On Not Singing

NickImage

Roger Olson and I disagree about plenty of issues, but according to a recent blog post, we apparently find concord in one important topic. We are both convinced that Christians should not sing hymns that express significant error.

To be sure, Roger and I dispute both what constitutes error and how significant the error is. He is Arminian while I am Calvinistic. He is very broadly evangelical while I am pretty narrowly fundamentalistic. He believes that the gospel does not have to include hell (though he does not deny its existence), while I believe that the good news (gospel) is only as good as the bad news (laðra spella) is bad, and that the gospel is hardly news at all without a doctrine of eternal perdition behind it. These differences are more than negligible, and they definitely mean that Roger will sing some songs that I cannot, and vice versa.

Where we agree is in taking hymnody seriously. What we sing is a confession of what we believe. For us to sing what we do not believe would be to bear false witness.

Roger says that he cannot sing “Be Still My Soul” because it expresses God’s sovereignty, even over evil. On the other hand, one of my former colleagues could not sing the last stanza of “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” because he is convinced of limited atonement. Personally, I relish both of these hymns, but Christian charity forbids me from pressuring a brother to affirm what he does not believe. For him to do so would be a sin, and for me to coerce him would also be a sin. I take no offense with what he cannot sing, though I may well disagree with his choice.

Thus far, I believe that Roger and I are committed to the same general practice. In my own conscience, however, I go one step further. We have not discussed this matter, but I would be surprised to discover that Roger would take this step with me.

When people talk to one another, we communicate in a variety of ways. Part of our communication occurs at the propositional and discursive level, but much of the meaning that we express is non-propositional and even non-verbal. We express meaning by vocal intonation (pitch, volume, timbre), posture, and facial expression. We also express meaning by choosing words that evoke certain responses or by arranging them in ways that establish certain resonances. We may employ figures of speech or word pictures to supply meaning that goes beyond the bare, verbal layer.

In written communication, we cannot use facial expressions or vocal intonations, but we do use most of the other devices. The more that we rely upon them, the less our writing is prosaic and the more it becomes poetic. In good poetry, we will try to deploy multiple tools of communication, stacking them upon one another so that meaning is layers deep. When it comes to poetry, the non-discursive aspects are far more important than the bare, verbal propositions.

Whatever else they are, hymns are poems set to music. In hymnody, we are dealing with poetry. Because of the densely-packed meaning, poetry is a far more powerful vehicle of communication than mere discourse. That power may be amplified further by the addition of music. Good poetry goes beyond prose in its ability to express meaning, and good hymnody goes beyond mere text.

The problem is that it is possible for implied meaning to contradict the plain, verbal meaning of an utterance. A simple example is the husband who tells his wife, “That’s my favorite dinner,” but who means exactly the opposite. The reversal of meaning does not occur at the verbal, discursive level, but it is nevertheless real. The real meaning of the utterance is “That is a dinner that I do not like.” By using the device of irony, however, the husband underlines his dislike.

How does the wife know whether to take the statement in an ironic or a straightforward sense? She has to make a judgment. Her judgment will be informed by all sorts of factors, many of which are subjective, but each of which is real. At the end of the day, one understanding of the statement is right and the other is wrong, and the wife who loves rightly has the duty to judge wisely which it is.

What I am suggesting is that it is possible to falsify the propositional meaning of an utterance (whether spoken or written) by the way we say it. If that is the case, then the power of poetry and music to enforce or contradict a verbal message must be taken very seriously. It must be taken especially seriously when our intention is the right expression of Christian truth, such that it both registers in our minds and shapes our affections.

It is possible to express bad doctrine at the verbal level. It is also possible to express bad doctrine at the poetical or the musical level. In the first case, we utter a straightforward falsehood. In the second case, we contradict a truth less obviously, though perhaps more emphatically, by the way we express it. Our judgments about poetry and music may (and will) be more subjective, but that does not mean that they are necessarily untrue. Nor can they be avoided.

So what should we do when we become convinced that a particular hymn subverts right doctrine in the way that it expresses the doctrine? My answer is that we are obligated to do the same thing we would do if the hymn expressed obviously false doctrine at the discursive level. We do not sing it.

Of course, cognitive bargaining is always possible. We can tell ourselves, “I’ll sing as if I mean this rather than that.” Where genuine ambiguities exist, this kind of bargaining may be permissible (as when we confess “one baptism for the remission of sins,” though we may disagree with some interpretations of the phrase). I think, however, that the only safe course is to confess—and sing—only what we are confident is pleasing to God. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Therefore, when our brethren judge a hymn to subvert sound doctrine through its musical or poetical communication, we must not pressure or coerce them to sing. For them to confess what they do not believe would be a sin. For us to pressure them to sing what they do not believe would also be a sin.

