An Aside: Conscience and Heart Issues (Part 8)

(Read the series so far.)

When we apply Scripture, we arrive at convictions and we obey God by living according to them. But then why the differences? Why would different believers apply Scripture differently? Why would some believers be unable, or “weak” to do things, while others, apparently, don’t apply those Scriptures, at least in that way?

If each Scripture passage has one meaning that doesn’t change based on the reader, should all readers apply it in the same way?

To answer these questions, it helps to know that all these convictions of conscience can also be thought of in terms of heart-issues. I’ll give a personal example. A few years ago, in one of our deacon meetings at church, one of our group didn’t take his hat off when we prayed together.

The next month, when it was time to pray, he did the same thing. But this time one of the other deacons asked him to take it off. Now, for me, hats off during prayer was the norm through Christian High School and at BJU. But, he was surprised1 that people thought hats should be off to pray. He willingly took it off. Before going on, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Do you take your hat off to pray?
  2. Do you think you must take it off? Would it be sinful for you to pray with it on?
  3. If you answer “yes” to either of those questions, why should your hat be off?

I’ll give you my answers.

  1. Yes, I always take my hat off.
  2. Hard to answer. In a sense, no, but it would feel inappropriate and wrong if I didn’t.
  3. The issue, for me, is respect.

Fear of the Lord is commanded throughout the Scriptures. Proverbs 1 calls it the beginning of knowledge and the only wise choice (Prov. 1:7, 29). That we should fear and respect God is beyond question. But what things in our lives show respect to God?

Examples of ways to apply this principle are numerous in Scripture. Psalm 47:1-2 says that participation in worship, including clapping and loud singing, is one response of a heart that fears the Lord. Deuteronomy 31:12-13 says that obedience and teaching God’s Law to one’s children are ways to fear God.

For many in American Christianity, removal of a hat for prayer is simply a way to show respect for God—and not just as a demonstration to others of our respect, but as a demonstration even to ourselves. Another way to put it might be it is a way to live respect. I myself feel a need, out of respect for God, to remove our hat, even praying all alone.

I also do not pray with my legs crossed. It just feels disrespectful to me. So if I’m sitting with my small group, talking and sharing prayer requests, I might sit with one leg crossed over the other. And when it’s time to pray, I put it down. I know why I do it, but I can’t say I’d find it disrespectful of someone else if they didn’t—unless they told me that they were sitting that way because they intend disrespect for God. It is the response of the heart to God that matters in these issues more than the external action.

So why is it difficult to answer question 2? (“Would it be sinful to pray with my hat on?”) Even though it’s just an application of a heart issue of respect, on an individual and cultural basis the heart response can become so tied to the action as to almost equate them. If a player stood with his arms folded and hat on during the national anthem, what would you think of his heart? Hat wearing during prayer isn’t explicitly prohibited. If someone doesn’t view hat wearing as disrespectful, then it would be fine for him to wear his hat.

In the example of hat wearing during prayer, hat removal is a sign of respect. The culture says it means respect, and we take it as a sign of respect for country or God. The study of signs is the science of semiology.2 Many convictions come from Bible principles applied to arbitrary actions which are signs of inner heart conditions. The signs themselves are arbitrary, but they are not personally so.

My culture tells me what “I love you” means. I can’t just decide. As a test, go up to a relative stranger, look her (or him) in the eye, and say, “I love you.” The person to whom you’ve professed love will be unable to accept that you only meant, “What time is it?” and that you just say it a different way. And neither will you be easily able to detach the meaning of this phrase from the spoken words.

This difficulty in detaching meaning from signs is part of the reason that the music/CCM debate is so difficult to resolve. Those who have been taught that some beat or musical element is evil have often been steeped in a culture that connects evil with those sounds. And they can’t detach it easily. In that case, as a heart issue, those sounds have those meanings and they must treat them as such. And those who are steeped in a subculture that connects those sounds with worship have a very difficult time understanding how their brothers see illicit meaning in CCM.

The solution is Romans 14:14. Nothing is unclean of itself— that must be taught emphatically because those who perceive this type of sign associated meaning will tend to see the matter as of itself evil. At the same time, as they perceive an illicit meaning, we must allow them to conclude those things as truly wrong for them.

