I wrote an open letter to the CCM Industry almost three years ago concerned over Chevrolet's "owning and funding" a worship tour as part of their marketing strategery to reach evangelical buyers with their automobile product line (this gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Corporate Worship."). Though a few years old now, the issues sadly remain the same. The world is finding favor and much "legal tender" these days; profiting from ministry... worship being no exception. The only two things left in the church that do command a fee today are: communion and baptism. With the secular ownership of Christian music, publishing houses, bookstore chains, etc., it is easy to conclude, in the powerful words of my favorite attorney, Al Pacino, "something really, really wrong is going on here."
Let me your thoughts... I value them highly.
"Like a Rock,"
Dear Friends in the Christian Music Industry:
I am involved as a contributor on a radio forum, through email, that discusses and addresses important issues facing us as Christians in music, media, the church, and the culture. Last Friday, the key issue on the forum was concerning the "Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship" tour-a very important topic worthy of our discussion. I posted a response to that issue. I thought this forum was a closed forum for those invited to contribute and candidly converse about any issue presented. It has come to my attention, that unbeknownst to me, that post of mine pertaining to this Chevrolet Worship Tour was distributed this week, by someone whom I do not know and without my permission, throughout the CCM industry and select media outlets. I have received numerous emails and phone calls about my thoughts on this matter as represented in that post and therefore, I wanted to address you directly so that I am not taken out of context or misrepresented by the editorial comments of others.
This is also difficult, for it involves two artists and a pastor that I have come to admire and thank the Lord for in their respective callings. At the outset, I want to affirm my love and prayers for Michael W. Smith, Third Day, and Max Lucado. They have ministered to my family and me through their work and I appreciate what they do as individuals for Christ and His glory. The arduous thing is, though this issue is not about them specifically, they do share culpability for their willingness to associate themselves and financially profit from a Worship Tour that at its foundation has serious biblical concerns.
It is my desire in the following letter to try to summarize those concerns as to why this event does not function according to, nor is in practice consistent with the Scriptures; and, therefore, cannot be honoring or glorifying to the Lord Jesus Christ. My one, true, singular objective is and has always been to ask-what does the Lord say, as revealed in His Word, about all that we do for His names sake? What does the Lord give as guidelines as to how we do what we do in the arts for His glory, for the good of His people, and in the evangelization of those without Christ?
I am concerned that there exists in CCM today a pervasive growing attitude of unteachableness, unaccountability, and a lack of submissiveness to the Word of God and the authority of the local church. It seems today that anyone who challenges the CCM industry as to its current practices and alliances according to the standard of God's Word is labeled as divisive, condemning, and unloving. While those that are constantly operating outside of the purview of God's Word are labeled as innovative, visionary, and kind? Tolerance is not a spiritual gift; it is the distinguishing mark of postmodernism; and sadly, it has permeated the very fiber of Christianity. Why is it that those who have no biblical convictions or theology to govern and direct their actions are tolerated and the standard or truth of God's Word rightly divided and applied is dismissed as extreme opinion or legalism?
None of us have arrived at our sanctification; none of us get it right all the time, do we? That is why we need each other and the dialogue that ensues; even if it's uncomfortable and makes us squirm a bit from the status quo of our everyday lives. This Worship Tour with Chevrolet affords us that opportunity to dialogue together again about important issues facing CCM. And for each of us to take inventory of our spiritual lives and examine with careful scrutiny all our ways and practices as how we function in Christian music and in the general marketplace as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The ends don't justify the means-it is the truth of God's Word that determines that. My prayer is that none of us will miss this divine occasion to appraise our lives, our business practice, and alliances in light God's glory and His divine truth. I am not coming to you with a hammer, but with an open hand desiring your fellowship and honest discussion.
In light of the above, this letter will serve two distinct purposes:
1. To list the biblical concerns for this Worship Tour that GM/Chevrolet is hosting.
2. To ask you four key questions for your Scriptural consideration on this issue.
1. CHARGING PEOPLE MONEY TO COME AND WORSHIP THE LORD AND HEAR HIS GOSPEL
The fact that this is an "evening of worship and evangelism" -- their language, not mine -means that we have now actually digressed to charging people money to worship the Lord.
Jesus said, "Freely you received; freely you must give" (Matthew 10:8). The Lord knew the temptation for money that the disciples would face. He had just given them divine power to have "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness" (Matthew 10:1). With that kind power, if the disciples wanted to charge money for their services, they could have been independently wealthy in a very short time. That is precisely why the Lord told them, "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support" (Matthew 10:9). In other words the Lord will supply our needs when we are about His work (Cf, 2 Cor. 2:17, 1 Timothy 6:5-10; Acts 20:32-35; Revelation 22:17).
2. PARTNERING WITH UNBELIEVERS IN THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY
2 Corinthians 6:14-16a - "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What harmony has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols?"