On the other hand, what should be our attitude toward our brothers who sing when we cannot? We can rejoice in the mercy of our God, mercy that forbears much that is impure in the lives and worship of both us and them. Acknowledging such mercy does not bar us from making appeals and offering gentle exhortations. Still, whenever believers live in community, they find that they are forced to tolerate what they regard as evils within the community. Tolerating a (perceived) evil in another is not the same thing as practicing evil. If we have not a category for tolerable evils, then we shall not be able to live in community at all.

Musicks Empire
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

   i
First was the World as one great Cymbal made,
Where Jarring Windes to infant Nature plaid.
All Musick was a solitary sound,
To hollow Rocks and murm’ring Fountains bound.

    ii
Jubal first made the wilder Notes agree;
And Jubal tun’d Musicks Jubilee:
He call’d the Ecchoes from their sullen Cell,
And built the Organs City where they dwell.

    iii
Each sought a consort in that lovely place;
And Virgin Trebles wed the manly Base.
From whence the Progeny of numbers new
Into harmonious Colonies withdrew.

    iv
Some to the Lute, some to the Viol went,
And others chose the Cornet eloquent.
These practising the Wind, and those the Wire,
To sing Mens Triumphs, or in Heavens quire.

    v
Then Musick, the Mosaique of the Air,
Did of all these a Solemn noise prepare:
With which She gain’d the Empire of the Ear,
Including all between the Earth and Sphear.

    vi
Victorious sounds! yet here your Homage do
Unto a gentler Conqueror than you;
Who though He flies the Musick of his praise,
Would with you Heavens Hallelujahs raise.
 

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 22 Comments

RPittman's picture

Yeah, and I even agree with Doc Bauder, which is not that often. What gets my goat (to use an old country expression) are those who constantly ride the bandwagon and beat the drum about good Biblical music when they piously sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which is a definite transcendental hymn shot through with heresy. I'm afraid many times that it comes down to what we personally like or don't.

Brian McCrorie's picture

Dr. Bauder,

Does your usage of Romans 14:5b in this article indicate that you believe musical style to be in the category of "doubtful things" or areas of opinion?

Brian McCrorie Indianapolis, IN www.bowingdown.com

SBashoor's picture

I don't think the Battle Hymn has any place in Christian worship. Its theology is some of the worst in the hymnal. It has value in terms of patriotism, history, and musical quality, but for church????

I love hymns, but I find that many (dare I say "most") people who are proud of their preference for hymns over newer music are somewhat oblivious as to what they're actually singing. Ask the average hymn singer to exegete a line from a hymn, even some very well known line, and you're likely to get a very blank look. Pastors, song leaders, and other worship leaders need to help people understand what they're singing, especially those hymn lines that are dense with meaning.

And once you start doing that, you'll be faced with some dilemmas that Bauder's talking about.

M. Scott Bashoor Happy Slave of Christ

JohnBrian's picture

SBashoor wrote:
I love hymns, but I find that many (dare I say "most") people who are proud of their preference for hymns over newer music are somewhat oblivious as to what they're actually singing.

At a former church some years ago we always sang We've A Story to Tell to the Nations at Missions Conferences.

Then someone pointed out the words of the chorus to us - oops!

For the darkness shall turn to dawning
And the dawning to noonday bright
And Christ's great kingdom shall come to earth
The kingdom of love and light

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JohnBrian.... a workaround I've toyed with on that one is to "re-meaning" some of the language (authorial intent is fine until the author is just plain wrong Smile ) so Christ's great kingdom comes to earth every time someone believes the gospel.
...since the person believing is on earth.
And his heart certainly goes form darkness to dawning and noonday bright.

But in reality, I'm pretty sure the hymn is postmillennial and talking about transforming social institutions.

(Some flavors of "missional" should love it)

DavidO's picture

JohnBrian wrote:
And Christ's great kingdom shall come to earth
The kingdom of love and light

This isn't what we mean when we recite "one nation, under God"?

