated in the original language literally means "to move something from one place or sphere to another." As Enoch and Elijah of old, I have been removed from one kingdom – the power of darkness – and placed into another – the kingdom of his dear son. As such, God's people now owe their allegiance to and pledge their fealty to the God of Heaven. One kingdom, and one kingdom only demands their love and loyalty, their affection and devotion – Christ's kingdom.

Will someone please explain to me then why contemporary Christianity for the large part stridently insists on keeping one foot in the world?

The elder apostle said it this way toward the end of his life, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (I John 2.15) I do not have space within the constructs of one blog post to lay out for you a treatise on what the Bible teaches about worldliness. For the moment, suffice it to say that Scripture teaches that the world is a bad thing, and that Christians are to avoid it. In this context the problem inherent in contemporary Christian music's roots and institutional makeup is a desire to chase the world, to be as much like the secular music world as possible.

For example, consider the following, which are are actual reviews of CCM concerts found in the pages of websites and magazines:

The pulsating techno music builds to a deafening crescendo as space-age-sounding zaps punctuate the heavy bass and drum beat. Red and green laser lights etch twisting torsos against blackened walls as coloured glow sticks slice through manufactured fog. Two hundred teens, ages 14-18, have come to dance to cutting-edge house, trance, and jungle music, while light patterns of 'gobos' and 'moonflowers' wash the room in a bright array of colour.

The crowd was stoked and ready to rock as the music started to play and the audience could still only see the silhouettes of the band members behind a pale illuminated curtain. Stuart worked the fans into a frenzy when he left the stage.

At the first chords, the crowd began pogo-jumping in unison to the crisp guitar, driving rhythm and sweet harmonies. A funky, retro spiral light projector swirled behind the band, accentuating the hipness already fighting the fog machine for control of the room's atmosphere. Owen dedicated the next song 'to the ladies.' The laid-back southern groove brought the crowd back to a head-bobbing frenzy.

Offering the best that 'crunk' rock has to offer, the five-piece masters of fun moved the crowd with their intriguing show, leaving quite an impression. The lead vocalist encouraged the crowd to make some noise as they performed a personalized cover of Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.'

I realize these are reviews of concerts and not church services, but the fact is that as music such as this is promoted and embraced by the wider American Christian world it begins to bleed over into the actual church services themselves. Rick Warren on the platform of his church during a service, in a jocular mood one day, broke into Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and was immediately backed up by the house band. Hillsong New York recently sent Times Square's The Naked Cowboy out to warm up the crowd for a recent women's meeting. There is a comfort, a union between CCM and the world. Like old friends they are at ease together. For most of contemporary Christianity there is now very little barrier between what is the predominant culture in the world and what the church likes and acts like.

This is driven by CCM's embrace of worldly musical styles, and aggravated by contemporary Christianity's fascination with aping modern movies and television shows for sermon material. The world's entertainment has now become a prime mover in the contemporary American church.
For a moment, let me address myself to those who read this blog who regularly attend such churches and find nothing wrong with this approach. I want you to ask yourself a question and then answer it honestly. When is the last time you heard a sermon against worldliness? No, rolling your eyes at me does not release you from answering the question, and the fact you rolled your eyes at me proves my point. You have not heard a sermon urging God’s people to beware of and avoid the world since you walked away from the independent Baptist church you grew up in, have you? You left all that "baggage" behind when you found the "grace and liberty" of the contemporary movement. Right. Contemporary Christianity cannot preach against worldliness for the entire culture on which it is built embraces it.

This puts God's people in such churches in both an awkward and a dangerous place. It is awkward because these two kingdoms are diametrically opposed to each other. Like the trick cowboy rider standing on the saddles of two different horses such Christians endure nothing but difficulty. It is dangerous because at some point those horses are going to pull away from each other and the rider while choosing one or the other will probably fall.

Contemporary Christian music drives its churches to embrace the very world from which Christ's salvation translated it away. And that, beloved, is a tragedy.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Music 20 - Contemporary Christianity’s Unscriptural Philosophy of Music

Why does your church choose the music it chooses? Why does it play and sing it in the style it does? In the last post we saw that the scriptural purpose of church music is edification. But the sad truth is the majority of American churches – what I am going to broadly label as the contemporary movement – do not understand this, and that lack of understanding informs a corresponding errant application in music choice and style. The contemporary movement approaches music differently, and in so doing it directly impacts how they do church music. In today's post I want to discuss two of those errant philosophies.

