A Timely and Necessary Re-Post
The Christian blogosphere has recently morphed into a Geraldo-esque mentality as of late. Broadcasting the behind the scenes failings of others as verbal sport not only feeds the trolls, but at its foundation is anything but Christlike. There even seems to be an increased preoccupation today by some who relish in publicly declaring certain evangelical figures unbelievers when those leaders have not directly denied the gospel or the essentials of the faith. Enough already! Who do we think we are? Rather than use this powerful medium to speak from a biblical worldview about the issues facing the church and culture today, some blogs have adopted an insidious "Entertainment Tonight" - Christian celebrity guise and gossip approach. This trend is disturbing and unprofitable for the kingdom of God beloved. I realize that some call it cutting edge; others call it fair game; some say it is just the age-old problem of "foot in mouth" disease. Whatever you want to call it, at a minimum it is bad form and at worst it is malicious slander—it is sin.
Let’s be clear, it is one thing to fulfill the duty and command of Titus 1:9 where the Apostle Paul states, "...instruct in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict." We all have a responsibility, as faithful Bereans in the body of Christ, to examine what ANYONE might say in matters on doctrine and theology and hold them accountable to the teachings of Scripture as to their claims. There are no “Protestant Popes” (despite the supercilious stature of some evangelical leaders) who think that when they speak, we must obey with unquestioned "amens" and blind loyalty. Biblical scrutiny is not only necessary, but it is a command of God's Word (Acts 17:10-12; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:18ff). NO ONE is exempt from being held to the standard of the authority of Scripture even though some Christian leaders, seminaries, pastors, authors, musicians, etc. get their ecclesiastical shorts in a knot thinking they are exempt from such inquiry by any of the laity. But beloved, it is quite another thing, however, to lower oneself to the stature of a "kiss and tell Enquirer" and publish exposés on others personal failings, sin issues, or doctrinal differences by responding with hyperbole, lies and unsubstantiated digs; and to do so as if it were fact. Matthew 18:15-20, Galatians 6:1-3 should govern these kinds of things rather than drive-by bloggers anxious to get the inside story. "Let's get someone in power" is poor motivation for any true Christian communicator.
What’s veery disappointing, is that when you do question some of "them", they will not just disagree with you, but they want to hurt you. It’s amazing how many links on your blog will suddenly vanish, opportunities for ministry will cancel, weekend church functions get indefinitely postponed, and phone calls from once close associates don’t get returned, etc…
So with that concern and burden, I offer the following article that I first presented at a theological symposium several years ago on the theme of worship, music and the CCM industry at Cedarville College. I hope that you will be encouraged, challenged, edified and shaken. Let’s all use this tremendous gift of the blogosphere to promote God’s Word, hold each other accountable to its truths, and if we come across knowledge of another’s shortcomings, doctrinal departures from orthodoxy, or one being ambushed by sin, let it be dealt with according biblically for the purpose of seeing another repentant, walking faithfully with the Lord, and restored to fellowship (the importance of the local church beloved) and not for the titillating reason of exposé.
In one concise statement David introduces us to the Hymnbook of Heaven elucidating the triumvirate of Christian service - doctrine, worship and life. Thy statutes (doctrine); are my songs (worship); in the house of my pilgrimage (life). Just as the doctrine of justification by faith alone is like Atlas bearing on its shoulders the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace; so is doctrine, worship and life the three central pillars for music ministry. True Christian music is God-conceived (doctrine); Christ-centered (worship); and Spirit-controlled (life). Take away any one of these pillars and the building topples. For example: a powerful doctrine sung in glory to Christ with an impure life is noise to the ears of our holy God. Conversely, an obedient life given in worship to Christ absent of sound doctrine will be empty praise and on the path to error. Lastly, right theology sung out of the beauty of holiness but vacant in worship to Christ leads to pride or self-glory and the chastisement of the Father.
