Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Developing a theology of music

Music - contemporary versus traditional, praise and worship versus hymns and Gospel songs - has become a very divisive issue. Two significant things we should not forget though:

There isn’t a single reference to music in Luke’s account of what happened during Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.

[2] Colossians 3:16 emphasizes the teaching or didactic function of music: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Pastors must retake responsibility for doctrinal content of music

Seldom do we find pastors who are good in music (singing, conducting or playing any instrument). Thus, pastors often leave the choice of music to the choir director or the song leader. As the 1996 Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals observed, “Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music.” Leonard Payton in “How Shall We Sing to God?” mentioned below says that “pastors must retake ecclesiastical authority over the music and over every word sung in corporate worship and in small groups.”

Some resources that can help you in developing your church’s theology of music are the following:

[1] Building a Christian Philosophy of Music, from Free Sunday School Lessons (Baptist/Reformed), with a critique of “many serious weaknesses” of Contemporary Christian Music:

Some guiding principles that should shape congregational singing and hymnody:

1. Theo-centricity (God-centered): songs that focus on the character of God, such as “Immortal, Invisible” or “Holy, Holy, Holy”

2. Gospel-centricity: songs that focus on the person and work of Jesus, such as “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners!” or “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”

3. Theologically accurate: songs that convey the truths of the Scripture accurately and clearly, such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or “And Can it Be?”

4. Simplicity (ease of singing): songs that are easy to understand and memorize, such as “Amazing Grace” or “The Old Rugged Cross”

5. Beauty: songs that use imaginative and compelling poetry, such as the lyrics from Isaac Watts, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” – “Must I be carried to the skies, on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?”

6. Musical excellence: substantial tunes of majesty and nobility, such as “Austrian Hymn” (Glorious Things) by Haydn, “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven, “Aurelia” (“The Church’s One Foundation”) by Samuel Wesley
[2] “How Shall We Sing to God? Recovering the authority of Scripture in worship musicby Leonard Payton, from The Coming Evangelical Crisis by John H. Armstrong (Moody press, 1996):
The lyrics in many of the praise choruses often contradict Scripture. Consider the chorus “Highest Place” directly associated with Philippians 2:9: “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (NIV)

We place you on the highest place,
For You are the great High Priest;
We place You high above all else,
And we come to You and worship
At your feet.”

The trouble is that these lyrics indicate it is Christians – not God – who exalt Jesus to the highest place, directly contradicting the Scripture on which the song is based.
[3] “Enjoy Your Worship (free PDF download), from the book “O Worship The King” by John Macarthur, Joni Eareckson Tada, Robert and Bobbi Wolgemuth, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2000):
Praise choruses are meant to be sung as simple personal expressions of worship, whereas hymns are usually corporate expressions of worship with an emphasis on some doctrinal truth. A hymn usually has several stanzas, each of which builds on or expands the theme introduced in the first stanza. By contrast, a praise chorus is usually much shorter, with one or two verses, and most of these choruses make liberal use of repetition in order to prolong the focus on a single idea or expression of praise.

Few modern praise choruses teach or admonish. Instead, most are written to stir the feelings only. They are too often sung like a mystical mantra—with the deliberate purpose of putting the intellect into a passive state while the worshiper musters as much emotion as possible.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the simple, straightforward personal praise that characterizes the best of today’s praise choruses. Neither is there anything wrong with the evangelistic and testimonial thrust of yesterday’s gospel songs. But it is a profound tragedy that in some circles, only contemporary choruses are sung. Other congregations limit their repertoire to hundred-year-old gospel songs. Meanwhile, a large and rich body of classic Christian hymnody is in danger of being utterly lost out of sheer neglect.

Obviously, then, neither the antiquity nor the popularity of a gospel song is a good measure of its worthiness. And the fact that a gospel song is “old fashioned” is quite clearly no guarantee that it is suited for edifying the church. When it comes to church music, older is not necessarily better.

