Saturday, July 23, 2016

Music 25 - Music is Amoral... Really?

When it comes to my stand against CCM I full well realize I am in the minority. An ever increasing number of American (and foreign) churches use this kind of music. They do so for a variety of reasons and with a variety of justifications. I do not think it is intellectually honest to ignore the other guy's supporting positions in a debate, nor to wave them away as being somehow unimportant. Clearly they are important. They are important enough to have driven thousands and thousands of churches from traditional music to CCM in the last twenty years.

To the best of my ability I have researched those reasons. I have read the few books advocating CCM. I have entered in countless discussions online with people who defend its use. I have read about a zillion blog posts and magazine articles written by various worship leaders, etc. I think I have a decent, if basic understanding of CCM's justifications.

For the next few weeks on this blog I am going to explore those justifications. If you are a proponent of CCM I doubt I will convince you to change back to traditional music. I might, but in all honesty that is not my goal. My goal is to explain to God's people that there are good reasons to maintain a traditional approach to the church service, and that some of those good reasons include the fact that CCM's justifications are largely faulty. So I am going to walk you through those justifications and give my considered perspective on them.

The main and by far the largest justification used for a switch from traditional music toamoral CCM is that music is amoral. In other words, CCM's position is that all styles of instrumental music are morally neutral until lyrics are added to them. For instance, they will assert, "There is no such thing as rock music, only rock lyrics." The logical extension of this is that any kind of musical style must be deemed appropriate for a church service. The only bar, then, is the personal taste of the main demographic group in your service. Ergo, we have found our way to the rationale of a various church service venues based on personal music taste that I have mentioned earlier in this series.

Such a position ignores the established fact that music is an emotional language. You may recall I began this series with an entire blog post dedicated to establishing that as a working definition of music. Some of my opponents were smart enough to recognize immediately how important that definition was and have challenged me on it stridently. They are not right in their challenge but they are right in their realization of the importance of such a definition. Music, alone, apart from lyrics is inherently emotional. It is how feelings sound. Well, are all emotions morally neutral? Some are. Anger is an emotion, for instance. In some contexts it is inappropriate; in others it is appropriate. Pride, on the other hand, while certainly an emotion, is never appropriate. These are only illustrations pointing to the fact. If music alone – without lyrics – conveys emotion and some emotions are sinful for the child of God then some music is sinful too.

In and of itself, however, such an argument as I have just made is relatively weak. I can hear it now. "What? Ok, Mr. Music Big Shot, just exactly what kind of music inspires pride? Huh?" Beats me, so let's move on to something a bit more weighty, shall we? =) Declaring music to be amoral ignores the educated judgment of music experts and serious thinkers going back thousands of years.

At this point I could probably choke you with dozens of quotes, but you can google as well as I can. I will content myself with just a couple. For instance, Plato (who is often misquoted in these debates) clearly expresses his opinion that there are good and bad rhythms entirely apart from lyrics in his Republic. Ancius Boethius, a sixth century philosopher said in his work, Fundamentals of Music, "No path to the mind is as open for instruction as the sense of hearing. Thus, when rhythms and modes reach an intellect through the ears, they doubtless affect and reshape that mind according to their particular character." In other words, various musical styles have an inherent moral character. Indeed, the only historical reference prior to the rise of CCM that says music is amoral I can find anywhere is one relatively obscure nineteenth century German philosopher. On the other hand, quotes about the morality or immorality of various musics abound as far back in recorded history as we can find. Though in and of itself this is not conclusive it should give the CCM proponent pause. Essentially, the amorality of music is a justification largely invented whole cloth by the CCM movement. It is almost entirely new in human history. And that should bother anybody.

But let us not rest upon these two. They are both fairly controversial and their authenticity is vigorously disputed by the CCM apologist. (To be intellectually honest, I can see their disagreement with the first. I cannot for the life of me see their rejection of the second. It is just too proven in the historical record.) Let's move along, for there are other reasons the amorality of music is an inept justification.

51FP8KW90PL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Third, the amorality of music position forces hypocritical judgments. I can only find two entire books defending the use of CCM. One was written by the Presbyterian John Frame. In it, after asserting that music is amoral, he follows it up with this little gem: "This is not to say that every popular music style with Christian words is suitable for worship." This is pure nonsense. Either all music is appropriate or some music is flat out wrong. You cannot maintain that music is amoral and then turn around and say that some of it is inappropriate even after being paired with Christian lyrics. Go ahead, my friend. You loudly proclaim the amorality of musical style. At your next communion observance play some death metal with a Scripture verse thrown in every now and again and then get back to me. But you will not for your cannot. Even in the currently regressed condition of American Christianity they will not go that far. But they should. After all, their position says there is nothing wrong with any style.