In Christian music we are missing the key pillar, the cornerstone, which the other two rely upon - sound doctrine! There has already occurred a much needed return to praise and worship in the church and we’ve observed that across the board in evangelicalism. There has also been, in recent years noted scandals with both tele-evangelists and Christian artists, bringing a heightened call for more personal integrity, holiness and ecclesiastical accountability. Though we have not arrived in those areas, we are on the path, nevertheless, the Achilles heel of our industry is the blatant absence of sound biblical theology which has effected every level of Christian music. This is most evident in it’s message. Christian music, originally called Jesus Music that once sang fearlessly about the gospel, now sings of a Christless, watered-down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy God-as-my-girlfriend kind of thing. There is an obvious reason this has taken place: artists primarily feel; theologians primarily think. We need artists who will balance their zeal with knowledge to invest their lives in the daily discipline of Bible study, and then, to write with the fire, passion and enthusiasm which that study has illumined to communicate the glorious language of the church - the holy Word of God! Until this occurs, we are guilty of sentencing a generation of Christians to simply “feel” their God, rather than to know their God! In the early days of my own music ministry I wrote songs that neither represented good music or precise theology. It is out of the crucible of those experiences that God convicted me, which drives me to speak passionately to these issues.
In Greek mythology there is portrayed a villainous son named Procrustes, of his father Poseidon, who would arbitrarily prescribe ruthless, torturous phenomenon for patrons of his hostel. He would force his travelers to fit into his "procrustean bed" by stretching his victims or severing off their limbs. In much the same way, there have been men throughout the ages that have tailored the truth of God's Word , having laid it upon the "procrustean beds" of deceived, depraved minds stretching its truth or lopping it off to suit their itching ears. The Apostle Paul says, “we are not like, as so many, peddling the Word of God for profit.” Though others did, he would not succumb in making retail of the truth - selling it as cheap merchandise for whatever worldly prominence or power might be bought. Truth to the Apostle was a non-negotiable. Paul’s commitment to the truth wasn’t for sale.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says that the church is the "pillar and support of the truth.” How we handle the truth of God’s Word determines and defines everything - our worship, our fellowship, our missions outreach, our music, our daily walk with the Lord, our effectiveness in ministry and ultimately our eternal destiny! You see, no one ever lives greater than their view of God! And our view of God is formed by what He has revealed in His Word. We may see His invisible attributes, eternal power and Godhead revealed through general revelation (Rom. 1:18-23), but the self-revelation of who God is and His redemptive plan for man is solely revealed in special revelation - the Word of God (Psalm 19:7-11)! Therefore, if in our worship we pervert His Word, we pervert the truth about God. If in our songs we distort His doctrine, we distort a right view of Him. If in our preaching we misrepresent the Scriptures, we misrepresent the Savior. And if in our worship we twist His truth, we dishonor His character. (2 Timothy 2:15)
What’s at stake here is not desired shelf space at Target or Wal-Mart; but actually the gospel, the authority of Scripture, the life of the church and the character of God! That is why a proper, systematic theology consistent with the totality of Scripture must saturate our musicology. Under the banner of Soli Deo Gloria, this must be the predominate purpose of all our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to preserve, promote, proclaim, protect and preach the Word.
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 gets 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.We are seriously close, beloved, to being on the down-grade in Christian ministry, if, in fact, we have not already begun the slide. Though we are seeing an unprecedented interest by the secular arena with more press, publicity, and ownership of Christian publishing and CCM entities, I believe there are some danger signs we can’t ignore:
- an absence of biblical truth;
- a reductionist gospel;
- lascivious living;
- being unequally yoked with the unbelieving industry;
- aberrant and heretical themes accepted;
- worldliness in business practice;
- moral pluralism;
- and the justifying thread in it all - the love of money producing all sorts of evil.
When our grip on the sword of the Spirit is loosened and our spiritual muscles have atrophied, the “once for all delivered to the saints faith” (a term synonymous referring to Scripture) is hastily replaced by a saber of our own carnal invention. We cannot fight the good fight of faith with fleshly weaponry!
We can see the effects of the dumbing-down of doctrine by the pervasive tolerance of another gospel which has resulted in redefining Biblical language. Sin is no longer called sin, but sickness; disobedience is now called disease; and adultery is simply referred to as addiction. This psychological sanctification has replaced the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Sprit in the predetermined work of God to conform us daily to Christ. “Sanctify them by Thy truth, [Jesus said,] Thy Word is truth.” Only the truth of God’s Word is sanctifying truth for all matters of life and godliness! “The sum of Thy Word is truth.” We are to be “ handling accurately the word of truth.” We are to proclaim “The word of truth, the gospel.” Why? For God has “exalted His Word even above His name.”
