Monday, August 22, 2016

Five Final Thoughts About Music in Church

Music 29

I have chosen to end this series with a few final thoughts. They sum up what I believe is the proper approach to music in church. They are largely drawn from all that has gone before. As always, I hope they are helpful.

First, we must make sure that the lyrics to any music that is sung or played in church are scriptural lyrics. In specific reference to music in the church Paul said, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3.16) The safest way to do this is to sing songs that are composed of actual Scripture such as psalms, etc. But it is also true that Paul said in Colossians 3 that other types of lyrics are permissible assuming they are scriptural in their content.

doctrineIf the song is a doctrinal song is it fundamentally orthodox? Does it line up with our distinctives? Is it Baptistic? Is it correct in its proclamation of eschatology, ecclesiology, etc.? If the song is speaking about God is it a scriptural concept of God, or is it JIMBY (Jesus-is-my-boyfriend) music? Does it present a God high, and holy, and lifted up? Is it loyal to the Word of God? Is its emotional content rooted in Scripture?

Second, the instrumental accompaniment should contain flowing melodies and harmonies versus those that emphasize a driving rhythm. I have already spent much time here in this blog series so I will not belabor the point. I do realize that sometimes it can be hard to draw the line here. In my opinion, we ought to be charitable toward others choices in this area, and seek to err on the side of safety in our own choices.

Third, we must avoid emotional manipulation. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16.8) It is the Holy Spirit's job – not the music's – to bring about a change in people's minds and actions. Granted, there is a fine line here for the Holy Spirit can certainly use the scriptural content of church music to speak, and music is an emotional language so in this context His voice will have emotional overtones. But we must avoid striving to purposely evoke a certain mental or emotional reaction solely through the use of music. Remember, we are not simply trying to change their emotional state temporarily; we are trying to edify them. Edification often includes emotion but it always includes more than that. And in any case, we should not seek to manipulate anybody into a spiritual frame of mind or into a spiritual decision.

Fourth, we must do everything possible to prevent the message being eclipsed by the messenger. In a different context but with some valid application to all of the Christian life, John said, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30) We must not value performance but rather value content. Passionate people put themselves fully and emotionally into the music they perform, and there is nothing wrong with that. (Ecclesiastes 9.10) But there is a line that is crossed when the musical gift we exercise becomes a display of ourselves rather than of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12.7) Some churches do this by refusing to allow singers to hold microphones. Other churches prefer groups of singers rather than solos. But however you choose to apply this or to draw the line the point is that there must be a line drawn here. It cannot be about me; I am just the way the music gets heard. (This entire paragraph is just as applicable to the preaching, too, by the way.)

Lastly, let us take care to emphasize music without letting it replace thepreacher primacy of preaching. It is preaching which is the power of God; it is preaching that God uses to save those that believe. (I Corinthians 1.18-21) To this end there are some churches that refuse to have any service that does not include a lengthy sermon. I do not go that far in my mind but I can appreciate their point. I have worked hard to expand the emphasis on music in our church services without at the same time de-emphasizing preaching because I believe this is right. The danger in over-emphasizing music is that music often makes people feel good while preaching often makes them feel bad. But if our people do not feel bad when they should feel bad then they will not act right when they should act right. By and large, music edifies, but preaching is the tool that produces real and lasting change in a congregation.

Well, it has been quite a journey, hasn't it? From the first post on music last November to the concluding post of this series today it has been interesting. I appreciate each of you who have read, commented, questioned, criticized, complained, shared, and amened me along the way. I hope somewhere in these 42,000 words you have come across something that has caused you to examine your own position on music in order to ensure that it is loyal to Scripture.

Someday, brother in Christ, we will stand together in that vast assemblage of millions on the glassy sea around the Throne in Heaven. And we will sing the greatest song that has ever been sung. I look forward to joining you there. Until that great day may the Lord lead us to use Heaven's music as well as we know how down here.

Sing forth the honour of his name: Make his praise glorious. (Psalm 66.2)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Five Steps to Improve Your Church Music

Music 28
I have been clear that I do not believe a church needs to embrace CCM in order to sing well. (In fact, I think it eventually makes them sing worse, but that is another discussion altogether.) The churches that have swallowed the rationale that contemporary music will liven up what is otherwise a dead service are taking a spiritual shortcut. Enthusiastic, skillful, scriptural church music is within the realm of possibility for every church provided we embrace five scriptural concepts related to singing.

bored-congregation-1872-grangerFirst and foremost, we must emphasize participation. Everybody ought to join in with the congregational singing. I realize not every person is musically gifted, but a lack of musical ability does not justify any person sitting there like a bump on a log during corporate singing. The psalmist said, All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. (Psalm 66.4) Elsewhere David sang, All the earth shall worship, and shall sing unto thee. (I Chronicles 16.23) I realize these are Old Testament passages and so do not reflect directly on the New Testament church service but I think there is a principle established here that carries through: all of us owe God praise, thanks, and worship so all of us should sing. Additionally, it could be argued that the two primary passages regarding music in the church (Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16) are broad instructions clearly aimed at the entire church. In other words, no one is exempt from singing in church any more than they are exempt from other instructions given in these epistles.

Having established this the practical question that then follows is how do you do this? How do you emphasize wide participation in corporate singing in a culture that increasingly wants to watch music being performed but does little corporate singing at all anymore? Part of the answer has to be that you need to sing out boldly yourself. Doing so put others around you more at ease about singing. Sunday School teachers can get their entire class to sit together periodically in the main service and then give a prize to the child who sings the best. Song leaders, rather than paying attention to giftedness, can and should emphasize widespread participation. Parents can actually require it of their children once they reach a certain age. Shy individuals can be encouraged to sit with someone who is not shy about singing out. The choir special can be moved to the beginning of the service so that choir members can then go sit among the crowd for the balance of the service and so encourage participation around them.

When I moved to our church thirteen years ago the congregational singing was not, well, what should I say here… It was not inspiring. I have done all of these things and others, and over time our church has come to embrace corporate singing with enthusiasm.

Second, let us emphasize singing with joy. Let us lead people to sing withgirls-singing genuine emotion. I realize some hymns are solemn or reflective, but most are not, and even in those that are there is a deep inner joy therein if you are close to Him.

This is how God Himself sings. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3.17) This is how we will all sing in the Millennium. Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. (Isaiah 51.11) Indeed, we see the importance of singing with a genuine and deep emotional joy all through the Psalms. (Psalm 9.2, 43.4, 71.23, 81.1, 95.1, 95.2, 98.6, 100.1, 100.2)

Each Wednesday night I open the service by bringing our Patch Club children to the platform and singing along with them. Often, as they ascend the steps I will put a big grin on my face and issue them one instruction, "Big smiles, everybody." It is my considered opinion that people sing better when they physically form their mouth into a smile. And even if that emotion of joy is only attempted at the beginning before a person gets to the second verse they will find their attitude genuinely changing.

Third, we should emphasize volume. The Levites sang with a loud voice. (II Chronicles 20.19) The priests sang with loud instruments unto the Lord. (II Chronicles 30.21) The services Nehemiah led included singers who sang loud. (Nehemiah 12.42) Isaiah called for people to lift up their voice as they sing to the Lord, to cry aloud. (Isaiah 24.14) Not to be outdone the psalmist paid his respects to the importance of volume in singing numerous times. (Psalm 51.14, 59.16, 98.4, 149.5, 150.5)

When I sing during a church service I belt it out. The level of volume is not my attempt to impress people with a performance any more than volume in preaching is. It is simply the result of genuine joy accompanied with a desire to share that joy with others. When the pastor sings this way, and the deacons sing this way, and the Sunday School teachers sing this way, and the choir members sing this way while they are interspersed with the crowd it becomes infectious. The entire church begins to sing louder. And that is a wonderful thing.

piano teacherFourth, we should seek to develop skill in our church music program. Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. (Psalm 33.3) There is a gigantic place in church music for everybody to participate regardless of skill level. There is also a place reserved for those who have talent, and who have sought to develop that talent with diligence. This would be those who are leading, those who sing apart from the entire congregation, and those who accompany instrumentally. Like any other gift, such people should not attempt to skate by on talent. They should be encouraged and helped to actively and diligently and painstakingly develop that talent. They should be taught not to bristle at practice, but to embrace it. There ought to be in the area of music as in all other areas a ceaseless striving for excellence.

Lastly, there should be an emphasis among us on teaching music to the younger generation. And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skilful. (I Chronicles 15.22) So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the Lord, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight. (I Chronicles 25.7)

The average musically inclined person in American Christianity leading, performing, or ministering with music received their musical instruction from the world. These worldly influences (musicians, styles, modes of performance) show up far too often in the American church. The solution to this is to ensure that those who lead, perform, or minister with music in the church are influenced as much as possible by those with great experience in church music.

One way to do this is to enroll in music classes at a Bible college but that is not feasible for most people. Thus, in reality, the responsibility for teaching the philosophies necessary for church music fall squarely on those who lead in a musical capacity in the local church. You do not have to be arrogant to accomplish this. You do not have to step into someone else's area. You do not have to go beyond your expertise. But you do need to teach somebody else what you know about church music.

With this approach there is no reason for a church to ever be without an instrumentalist, without a song leader, or without a choir that knows how to sing four part harmony. There is no reason a church should have to hire intermittent music help, or embrace a carnal, worldly Christian man or woman simply because they are desperate for musical talent. The musically gifted people your church has now ought to be constantly teaching other people music, and doing so specifically as it relates to church.

Participate. With Joy. With volume. With skill. And if you lead teach somebody else how to replace you. Emphasize those five things and over time your church's music will blossom.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Three Things I Like About Contemporary Music

Music 27

For the past two months I have been unsparing in my attack on CCM. I do not apologize for that a whit. It is hollowing out the core of the modern American church, weakening it just as the storm clouds of persecution begin to gather on the far horizon. Having said that, it is also worth noting that I do not believe that my brethren in Christ who genuinely preach Jesus are entirely wrong. Such a position is held by some I know but I find such total rejection to be undiscerning, uncharitable, needlessly harsh, and arrogant. In due course, I feel it is necessary to publicly say that I do find some redeeming value in the contemporary American Christian music scene, specifically in three areas.

passion7First, I have a great appreciation for the genuine emotional passion that so many CCM artists bring to their music. For the life of me I do not understand how a person can sing about the grace of God, about Jesus, about Calvary, about Heaven, or any of a myriad of other scriptural themes with all the enthusiasm of a cigar store Indian. Music is an emotional language. I am a Baptist not a charismatic. But just because I will not allow emotions to rule me does not mean I think emoting during a church service is wrong. No, beloved, I believe there is everything right with it. God made us in His own image. He made us emotional creatures because He is an emotional God. He rejoices; so should we. He weeps; so should we. He loves fiercely and passionately; so should we. Fraudulent emotion while singing in church is ever inappropriate, but so is no emotion. Blank faces, monotone mumblings, bored body language – I have seen them all far too often in the thousands of church services I have attended. Some of our people would do well to take a page from CCM's approach in this department. Billy Sunday used to say that if you are saved you should tell your face. I also think you should tell your voice. The great themes of Scripture and the great God Who is therein revealed are worth being passionate about in a church service setting. Sing aloud unto God our strength: Make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. (Psalm 81.1)

Second, I commend modern American Christianity for its desire to writeP5309-Music.indd new music. I confess I like old music best. By that I mean both my taste and my heart are drawn to songs that have meant something to me for a long time. There is a sweetness in such old music. There is a sense of place, of stability, of a precious solidity. But having said that I am bound to admit that Scripture clearly encourages God's people to sing unto him a new song, which phrase is repeated almost word for word nine times in the Bible. I have heard some on my side of the aisle say that "new" here means "different." In other words, God's people should embrace a new kind of music after salvation, different than their old kind of music. I obviously agree with that but I do not think this is the proper interpretation of those scriptural admonitions. Revelation twice points out that new songs are sung in Heaven constantly and the context certainly is not of a lost man becoming saved, rather it is of new music as in newly written and composed music. New songs should be written for each generation just like new sermons should be preached for each generation. Our religion needs to be fresh. Contemporary Christianity is constantly writing new music, and its churches and musicians welcome such songs readily. Assuming such songs are scriptural in their content I think that is a genuine strength, and one our side could do well to learn from.

thThird, and most importantly, contemporary Christian music carries within its DNA a never failing emphasis on praising the Lord. This is true to such an extent that their own self-chosen moniker – praise and worship – includes this. To me, this is absolutely excellent. Praising the Lord is something that is emphasized hundreds of times in Scripture and yet far too often in our circles it is only paid lip service. Contemporary Christianity has more than its share of flaws but this is not one of them. Passionately, repeatedly, loudly, and often they sing their praise to the Lord that bought them. Our kind of churches, however, whether out of a fear of emotionalism or a lack of teaching, assumes a hasty "Praise the Lord" every now and again covers its responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Praising the Lord is not a phrase you recite occasionally; it is rather detailed and emotional chunks of time set purposely aside to tell God how amazing He is in a large variety of ways.

Some will no doubt read today's post and misunderstand. They will shake their head and say, "If you like CCM so much why in the world have you skewered it so loudly and often in this series." The simple answer is that CCM needs skewered, for the most part. Does it have some good elements? Yes – and so do my alley trash cans but I would be unwise in the extreme to eat from them. Not only that, but these good elements in CCM that I have spoken of today can readily be incorporated in traditional church music without swallowing the massive amounts of damaging philosophy and practice that CCM thrives upon. We do not need a driving rock beat to passionately sing new music that praises the Lord. Neither do they, and I feel sorry for them that they do not see this.

Indeed, I hurt much for my generation of American Christianity. It has swallowed the hook of the world's system because that hook was covered in the lure of church growth. And then it reacts in puzzlement when the devil yanks it further and further away from the Word of God. Go ahead. Swallow that hook. Pat the traditional church on the head, and sigh over our thick-headed intransigence. We are glad that you preach Christ but know this: we have thought our position through. We have examined the Word of God. We have studied sociology, history, and music. We see where you are going even when you do not; we know we do not want to go there. We are where we are and not where you are for a whole bunch of very good reasons. And we plan to keep standing right here on the Word of God regardless of popularity, relevance, size, success or trends. Our audience is not the world; it is Him. He is the one we aim to please.

May God grant that He finds us faithful when He comes. In the meantime may we pray for and love our brethren in Christ who have been so deceived by the contemporary American music movement.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Music 26 - Contemporary Music’s Five Inept Justifications

In the last post we discussed the largest justification that pastors and worship leaders use to lead their churches away from traditional music, the amorality of instrumental music. However, there are others they routinely offer. In today's blog post I offer you five with a relatively quick deconstruction of each one.
First, they will say that CCM rescues church services from being dry, dull, and boring. Larry Norman, one of the early Christian rock pioneers, expressed this in his 1972 hit, "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?":

I want the people to know that He saved my soul
But I still like to listen to the radio,
They say that "Rock 'n roll is wrong, give you one more chance"
I said "I Feel so good, I gotta get up and dance"
I know what's right, I know what's wrong, I don't confuse it
Well, all I'm really tryin' to say is
Why should the devil have all the good music?
They say to cut my hair, they're drivin' me insane
I grew it out long to make room for my brain
But sometimes people don't understand
What's a good boy doin' in a rock n' roll band
There's nothin' wrong with playin' blues licks
If you've got a reason, tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music?
There's nothing wrong with what we play
'Cause Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away
I ain't knockin' the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat
I ain't knockin' the hymns, give me a song that moves my feet

Now I am the first one to admit that I've attended a whole bunch of boring church services. I will not admit, however, that the cure is a driving rock beat added to the music. The cure for a boring service is to develop a real and vital relationship with Jesus. If you do that it does not really matter what the service is like. To you, it will be the equivalent of a cool, refreshing drink after wandering around in the Sahara.

My father pastored for 38 years. I grew up listening to him drone on and on world without end. Something funny happened, though, as I got older. I got serious about the Lord and gradually those dry, boring sermons became mighty interesting. The same old hymns that had become background static to me came alive.

See, genuine Scriptural content is only boring to people similar to those Jesus described in Matthew 13.15. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

The solution here is not to shake up the church service by turning it into the Christian equivalent of a nightclub. The solution is to build in the people a genuine hunger for God. You do that and nothing scriptural is ever boring again.

Second, CCM's proponents will say that their music gets a lot of people saved. They reason that their kind of atmosphere is more comfortable for the lost man, and that after drawing him in this way he is easier to lead to Christ.

My response to this is two-fold. First, there is zero indication given in the New Testament that corporate music is to be used as a tool to reach the lost. There are two specific passages that indicate the purpose of music in the church service and both of them say that it is given to edify God's people.

screenhunter_02-jan-19-1605Second, I am not willing to concede that CCM types of churches actually do get more people saved. I think they get more people into a room but that is not nearly the same thing. Granger Community Church is a massive church based in Muncie, Indiana. It is fair to say it typifies the contemporary evangelical approach to church that I find so deeply troubling. Each week they gather a crowd of thousands but interestingly enough, by their own self-confessed account, most of them are not saved. In 2008 they surveyed an ordinary Sunday crowd and discovered to their horror that 47% did not believe in salvation by grace and that 56% did not believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven. I personally watched their pastor Mark Beeson roll those numbers out on their own church website during a discussion several years ago. Now I full well realize that even in my church each week there are a small percentage of unsaved people in attendance. But half? More than half? See, I am just not convinced at all that the modern contemporary movement is reaching people for Jesus. Not at all. They are reaching people, all right, but not to Jesus.

Next, CCM advocates will defend their use of such music by asserting it is their personal preference. They are simply exercising Christian liberty. They do not mind if I prefer to sing the old hymns, and they ask that I honor their preference to do the opposite.
Such a position assumes that music in the Christian's life and in the church service is simply a matter of personal preference and style. It assumes that God does not give us any musically related principles in the Scripture. Such an assumption is wildly incorrect. In other words, this justification rests on the premise that God does not express His thoughts about good and bad music in the Bible, and that is a faulty premise. Men and women have been using the concept of Christian liberty to shield their fleshly desires for millennia. (Galatians 5.13) Just because you label your choice such in no way removes from me the responsibility to express biblical truth regarding your inept justification.

Fourth, they will say loudly and often that CCM is just a new method, andshure-sm58-live-performance-dynamic-microphone-1024x691 that all methods used in church were new at some point. "Hey, fundamentalist Bible thumper man, you used a microphone in your church yesterday, didn't ya'? You had electric lights didn't ya?" Such a position seeks to paint the conservative as hypocritical in using things in church that were once contemporary themselves.

Agreed. Guilty as charged. Yet… a PA system simply increases the volume; it does not change the fabric of the church service. Electric lights simply let you see what you used to need candles to see; they do not change the character of the church service, let alone the underlying philosophical approach of a church entirely. And this is why CCM is entirely different. It is not just a new method; it dramatically alters the philosophy and practice of the church entire. I am not being hypocritical. You are comparing tangelos to elephants.

Lastly, CCM points to the Bible and says that the instruments it chooses to use are nowhere forbidden in Scripture. They are correct. Scripture mentions in a positive sense string, brass, wind, and percussion instruments being used in God's service. Which changes nothing. The problem I and so many other conservative Christians have with CCM is not the instruments themselves; it is with how those instruments are played. In fact, in addition to a piano and organ we use a guitar for musical accompaniment in every church service. But is certainly is not played in a rock style. To me, scriptural teaching is clear: an over emphasis on rhythm in music produces bad effects in both the musician and the listener. In other words, it is not the instruments of CCM themselves that are wrong; it is the manner in which they are played that is wrong.

Next week, believe it or not, I am going to discuss three things I like about contemporary music. My opponents and supporters may find themselves switching sides for a week. Stay tuned…