:bigsmile:

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

RPittman wrote:
Yeah, and I even agree with Doc Bauder, which is not that often. What gets my goat (to use an old country expression) are those who constantly ride the bandwagon and beat the drum about good Biblical music when they piously sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which is a definite transcendental hymn shot through with heresy. I'm afraid many times that it comes down to what we personally like or don't.

we are more immersed in tradition and sentimentality than we realize. If I never have to sing "Life is Like a Mountain Railroad" or "That Old Country Church" again... http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-happy093.gif[/img ] This admission, of course, will get my honored status as a dyed-in-the-wool hillbilly revoked...

Andrew K.'s picture

Perhaps this is just me, but is anyone else a bit irked by "Mansion Over the Hilltop"?

"I'm satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that's silver-lined."

Anyone else getting vibes of a Christianized Yukon Cornelius?

神是爱

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Brian,

It depends. Music is a language. Languages can be used to say different things. Some of those things are virtuous and ought to be said. Some of them are vicious, profane, or obscene, and should never be said. Some of them are appropriate to say only in some contexts. Some of them are matters of indifference (adiaphora). Only these last can fall under the rubric of Romans 14.

The crucial issue is, What does it say? followed closely by, What do I want to say?, How do I need to say it?, Should this be said?, and, Should this be said here and now?

I take it that speaking to God is serious business. We should mind our tongues. We should not say to God everything that we would say to our neighbor, our spouse, our children, or our dog. This principle ought to govern our worship. We should not get into the habit of offering God whatever utterances do not offend us. Rather, our habit should be to offer only those utterances that we are certain will delight Him. He is the object of our worship, and not we ourselves. This is the point at which every man needs to be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Would it alter our worship if we determined to offer only those expressions that the entire congregation could agree were glorifying to God?

KevinM's picture

Years ago I was in a church service, sitting directly behind my friend Bob. As a newly-hired worship leader, it was my job to pick out the invitation hymn while the pastor preached. But halfway through the sermon, Bob passed back his hymnal, marked with one of the Post-it notes he kept in his pocket. “Stanza 3,” the note said.

Back in the day, Bob had my songleading job, long before I arrived on the scene. He was old enough to have heard Billy Sunday preach, and he had lived through/suffered through many church music trends. So I was in no way offended by his song suggestion. He wasn’t usurping my newly acquired authority—truth be told, Bob’s idea was better than mine.

Every church musician must practice discernment when choosing songs, recognizing that good, better, and best have their evil twins: bad, worse, and absolutely wrong.

But Kevin Bauder’s approach here does not discuss this continuum. Unless I misunderstand, KB has framed his argument to exclude the middle. Those who “sing what they do not believe” are sinning, and therefore must conduct a silent protest during the song service. I believe the situation may be much more subtle than a mere dichotomy between “sin” and “not sin.” Bauder’s brief essay may even be a false dilemma—a logical failure where only two alternatives are considered.

Let’s start with Kevin’s dinner analogy (a husband liking or not liking the dinner served). There may be another alternative. Perhaps the husband will learn to accept another round of homemade meatballs, not his favorite, but tolerated because the rest of the family likes and benefits from them. And perhaps the wife will refrain from asking “Honey, how do you like the meatballs tonight?” She knows the answer, and is wise enough to leave the question unasked, another duty of the “wife who loves rightly.”

I’m guessing that my substitute analogy strays from Kevin’s intended point, but stay with the idea for a moment, charitably assuming mom usually serves a nutritious meat item, not just plates of cookies. Compare this to the context of a church service, where the gathered members have already affirmed the purpose and premise of their meeting (embracing a common doctrinal statement and covenant). If a particular member frequently labels the chosen songs as “sin,” he’s probably in the wrong group of covenanted believers. The question of “sin” or “not sin” should not be raised very often. It is much more likely that the worship choices will be evaluated in terms of spiritual discernment—and possibly a range of acceptable values represented by various viewpoints in the congregation. What if the particular song choice was immature, unwise, inappropriate for the gathering, even imprudent—but not a sin?

Yes, I’ve been stuck in the same pew, under conviction from the same Holy Spirit, utterly convinced that I cannot participate in a given song. I agree that worship “sin” is a valid category. I’m just suggesting that this should be rare compared to the more frequent discernment questions. Still, I appreciate Kevin’s spirit of intellectual humility, where he speaks the “(perceived) evil” as if to remind himself that his conviction is possibly wrong, perhaps the result of affections trained too narrowly.