In fact, these same “old fashioned” gospel songs that are so often extolled by critics of modern church music are actually what paved the way for the very tendencies those critics sometimes rightly decry. In particular, the lack of substance in so much of today’s music is the predictable fruit of the wholesale shift away from hymns to gospel songs, which began sometime in the late nineteenth century.
[4] “The Music of Worship, Pleasing God or Pleasing Ourselves?by Becky Maceda, FaithWalk Vol. 3 No. 1:
To evaluate worship biblically is to be willing to step back from our own preferences and experiences and ask, “What pleases God in worship?” We know that not all worship and music please Him (see Ex. 32:4-6). We therefore need to examine three aspects of worship music if we are to bring it in line with Scripture: 1) the words that we sing. 2) the melodies of the words we sing, and 3) the instruments we use to accompany the singing.

True worship is faithful to the doctrine of God as revealed in Scripture. Even the most well-intentioned believer may unwittingly end up in idolatry--worshiping a god he has fashioned in his own image.

Kim Riddlebarger argues: “This is not to say that worship is not to be emotional or that one is not to experience God during worship, but worship must be based on a correct knowledge of God, not an ecstatic experience of God. Worship has a doctrinal, and not experiential, context. This intellectual priority in worship is also seen in the prohibitions against idolatry.”

We need to be careful then of such lyrics as these:

I just want to be where You are
Dwelling daily in your presence
Take me to the place where you are
I just want to be with You.

Is God omnipresent? It is not clear from the words of this song, specifically the third line, even when the entire song is considered.
[5] “Music and the Worship of the Living God” by Dan G. MacCartney, Adjunct Professor of New Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary (discussion of the principles of correspondence, holiness, regulative, holistic and excellence):
The worship of God, and thus, also the music of worship, should correspond to God’s character. How we worship should reflect the kind of God He is.
[6] “Reformation in Doctrine, Worship, and Life” by James Montgomery Boice (Reformed theologian and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death; former chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years; founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals):
Whereas the old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways with winsome, memorable language, today’s songs reflect a shallow or non-existent theology … songs that merely repeat a trite idea, word or phrase over and over again. Songs like these are not worship, though they may give the churchgoer a religious feeling. They are mantras which belong more in a gathering of New Agers than among the worshiping people of God.
[7] “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal” by T. David Gordon

“In such communions, worship had previously been understood as a meeting between God and His visible people. Worship was a dialogue, if you will: God speaking through Word and sacrament, and His people responding in prayer, praise, and confession. The decisions that governed such worship revolved around this dialogical conception of worship as a meeting between God and His people.”

“The failure to make such a distinction creates an unintended irony: that those who are genuinely seeking for God are often repulsed by the so-called seeker-friendly services, which seem to be more about fun than answering life’s most serious question.”

“Young people who attend church see a group of fifty-year-olds playing their guitars in front of the church in order to reach the young will perhaps politely appreciate the gesture, but they frankly regard the music as being fairly lame.”

“Biblically, the goal of youth is to leave it as rapidly as possible. The goal of the young, biblically, is to be mature…1 Cor 13:11.” “Extended adolescence is part of what our youth need to be delivered from.”

“The most common argument for employing contemporary worship music is the strategic argument: to reach a culture captivated by pop music, the church must employ such music. But this argument, as we have just seen, is far from cogent.”

“When the church approaches an individual as a consumer to be pleased, rather than as a recalcitrant sinner to be rescued, the church is no longer doing what it is called to do.”

“The question of what constitutes a suitable or appropriate prayer or song for Christian worship is as old as the apostolic church. Paul addressed the Corinthians on the matter, for instance (1 Cor 14:14-17).”

“We don’t disagree with the past; we just don’t pay attention to it.”