First, it can reasonably be asserted that the contemporary movement uses music to draw and hold people. In so saying I am not broad-brushing anything nor am I inferring what they themselves have not already implied if not outright stated.

1936326_1095424410517239_2732977887028925470_nFor example, it is routine for one of the trendy denominations in my city (churches/denominations such as New Life Community Church, Park Community Church, Willow Creek Church, New Life Covenant Church, etc.) to effect what is basically a friendly takeover of an existing independent church. They target churches that are struggling, and offer to come in and restart the church under their brand name. The few remaining folks are folded into the new congregation, the previous pastor is given a generous severance package, and voila, a new "campus" is inaugurated. In the process the trendy denomination convinces the handful of existing people at the new campus that they must change everything in order to attract a crowd. The name must change, the activities must change, the schedule must change, the pastor must change, and most importantly the music must change. After all, it is obvious that the reason your church is in such a sad state is that it is clinging to old-fashioned music that no one likes anymore. If we are going to get this restart off the ground successfully you have to do it our way. And it works. Just look how big we are, and how fast we are growing.

In other words, they introduce music in order to attract, interest, draw, and hold people to a church. The mega-churches do the same thing within their existing church by starting new "venues", services that cater to those who like lite rock or gospel or traditional hymns, et al. This determines which songs are chosen, and the style in which they are performed.

I do not doubt their sincerity. Others might but I do not. I believe they genuinely think that the best way to reach the lost and hold them in church is to offer in a church environment the kind of music unchurched people already enjoy. But their sincerity in no way protects them from the cancerous effect of their musical philosophy. The pragmatism endemic in such an approach produces all manner of worldliness both within the music program itself and throughout the church entire.

The simple truth is there is not a single scriptural example or teaching instructing us to use1003316 music as a means of evangelism, or a tool to draw people to a church service. Yes, I understand I Corinthians 9.22 says I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, but the context of that statement has zero to do with music. Paul was contrasting observing aspects of Judaism's ceremonial law vs the freer exercise of the Gentiles. Yes, I realize the Philippian jailer got saved after Paul and Silas sang at midnight, but it was not the music that attracted him to Christ. It was the fear of God put into his heart by the earthquake and his respect for Paul's integrity when he chose not to escape.

God's explicitly chosen means of evangelism is preaching. Preaching is pointed. It is confrontational. It is explanatory. It breeds conviction. Music, on the other hand, especially music tailored to the desires of a lost man, is much more enjoyable than it is convicting. In point of fact, contemporary churches are not aiming at conviction anyway. It is the last thing they want. They are aiming at making the unchurched feel comfortable when they ought to be aiming at the Holy Spirit making him uncomfortable so that he may be converted.

The contemporary movement, however, does not limit its unscriptural philosophy of church music to attraction. It also clearly cultivates an intentional approach of praise and worship toward the Lord. I can hear you already. "Wait. What? Are you saying that worshiping the Lord through the music at church is unscriptural?" No. I am saying that aiming your music at that, developing your music with the purpose of producing worship is unscriptural. It is not sinful. It is just short-sighted.

I do not want to beat a dead horse here but there is a reason I spent six blog posts explaining true biblical worship before I began this series on music. Worship is our response when we see God. But in the New Testament we do not come to church to meet with God. We come to church in order to be edified, to be built up so that we be better prepared to serve God. (Ephesians 4.11-16, I Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 2.8-10)

13308586_10154187400973544_708326944052341882_oContemporary churches overwhelmingly use music "to usher people into the presence of God." But that is not the purpose of a church service. In fact, such an approach in actuality severely limits worship, and in the minds of the congregation turns worship into something I feel (remember, music is an emotional language) when the music plays. And along with limiting worship such an approach short circuits the true emotion that is only available to the surrendered Christian and hands it freely, with no commitment needed, to the most carnal of God's people. Worship has become something people feel while the lasers bounce, the fog machine whirrs, the people sway, the drummer pounds away, and the "worship leader" hops up and down while practically swallowing the mic – no matter how far from God the people in the audience were when they walked through the doors that morning. They feel close to God because they feel something. Tada! Music has had its desired effect. Meanwhile, this entire paragraph is a tragic injustice to actual worship, and to the Lord who demands and deserves it.

I ask you again, why does your church choose the music it does? If your answer is not the scriptural one of edification then sooner or later – no matter how sincere you are – your church will experience a variety of spiritually negative consequences. But that's ok. After all, look how big the crowd is today…