Happy Reformation Day!
The need for reformation and revival is great in evangelicalism today. Money has become the number one plumbline and prerequisite for ministry; secular ownership of Christian publishing houses, music companies, bookstore chains and radio stations abounds; unsound doctrine is spoken against, but not stood against; and politics continues to be touted as the great savior for a nation in moral and spiritual decline.
But the great hope for any generation, including ours, is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! He alone is the answer.
May we pray today beloved that the Lord would revisit His people as He did in the Great Awakening through Jonathan Edwards and renew our hearts toward Him. May He bring revival to His church in every nation; repentance from sin; and reformation in the recovery of His gospel of justification by faith alone.
May the Lord open His heavens, wake us up from the lukewarm Laodicean sleep that plagues so much of evangelicalism and revive us again.
To that end, I humbly offer the following to you.
Still Pounding on Wittenberg's Door,
2 Cor. 4:5-7
The Preamble to THE 107 THESES
Out of love and zeal for Biblical truth and the desire to bring it to light, I come to you, brethren, burdened and broken over the current state of Christian music. I come not out of a heart of condemnation, but out of convictions immersed in tears as one in desperate need daily of our Lord's grace to be conformed to His image. I come being aware of the depravity from which I have been saved and that my heart, apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, is desperately wicked and eternally sick. Early in my own musical journey I wrote songs that neither represented good music or precise theology. My motives were vitiated; my actions were not godly; and my lips were unclean. The thirst for prominence and position made my heart prideful, judgmental and calloused. But the Lord, out of His infinite grace and otherworldly love, broke me with His chastening hand to bring true repentance in my own life-and it's that life of repentance, which is my greatest desire and my greatest failing. It is out of the crucible of those experiences that I am driven to speak with conviction to these issues.
This document is a call to Reformation-a clarion call to recover Biblical Christianity in the arts. Music is a powerful tool from the Lord Jesus to His church intended for worship, praise, encouragement, edification, evangelism, teaching, admonishing, and exhorting God's people to holiness-with always our chief aim "to glorify God and worship Him forever." But beloved, the serpentine foe of compromise has invaded the camp through years of specious living, skewed doctrine and most recently secular ownership of Christian music ministries. While I assert this, I recognize that there are godly men and women who love the Lord that work for these companies and record for these companies, but that's not the issue here. The crux of the matter is that the overall nature of our industry has dramatically shifted. The Apostle Paul warns, "it takes only a little leaven to leaven the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5:6). When sin is tolerated it ultimately permeates and corrupts the entire church. What is pure today will inevitably be polluted tomorrow if we do not "purge out the old leaven… (Ibid. 5:7). In the past several years, there has been a not-so-subtle drifting away from Christocentric music to an anthropocentric music. Sadly, this has resulted in various visible manifestations of spiritual sedition-where currently, the CCMI finds itself on a slippery slope sliding away at accelerated speeds from the Savior, the Scriptures and the church.
History is a lucid teacher and we can learn from her. Give ear to the account of one man's battle against the roaring lion of modernity in his time:
Charles Hadden Spurgeon spent the final four years of his life at war against the trends of early modernism, which he rightly saw as a threat to Biblical Christianity. Spurgeon wanted to warn his flock about the dangers from moving away from the historic positions [of the truth]. 'Biblical truth is like the pinnacle of a steep, slippery mountain,' Spurgeon suggested. 'One step away, and you find yourself on the down-grade. Once a church or individual Christian get on the downgrade,' Spurgeon said, 'momentum takes over. Recovery is unusual and only happens when Christians get on the 'up-line' through spiritual revival.' History has vindicated Spurgeon's warnings about the down-grade. In the early part of the twentieth century the spreading of 'false doctrine and worldliness'-theological liberalism and modernism-ravaged denominational Christianity throughout the world. Most of the mainline denominations were violently if not fatally altered by these influences. A hundred years later, we are seeing history repeating itself again… 'False doctrine and worldliness'-the same two influences Spurgeon attacked-always go hand in hand, with worldliness leading the way. Christians today tend to forget that modernism was not first of all a theological agenda but a methodological one. (John F. MacArthur, Jr. Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1993), 21-23, emphasis added.)
We are seriously close, beloved, to being on the down-grade in Christian music, if, in fact, we have not already begun the slide. Though we are seeing an unprecedented interest by the secular arena with more press and publicity, I believe there are some danger signs we can't ignore. Gospel music today has become music for the moment, but not for eternity. Transitory, temporal, trivial messages that devalue Deity and raise "felt need" affairs above eternal "real need" concerns produce disposable, consumer-driven, cotton-candy music. This is playing marbles with diamonds. We are unequally yoked with an unbelieving world, sin goes undisciplined-is even tolerated for some artists because of their visibility and sales power-and the truth and authority of Scripture is all but abrogated. Biblical illiteracy is pandemic. Accountability to the local church has all but been abandoned. Moral pluralism and erroneous forms of ecumenism are the dyslexic doctrines of today. A politically correct, reductionist gospel that appeals only to the flesh and a syncretistic methodology in communication through the arts have sought to replace the true "Gospel According To Jesus" evidenced in the fruit of an obedient life fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit and His truth.