Undiscerning believers think it a profound ministry strategy to join forces with unregenerate people in forwarding the gospel. Unwittingly, they harness Jesus Christ, the Worthy One, with Belial or Satan, the worthless one, in an unholy alliance-the very essence of being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:15). We are not, however, called to isolationism. We are called to be salt and light in the world. We are to be faithful witnesses of God's mercy, love and grace to the lost and dying. We are to cultivate personal relationships with unbelievers, love our neighbor and our enemy, serve them and share our faith with them. (Matthew 5:13-16; 40-44) We are to be in the worldÂ…but not of it-and this is our greatest challenge. Separation is not being divorced from contact with the world, but from complicity with and conformity to it. (1 John 2:15-17)
3. INVITING AND CONDONING SECULAR CORPORATIONS TO DO THEIR BUSINESS AND TRADE IN THE MIDST OF THE WORSHIP OF GOD
This is an obvious by-product of being unequally yoked with non-believers in the ministry of the gospel. Allowing the world to sponsor and partner in the work of the ministry is foreign to any biblical writer. But this Worship Event is unparalleled, even when comparing this in light of church history. I don't' know of any other singular event that has allowed the world to conduct its business or trade where the worship of the Lord is to be given and the gospel proclaimed. Though the highest and greatest context of worship is that which occurs within the local church with proper ecclesiastical authority (1 Timothy); I do recognize that whenever the people of God are gathered together and they are offering songs of praise to the Lord from a pure heart; where the Word of God is clearly preached and expounded and His gospel proclaimed, worship does occur. But it is not the place for the world to conduct their business-"to sell cars" as the Chevy Rep has stated. Has the church traded the great theme of "Holy, Holy, Holy" and adopted as their new song of praise, "Like a rock?" (Cf, Matthew 21:12-13; Leviticus 10:1-3)
4. PURPOSELY SOLICITING FROM NON-BELIEVERS TO FINANCE THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY
3 John v.5-8 - "Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth."
This texts establishes a foundational principal for how we are to function in ministry in relation to financial integrity and non-believers. That is, we cannot ask for, solicit funds from, or proactively seek financial support from "the Gentiles"-nonbelievers in Christ. Why? The only thing that a nonbeliever must be approached with from any Christ-centered ministry or Christian is with the glorious good news of the gospel of grace found in Christ Jesus our Lord for the salvation of their souls. Even the Apostle Paul says to the church at Ephesus, "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes" (Acts 20:32-33). (Cf, Hebrews 10:29; John 3:36; Luke 12:47-48).
Question: Has the worship due our Lord been turned into entertainment; the gospel of grace turned into trade; the gathering of God's people turned into a place of worldly business; and ministry, turned into only money? This is sin beloved...there is no other word for it.
Can Christian music ever be fully embraced by this world and find acceptance in the general market place or corporate sponsorship arena if it is being true to the gospel and person of Jesus Christ? You know the answer--no way. The simple fact that Chevrolet senses no incongruity or disparity from the believers who orchestrated this tour is proof enough that the message that will be or has been presented, poses no offense to them. "Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who disbelieve, 'the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,' and [Christ is] 'A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense'" (1 Peter 2:7-8). If the gospel they hear and the worship they see, will not confront them to the severity of their sin, the holiness of God, or their eternal perdition, and that salvation is by grace alone, through Christ aloneÂ… We cannot serve both God and mammon. We cannot preach repentance from sin and salvation by grace alone on one hand to an unbeliever, and then turn right around and ask for an exorbitant amount of money to fund that same ministry.
Paul says, "By the terror of the Lord we persuade men..." (2 Cor. 5:11a). Have we forgotten that? "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God... 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor. 4:1-2,5). Do we really believe that? "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:15-16). Are we aware of that?
I understand the tension that this discussion can foster in each of us. I am not saying these things, beloved, because I've done it right all these years in CCM (25 years next February); far from it. I was on the same road as much of the industry is on today, and because of some strong words of exhortation from my family and close friends, I began the painful, yet, necessary process in my life to examine everything in light of Scripture. As Paul says, "test all things, hold fast to what is good; abstain from all forms of evil" (1 Thess. 5:21-22). This began a wonderful journey of Bible study and the veracious reading of commentaries and books to look hard and honest at what the Word of God teaches about Christian Music Ministry (CMM). In this process of discovery, I came to a critical crossroads: would I abandon my current practice and view of things in light of what the Word of God teaches, or would I continue to justify my own agendas and moorings irrespective of Scripture? For a season, I hardened my heart against the Lord and His truth and He broke me in my sinfulness. I repented and His grace has sustained me in this journey ever since. Maybe you can relate to this too? With that in mind, here are some questions that I would humbly ask you to consider in this ongoing dialogue about the future, purpose, function, and commerce of CCM.
FOUR ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
(Note: Please define your answers biblically and guard against proof-texting [taking a verse out of context to make it mean whatever you want it to mean to fit the issue at hand.] This is to help me and others understand more fully why you are doing what you are doing in this venture. Thank you.).
1. Could you define biblically where the Lord instructs, permits, condones, commands partnership with the world for the ministry, worship, and the proclamation of His gospel? And then, giving the ability to conduct their business or trade in the midst of that ministry?
2. Scripture says, ""For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing"; but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles"; "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you"; "So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe." Question: Why is Chevrolet not offended? Why do they feel "at home selling cars" in the midst of the worship of God and in the hearing of the gospel? Why do they feel an affinity in partnering with believers at a Worship Event so that they can sell more cars? Why is there no tension of conscience, consternation of objectives, and disparity of goals?
3. Can you demonstrate biblically where you have the right to seek out funding, financial sponsorships, and partnerships from unbelievers in the advancement of the gospel and the worship of the Lord?
4. And lastly, how do you define worship biblically? What are the scriptural guidelines that we should use to measure our actions in these kind of events if we are truly honoring the Lord with genuine worship? How is the Lord approached as holy, by Chevrolet's presence; how is He glorified before all the people by this partnership? (Leviticus 10:3).
Thank you for taking the time to listen and for allowing me the privilege of sharing these thoughts with you. I pray, that we will not approach the world to seek funding from them, but that we unashamedly will share the blessed hope of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to them. May we stop "playing marbles with diamonds" in Christian Music and honor the Lord with genuine ministry for His glory again.
His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,