A Case for Traditional Music, Part 2

Read Part 1.

How to Judge Worship Music

At this point someone will certainly raise the objection that judging music is terribly subjective. For example, some musicians have taken traditional hymn texts and reset them in a contemporary style. Who is qualified to say whether the older or the newer style better accords with the truths in these texts? If serious and devout people cannot agree on these issues, is that not an indication that these are merely matters of opinion? There are several answers here.

Sustained disagreement, even among sincere believers, is far from an adequate reason to declare a matter to be mere preference.

Surely we realize that in matters of doctrine and practice, Christians of tremendous intelligence and piety have unresolved differences. The fact that such disagreements have not been settled—and show little prospect of ever being settled before the return of our Lord—does not justify our concluding that there is no truth of the matter. While reasons may exist for thinking that music is a matter of preference, a lack of consensus alone is not one of those reasons.

Scripture itself calls us to make exactly these kinds of judgments, and our progress in them is a decisive mark of spiritual maturity.

Consider here two passages from Philippians. The first is Paul’s prayer for that church: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11). Learning to love with discernment, giving our approval to that which truly is excellent, is sanctification. In an important sense, we make progress in Christianity, not merely when we believe the right things and do the right things (out of a sense of duty), but when we come to love what is truly worth loving.

Paul makes a similar point in a familiar passage: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8–9). I am not going to make the claim that you might expect. I am not going to tell you why I think traditional music is honorable and pure and lovely and excellent, and then tell you these verses mean that I am right and you need to love what I love.

No, all I want to say here is that Philippians 4:8 means something. Whatever Paul is saying, he simply cannot be admonishing the Philippians to embrace the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He is not telling the Philippians to think on whatever things they think are beautiful or they think are lovely. His language explicitly rejects the supposition that value judgments are purely subjective: if there is anything worthy of praise, he says, think on it. Such a statement presumes that some things are indeed worthy of praise.

Again, I am not making an argument for what is lovely; I am only saying that these verses (among others) make clear that loving specific things rightly is an aspect of Christian discipleship. Christian duty is not exhausted in merely knowing God or obeying God, for delighting in God and His good gifts is a core component of discipleship and progress in maturity. This goal cannot be accomplished without making “subjective” judgments.

Those who argue for contemporary worship recognize distinctions in music that undercut their own claim that musical meaning is esoteric.

Even within contemporary music, there are genres and stylistic differences; everyone recognizes these differences and takes them into account when choosing songs and planning worship services. Indeed, much of the rejection of traditional worship music takes the form of critiquing what that music communicates: stiltedness, formalism, a distant God. It cannot work both ways: musical meaning cannot be waved off as a mere subjective interpretation on the one hand and then employed as an objection to traditional music on the other. Advocates of contemporary worship cannot claim that their music communicates the very same emotions as traditional hymnody while simultaneously disparaging what traditional hymnody communicates.

In defending traditional worship, I am compelled to defend one last claim.

The style of traditional worship best expresses the proper affectional responses to the truths of Scripture.

I have suggested some reasons that we cannot simply call this whole thing a matter of opinion. But if I am correct in my larger argument, I must give some account for why so many sincere Christians believe that contemporary music is not only an adequate but indeed a superior expression of Christian affections.

Pastor Mike Augsburger and I agree that no musical style is uniquely Christian in the sense that it has been produced and used only by Christians. But this does not mean that all musical styles that “the world” produces are therefore interchangeable and express the same range of emotions. Every human culture has characteristic virtues and vices when measured by Scripture. Paul recognizes this, for after quoting the proverb “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” he says, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12–13). As cultures express themselves in the arts, we expect them to be displaying their virtues and vices.

In the panel discussion that Mike and I participated in at the 2015 Midwest Congress of Baptist Fundamentalists, Mike argued that American popular music has indisputably changed meaning. There was a day, he contended, in which rock (and related genres) intentionally and successfully communicated sexual liberation and aggression against authority. But now that our bank commercials employ the same music—and what is more staid than a bank?—how can we deny that this music has been emptied of its rebelliousness? From one perspective, Mike’s point is irrefutable: the people to whom we minister no longer see rock music (or other contemporary genres) as expressing sinful values.

My contention in the panel discussion was, and remains, that this music no longer seems to communicate what it once did, not because the music has changed, but because we have. The antiestablishment won the day; the counterculture has become the prevailing culture. I do not think this is seriously contestable. From a broad historical perspective, we do not live in a uniquely depraved culture. But the common grace restraint of lawlessness is certainly less evident in our day. The sexual libertines are increasingly running out of boundaries to transgress. Only darkened minds deny obvious realities, yet denied they are.

To put it bluntly, while our culture may indeed have laudable features, reverence and honor and sobriety and self-control are not high among them. Self-indulgence and strife and disrespect are. Therefore, I see no reason to trust that the popular artistic expressions of our day are likely to express the virtues we want them to express. This has absolutely nothing to do with the origins of any musical genre; it has to do with where we are right now.

Regarding books, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” I have found that the same is true for church music. The music of Luther and Bach, the Genevan Psalter, and the American folk hymn tradition are not saying the same things as contemporary American popular music. The errors to which we are particularly liable are reflected in our contemporary hymnody. The prior ages had their errors, but they understood reverence and judgment and deliverance from judgment, the central themes of worship and the gospel. On this, they are the more trustworthy guides.

From Baptist Bulletin, May/June 2018, with permission. © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.

Michael Riley 2018 bio


Michael Riley is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, MI. Before coming to Wakefield, he served at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minnesota and International Baptist College of Chandler, Arizona. Pastor Riley received his undergraduate education in Bible from Bob Jones University, his Master of Divinity from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA.

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I dunno know about y'all, but all this high-falutin talk 'bout music has got me in the mood for some ... Pentecostal Power! Haymen!!!???

Lord, as of old at Pentecost 
Thou didst Thy power display, 
With cleansing purifying flame, 
Descend on us today.

Chorus:
Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power!
Thy floodgates of blessing on us throw open wide!
Lord send the old-time power. the Pentecostal power. 
That sinners be converted and Thy name glorified! 

2 For mighty works for Thee, prepare 
And strengthen every heart; 
Come, take possession of Thine ow.n
And nevermore depart. [Chorus]

3 All self consume, all sin destroy! 
With earnest zeal endue 
Each waiting heart to work for Thee; 
O Lord, our faith renew! [Chorus]

4 Speak, Lord! before Thy throne we wait, 
Thy promise we believe, 
And will not let Thee go until 
The blessing we receive.

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?

JNoël's picture

Then we can follow it up with a little Turkey in the Straw!

1
Well I was trav'lin down a dusty road
With a team of horses and a great big load,
It was oh such a warm, lazy afternoon,
Cracked my whip, started singing this tune.

Chorus:
Turkey in the straw (haw, haw, haw!)
Turkey in the hey (hey, hey, hey!)
Bullfrog dance with his mother-in-law,
And they all sang a tune called Turkey In the Straw.

2
Well I had me a chicken and she wouldn't lay an egg,
So I poured hot water up and down her leg.
The little chicken hollered, the little chicked begged,
The little chicken laid me a hard-boiled egg!

3
Well I went to Cincinnati and I walked around a block
And I walked right into a doughnut shop.
Well I pulled me a doughnut from the grease.
I gave that lady a five cent piece.
Well she looked at the nickel and she looked at me.
She said, "This nickel's no good to me,
There's a hole in the middle and it goes clear through."
I said, "There's a hole in your doughnut too."

4
Well I had me a great big fat old toad
And we used to race him up and down the road,
Till a truck come by and squashed him dead,
Now he's a part of the tire tread.

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)

Jay's picture

Jay, Romans 14 refers to holding a day sacred or not. These are not the same thing as saying the product of one's heart (music) has no meaning or no moral value.

That's not my point, Don.  My point is that from Romans 14, Paul freely admits that one believer can have a conviction that isn't what another believer holds.  And he says that to let that practice continue.

If we're going to talk about CCM (music in general, really) being a sin issue, then we ought to be able to point a finger at where it's in violation of God's character and His word, which is our yardstick.  Saying that something is evil because it is a "product of one's heart" (as if there's something out there that isn't?) is, to say it politely, a cop-out and weak.  God has spoken.  By this yardstick, you can argue that computers are sinful.  Or cars.  Or clothes.  You get the idea...is that the road you want to go down?

Finally, there's this section of Romans 14, which I think a lot of people ignore or deliberately gloss over:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’"

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 

"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

Don Johnson's picture

Jay wrote:

Jay, Romans 14 refers to holding a day sacred or not. These are not the same thing as saying the product of one's heart (music) has no meaning or no moral value.

That's not my point, Don.  My point is that from Romans 14, Paul freely admits that one believer can have a conviction that isn't what another believer holds.  And he says that to let that practice continue.

Then you are twisting the scripture to make it apply where you want it to apply.

Of course, your presupposition is that music is amoral, which makes it fit Romans 14. It is impossible for this to be so, music is an expression of the heart. As such, it will always have a moral component.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

Just turn on a Hillsong album on Spotify, and give up. 

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?

Jay's picture

I don't even like Hillsong!

Biggrin

"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

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is the crux of Riley's argument, as I understand it:

To put it bluntly, while our culture may indeed have laudable features, reverence and honor and sobriety and self-control are not high among them. Self-indulgence and strife and disrespect are. Therefore, I see no reason to trust that the popular artistic expressions of our day are likely to express the virtues we want them to express. This has absolutely nothing to do with the origins of any musical genre; it has to do with where we are right now.

He says we cannot trust our culture to produce God-honoring music that we can or should use in corporate worship. He continues:

The errors to which we are particularly liable are reflected in our contemporary hymnody. The prior ages had their errors, but they understood reverence and judgment and deliverance from judgment, the central themes of worship and the gospel. On this, they are the more trustworthy guides.

So, Riley prefers to trust music made in a more enlightened age; an earlier age. Which age? The Reformation? Which song-writers, and what criteria would he employ to flesh this out? I'd like to know! As it is, this statement is so abstract that it's meaningless.

Riley believes this earlier age produced more God-honoring music, because the milieu from whence the music sprang forth was more God-honoring. He explains:

From a broad historical perspective, we do not live in a uniquely depraved culture. But the common grace restraint of lawlessness is certainly less evident in our day. 

This seems very, very naive to me. I believe the moral decay of contemporary Western society is only startling if you view it through the Victorian lens of what George Marsden calls a "dime-store millennium." In other words, if you compare the public (not private!) morality of, say, Victorian England, then our society today is certainly quite sinful. But, when you expand your sample size to encompass the whole of human history, I don't believe our age is uniquely sinful at all.

I do believe we're witnessing the unraveling of a fake Christian veneer in Western society, but that's not at all the same thing as claiming we're in a uniquely amoral time. Riley admits as much (see the last quote, above), but I wonder why he then jettisons the implications of his own admission? 

Bottom line - this is a subjective argument. The rubber meets the road in (1) authorial intent of the performer and writer, and (2) the theology of the lyrics. I remain convinced arguments about style are subjective. 

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?

JNoël's picture

I didn't post Turkey in the Straw just to be silly - it had a point. Lyrically, the song is silliness, of course. Many of you know the musical tune that goes with it.

Is Turkey in the Straw moral?

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

Is Turkey in the Straw moral?

Well, it does generate an emotional response. I found myself smiling and then tapping my foot and eventually singing along. I wanted to swing my partner, but she wasn't here.

I'm still waiting for an evaluation of the movement from Dan Forrest's Jubilate Deo.

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

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Here we are where all these music threads end up dying -- the practical.  When asked to compare and contrast two songs, those who are emphatic about music always having a moral component since it comes from the heart are unable to give even the most basic principles on how to measure morality in music.  Here I have to give Garlock a small amount of credit -- he at least attempted to come up with principles on which music can be judged, which is more than pretty much anyone today will do.  Now that most of his work has been discredited, we still have nothing to really use in its place.  I have yet to see any kind of real comparison of say "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" to "Turkey in the Straw," let alone comparing "I Sing..." to say, "When the Roll is Called up Yonder."

It's really easy to argue that God has a mind on everything, but the fact is that he has not revealed his mind on everything to us, and in some cases, he has not even left us with principles that we are able to apply to every issue, except in the general sense (like e.g. true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good report, and that "lovely" part is never as clear as we would wish).  Once we are at this point, I would argue that that's where Romans 14 comes in, but that's always batted down by those who think it can never apply to something they deem to have a moral component.  The fact that we don't know God's mind on everything means that for us there is a practical area of indifference, since it hasn't been revealed to us.  On some topics, we know God cares, but he hasn't told us his mind, so when all biblical principle is exhausted, then in a practical sense, we have to consider that topic as being one indifferent to God, even though we can argue in theory that he has a mind on everything.  These are areas in which we can indeed develop our own consciences, though without binding those of others.

I'm hardly a musicologist, but I have had discussions with some, as well as with other men who have studied music or are interested in it.  No one can give me a good, objective standard that can apply to any piece of music that will allow me to judge its relative morality (or even value) with any accuracy whatsoever.  What this all comes down to, even though it's rarely admitted, is "It's good, because I say it is," or "It sounds good to me, so it is," or "Trust me, I know," or even "I like it, so it's acceptable."   In other words, what everyone uses is their gut, trained by their experiences, associations, etc. in life.  To Ron's example, I have yet to hear any negative responses to "Ngokujabula!" in Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest, though I have no doubt there are some.  However, I'd bet good money I'll be waiting until long past the time I'm dead to hear any useful evaluation of that piece's relative "morality."

This is, in my view, why the music topic always generates so much heat and so little light.  Everyone wants to talk theory, but when it comes to making that theory useful to us in our daily lives, all we hear is either "Do as I say," or crickets.

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

The negative responses to "Ngokujabula!" in Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest that I've fielded have been these:

-The use of percussion that led the choir to sway to the music

-Too much emotion

-Dan Forrest had "let" his works be performed at Brigham Young University and may have been performed there himself as a conductor.

 

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

Bert Perry's picture

Per Ron's comment, it's worth noting that the criticisms he saw of the video he linked cannot stand even a cursory examination with Psalms 149 and 150.  That is, if God commanded the use of percussive instruments (cymbals) and dancing in those Psalms, and He did, I really don't see how you can credibly argue that music that uses percussive instruments and results in movement is wrong. 

It's not what we "fishbelly white" people are used to, but I don't see the need to nail everybody's feet to the floor based on a guilt by association argument, and actually in contradiction to Scripture.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

dcbii wrote:

On some topics, we know God cares, but he hasn't told us his mind, so when all biblical principle is exhausted, then in a practical sense, we have to consider that topic as being one indifferent to God, even though we can argue in theory that he has a mind on everything.

While this may at first appear irreverent and sacrilegious, Holy Indifference is the fundamental issue that goes far beyond music. We all engage in activities regularly that may be considered recreational - sports, movies, concerts, board games, theatre, Fun Time at The Wild's, etc. How do we decide if any of it is moral? If we are supposed to "...do all to the glory of God" can we do that while watching A Bug's Life, Bridge on the River Kwai, listening to Beethoven's 3rd or Wagner's Die Walkure, or attending a Detroit Red Wings game? While playing Monopoly, Rook, Spades, or Clash of Clans? Is God pleased when I laugh hysterically watching an impressionist or ventriloquist?

Going back to my [supposedly post-modern] earlier comment, this is where we must all be convinced whether the activities we do that are not able to be scripturally analyzed are pleasing to God, a wise use of our time, etc., and not condemn those who disagree - or try to convince them they are wrong for disagreeing, either.

 

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)

TylerR's picture

Editor

Like a corpse risen from the grave, this thread is alive again!

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?

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

Like a corpse risen from the grave, this thread is alive again!

Many really do want answers, including me. If we don't talk through things, we get stale, even prideful. We've all heard it - there is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.

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)

TylerR's picture

Editor

Call me cynical. People have been asking the same questions in this thread and countless others, and they're never answered. So, this thread is really just one more turn around the merry-go-round for me. 

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

With Jason, I'd love to see some new thoughts, but am very disappointed that Tyler's basically right and it's a rhetorical merry-go-round. 

As I've noted before in this thread, I am leaning to the position that there is no logically and rhetorically sound position that would compel Christians to reject certain genre of music.  We can have preferences--which songs, groups, and genre communicate the Word of God to the People of God in lyric form most effectively in our given culture and time--but the only way I can see that people get to prohibitions is through guilt by association and other genetic fallacies.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Okay - so there's my next question. It's out of thread, of course, but I implore all you braniacs out there to explore that question. While it may be true that guilt by association is a genetic fallacy in the sense of classical argument, I'm not so sure the Bible doesn't teach us about associations and the need to be concerned about them. If it can be proven that a Christian must be concerned about his associations, then Bert's argument loses something.

Sorry, Bert - not trying to prove you wrong, just exploring.

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)

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

Call me cynical. People have been asking the same questions in this thread and countless others, and they're never answered. So, this thread is really just one more turn around the merry-go-round for me. 

That's okay. Sometimes re-hashing is just good exercise. Whether we're talking about things like limited atonement, Israel and the church, or spiritual gifts or things like gluttony, alcoholic beverages, marijuana, tattoos, music, divorce, remarriage, or any other hot-button issue, there can still be usefulness in the conversation.

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)

Bert Perry's picture

Jason, look up the definition of guilt by association.  It means that if A is objectionable, and A shares certain traits with B, that B is objectionable.  In other words, since Kiss promotes fornication and partying and uses guitars, and Steve Pettit's band has a guitar player (true), that Steve Pettit's bluegrass band is morally objectionable, leading BJU students to fornication and partying.

Obviously not true.

What the Bible describes is summed up as "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15), and in light of other passages which discuss this (e.g. 1 Cor. 7), what is meant is that close association with other people  (not.things) will lead to our overlooking their sins, and perhaps even to committing those sins.  For example, if Steve Pettit were to join Kiss on their farewell tour, he'd need to learn to overlook sinful lyrics by the band, as well as sinful behavior by the band after concerts.  He might even take part in that.

See the difference?  The use of an electric guitar and the 12 bar blues no more connects me to the sins of Gene Simmons than the use of a piano with showy flourishes connects me with the sins of Liberace.   To be associated with either in the Biblical sense you refer to, I'd need to join the band.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Of course, your presupposition is that music is amoral, which makes it fit Romans 14. 

Actually, no, that’s not my presupposition at all, and I don’t believe I have ever said anything like it here.  I agree with most of what you wrote.  But since you made a presumption about what I believed instead of reading what I wrote, you prove Dave’s point.

"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

Kevin Miller's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Jason, look up the definition of guilt by association.  It means that if A is objectionable, and A shares certain traits with B, that B is objectionable.  In other words, since Kiss promotes fornication and partying and uses guitars, and Steve Pettit's band has a guitar player (true), that Steve Pettit's bluegrass band is morally objectionable, leading BJU students to fornication and partying.

Obviously not true.

What the Bible describes is summed up as "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15), and in light of other passages which discuss this (e.g. 1 Cor. 7), what is meant is that close association with other people  (not.things) will lead to our overlooking their sins, and perhaps even to committing those sins.  For example, if Steve Pettit were to join Kiss on their farewell tour, he'd need to learn to overlook sinful lyrics by the band, as well as sinful behavior by the band after concerts.  He might even take part in that.

See the difference?  The use of an electric guitar and the 12 bar blues no more connects me to the sins of Gene Simmons than the use of a piano with showy flourishes connects me with the sins of Liberace.   To be associated with either in the Biblical sense you refer to, I'd need to join the band.  

I can think of an example in which guilt by association might be legitimately applied. We normally wouldn't think of a shape, such as a square or triangle, as being evil, but try using a tetraskelion on your church literature and see what kind of reaction you get. People would be calling it by it's other name, the swastika, and wondering how you could dare to use such a symbol of evil. Would you reply that it's just a shape, not a person, and therefore it can't be evil?

Bert Perry's picture

First of all, if we're going to compare the associations of the electric guitar or the 12 bar blues to those of the swastika, we are on the fast track to a violation of Godwin's Law; the first person to bring the Nazis into a debate (frivolously) loses.  And if we want to disassociate from every symbol the Nazis used, we can start with the eagle emblem.  

And really, if we're going to try to compare the Holocaust to the effects of the 12 bar blues, Godwin's Law is the least of our problems.

And reality is that many cultures have used the swastika for centuries/millenia, from Asia to native Americans.  Confronted with the comparison to the Nazis, they more or less say "we've been using this for centuries/millenia, those twits had it for 20 years." And along the same lines, the reason the church shouldn't use the swastika has nothing to do with the Nazis, and everything to do with the fact that the swastika has zero meaning in Christian theology.  

The symbol that means something to us is the Cross, and if some clowns like Aryan Nation should abuse it--and they have--our response should not be to accede to the logical fallacy of guilt by association, but rather to say the same thing modern, non-anti-semitic users of the swastika would say; it was our symbol centuries before Aryan Nations started using it.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Kevin Miller's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

First of all, if we're going to compare the associations of the electric guitar or the 12 bar blues to those of the swastika, we are on the fast track to a violation of Godwin's Law; the first person to bring the Nazis into a debate (frivolously) loses.  And if we want to disassociate from every symbol the Nazis used, we can start with the eagle emblem. 

It's certainly true that bringing up an overly extreme example can muddy the waters of a conversation, but the point that symbols can have "guilty" associations does still remain. Fortunately for the eagle, our American associations are so strong that the Germans were not able to supersede them. The same can't be said for earlier cultures which used the swastika. Even if they took a stand and tried to use it, the German associations are still too strong for today's society.

Quote:
And really, if we're going to try to compare the Holocaust to the effects of the 12 bar blues, Godwin's Law is the least of our problems.

And reality is that many cultures have used the swastika for centuries/millenia, from Asia to native Americans.  Confronted with the comparison to the Nazis, they more or less say "we've been using this for centuries/millenia, those twits had it for 20 years." And along the same lines, the reason the church shouldn't use the swastika has nothing to do with the Nazis, and everything to do with the fact that the swastika has zero meaning in Christian theology. 

If the church shouldn't use the swastika because it has zero meaning in Christian theology, then wouldn't the same be true for the 12 bar blues? Are you saying the church cannot use something if it has no prior Christian meaning? What about if the cultural associations with a particular type of music are so strong that they cause the worshipper to be thinking of something else entirely other than God? It wouldn't be evil to use circus music to accompany a Christian song, but it also wouldn't be at all worshipful. Circus music pretty much "means" circus.

 

JNoël's picture

BLUF: Imitate Christ – our love for Christian brothers must shape our personal choices

I felt it might be helpful to refocus on one of the key passages about which this entire conversation revolves – I Corinthians 8 – 11:1.

Some observations:

  • Knowledge “puffs up” while love builds up.
  • There are people who would not eat Meat Offered to Idols (MOI).
  • Paul would prefer to never eat meat if it would offend a Christian brother.
  • Offending a Christian brother is sin. (8:12)
  • If someone offers you meat, or if you buy it in the marketplace, don’t question whether or not it was offered to idols.

The last point proves the MOI itself is not sinful. (10:25, 27). Nothing supernatural happens to the meat when it is offered that would cause it to have changed physical properties that would impact our bodies. Some believers would not eat. Why? I can think of only two possible reasons, since the MOI itself is not sinful:

1 – What it communicated to them

2 – What it may communicate to others

Regarding 1: What did it communicate to them that caused them to not want to eat it? Offering meat to idols may have been something they themselves used to do; they don’t do it any longer because they now worship the one true God and they do not want to be reminded of past sin (disgust, shame). They may also want to stay far from temptation to return to their past sinful practices. The validity of either is irrelevant; the reality is there were Christians who would not eat MOI for conscience sake.

Regarding 2: They may have been concerned about their testimony; eating MOI may make it appear to others that they still approve of the practice of offering meat to idols.

Is [pick a type] music itself sinful? I don’t believe it is any more sinful than a piece of meat – it’s music. No one will ever be able to prove that a particular musical composition – notes, rhythms, instruments used – is sinful. In fact, to try to do so could be said to be adding to scripture. God gave us the truth we need, and the Bible does not tell us how to judge a particular musical compositional style. However, like MOI, we do need to be concerned about the associations. There are styles of music that are culturally inexorably linked to sinful practices in our society. Citizens in Thailand may have zero knowledge of such links; the music communicates something completely different to them. To us, the use of such music is no different than MOI. But it is different for someone outside of the cultural associations of our own location - they may be completely surprised to find out the context of such styles in our culture.

If we are to obey God’s command to imitate Christ, we must be careful with the personal liberty choices we make with regards to offending a Christian brother. A wise imitator who may be a music leader or church pastor would avoid making changes to the musical content of the church that could offend one of his congregants. No pastor/music leader can avoid offending everyone, so obviously there is wisdom and discretion required, but if a church and it’s congregants are encouraged/satisfied/pleased with their current “old sounding” music, then great caution is prudent regarding introducing modern music with more pop-style syncopation or introducing instrumentation that may offend. In the personal realm, outside of church – in your car, in your home, etc., go ahead and eat your MOI: it really is okay, it isn’t sin if your conscience allows it. But if you have Christian friends over and you don’t know their opinions or past history well enough to know if they may be offended or not, don’t try to impose your “knowledge” on them, and don’t judge them if you find out they are offended by MOI. Neither satisfies the requirement to imitate Christ.

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)

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding "why use the 12 bar blues if it has no meaning?" argument, that really presupposes the very thing to be established.  I would posit that the use of modern musical forms has a huge benefit for the church in that, just like the hymns of Luther five centuries ago, the Wesley brothers' hymns two centuries ago, and Booths' Salvation Army songs of 150 years back.   It is a useful tool for communicating the Word of God to the People of God when used properly. 

And again, if you try guilt by association with regards to Gene Simmons of KISS, you are again implying guilt on the part of those who developed the techniques he uses--guys like the Swan Silvertones, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Scott Joplin.  Best to avoid this method of non-argumentation.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

 As I have mentioned many times before, I've been doing ministry primarily among the urban poor in GR for over 27 years, especially among fatherless African-American young men.   Over 10 years ago, I brought a group of young men (some were Christians and some were not) to a Gospel Coalition sponsored event where Tim Keller spoke on ministering to the city, followed by a Christian Hip-Hop concert featuring LeCrae, Trip Lee, and a few other artists.  One of my students that came with us was a young man named Giorgio, who was a Grand Rapids  secular rapper.  Giorgio's wrote and performed music that was misogynistic-the lyrics objectified women and glorified sexual conquests, while completely glorifying himself, and was filled with a number of expletives.  His concerts in GR had scantily-clad women as dancers and he did everything he could to make himself out to be a sexual object as well.    For Giorgio, the Lecrae and Trip Lee Christian Hip-Hop concert was a culture shock to say the least.  Lecrae and Trip Lee's lyrics of their songs and concert atmosphere glorified Jesus, de-emphasized themselves, and communicated what life in Christ looks like-including confronting sexual sin. 

After the concert on the way home, Giorgio communicated to me that he could never become a Christian because his entire lifestyle and music would have to change.  He said that he did not want to live a Holy life and do Holy music like Lecrae and Trip Lee (yes he used those words).    I find it interesting that someone like Giorgio who was completely embedded in the worst of Hip-Hop culture/rap music saw absolutely no worldly associations in Lecrae and Trip Lee but immediately associated their Christian Hip-Hop music with Holiness and the Christian faith/what new life in Christ would look like.   But our fundamentalist Christian cultural assumptions would assume the opposite. 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

But our fundamentalist Christian cultural assumptions would assume the opposite. 

Exactly. I believe some pastors, particularly those who are in "full-time, pastoral ministry" live in a Christian bubble and have little understanding about the "real world" that real people live in. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but I believe it is a problem. This is why I see discussions about the "dangers" of CCM as laughable, and divorced from the practical realities of everyday life for ordinary Christians. 

I have a 13-yr old, homeschooled girl at church from a good Christian home who says most of her classmates in a local school's band class identify as gay, lesbian or transgender. Should I spend my time discussing the dangers of Hillsong with her? Please! 

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?

JNoël's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

But our fundamentalist Christian cultural assumptions would assume the opposite. 

Anecdotes are useful, but only to a point. Many could give anecdotes contradicting yours.

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)

Joel Shaffer's picture

Anecdotes are useful, but only to a point. Many could give anecdotes contradicting yours.

JNoel,

Of course its Anecdotal.  But I live in an entirely different world than you.  No one in my church or community is offended by the styles of contemporary black gospel and Hip-Hop.   The only ones that I know who are offended are older people from a previous church that I attended who were told (brainwashed) for 50 years that certain music styles were of the devil by fundamentalist evangelists and pastors.  The GARBC churches I grew up in the 1970s and 1980's would have "Sketch" Erickson come and show a media presentation about the evils of Rock and popular music, movies, and TV shows.  I realized how much of it was based personal preference when Sketch presented his top 10 TV shows that are harming America and it included the Waltons (because John Walton-the father rarely went to Church) and Hogans Heroes (because it offended some German friends of his).  Thankfully arguments from Traditionalist-only Fundamentalist Christians (such as Michael Riley and Scott Aniol) are better, but they still are quite biased to their own musical preferences as much of their research with selected sources is biased to their own starting presuppositions.   I agree with Tyler, these musical arguments pale in comparison to the clash of worldviews between Christian and Secular when it comes to sexuality.  The teachers, administrators, and counselors of an academically rigorous magnet high school that is a block away from where we live in GR encourage all of the students to explore their sexual preferences and gender so about half the students identify as LGBTQ.   

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