It is infinitely hazardous when the church embraces a Freudian anthropology justifying oneself for the purpose of abandoning personal responsibility (the abuse excuse) and allowing one to attach the blame outwardly to one’s environment, or on Mom and Dad, rather than finding solutions that come from only God Himself. Giving people a sense of becoming and belonging, addressing felt needs instead of real needs is the “theology” of the hour. Churches now hire full time psychological counselors fortuitously replacing faithful pastors and elders who are the ones called by God to shepherd His flock! “Preach the Word…” is no longer the mandate of men of God but rather, “Go ye into all the world and relate!”
Os Guinness is spot on in his analysis when saying, “This… sea change is a particularly important precedent because it was not so much from Calvinism to Arminianism as from theology to experience, from truth to technique, from elites to populism, and from an emphasis on ‘serving God’, to an emphasis on ‘serving the self’ in serving God.”
He is devastatingly correct! Even at the seminary level that change is evident. Men are no longer being taught today to preach expositionally, but experientially. They are not taught to shepherd, but to be students. The object of faith is no longer Christ but self-esteem; the goal of faith is no longer holiness, but happiness; the source of faith is no longer the Scriptures, but experience. Spurgeon says it right:
“A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching.” “An aversion to doctrinal Christianity has been growing for several decades, along with an increasing intolerance for doctrinal and confessional accountability. Evangelicals have embraced the technologies of modernity, often without recognizing that these technologies have claimed the role of master rather that servant.”Church growth expert, George Barna, arguing for how the church must find new ways to reach a post-church generation with the gospel, says,
“Busters do not believe in absolute truth. This means that they, for the most part, reject the Bible as having any real answers. Thus, proposing Jesus Christ as the solution to a person’s sin problem is not likely to make any significant impression.”Did you hear that? Dear people, the gospel never begins with man and his need but with God and His glory! Truth by definition is exclusive. When we declare the Scriptures to be the truth and Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, who is full of grace and truth, we are declaring that every other claim to “the truth” is false. Every other way is a dead end. Every other faith system asserting eternal life is a path leading to death. Crossover that! Make that seeker-friendly! Commercialism won’t tolerate a God-conceived, Christ-centered message! You can crossover an artist or an author into the pop world, but you can’t crossover the message - there is an offense to the cross!
In a culture where absolute truth is considered obsolete it’s only inevitable that people will sink to the lowest common denominator to try to make sense of the extremes between depravity and salvation. Again, Barna gives evidence to this:
“It is critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”This is very dangerous.
Where the audience, the seeker, is sovereign there is only one plumbline that governs our worship, forms our theology, determines our effectiveness—does it work? And this is measured only by numbers! In order to build an entire ministry, music or otherwise, on a seeker-friendly premise, a few critical things have to modified. First and most critical is the gospel. Jesus Christ will no longer be proclaimed but masked. We’ve seen this change take place gradually over the last ten years. Instead of saying Jesus Christ is Lord we now say I believe in God. Then we no longer referred to God as God but as He or in some liberal circles as she. That was modified to say that love is the answer—after all who can argue with love. This digressed from calling God, God, to our higher power or the man upstairs or the boss or the chairman of the board, or my friend or the force, etc. This is what I refer to as "theological ebonics.” (translation: theological ebonics - the trivialization of Christianity.) What is eternal is being traded for what is temporary with a helter-skelter recklessness. God has created man in His own image and it has been said today that man has now returned the favor! As the Lord said to a wayward Israel, “You thought I was just like you.” God’s commentary on modernity is direct and clear, “Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes.” Brethren, that philosophy is not just in the world, but heartbreakingly that is the pervading fundamental principle governing the minds of many in the church today as well.
What does all this have to do with the responsibility of the musician to Biblical Theology? The answer is - everything. You see, the arts very rarely set the course for the church or society, but most times it mirrors what is already taking place. To encapsulate, if there be a famine of God’s Word in the pulpit, then the music that we are hearing in the pew will be just as weak, just as diluted and just as compromised.
J.I. Packer saw this trend many years ago,
“The outside observer sees us as staggering from gimmick to gimmick and stunt to stunt like so many drunks in a fog, not knowing at all where we are or which way we should be going. Preaching [and singing] is hazy; heads are muddled; hearts fret; doubts drain strength; uncertainty paralyses action…. Unlike the first Christians who in three centuries won the Roman world, and those later Christians who pioneered the Reformation, and the Puritan awakening and the Evangelical revival, and the great missionary movement of the last century, we lack certainty.”Sadly, that is evangelicalism's current autobiography.
We need to be pounding on Wittenburg’s door again - back to the foundation and convictions of the Reformers - back to the truth of Sola Scriptura… Scripture alone! Packer again demonstrates uncommon insight when asserting:
“Theologians are called to be the church’s water engineers and sewage officers; it is their job to see that God’s pure truth flows abundantly where it is needed and to filter out any intrusive pollution that might damage health.”At one time the great singer/songwriters were the great theologians. Martin Luther; John and Charles Wesley; Isaac Watts, to name a few, have given the church a wealth of tremendous music that feeds our minds and enriches our souls because they wrote out of the depth of God’s truth. That’s the distinguishing mark missing today: His Word - our music; His theology - our doxology; His lawbook - our songbook; His statutes - our songs!
The songs that we compose and the ministries that we forge must square with the Word of God: “Thy statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Also in verse 172, “Let my tongue sing of Thy Word, for all Thy commandments are righteousness.” Here we have the content and theme of David’s song before the Lord, “Thy statutes…and Thy Word… for all Thy commandments are righteousness.”
The subject matter is crystal clear, it is God’s Word. Is there any greater message to sing or preach? Is there any greater love to proclaim? Is there any greater desire in our hearts than to do what Psalm 69:30 says, “I will praise the name of God with song, and shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.”
Truth should always result in praise!
The greatest declaration found anywhere in the Bible on the sufficiency of Scripture is in a song: Psalm 19:7-9. The Psalmist again reminds us that the redeemed people of God are to sing a new song to the Lord. “God gives His new creation a new song, a different song, a distinctive song, a purer song, and a more beautiful song than anything the world can produce.” It is the sweet song of salvation that new creations delight to sing to their Redeemer! We “sing with the Spirit and [we] shall sing with the mind also.” (emphasis added). Doctrine leads to the overwhelming joy of doxology for all true worship is first cognitive and begins in the mind, which ultimately finds expression in shaping and transforming the life!
Great doxology is born out of the depth of theology! Doxology comes from two Greek words: doxa, meaning glory; and logos, meaning word. A doxology then is a word of glory, a note of praise, a saying ascribing worth. The reason why we study theology, which is the summation of His Word, is to know Him deeply and more fully; and it is out of that knowing which comes the humble and joyous utterance of worship, melody and praise!
Doxologies in the New Testament are abundant. One example is Jude 24, a majestic doxology of our future glorification with Christ:
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”This is the language of overflowing gratitude - the good theme of the King’s glorious works inherited from the wisdom of the Scriptures. We are pilgrims on a journey to the Son and in this journey the Lord has given us a heavenly song to sing!
Music is powerful and must be used wisely not frivolously. No one ever buys a book, takes it home and memorizes it in its entirety; but with music just after a few listens, it can be imbedded in your thoughts for a lifetime. That is why biblical truth needs to permeate the very fabric of our music. Still under the constraint of God’s Word, surely there is room for artistic license, when it comes to personal testimony about everyday life, relationships and common experiences. But we can never take artistic license when it comes to His person-hood, acts, gospel, truth for fear that we might trivialize what is profound and sentimentalize what is holy. In other words, we should never unwittingly play marbles with diamonds.
We should heed Colossians 3:16: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Biblical theology in music honors the Lord when rendered with thankful hearts to Him, in response to His Word dwelling richly in our lives.
Spurgeon again confronts us with a riveting story of the importance of the Word of God:
"In the days of Nero there was great shortness of food in the city of Rome, although there was abundance of corn to be purchased in Alexandria. A certain man who owned a vessel… noticed many hungry people straining their eyes toward the sea, watching for the vessels that were to come from Alexandria with corn. When these vessels came to the shore, one by one, the poor people wrung their hands in bitter disappointment, for on board the galleys there was nothing but sand which the tyrant emperor had compelled them to bring for use in the arena. Then the merchant… said to his shipmaster, ‘Take thou good heed that thou bring nothing back with thee from Alexandria but corn; and whereas aforetime thou hast brought in the vessel a measure or two of sand, bring thou not so much as would lie upon a penny this time… for these people are dying, and now we must keep our vessels for this one business of bringing food for them.May the ship of Christian music and publishing bring to the shores of a drowning world, its galleys full of nothing except the life-preserving hope of God’s Word—through the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Alas, I have seen certain mighty galleys of late loaded with nothing but mere sand of philosophy and [entertainment], and I have said within myself, ‘I will bear nothing in my ship but the revealed truth of God, the bread of life so greatly needed by the people."