Contemporary Christian Music originally began unashamedly declaring Jesus Christ as Lord. Within a few years His name was replaced by several generic titles filtering out the name of God ultimately to the non-specific cognomen, "Love." This led to a multitude of pseudonyms: "The Man Upstairs"; "My Higher Power"; "Our Family Values Expert" ad nauseam…ad infinitum. This Biblical illiteracy I've coined as theological ebonics-Biblical language diminished to cultural unintelligible chatter affirmed as profound, acceptable spiritual truth. Spurgeon again reminds us of our duty of rightly representing the preeminent Christ by saying, "Jesus is the Truth. We believe in Him-not merely in His words. He Himself is Doctor and Doctrine, Revealer and Revelation, the Illuminator and the Light of Men. He is exalted in every word of truth, because He is its sum and substance. He sits above the gospel, like a prince on His own throne. Doctrine is most precious when we see it distilling from His lips and embodied in His person. Sermons [and songs] are valuable in proportion as they speak of Him and point to Him. A Christless gospel is no gospel and a Christless discourse is the cause of merriment to devils."
Os Guinness is "spot on" when saying, "[we have seen a change] from an emphasis on 'serving God', to an emphasis on 'serving the self' in serving God." The object of faith is no longer Christ, but our self-esteem; the goal of faith is no longer holiness, but our happiness; and the source of faith is no longer the Scriptures, but our experience. Christian music currently reflects this. We are producing a generation of people that "feel" their God, but do not know their God.
We have been given a solemn and sacred duty to communicate through music the fathomless riches of God's eternal Word. The Word of God is the most holy thing we will ever hold in our hands in this lifetime. As Dr. John MacArthur says, "This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved and practice it to be holy…
Lamentably, the music of heaven has been sold to the world-to the ones who had the deepest pockets and made the sweetest promises. In a very real sense, "Simon the Sorcerer" has succeeded in purchasing the work of God from the "apostles" of our industry (Acts 8:14-25). Could it be that the love of money is at the root of it all? Or could it be that ignorance has revealed the unschooled in matters of faith and doctrine? Unquestionably both. For many, money has been and continues to be the prerequisite for "ministry" and Biblical truth is no longer vital but vicarious! Departure from the Word of God is now clearly evidenced in our music, lyrics, business practices and alliances. Beloved, if we do not repent of our sins, God's judgement will surely be upon us.
When Martin Luther stood at Wittenberg's Door in the year 1517, he called for reformation from the recalcitrant Roman Church. Now it is our turn, almost five centuries later, to sound the alarm in our generation. This time, to call the Christian Music Industry to reformation-back to the supremacy, sufficiency and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Genuine revival-a fresh return to obedience in Christ-is surely needed today, but that would be almost impossible given the current environment of our industry. Why? True revival is marked by repentance; true repentance brings restitution; true restitution demands that Christian music be owned and operated only by believers whose aim is the glory of God consistent with Biblical truth. This means that the current CCMI labels must return all the money they have received to their respective secular counterparts that purchased them and divorce alliances with them. The CCMI has gone too far down the wide road of worldliness and there is not the tenacity of character and the Biblical courage of heart and mind to do the right thing no matter what the cost. These are serious times, beloved, that call for real answers. This is not a time for duplicitous people, proclaiming a diluted message, from disingenuous ministries. It is a time for those whose lives are tempered with the steel of righteousness, girded with the belt of truth, standing firm in the gospel of peace, raising high their shield of faith, guarded with the helmet of salvation, to wield the sword of the Spirit with a surgeon's exactitude, praying always with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance for all the saints in the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Will we champion again the manifesto of the Reformers: Sola Fide (by faith alone); Sola Gratia (by grace alone); Sola Scriptura (on the Word alone); Solus Christus (because of Christ alone); and Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone)? Do we have the conviction of heart and courage of mind to do what's just? Do we have the boldness to shout above the roar of the marketplace that the Emperor has no clothes? Will we leave our careers, our contracts, our carefully cultivated plans and press releases, our unequally yoked record companies to serve the Lord again with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? There is no gray in this-it's a matter of obedience.
Oh brethren, "we have a name to be alive, but we are dead" (Revelation 3:1). There is no greater love song to proclaim than the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord at Calvary, but yet others feel content to sing about the chaff of this world. What the New Testament church wrestled with the least is what our industry craves the most-money. How dare we think we can play politics with God, with His truth and with His church. We can't negotiate with sin no matter what kind of capital is at stake-and that really is the issue here.
Let us "press on, that [we] may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of [us]" (Philippians 3:12). Let us "lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). Let us fall on our faces before our Holy Lord, repent of our sin and return to our First Love. With lives bathed in His grace, let us provoke one another to love and good works. With undivided hearts may we leave the prodigal's pigpen and come back to the Father's house. Let us commit to prayer and fasting, seeking the Lord's will with a broken, contrite and obedient heart. Let us return to our churches and to the faithful pastors/elders that shepherd us-submitting ourselves to their godly leadership. May we be students of His Word being filled daily with His Spirit. Let us come away from an industry that has all but abandoned Christ and forge, by God's grace, what it was always meant to be…a ministry. Doing His work, His way, according to His Word, by His Holy Spirit.
Pray on this: let us seek the Lord Jesus Christ that He would sovereignly move among His people to bring revival, renewal, repentance and reformation in Christian ministry and music again.