Some applications of Scripture are real acts of love. A man works to provide income in order to give his family necessities and gifts. He doesn’t spend lavishly on himself to the point that his family has unmet needs (or even wants). Why? Because he is a loving father. His work and spending habits are not just signs of love; they are actual deeds of love.

One of Andy Naselli’s disputable matter questions3 was, “Should christians live as frugally as possible so that they can give away the rest to advance the gospel throughout the world?” We could ask, Is it wrong for a Christian to buy a $50,000 car? It isn’t prohibited in Scripture. (On the other extreme, we could ask, Must a Christian buy a used car that is at least 5 years old?) Luxury isn’t prohibited per se. But there are a lot of heart attitudes that can be wrapped up in his purchase. Perhaps the only way the Christian can afford this car is to not provide his family with medical insurance. Or maybe it would put the family in a position to have no savings for emergencies. Perhaps he wants the car because he is proud and wants others to see him in such a nice car. Perhaps he disregards the call to support the church and the gospel with his money.

For any of these reasons, a man might say, “I can’t buy that car; it would be wrong for me.” He is not saying that it is wrong of itself. But it really is wrong for him, because it would be pride, or selfishness, or because it would make him fail to provide for his family, or leave him unable to support missions or his church. These are biblical reasons for him to be unable (weak) to buy this car.

Paul’s example of celibacy and marriage can be viewed as two different convictions, each with its own biblical support. But they also can be viewed from a framework of heart-issues. Paul and Peter would both see marriage as a means to avoid temptation. But how much temptation is there to be avoided? Different men are tempted by different things and sexual temptation might be more alluring for one man than another.

And they would both see marriage as necessarily bringing worldly anxieties, since one has to devote energy to pleasing his spouse. But some wives produce more of this type of anxiety than others. Some are also motivated for ministry and in some way might work hand-in-hand with their husband, promoting a ministry together for God’s glory.

As young people approach questions in this category (Should I get married? When should I start dating? What type of person should I date?), they will have to examine their hearts. One might see that he does have temptation to sexual sin and he will feel it necessary to apply that principle and get married. A young lady might feel called to foreign missions and see dating as a way to be sidetracked by a husband who wants to work in Minnesota4. She might forgo dating altogether5. A young man called to pastoral ministry might seek a wife who will be a help in ministry and not who will make ministry difficult.

We can describe these issues in terms of applications and convictions or in terms of heart-issues, but in every case, the reality is that they are both. The difference between the descriptions is where one tends to locate the difference between the weak and the strong. If one views these as application/conviction differences, then he tends to locate the difference in the action. He says, “Meat is of itself clean,” and, “Meat is unclean if it is idolatry-tainted enough.”

If one views these as heart-issues, then he tends to locate the difference in the hearts of the brothers. Thus, meat is of itself clean. If someone eats it with a heart of appreciation to God, great. But if someone eats it feeling that doing so is taking part with idol worship, then there is an act of idol worship in his heart and that is wrong.

Understanding this difference is important because with the application/conviction model it is easier to confuse matters ontologically. The weak who thinks something is unclean knows that for him it is unclean. If he is surrounded by weak brothers who share his application/conviction, he will locate the evil in the act itself. No one he knows doubts the application and he concludes that it is ontologically (of itself) evil. It becomes for him not a Romans 14 issue at all. But if he thinks of it in terms of heart issues, then he will more readily understand that the act is not evil, but because it would be done with wrong motive in his heart, it is wrong for him. He sees that the potential evil resides in himself, not the act.


1 He’s a BBC grad; maybe everyone there prays with their hat on?

2 Also called Semiotics—

3 Listed in Part 6.

4 There is, I suppose, nothing wrong with Minnesota, of itself, unless one is called to Viet Nam. Just as there is nothing wrong with Tarshish, unless one is called to Nineveh.

5 Elliot, Elisabeth, Shadow of the Almighty, HarperSanFransisco, 1989, p. 66. “Jim wrote to his parents… ‘the Lord led us both to feel last spring that we were to go through life unmarried-she from Isaiah 54, I from Matthew 19:22 and 1 Corinthians 7.’”

Dan Miller Bio

Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a husband, father, and part-time student.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

Dan, the "tradition" of which you spoke came from an era when people felt more compelled to follow the Biblical command as seemed obvious to them.   I Corinthians 11:4-10 (ESV):

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

We have somehow relegated the covering of a woman's head while praying (I believe aloud) to culture, but retained the idea that a man praying with head covered is not cultural.  Or, perhaps we have caved into the culture on one point but figure a half cave-in is better than a full cave-in?

The issue is complex, and many of us consider it so secondary as to not be worth the division it does and can cause (I am among those who think the negatives of pressing this are not worth it).  Still, if we retain something of the passage (hats off for men) without bad consequences, to me that it is better than nothing. I have forsaken idealism decades ago.

I understand you were using this merely an illustration, but it is a poor one for what you are trying to prove because it is connected DIRECTLY to Scripture, when so interpreted today or not.  Based on this passage, for centuries, men took off their hats in church and women wore hats.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jim's picture

If  you ever connect with a Muslim (we have a relative)

Why is the right hand preferred over the left hand when greeting, eating and in other cases? What is wrong with using the left hand for these purposes?. ...

This is an established principle in sharee’ah: that which has to do with honour and nobility, such as putting on one's garment and pants and shoes, entering the mosque, using the siwaak, putting on kohl, clipping the nails, trimming the moustache, combing the hair, plucking the armpit hair, shaving the head, saying salaam at the end of prayer, washing the limbs when purifying oneself, exiting the toilet, eating and drinking, shaking hands, touching the Black Stone, etc are all things which it is mustahabb to start on the right or use the right hand. As for things which are the opposite, such as entering the toilet, exiting the mosque, blowing one’s nose, cleaning oneself after using the toilet, taking off one’s garment, pants and shoes, and so on, it is mustahabb to start on the left or use the left hand. All of that is because the right hand is more noble and honoured.

... In Saheeh Muslim (2021) it is narrated that a man ate with his left hand in the presence of the Messenger of Allaah (S). He said: “Eat with your right hand.” He said: I cannot. He said: “May you never be able to,” for nothing was preventing him from doing so but arrogance. And he never raised it to his mouth again

I skipped the "Praise Allah" sections This is another example of cultural. I actually eat with my right hand because I am right handed.

I would suspect that a Muslim convert would probably never get over this cultural taboo. Are there any left handed missionaries to Islam? 


Dan Miller's picture

We have somehow relegated the covering of a woman's head while praying (I believe aloud) to culture, but retained the idea that a man praying with head covered is not cultural.

I believe both (MenHatsNo and WomenHatYes) were culturally based in Paul's teaching.

Today, respect is culturally tied to hat removal for men, but our culture has no sense of a hat requirement for women. So, IMO, when I remove my hat to pray (even in private), I do it out of application of a sign of respect from my culture, not Paul's.

If, however, someone believes that they must remove their hat because they must make the application that Paul made, for Paul's reasons, then I would think they would also require hats for women. But I don't believe that line of thinking is appropriate. Paul should have applied his culture's signs; we should apply ours.

Jim's picture

I don't want to turn this into a drinking discussion but 46 years into this Christian journey with 16 years in the pastorate I have observed:

  • Every conservative Christian (ie Biblical / true Christian) agrees that drunkenness is sin! 
  • Those raised in fundamentalism where drinking is a taboo generally conclude that even moderation is sin (absolute (I know this redundant) Teetotaler)
  • Those not raised in fundamentalism and 1st generation Christians generally take a moderation position. 

I conclude that this issue is cultural.

Dan Miller's picture

Yes, you're probably right.

I also think some of it can also come from appropriate respect of one's Pastor. I know a couple who believe that moderate alcohol is a liberty. But their pastor teaches total abstinence. Out of respect for their pastor, they totally abstain. This couple has a lot of Biblical understanding and I can see him at some point being a pastor himself.

Many others might have little ability to research and come to a position they are fully persuaded of. There is an appropriate case where the sheep follow the teaching and application of their pastor. God and their church called him to be their pastor, so they ought to follow him.

Jim's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
There is an appropriate case where the sheep follow the teaching and application of their pastor. God and their church called him to be their pastor, so they ought to follow him.

Should be a separate thread but briefly:

  • I am a multiple elder guy
  • Elders shepherd the flock
  • Constrained by limits of the Word of God (obviously) & the church documents (the church constitution / by-laws, church doctrinal statement (which may or may not be part of constitution) and church covenant if present)

That being said: If the church documents took teetotaler position:

  • I probably would not be a member of the church (I see it as a fringe, third level issue)
  • An ethical church member (and it would seem an "unethical  church member" is an inconsistent position) would abide

If the church documents were silent on an issue (in this discussion the teetotaler position):

  • While I would obviously hear the teaching elder out 
  • But the authority of the Word of God and my role as a believer-priest (something most Baptists declare) would trump his opinion
  • Applies to other issues as well. 
Dan Miller's picture

Should be a separate thread but briefly:

Well, this is a big part of Part 16, so it will be it's own thread eventually.

It is actually a surprisingly complicated question.

Jim's picture

More on the Pastor's authority, and having been one I've given it a lot of thought!

The pastor's authority does not supplant say the father's (or parents') authority over their own children OR the husband's authority over his own wife.


  • Youth pastor has rule that at church camp all shorts must be knee length
  • If I send my kid to church camp, my kids would have knee length shorts
  • But outside of church setting my own dress standards apply
Bert Perry's picture 1 Cor. 11.  Agreed that we have something of a difficult position half-implementing that passage, though.  

And having spent some time in Malaysia, I can state for a fact that lefties (Americans in general) can make friends quickly by using their right hand to eat, especially if they do it when the restaurant or friends understand American culture enough to offer a fork.  So in a very subtle way, I've been a temporary missionary to Muslims.  I am pretty sure that you're also well advised to eat with your right hand in India for some of the same reasons.

One final thought brought up by another comment of Jim's is that there are sadly a lot of cases where believers are reaching "convictions" based on (politely speaking) nonsense.   One I saw yesterday was that Bill Gothard apparently actually said that good music is identifiable by being in common time (4/4) with the emphasis on the first and third beats, but especially the first.    Um, based on exactly what in Scripture?

Never mind the fact that most heavy metal fits Gothard's description, which means that we ought to be listening to AC/DC and Iron Maiden, especially since Angus Young performs in a coat and tie, and Nicko McBrain wears wing tips.  Good IBLP choices, no?  Angus is even a teetotaler! Sign him up for special music next Sunday!  

In other words, let's be careful with our convictions, that they're not just dolled up personal preferences.   And let's remember Colossians 2:23 as well--man-made rules are generally of no use in restraining sensuality.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


Perhaps they could play "Thunderstruck" for the altar call . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

TylerR wrote:

Perhaps they could play "Thunderstruck" for the altar call . . .

Given what Bill Gothard is accused of, not as inappropriate as it ought to be, sad to say.

Seriously,I hope that we can agree, whatever our convictions, that the convictions we arrive at ought to be derived using ideas that are factual and at least related to what Scripture says.  Otherwise, we're almost certain to look like idiots in the eyes of whoever knows the truth.  


Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

...the convictions we arrive at ought to be derived using ideas that are factual and at least related to what Scripture says...

I agree with this - being properly weak is about logical thinking in one's mind about the facts of the world around us and true Biblical principles. 

However, and this discussion is planned for Part 15, what do we do with someone who has a conviction about something, but their conviction is...

  • based on a wrong understanding of Scripture (or not even Scripture)
  • based on a wrong understanding of the world around us
  • based on faulty logic as they tried to connect the real world with Scripture

I think of this person as an improperly weak brother. He is weak - he has concluded that he can't do something. It gets tough to "welcome" the weak when he seems to be improperly weak.

Bert Perry's picture

One other note regarding our posture during prayer is that the Hebrew and Greek words for worship (Strongs 5456, 4352 respectively) both literally mean to prostrate one's self.  So we can legitimately arrive at a conviction of a posture of humility (whatever that means) from sheer etamology.  We can quibble about what that posture is and arrive at different applications, but I would feel really uneasy if I consistently prayed with hat on and nose pointed slightly up like they taught me in marching band in high school, to draw a picture.

Which means I am going to recommend to poor Dan Miller that he complicate this series yet more with commentary on the cool things we can learn if only we really, really get out those thick dusty reference books.  :^) Or maybe Dan's already ahead of us and has it in #13.....

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

That's a really good point, Bert. That probably would fit perfectly in this chapter - or it might fit in 14 or 15. But it never stops. 

To combine the ideas of your last two posts, I once heard a man in my church insist that by not raising hands in worship, we were doing it wrong - because "the men should pray, lifting holy hands" (1Tim 2:8). Lifting hands, to him was a gesture of loving expectation - like a child holding up his hands to be lifted by his daddy.


josh p's picture

Really looking forward to further discussion about this. I often think about this as I have seen the weaker brother argument made to justify some strange ideas. For instance if a person believes by conviction that a woman must not wear pants to church does that mean that all other women in the church must now comply so as to not "cause someone to stumble." 

The same goes with translations, beards, etc. At what point are we perpetuating error? When do we just say, "You are mishandling the scriptures."

Dan Miller's picture

Josh, looking ahead, I think this fits best in Part 15 or 16. But it also fits well here.

I question this:

I have seen the weaker brother argument made to justify some strange ideas. For instance ... a woman must not wear pants

Have you really seen this as a "weaker brother argument"? My experience with those who teach things like "no pants for women" is different. They tend to make these teachings as general truths of right and wrong and they would insist that they are NOT the weaker brother.

josh p's picture

Yes I have seen term applied by people in the church in reference to certain other people who held those views. A former pastor even taught through Romans and made the argument that in 14 Paul is saying that the "strong" must be willing to forego certain liberties for the sake of the "weaker" more restrained (by their own conscience) brother. There was a lot of discussion afterwards and several people came to this conclusion about various things. I agree though that most often people believe they have scriptural warrant for most of the issues I raised. I have enjoyed the discussion this far and am looking forward to more. I found Dr. Snoeberger's article helpful on Romans 14 but I have a lot to learn about the passage and the various positions about it. 

josh p's picture

To clarify: I meant that I have seen person A (who does not hold to a certain standard) alter their own conduct in order to not cause a stumbling block to person B who does hold to it. Even in cases where person B's view is absolutely foreign to scripture. As I say, I have a lot to learn but that in many cases seems like an unloving thing to do since it only perpetuates error. 

Dan Miller's picture

perpetuates error...

I've maintained through my series that each must be allowed (and encouraged) to be fully persuaded in his own mind about his convictions. 

So I would NOT agree that we should think of the convictions of the weak as "error." Paul never does that, in fact, he encouraged the weak to be fully persuaded and to honor the Lord by living out his conviction.

Included in having a conviction, though, is learning that it is OK if others do not make the same conviction. We are way too lenient in allowing a weak brother to think that he is just plain right. Paul is clear in Romans 14 that the eating of the strong is fine and the conviction of the weak is honoring to his Lord.

absolutely foreign to Scripture...

None of the "weak" convictions in Scripture are treated as "absolutely foreign to Scripture." They are all legitimate application-type issues:

  • Sabbath -vs- all days alike ?
  • Eat the meat, or do as Daniel and other OT saints did and avoid possibly-tainted meat ?
  • Eat surely-tainted meat ?
  • Marry or apply "avoid anxieties" even to avoidance of marriage?

But to deal with what Josh P is saying, what about a "conviction" that is "absolutely foreign to Scripture"? That is, it has NO Biblical basis. 

First, I don't think it is super easy to find such a thing. Take your example of "Pants on women." 

There are a couple lines of support for this conviction that I've heard over the years:

1) immodest, especially of tight-fitting

This could be legitimate, and how immodest is too immodest is an tough line to draw precisely.

2) wearing of clothing that pertains to the opposite sex.

This is Biblical - but also cultural, as the culture, to some extent, defines what pertains to each sex. Did the initial pants for women style changes involve a sense of rebelliously wearing what pertained to a man? perhaps. If that's the case, I would think that we would at least say there is a Biblical basis for not going along with that. But with time the rebelliousness has faded and IMO pants pertain to both men and women at this point.


Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Josh's point, I can think of a few things that it would be hard to make a Biblical argument for--one example being the idea that music with a beat has the "Devil's Beat."  You will break a sweat, rhetorically speaking, torturing the Scriptures to say that.

But that said, Josh doesn't need to argue that the conviction is completely in error.  Rather, he (or I or others) simply must argue that significant evidence presented for that conviction is erroneous.   And with that correction, the conviction is revealed to be not a conviction, but a delusion.

Which is really what we ought to be saying more often when we realize that the person with a "conviction" against something rarely says he's the weaker brother.  That is, is this a real conviction born of a man's weakness, or are we simply trying to ingraft Victorian/Edwardian social mores into Scripture and grossly violate Colossians 2's warning about letting others steal our freedom?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

When you ask, "Error of convictions, or of evidence?," I think you're pointing out a good concept.

There are two levels at which errors can occur in the making of convictions:

1. What are true Biblical principles with regard to what is required or prohibited?

2. Are the facts of the world around us expressions of those required or prohibited things?

I use terms like this:

"Biblical principles" - #1 above - these are debatable and include allowing Scripture to define the terms used. I suspect this is what you mean when you say, "Error of convictions."

"Knowledge of our lives" - #2 above - I think this is what you mean by "evidence." Dr. Bauder gave a great message on the need for this step in application of Scripture.

This comes in two ways: Real expressions and sign expressions. I can hate you by punching you or neglecting you. I can also hate you by saying, "I hate you," which is a language-sign expression of my hatred, even though it actually does you no real-world damage.

"Application" - I use this term for instances of connection between #1 and #2. So, "I apply X principle to x act in my life."

"Conviction" - The final act in my life that I am either obliged or forbidden to do. In the end, the conviction stands on it's own.


Ok - music.

There isn't any warning in Scripture of a dangerous musical style. 

There are two sorts of arguments against CCM. They both fit under "Knowledge of our lives."

  1. Musical elements are sign expressions of various things, some of which are wrong for worship.
  2. Musical elements are real expressions of those things. 

Scott Aniol combines these by saying that some signs are actually real and that some musical elements express the things they do because of our neurobiology. In other words, he says that some "signs" aren't really signs - they are real expressions of ideas because our bodies really take them that way.

If a group believes that some musical element is sexual, they are going to attach that meaning to it when they hear it. And as long as they do that, I don't think it's appropriate for worship.

So, do "the Scriptures say" that some beat is wrong? No, but does Scripture say things that make us conclude that worship should be God-focused and not about sex (#1)? Then, does X music communicate "sex" to you (#2)? If you answer "yes" to both of those questions, then X music is wrong for you in worship.

I think John Frame (CCM in worship defender) and Scott Aniol (CCM in worship detractor) would both answer the 1st question "Yes." Therefore, the music debate exists entirely in the realm of the 2nd question. It has nothing to do with Scripture, even though the conviction of the anti-CCMer rests partly on Scripture. 

The answer to the 2nd question requires some introspection. Ask an anti-CCMer, "Does X music communicate 'sex' to you? I mean to YOU. Do YOU really think 'sex' when you hear that?" I think some, if they are honest, will say, "Well, no. But I am told that that type of beat is sexual." Part 10 (two away) deals with how the conscience can be adjusted in such cases. Others would say, "No, I do think that sounds like sex." (Keep in mind that I haven't said what X is; I think we could point to a music that we'd all say sounds like sex and wouldn't be right for worship.) Part 9 (next) deals briefly with welcoming those who differ.

Larry Nelson's picture


Dan Miller wrote:

The answer to the 2nd question requires some introspection. Ask an anti-CCMer, "Does X music communicate 'sex' to you? I mean to YOU. Do YOU really think 'sex' when you hear that?" I think some, if they are honest, will say, "Well, no. But I am told that that type of beat is sexual." Part 10 (two away) deals with how the conscience can be adjusted in such cases. Others would say, "No, I do think that sounds like sex." (Keep in mind that I haven't said what X is; I think we could point to a music that we'd all say sounds like sex and wouldn't be right for worship.) Part 9 (next) deals briefly with welcoming those who differ.


Using Google, I picked a few recent CCM worship songs (almost) at random:


1. Blessings by Laura Story:

2. Jesus, Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns:

3. Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies) by Chris Tomlin:

4. Cornerstone by Hillsong:

5. 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman:

6. How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin:

7. Who Am I? by Casting Crowns:


QUESTION: Does anyone here "really think 'sex'" when listening to any of these?


Bert Perry's picture

And of course we've got to keep Psalms 149 and 150 in mind here; percussive instruments and dancing indicate that at least some Temple music was danceable and had that beat.  That's my major counterpoint; you've got to develop your experiential metric in light of the Biblical one, and all too often it doesn't fit.

Plus, I think we have to think about what we mean by a song making one think of sex.  Not even Ravel's Bolero or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring would do that for me.  Not even Orff's In Trutina, and definitely not anything written in the past 50 years.

What I think we're really trying to get at, I think, is the question of whether the lyrics, poetic structure, tonal characterization, and the like are (a) fitting for a modern love song and (b) are not compatible with the tone and message of Scripture.  Tough distinction--I tend to draw a line when the singing is really breathy and things get really emotive.  

Word picture: Air Supply.  Or Kenny G.   Generally Christian artists--at least the ones who get heard in most churches--have the good sense to abandon some of the things done in the nastier songs by heavy metal bands.  They often miss a lot of what is going on in soft rock, though.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

Berry White comes to mind - or am I thinking of the wrong guy?

I think that understanding the two step process of application is important to recognizing the nature of our differences. 

If I believe:

  • Sexy music = not ok for worship, and
  • X music is sexy

Then I will not be free to use X music for worship.

But if I realize that X music actually has nothing to sex and no one in my church actually thinks it does, then accepting X for worship can occur even though I make NO change in my Biblical understanding or committment.

Bert Perry's picture

Barry White works as a great example--the only weakness as far as I'm concerned is that his work is so obviously seductive/romantic that (sarcasm alert) even fundagelical Christians get it.  On the bright side, it can be used for catching snakes, I'm told.

And to be fair, it can be hard, because the Church is indeed the Betrothed of Christ--our relationship to Him is not distant as in Islam, but is rather warm, tender, etc..  But that conceded, it's my view that "fundagelicals" need to get back to the Psalms--not as in exclusive Psalmnody as in the Puritan era, but to get the "feel" for how God's people ought to praise Him.  Then our musical issues will work themselves out.

Except for one thing; we need to pay attention to musicality.  To draw a picture, I love Bach, Gregorian Chants (and the Russian equivalent, I've got some of those, too), Handel, the German hymns of the 1600s, Wesleyan and Puritan hymns of the 17th-19th centuries, bluegrass gospel, black ambivalent about camp meeting songs and hymns since about 1850 (look at the tenor and bass parts for why--FFFF CCCC BORING), and most CCM I just can't stand.  

It's not because I don't like the 12 bar blues or electric guitars, but rather because the poetry and musicality is just not there.  It's things like needing a competent bassist, understanding the need to use silence and quiet in music, understanding that free verse is difficult to make "work" (most really should use a consistent meter), and that the tone knobs on that Stratocaster are there for a reason.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

Barry White style music (btw, someone PM'd me that perhaps I mean Berry Gordy) is pretty clearly wrong for worship music.

But what about the claim that CCM is sexual in it's musical elements?

The point I wanted to make is: the difference between evaluating Barry White and CCM is not a Biblical difference. I say this to challenge you, Bert, on this comment:

Bert: Regarding Josh's point, I can think of a few things that it would be hard to make a Biblical argument for--one example being the idea that music with a beat has the "Devil's Beat."

Here's the challenge: Don't frame this as a "Biblical arguement." Scott Aniol, in calling for the rejection of a CCM song, makes two arguments: 1) The song is [sexual]. 2) A sexual song should not be used for worship.

#1 is a Biblical argument, and it's not hard to make. #2 has nothing to do with Scripture - it is part of the science and art of music.

In this paper, I assert that the CCM issue is always going to be tough to solve because we each "hear" slightly or not-so-slightly different meanings in the music we use. So even if two brothers agree on what "meanings" we ought to have in our worship music, they won't agree on the meanings present in a particular piece. These "heard meanings" cannot simply be "unheard." The Bible will not solve their differences because they place they differ isn't Biblical. At least it won't solve their differences in the sense of ending them.

But passages like Romans 14-15 and 1 Cor 8-10 will help us live and worship together. But first we must realize that the "weak" brother who can't use X song in worship because it sounds like sex to him may be expressing a Biblical and logical position.

So we need to get comfortable with saying and hearing, "Yes, I see that you have a Biblical point and I see that you are being logical. Your point is valid. But I don't agree." 

dcbii's picture


Dan, did you reverse #1 and #2, or do I perhaps not understand your statements about Scott's arguments?

Dave Barnhart


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