However, let us turn from these logical arguments and come back to the Word of God. The idea that music is amoral violates all the accumulated evidence of the deep connection between a beat heavy music and demonic presence. I am not going to wade through that all again, but those of you that are are new to this series will find much to profit from by so doing. I have written thousands of words about it, here, here, here, and again here. If I am right - and please do not take that "if" for anything other than courtesy on my part; I am sure I am right – then to use such music for distinctively Christian purposes is nauseous. This is essentially both the definition of CCM and the main root of my objection to it. I have read too much. I have watched too much. I have seen too much. The connection is blatant and appalling. Shame on God's people, and especially shame on their leaders, for ignoring it.

Lastly, this position ignores clear scriptural example to the contrary. In I Samuel 16 we find some interaction between a still young and relatively unknown David and King Saul. Saul in an agitated state due to demonic oppression finds solace in the simple, flowing, music of David's harp.

But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me. Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, andimrs a comely person, and the LORD is with him. Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep. And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul. And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

What was present? A demon. What literally drove it away? Instrumental music played in a flowing manner. A whole bunch of you do not like that but it is right there in black and white in your Bible. If all instrumental music is amoral will someone please tell me how come a demon was forced to run away from instrumental music alone?

Inept. Yep. That is the right word, all right. The amorality of music is nothing more than inept justification.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Music 24 - Contemporary Music’s Motive Problem

Church-Growth-Champions-web-iconWhom is your church designed to please? The scriptural answer is, of course, God. But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (I Thessalonians 2.4) The aim of any church is not to please humanity but to please God. Those leading each church should thus seek to mold their church in obedience to the precepts of Scripture for this was precisely what Jesus did. I do always those things that please him. (John 8.29)

Practically speaking, this means my aim as a pastor is to lead our church to be as scriptural and spiritually obedient as possible. My aim is not to have a big church; it is to have a Christ-like church. Would I like our church to grow? Yes, I would, for healthy things are growing things, but our focus is not on growth; it is on health. Growth is simply the by-product of spiritual health.

Contemporary American Christianity largely gets the cart of growth before the horse of obedience. CCM is embraced for precisely this reason. CCM continues – often in an established church over initial opposition – for precisely this reason. CCM is continually re-structured and reinvented for precisely this reason. The pragmatic philosophy underlying all of this is a church that aims itself squarely at the goal of attracting as many people as possible.

In order to do this such churches almost inevitably embrace a marketing approach. ResearchChurch_Growth_429x192 leads them to a desired demographic. The desired demographic is then studied to determine what they like and what they want in a church. The church staff goes to conferences and reads books and calls in consultants who will teach the church how to give the target demographic what they want.

…and if you cannot see anything wrong with that last paragraph you are a spiritual midget. A church does not have customers. The questions that should be asked are not what do the people want and how can we give it to them? The questions instead must be what does God want and how can we give it to Him?

Some of you reading this are thinking, "Wait just a cotton picking minute, Tom. The independent Baptist movement does that all the time. It promotes and programs and publicizes itself to bigness." I know, and every time it does it weakens itself. I just paid my respects to that in a long chapter in my recent book, Schizophrenic. But as bad as it is in the independent Baptist movement it is exponentially worse in contemporary evangelical Christianity. At least the independent Baptist movement has a love of preaching to serve as a brake on its pell-mell rush into pragmatism. The contemporary movement has no brakes at all that I can see. It was pioneered and built by men like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with results in mind, and little else. On that it has delivered – results and little else.

church-growth-ideasToday's contemporary American church is not driven by a passionate pursuit of holiness, obedience, faith, and the power of God to shine for Him and reach people for Him. No, the contemporary movement is driven by polls, marketing, strategy, laws of attraction, and business sense. Management gurus are studied more than Jeremiah is. Success is no longer measured in terms of obedience to Scripture but in terms of size. The song selection, lighting, invitation, ministry structure, service length, instrument choice, color scheme, service schedule, budget priorities, dress code, sermon topic, audio-visual use, building plan, outreach, counseling, etc. etc. etc. are all pragmatically chosen and market driven with one unifying goal – get a bigger crowd.

Whatever happened to pursuing the power of God? Whatever happened to chasing obedience and letting Him give the increase? Whatever happened to making adherence to Scripture the goal? I will tell you what happened – CCM happened. American Christianity became overly enamored with church size and underwhelmed with scripture, with holiness, obedience, and Christ-likeness. In so doing it birthed and grew the contemporary Christian music industry. And that's a problem.