“Johnny hasn’t been persuaded that hymn-singing is wrong; Johnny simply cannot relate to anything that doesn’t sound contemporary. He cannot shed his cultural skin, the skin of contemporaneity, of triviality, of paedocentrism. He thinks he prefers contemporary worship music forms to other forms, but in reality he prefers contemporaneity as a trout prefers water; it is the only environment he knows.”

“Johnny is monogenerational outside the church; so he is monogenerational inside the church.”

Should Baptist churches sing “Majesty”?

Question: What do the term “kingdom authority” and the expression “Kingdom authority flows from His throne” mean? The answer determines whether Baptist churches should consider singing “Majesty” or not.

Jack Hayford (prominent pastor of Church-on-the-Way Foursquare Church, founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, and with prominent members such as Pat Boone, TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch) wrote this song in 1977 after he and his wife visited England.

In Kenneth W. Osbeck’s book “Amazing Grace 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, Hayford explains what his song is all about:
“Majesty” describes the kingly, lordly, gloriously regal nature of our Savior – but not simply as an objective statement in worship of which He is fully worthy. “Majesty” is also a statement of the fact that our worship, when begotten in spirit and truth, can align us with His throne in such a way that His Kingdom authority flows to us – to overflow us, to free us and channel through us. We are rescued from death, restored to the inheritance of sons and daughters, qualified for victory in battle against the adversary, and destined for the Throne forever in His presence.
“Majesty” teaches Pentecostal kingdom doctrine

Ptr. David Cloud in his book “Contemporary Christian Music Under the Spotlight” (1998) argues that “Majesty” teaches Pentecostal kingdom doctrine. Ptr. Cloud is an oftentimes controversial figure and we should not take his view as the final word in this matter. However, considering Hayford’s Pentecostal theology, how else can we explain what the line “kingdom authority flows from His throne” means?

The “Apologetics Index” in its article “An Examination of Kingdom-, Dominion-, and Latter Rain Theology” describes what Pentecostal “Kingdom Theology” is all about:
The basic premise of Kingdom Theology is that man lost dominion over the earth when Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan's temptation in the Garden of Eden.

God “lost control” of the earth to Satan at that time, and has since been looking for a "covenant people" who will be His “extension,” or “expression,” in the earth and take dominion back from Satan. This is to be accomplished through certain “overcomers” who, by yielding themselves to the authority of God’s apostles and prophets for the Kingdom Age, will take control of the kingdoms of this world.

These kingdoms are defined as all social institutions, such as the “kingdom” of education, the “kingdom” of science, the “kingdom” of the arts, and so on. Most especially there is the “kingdom” of politics or government.

This naturally implies the concentration of military and police power in the hands of those in control during the Kingdom Age. They are referred to as the “many-membered man child,” whom Kingdom Theology adherents believe will be the fulfillment of Revelation 12:1-5: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars....And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.”

Those who hold to Kingdom Theology assume that the Church (some believe only a small group within the Church, called “overcomers”), under submission to the latter day apostles and prophets, is that man child, and that it has the responsibility to put down all rebellion and establish righteousness. This necessitates the utilization of supernatural power and the full implementation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This theory is based upon the idea that all authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to Jesus. Since believers are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit that indwelt Jesus, we have all authority in heaven and on the earth; we have the power to believe for and speak into existence things that are not, and thus we can bring about the Kingdom Age.

The many-membered man child must take control of the earth before Jesus can return. Necessary to the Kingdom Age is “the Restoration of the Tabernacle of David,” defined as the completion of perfection of the Bride of Christ - a Church without spot or wrinkle.

During the Kingdom Age (or after all else is subdued during that time) Satan and all enemies of God will be put under the feet of the many-membered man child. This will be the fulfillment of I Corinthians 15:25-26: “For he (Christ) must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

Note: I do not wish to nor can impose on anyone my view about “Majesty”. I do believe in the Biblical distinctives of Baptists, specifically, autonomy of the local church (download PDF) and individual soul liberty (download PDF).

No comments: