Imposing Preferences

In the conflict over fundamentalism and culture, meta-debate seems to have overshadowed debate. Healthy debate is what occurs when two parties look at the real points of disagreement between them and try to support their own position on those points.

Meta-debate is what happens when we debate about matters surrounding the debate. At its best meta-debate may help clarify and focus the real debate when it happens. It may lead to healthy debate. But it is not the debate itself, because the real points of disagreement are not in focus.

But meta-debate quite often breeds confusion and makes the truly differing claims and supporting arguments less clear rather than more clear. This sort of meta-debate takes many forms from trading insults, to assigning ideas to the other side that they don’t really hold, to framing the debate itself in a way that obscures its true nature.

One example of the latter is the phrase “imposing preferences.”

I’ve been hearing this term for years and still hear it quite often. If you’ve used it in communication with me recently, please don’t think I’m targeting you specifically. It’s an expression that has long lived in my “If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times” file.

But if there is ever going to be progress in the culture and tradition debate, it’ll happen when we get down to the real points of disagreement. And that process begins by identifying what we really don’t disagree about.

“Imposing preferences,” is a classic example of one item we should agree to dismiss as unhelpful meta-debate. To put it another way, Christians on all sides of the culture-and-fundamentalism conflict (which focuses mainly on the styles of music used in worship, along with clothing styles and forms of entertainment) ought to agree that the debate is really not about imposing preferences. Here’s why.

A loaded term

The phrase “imposing their preferences” is heavily freighted. “Imposing” suggests an illegitimate exercise of authority or raw power over unwilling victims. “Preferences” implies that what is being “imposed” is nothing more than personal taste. It’s as though congregational worship is a pizza buffet where random individuals insist that pizzas must be topped only with meat and cheese, not veggies or—perish the thought—fungi. The random preference-imposers make such a stink that even though 99% of those present either love mushrooms or don’t care about toppings at all, the rules of the few oppress all.

But is the debate really about whether random minorities of Christians should bully their churches into conforming to their tastes? Is this scenario really part of the debate (vs. meta-debate) at all?

Let’s take a closer look at “imposing preferences.”

“Imposing”

In local churches, God has ordained that carefully selected leaders have oversight over worship. They are not to be “domineering” (ESV, 1 Pet. 5:3) but are to “rule,” and the congregation’s response is to “obey” (Heb. 13:17). The reason obedience is required is that these leaders are responsible before God for, at the very least, the basic quality and integrity of what the church does. The authority derives from the responsibility.

Further, though these leaders are responsible and authoritative, they remain accountable to some degree to the congregation at large (1 Tim. 5:1, Gal. 1:8-9, 1Tim.3:1-7, etc.). As believers we are all responsible to some degree for our church’s obedience to Scripture.

In that light, it may help to consider two facts, then a conclusion.

  • Fact 1: “Imposing” only occurs when authority is used illegitimately.
  • Fact 2: Illegitimate use of authority is not a tenet of cultural conservatism or cultural non-conservatism or any of the views in between.
  • Therefore, “imposing” is irrelevant to the debate.

Whenever “imposing” something enters the discussion, we have entered into another debate entirely: how authority should be exercised in the church and in para-church ministries. It’s an important debate, to be sure, but a separate one from culture, meaning, styles and worship.

“Preferences”

What exactly is a “preference”? In the phrase “imposing their preferences,” as commonly used, the meaning is usually something like this: what you like or enjoy more than other options that differ in no important way. The term assumes that the options on the table are equal in every way that matters, so all that’s left is your personal taste. To revisit he pizza buffet analogy, who’s to say if pizza is better with or without green peppers and mushrooms? You like (a.k.a. “prefer”) what you like, and I like what I like.

The problem with this way of framing the issue is that those who are particular about music styles used for worship do not see the options as being equal in every way but personal taste. In fact, as they see it, what they like or enjoy is not the issue at all. It isn’t about whether they like pepper or mushrooms; it’s about what sort of buffet this is supposed to be.

Another analogy may be helpful. To those who are particular about the music styles that are suitable for worship—and especially those who favor traditional styles over popular ones—the options on the table differ in ways unrelated to taste and far more important than taste. It isn’t a pizza buffet, it’s an Italian dinner, and the options are lasagna, chicken catetori, and shrimp primavera vs. hot dogs, burgers, and hot wings. Arguably, both menus have their place, but at an Italian Dinner, personal taste is not the decisive factor in choosing between these menus.

The “preferences” characterization overlooks another important reality: though not everyone is particular about music styles used for worship, everybody is particular about music-style policy. Traditionalists want to limit musical choices to more time-tested forms, but non-traditionalists want to operate free of that restriction. Both strongly “prefer” something and usually want to see their preference become church (or university, camp, school, etc.) policy.

There is no preference-free option here.

So where does all of this lead our thinking? If we define “preferences” as matters of choice among options that differ in no important way, nobody on either side of the music debate is in favor of that. On the other hand, if we define “preferences” as what we believe to be right, everybody in the music debate favors that.

So, just as “imposing” proved to be irrelevant to the real debate, so “preferences” has no place in the debate either. As soon as we go there, we’ve stepped into some aspect of meta-debate and are no longer addressing any points of actual disagreement.

Forward

At this point in the culture conflict, it would be a great step forward if believers of all perspectives were to grant that the best proponents of both views (and those between) are not aiming to force personal whims on anyone (much less everyone), but desire instead to see their churches and ministries do what honors God and truly blesses His people.

To be sure, there are advocates in the conflict who are selfish, mean spirited, and intellectually lazy. Because they haven’t given the matter much thought, they are, by default, imposing their preferences (whether in the form of excluding contemporary styles or including them). But we can easily find people like that on both sides of any debate in human—including Christian—history. If we look at the best representatives of all the views involved we’re on track toward clarity and a much more fruitful debate.

Aaron Blumer Bio


Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.

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Jay's picture

That's why I find it really hard to think about using certain genres for praising God.

I can't speak for Greg, but if/when I'm looking for songs - especially for a congregation vs. individual worship or enjoyment - I'm looking for a song at it's merits, not whether or not it fits into a particular genre.  Genre, as a category, is almost completely worthless to me.

As I said before, the first time I heard "Behold Your God" by SGM, my first thought wasn't "Sovereign Grace Music!" or "Traditional Music!" or whatever.  My first thought was "Wow, what a great, doctrinally sound song." and also "I wanted to sing with it".

Same with several others by SGM: 'Plead for Me', 'Father, How Sweet', 'Our Song From Age To Age', and 'All I Have Is Christ', for starters. It wasn't that I became a SGM groupie and then went looking to use their stuff everywhere - it's that SGM songs were songs that were high quality, doctrinally sturdy, and singable/teachable, so I started paying attention to what they were putting out as a result. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

DavidO's picture

songs that were high quality

Hi Jay,

Can you describe what you mean by this? 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

However, is it possible for some elements of music to communicate inappropriately for worship no matter how far removed from the cultural context?

If yes, how do you determine that?


Don, I think that these two questions are those that people on all sides of this discussion would want to know the answers to.

I know you are asking someone from the "modern" point of view to answer this, but I haven't gotten good answers on these from the conservative/traditional side either, not even from those who are supposedly the most studied. The conservative side is the one I'm on from practice and preference, but to date I've heard no really good arguments from that side on *why* only certain traditional music meets God's standards (or *if*, in point of fact, that certain traditional music truly does meet God's standards).

Dave Barnhart

Anne Sokol's picture

dcbii wrote:
(or *if*, in point of fact, that certain traditional music truly does meet God's standards).
I dont really think God thinks about this the way we are thinking about it.

 

like, when I was reading some of the conservative music stuff yrs ago, a question stuck with me--"Can you see this (imagine) this music being played before a holy God?" It's that "meet God's standards" idea.

 

it stuck with me at the time, but now, I really don't think/see that God evaluates our music this way. 1) I mean, what really is good enough for heaven and a holy God? It assumes our ideas of greatness, for one thing. 2) God's standards, to a large degree, is what is going on in our hearts while we're singing. 3) there is somehting else I can't put my finger on.

 

but my point is that often we have this  idea of God's standard of music or in a way that I don't think is in Scripture.

FWIW

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

On the idea that what we use in worship is a different matter from how we handle doctrine... I'm not entirely sure what you mean. Would it be:

  • a. That what we do (even in worship) is not as important as what we believe?
  • b. That what we believe or do when we apply Scripture is not as important as the things Scripture teaches directly?
  • c. That musical form (aka style) is inherently less important than other applications of Scripture?

I suppose other possibilities exist. But I'll answer all three of these.

In the case of a., I don't think it's possible ultimately to separate orthopraxy entirely from orthodoxy. It's all obedience or disobedience, one in mind and one in action. 

In the case of b., there is almost always less certainty. I'm not sure it follows that there is always less importance. Some of the examples I mentioned upthread a ways illustrate the point. A new one: If a pastor gambles a large part of his paycheck away every month, most churches would take that very seriously and discipline him in some way. But where is the chapter and verse on that? Principles have to be derived from multiple passages and applied. But is it less important? Maybe, but it's sure not obvious that this is the case.

In the case of c., well that's really what the debate is about. Form, meaning, impact on the mind and affections, the relationship of these to changing culture--all with the goal of determining what is suitable for corporate worship. These are nontrivial questions, so we can't  just assert that they don't matter. It's necessary to make a case either that they don't or that they do and why.

Because the subject is corporate worship, we don't quite have the luxury of dealing with the question as an individual-liberty situation. It doesn't precisely fit Romans 14 because there is no way individuals can each do their own thing within a single congregation. There must be some kind of decision about how the entire body will worship when they worship together.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Caleb S's picture

Jay wrote:

That's why I find it really hard to think about using certain genres for praising God.

I can't speak for Greg, but if/when I'm looking for songs - especially for a congregation vs. individual worship or enjoyment - I'm looking for a song at it's merits, not whether or not it fits into a particular genre.  Genre, as a category, is almost completely worthless to me.

As I said before, the first time I heard "Behold Your God" by SGM, my first thought wasn't "Sovereign Grace Music!" or "Traditional Music!" or whatever.  My first thought was "Wow, what a great, doctrinally sound song." and also "I wanted to sing with it".

Same with several others by SGM: 'Plead for Me', 'Father, How Sweet', 'Our Song From Age To Age', and 'All I Have Is Christ', for starters. It wasn't that I became a SGM groupie and then went looking to use their stuff everywhere - it's that SGM songs were songs that were high quality, doctrinally sturdy, and singable/teachable, so I started paying attention to what they were putting out as a result. 

Every time that I listen to and sing "Behold Your God" my mind goes straight to Isaiah 40.  It is as if the song comes straight from the text there.  I love how awesomely incomparable God is!  And when people call that music bad or evil and want to separate from it; it just makes me cringe and very sad.

DavidO's picture

Every time that I listen to and sing "Behold Your God" my mind goes straight to Isaiah 40.

 

Interestingly, when I hear it, my mind goes straight a theme from Lost.  But that's mostly my own fault. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Anne Sokol wrote:

but my point is that often we have this  idea of God's standard of music or in a way that I don't think is in Scripture.


I certainly can't say that God thinks of music in the same terms we do. However, one argument that is often used is that certain music is not proper for use when worshiping a holy God. If we are going to use any music at all then, that implies that some music must then be proper, and that implies (though it might not be thought of this way by those making the argument) that such music meets God's standards, or we could not present it to him as acceptable worship.

I suppose someone could make an argument that the things we are to think upon (from Phil 4:8, things that are true, honest, just, etc.) could not include anything done by man, since nothing we do could be true, honest, just, etc. in an absolute sense.

But if anything we do can be presented to God as acceptable worship, there must be a way to determine its level of propriety (otherwise, we are back to using the RPW and including nothing that is not directly commanded, and as was discussed in this thread or another, even that is not a perfect solution).

So I still think that Don's questions apply to all believers. For me, his questions about music lead to a more general question: How do we prove that what we present God (in music or any area) is acceptable to him?

Dave Barnhart

JNoël's picture

DavidO wrote:

songs that were high quality

Hi Jay,

Can you describe what you mean by this? 

 

You took the words right out of my mouth. Not only is "high quality" subjective, but, in the case of SGM, rather questionable with regards to musical excellence.

Not at all saying I don't appreciate or even like various SGM productions, mind you. Just fascinating to see someone blanket SGM with the term High Quality. Smile

 

V/r

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ron Bean's picture

DavidO wrote:

Every time that I listen to and sing "Behold Your God" my mind goes straight to Isaiah 40.

 

Interestingly, when I hear it, my mind goes straight a theme from Lost.  But that's mostly my own fault. 

 

And every time I hear John Petersen's "Coming Again" I'm in high school at the roller skating rink hoping no one from church finds out I'm there.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Rob Fall's picture

Me, I think of ice skating.  My mother had a Dutch friend so the two stay at home moms would take us kids to the ice rink.

Ron Bean wrote:

And every time I hear John Petersen's "Coming Again" I'm in high school at the roller skating rink hoping no one from church finds out I'm there.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

GregH's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

And every time I hear John Petersen's "Coming Again" I'm in high school at the roller skating rink hoping no one from church finds out I'm there.

You give 3/4 and 6/8 a bad name Wink

Andrew K.'s picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Greg Long wrote:

I agree with you that music has many similarities to non-verbal communication. I would argue that its meaning is somewhat (yes, I am qualifying this slightly) subjective and culturally determined. But note that I absolutely do not deny that music communicates some kind of meaning. A high percentage of those 100 people would probably tell you thrash metal or hard core punk communicates something to do with anger or rage. That's why I find it really hard to think about using certain genres for praising God.

Greg, I've been following this conversation while too busy to jump in and comment. But I still have questions and hope you will have time to consider them.

From this paragraph, you seem to be agreeing that some music communicates inappropriate messages for worship, is that correct?

With your specific example of thrash metal/hard core punk, is the meaning simply a subjective matter of culture or is it possible that it is inherent in the expression itself?

Is thinking that it is hard to use certain genres for praising God merely a matter of majority rule (or a super-majority, i.e. "A high percentage of those 100 people")?

Greg Long wrote:
The problem with most of the arguments I've heard for music through the years is that they argue for some kind of objective and inherent meaning in musical style. Because an emphasis on the offbeat communicated sex and drugs in the 1950s, therefore it means that today. Because drums were used to call African natives to idol worship, they shouldn't be used in worship in America today, and so on. (I realize not every music conservative is making these kinds of arguments, but no one can deny these arguments are still being made.) I seriously doubt if we polled 100 people from the community about what our music communicates when we play "Our God Is Greater" using the instrumentation that we use that hardly any of them would say "sensuality."

I agree that there are cultural elements to meaning and that those elements do change from culture to culture and from era to era.

However, is it possible for some elements of music to communicate inappropriately for worship no matter how far removed from the cultural context?

If yes, how do you determine that?

This I think is the point of confusion:

If music is a language then we can't speak of something "simply being a subjective matter" of anything. Meaning isn't inherent to a set of inkblots on a page, for example. Meaning is created by my application of the knowledge of our shared culture to ascertain your intentions. If I come from a culture where written language is unknown, your particular set of squiggles would be meaningless to me, even if they conveyed great evil. They wouldn't be inherently anything.

I actually don't think music is just a language, though. That is, it has a biological function as well that seems to be universal: fast, beaty music pumps us up; complex, sophisticated music makes us think better. Thus there is something objective to music as well.

Now, if my subjective cultural experience conveys to me that a particular musical arrangement communicates something sinful, then I suppose it would be wrong for me. But it's hard for me to see how, beyond former associations, music can convey so specifically as to communicate unrighteousness universally.

This is where I get stuck. Scott Aniol and others seem to be saying that music can communicate such nuances, not just biological, emotional, or associational responses, but actual sin and immorality. I don't see how. If rap music doesn't make me think evil, sensual thoughts, I'm simply not thinking evil sensual thoughts. If loud, beaty music makes me work out better in the weight room, then is it also making me immoral simultaneously? How? Is there another category I'm missing?

In terms of worship, I think it's easier than we make it out to be: the function of everything in the church is to edify, right? How well does music that drowns out meaningful lyrics (or has ridiculous or heretical lyrics) with loud or distracting music edify? Communicating to the emotions is a quick fix; a temporary buzz. Communicating to the spirit through the mind, encouraging reflection and thought with deep, meaningful lyrics married to appropriate music with a supporting function , that will last a long time and grow, organically creating emotions that are far richer, far more powerful and more profound, than anything a "Jesus is My Girlfriend" song set to a fast-moving pop tune could ever hope to accomplish.

神是爱

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In terms of worship, I think it's easier than we make it out to be: the function of everything in the church is to edify, right? How well does music that drowns out meaningful lyrics (or has ridiculous or heretical lyrics) with loud or distracting music edify? Communicating to the emotions is a quick fix; a temporary buzz. Communicating to the spirit through the mind, encouraging reflection and thought with deep, meaningful lyrics married to appropriate music with a supporting function , that will last a long time and grow, organically creating emotions that are far richer, far more powerful and more profound, than anything a "Jesus is My Girlfriend" song set to a fast-moving pop tune could ever hope to accomplish.

I do think the extremes are pretty easily eliminated this way. Some don't see how even the extremes are eliminated, but those kinds of commitments tend to narrow the field a good bit. But for a lot of us, it's not enough because those principles take us to far more conservative applications than the same principles do for others.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Anne Sokol's picture

dcbii wrote:
one argument that is often used is that certain music is not proper for use when worshiping a holy God. If we are going to use any music at all then, that implies that some music must then be proper, and that implies (though it might not be thought of this way by those making the argument) that such music meets God's standards, or we could not present it to him as acceptable worship.
yes, this is something we need to think through.

After the indwelling of the Spirit, can we have rules about various forms of music being inherently sinful or not? I think we need to answer this question. and Im talking just about musical form, not lifestyles of the singers, etc. After God pronounced all things good (the meat to Peter), pure to the pure, did away with the OT forms of communicating holiness, put the Spirit inside of us, can we categorically say that certain forms of music are inherently sinful for the christian? (And I mean even heavy metal and rap.) 

I want to know Smile

(I'm not really talking about appropriateness, singability, etc, yet.)

 

dcbii wrote:
For me, his questions about music lead to a more general question: How do we prove that what we present God (in music or any area) is acceptable to him?
my guess it that it boils down to what is in our hearts while we sing and the rest is wisdom questions about (corporate or personal listening) appropriateness, singability, sense of beauty, tastefulness, etc.

Don Johnson's picture

Andrew K. wrote:

This I think is the point of confusion:

If music is a language then we can't speak of something "simply being a subjective matter" of anything. Meaning isn't inherent to a set of inkblots on a page, for example. Meaning is created by my application of the knowledge of our shared culture to ascertain your intentions. If I come from a culture where written language is unknown, your particular set of squiggles would be meaningless to me, even if they conveyed great evil. They wouldn't be inherently anything.

On this point, language isn't something that is written on a page. Writing is separate from language, has nothing to do with language itself. That is like saying musical scores are actually  music.... I can see it all now, some guy heads down to the music store and just sits there absorbed in the scores, then goes home and says, "I had a great concert at the music store today." All he did was look at scores.

Written language is merely a symbol of the actual language.

Where you get the parallels with music is not even in the individual words of language, but the tones of language. "I love you," has many meanings, depending on the tone of the speaker (and other non-verbal clues). The same written score can convey different meanings depending on tones and stylings, even though the basic units of musical notation are identical.

So the inherent meaning (if it exists) exists in the sounds of the language of music. The question is whether that meaning is inherent in the music itself or if the meaning is cultural. My opinion is that it is a combination of both, but some styles of music by themselves carry a consistent meaning that is cross -cultural: what does the example given ["thrash metal or hard core punk"] convey? I'd suggest that it conveys anger, rebellion, etc. I can't really imagine a time when it would cease to convey these moods.

I'm leaving off some of your other points, I agree to some extent, but wanted to address this one point where what you said seemed to me to go quite far off the rails.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Anne Sokol wrote:

After God pronounced all things good (the meat to Peter), pure to the pure, did away with the OT forms of communicating holiness, put the Spirit inside of us, can we categorically say that certain forms of music are inherently sinful for the christian? (And I mean even heavy metal and rap.) 

Anne, you are badly misinterpreting the Scripture here... and I think you are probably mixing up more than one passage. The experience in Acts where God spoke to Peter says this:

Acts 10:15 Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

So God didn't pronounce all things good, he pronounced all kinds of meat clean, suitable for human consumption.

The other passage you are probably thinking of is 1 Tim 4.1-5:

1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

But here God is not pronouncing "all things" good, but he is referring to foods, non to be abstained from if received with gratitude as the context clearly shows.

This is one of the most badly interpreted passages in the whole debate. It has nothing to do with music.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anne Sokol's picture

let me ask you some other questions:

Are certain forms of music inherently sinful? Yes/why. or No.

Will sin be created in  a person just by hearing certain forms of music? Yes/how or No, 

What makes your position different from the Amish or Mennonites who only have one style of clothing in their community, for example?

JNoël's picture

Anne Sokol wrote:

Are certain forms of music inherently sinful?

Much to the dismay of us lovers of conservatism/haters of CCM, this always seems to be the supreme, unanswerable question. At least, I haven't heard anyone answer them using specific principles and responsible applications from scripture. And, to me, that is why no one can agree on what the real debate is - is it one of preference/liberty or is it one of conviction based on more than a feeling?

 

V/r

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

DavidO's picture

Will sin be created in  a person just by hearing certain forms of music? Yes/how

I think this may, at least initially, focus on the wrong end of the equation, namely, the going into a man, to paraphrase Jesus (admittedly referring to food specifically).

But before anyone hears music, someone has to make it.  Music truly does come out of a man.  I suggest that all human expressions are able to be judged on a moral basis.  Perhaps not by humans always, but, aren't all human expressions either moral or immoral?  Are some amoral?  Music is a raw material in one sense, like copper ore and . . . whatever else bronze is made from.  But once its refined and cast as a statue, cannot that statue be judged on a moral basis?  Why would we think that when someone puts notes to paper and makes an aural expression from those raw materials it cannot similarly be judged.

As for automatically creating sin in a person, I don't think that has to be a result.  I do think a repeated hearer of music cannot help but be influenced toward a sensibility engendered by that piece of music. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Anne Sokol wrote:

After God pronounced all things good (the meat to Peter), pure to the pure, did away with the OT forms of communicating holiness, put the Spirit inside of us, can we categorically say that certain forms of music are inherently sinful for the christian? (And I mean even heavy metal and rap.) 

Anne, you are badly misinterpreting the Scripture here... and I think you are probably mixing up more than one passage. The experience in Acts where God spoke to Peter says this:

Acts 10:15 Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

So God didn't pronounce all things good, he pronounced all kinds of meat clean, suitable for human consumption.

The other passage you are probably thinking of is 1 Tim 4.1-5:

1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

But here God is not pronouncing "all things" good, but he is referring to foods, non to be abstained from if received with gratitude as the context clearly shows.

This is one of the most badly interpreted passages in the whole debate. It has nothing to do with music.

 

Not just foods, but marriage as well.  Food and marriage represent different aspects of culture.  And its hard to explain "everything" if it only referred to foods.    Many other conservative commentators take this view as well.  Here is one example. http://sharperiron.org/comment/50438#comment-50438  To say that this is the one of the most badly interpreted passages in the whole debate seems more based on your opinion.  

One other question, would you also state that the "disorderly brother" in II Thess. 3 only refers to a lazy person that refuses to work?  That is the context of the passage.  Interestingly enough  I've seen the disorderly brother  applied to just about everything but the kitchen sink in fundamentalist circles.  How come context is so important in I Tim 4 but not in II Thess. 3?   

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

In terms of worship, I think it's easier than we make it out to be: the function of everything in the church is to edify, right? How well does music that drowns out meaningful lyrics (or has ridiculous or heretical lyrics) with loud or distracting music edify? Communicating to the emotions is a quick fix; a temporary buzz. Communicating to the spirit through the mind, encouraging reflection and thought with deep, meaningful lyrics married to appropriate music with a supporting function , that will last a long time and grow, organically creating emotions that are far richer, far more powerful and more profound, than anything a "Jesus is My Girlfriend" song set to a fast-moving pop tune could ever hope to accomplish.

I do think the extremes are pretty easily eliminated this way. Some don't see how even the extremes are eliminated, but those kinds of commitments tend to narrow the field a good bit. But for a lot of us, it's not enough because those principles take us to far more conservative applications than the same principles do for others.

I agree that the extremes can be fairly easily eliminated with scriptural principles (at least as I consider them).  However, that still leaves quite a range of choices that still are strongly disagreed on.  For my personal use, the elimination of extremes with obvious scriptural principles leaves me with a good first cut that often is enough -- it's a good rule of thumb for personal listening.  Sometimes, though, I might have some discomfort with whatever makes the first cut, and then I'm willing to remove that based on that discomfort (conscience, perhaps?), but at that point, I don't have solid ground for making decisions for others.  They might be uncomfortable with different songs for different reasons, and then their choices will differ from mine.  For me, that is the point where this debate really begins, and why I wish we could answer the hard questions.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

DavidO wrote:

Will sin be created in  a person just by hearing certain forms of music? Yes/how

But before anyone hears music, someone has to make it.  Music truly does come out of a man.  I suggest that all human expressions are able to be judged on a moral basis.  Perhaps not by humans always, but, aren't all human expressions either moral or immoral?  Are some amoral?  Music is a raw material in one sense, like copper ore and . . . whatever else bronze is made from.  But once its refined and cast as a statue, cannot that statue be judged on a moral basis?  Why would we think that when someone puts notes to paper and makes an aural expression from those raw materials it cannot similarly be judged.

I think things created by man can be judged, but it's harder, and not always unambiguous.  If one man makes a sword to murder his neighbor, and one makes one for protection, how do we see this in the object?  And would the former sword truly be evil?  If a statue isn't indecent in appearance or doing anything sinful in action, again, how would we judge it sinful if we don't already know the intention of its creator?  Or what of a building originally created as a brothel, but later put to another purpose with no obvious signs of its former use?

That is the problem I see with judging some music.  The writer might indeed have had either good or evil intentions when writing it, but despite the efforts of the writer, it may not be at all obvious that the intentions are portrayed well in the music.  Someone far removed from it in time or culture might not see the intent at all.  For associational purposes, as long as we would know the purpose, then it would make sense to avoid use of it, but if we don't know, then I'm not sure we really need to worry about it -- think idol meat that has an origin we don't know.

Also, the argument about expression is only useful to say how it is received by others, not to judge "inherent" value.  A copper statue that cannot be seen by a blind man would not be evil for him, even if it depicted evil.  The evil of the statue would be in what it makes people think when looking at it, not in the object itself.

None of this means we can't or shouldn't judge, of course.  It's just that judgments may be completely different, and when that happens, we will still have strong disagreement.

Dave Barnhart

Brenda T's picture

Joel S., as you recall on another thread I asked how you arrived at the idea that God created CCM and pronounced it "good." You kindly directed me to your comments regarding that passage and the various commentary quotes you provided. I read your post and the commentary quotes and they were teaching that the "all creatures" (pan ktisma -- sorry I don't know how to use the greek font on here) were referring to things God created that believers are to receive with thanksgiving. These are consumable, receivable things that God created.

Now, in a previous thread you wrote

But I will not reject something that I believe God has declared good (I Timothy 4:1-5).  . . .  I don't think you would like me to assume that because of your convictions against CCM that I believe you are cozying up to the doctrine of demons because you are rejecting something that God declared good! (I Tim. 4:1-5) 

In that quote it looks like you're saying that God created CCM and declared it "good" therefore it should not be rejected. If we're talking about music that is acceptable to God and proper for His people to offer to Him in worship, then it is not something that we are receiving or consuming. That is how plugging the "CCM is good because God created it" argument into that passage just doesn't seem to fit. That passage is about the things God created that we are to receive with thanksgiving. It is not addressing our worship to God; what we give/offer to God.

Joel, I read your various comments and gave them some thought and study. As you can see I've taken several days to do that and am not taking lightly the fact that I'm disagreeing with you. I'm just giving it that ole Berean try, if you will, and am not seeing that what you claim is what the Bible is teaching in that instance.

Jay's picture

JNoël wrote:

DavidO wrote:

songs that were high quality

Hi Jay,

Can you describe what you mean by this? 

You took the words right out of my mouth. Not only is "high quality" subjective, but, in the case of SGM, rather questionable with regards to musical excellence.

Not at all saying I don't appreciate or even like various SGM productions, mind you. Just fascinating to see someone blanket SGM with the term High Quality. Smile

V/r

 

No.

 

Seriously, guys - I'm not sure that I can define 'high quality' in a way that is going to satisfy you, or Don, or any other of the people opposed to SGM songs on this site.  I'm not even sure that you could define 'high quality' that wouldn't depend on your underlying musical convictions and presuppositions.  I suspect that 'high quality' in your case doesn't mean 'high quality' - it means that there is a style used that you equate with high quality (like a service with handbells, choirs, and a full orchestra - not that any of these things are bad).

At what point have we been so confused / deceived that we have to sit around and say songs that beautiful in melody, praise the Lord, and create a desire to worship God are sinful or wrong and that God won't accept it?  Or that we can't use them because they are of 'inferior' or 'low' quality?  Where would that kind of critical spirit or attitude come from?  It certainly wouldn't come from God Himself.  I doubt highly that there are angels looking down on us and going "Oh, well - they're so close!  All they needed to do was add a _____________ and they'd have gotten it right and God would have accepted it!"

There are all kinds of passages in the Bible that talk about sacrifices and worship.  Every one I can think of was either accepted or condemned on the basis of the heart/intent of the person who offered it.  God explicitly defined how he wanted the sacrifices given in the OT, but by the end of that section of the Bible, we're reading things like:

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,  I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. -Amos 5:21-24

In the New Testament, we see Jesus accepting some kinds of worship even though the forms varied:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:35-39, ESV)

He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33, ESV)

Which is actually, kind of, the whole problem in a nutshell.  If you're looking for me to give you a clear and principled form that God will always accept, then I can't help you.

Don - if you're the one that thinks that 1 Tim. 4:4-5's reference to 'everything' doesn't mean 'everything', then I'd be really interested in hearing why.  I know that you and Brenda T keep saying it's the whole section, but it's my opinion that Paul is explicitly addressing the doctrines of demons and false teachers in v. 1-3, and flatly contradicts the false errant teaching by claiming that everything created by God is good in verses 4-5.  I'll check my commentaries when I get home tonight.  I think that God created music, so that would include music as well.

I know that Don disagrees with us and says that music is created by man, but I disagree with that.   Wouldn't you argue that Lucifer, before he fell, was involved in music in Heaven?  If so, don't you contradict yourself?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

DavidO's picture

dcbii wrote:
I think things created by man can be judged, but it's harder, and not always unambiguous.  If one man makes a sword to murder his neighbor, and one makes one for protection, how do we see this in the object?  And would the former sword truly be evil?  If a statue isn't indecent in appearance or doing anything sinful in action, again, how would we judge it sinful if we don't already know the intention of its creator?  Or what of a building originally created as a brothel, but later put to another purpose with no obvious signs of its former use?

All decent points.  I think it's helpful to realize that the making of a sword is a use of material, but the employment of that sword is still another use.  So the first use can be good but the second use is subject to a separate judgement as well.  This can be simplified by considering a beautiful silver candlestick.  A good use of original material. But as Mr. Plum's body in the library can testify, a good candlestick may be put to evil use.  

Moving on to music, judgments must be made.  They are not always easy, and no one can expect there will be unanimity in those judgments.  But I don't think throwing up our hands and saying all music is "in" is the answer. 

Not that that was my point, my note you quote was intended as a simple answer to Anne's question.

DavidO's picture

it means that there is a style used that you equate with high quality

Actually, no. Or at least it's not that simple.   Hence my comment about Soundforth the other day (bless their hearts). 

songs that are beautiful in melody

This is a judgment.  Does everyone agree on which songs are beautiful?  Is it a matter of taste?  Is there such a thing as bad taste? 

We're not talking about what God accepts.  We're talking about appropriateness.

As to all creation being good.  I personally think God created music.  But God doesn't write the songs we use.  God made the building blocks, we use them--poorly or well, for evil and for good. 

Brenda T's picture

DavidO wrote

I personally think God created music.

Which day? We could weave in a literal 6-day creation debate into this discussion as well. No, wait everyone, I'm not serious -- just kidding. Please don't answer that question.

DavidO, I know what you and others mean when you say God created music. I don't think I've stated the converse of that anywhere. Although I have stated that I don't see that in 1 Tim. 4. So, I hope my comments on that passage were not misunderstood to mean that God didn't create music or didn't create us with the ability to produce music.

God created clay as well. I could take a lump of clay and form it into a lewd symbol or figurine. Did God create the figurine?

 

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