Have mercy on the beleaguered worship leader. On any given Sunday, the congregation will include some who embrace Kevin’s underlying belief (“It is also possible to express bad doctrine at the poetical or the musical level.”) But the congregation will also include some thoughtful folk who do not embrace that belief. (My own position is that poems and music sometimes express doctrine badly at the poetical or the musical level—a softer rearrangement of Bauder’s words. But while the supposed “language of music” can communicate some form of objective meaning, it cannot communicate enough propositional content to sustain theological discourse. As a practical result, Kevin and I have a great deal of agreement on this issue, but I end up making more eclectic musical choices.) In short, the congregation is full of people with differently trained affections, some too narrowly, some too widely. Or--completely untrained! (Why can’t everyone be perfectly balanced, like me?)

But the worship leader must craft a service that unites, not divides. Promoting growth, not offending. As Kevin has pointed out, we should not deliberately choose divisive music. But in order to meet Kevin’s ideal (“only those expressions that the entire congregation could agree were glorifying to God”), the individual members have an additional responsibility to carefully consider how they classify their level of disagreement. It is a serious matter to label something as “sin” when it is “not sin.”

Brian McCrorie's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
I take it that speaking to God is serious business. We should mind our tongues. We should not say to God everything that we would say to our neighbor, our spouse, our children, or our dog. This principle ought to govern our worship. We should not get into the habit of offering God whatever utterances do not offend us. Rather, our habit should be to offer only those utterances that we are certain will delight Him. He is the object of our worship, and not we ourselves. This is the point at which every man needs to be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Would it alter our worship if we determined to offer only those expressions that the entire congregation could agree were glorifying to God?

I totally agree with your comments above. When I first began to be challenged in the area of musical neutrality, I was pretty much of the mind that musical style was neutral in and of itself. But of course, music is never expressed in a vacuum. It is always composed, arranged, or performed by human moral agents. While I do not buy into many of the arguments I was taught when I was younger (due to bad hermeneutics, primarily), I do believe that cultural context affects the meaning of musical style, thought I don't believe it is a precise science. It requires study, knowledge of worldviews, prayer, and discernment--at the very least. This has led me to not abhor but even to embrace some contemporary music that I believe exalts God's transcendence, to the best of my imperfect discernment. For example, we used the contemporary "Worthy Is the Lamb" this Sunday. It is obviously contemporary in styling, with much of the same instrumentation that exists in other contemporary songs that I would not embrace. However, it is well-written musically (in my humble opinion), and doesn't distract but rather complements the very Christ-centered lyrics. I know some would vehemently disagree, most perhaps based on musical tastes, others based on musical association or even the intrinsic nature of music. But I do believe there is some room in this area for disagreement while maintaining fellowship and unity. I also love Handel's version of "Worthy Is the Lamb" and believe it also communicates the transcendence of God in its composition, be it of a dated Western European motif.

Your last question is very intriguing to me. It is something I have often thought about as a pastor and music leader. It enters into the realm of deference and what it means to cause offense or stumbling block to a brother. I'm not sure that there is an easy answer to your question, largely because of the huge diversity of teaching and modeling in this area over the last 60 years, at least. I am also not sure that the congregation needs to be able to agree entirely on what expressions of worship glorify God. But that is assuming that musical style is an area of opinion, adiaphora. I just don't think that musical style is propositional enough to communicate its moral intent w/o words (in most cases). Okay, I'm rambling now. I'll stop. Thanks for your response and continued edification through your writing.

Brian McCrorie Indianapolis, IN www.bowingdown.com

JohnBrian's picture

Andrew K. wrote:
Perhaps this is just me, but is anyone else a bit irked by "Mansion Over the Hilltop"?

"I'm satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that's silver-lined."

Anyone else getting vibes of a Christianized Yukon Cornelius?

I have a love/hate relationship with this song!

My wife and girls (when they were little) used to harmonize beautifully on this song in the car when we traveled. So much so that when my daughters (1 is married and her husband is a Music Minister) came to church together a few weeks ago, I called on them to sing it a capella without any prior notice.

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Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Kevin,

No, I'm not posing a contrast between "good" music and "sinning" music. I am simply assuming such a thing as "sinning" music and asking how we should respond to it. I suggest that the sin may occur at the musical as well as the propositional level. Wherever there is meaning, there is the possibility of sinful meaning.

To be sure, there is music that is good, better, and best. There is bad, worse, and worst. And there is some that could be called nihil obstat--not really good, but not overtly offensive. My essay deals only with the bad, worse, and worst, which is far more plentiful than all of the other categories combined.

My thesis is very simple: you can't sing what you believe is wrong.

At the same time, you aren't obligated to separate from everything that you believe is wrong.

We must never do evil. But there are tolerable evils and intolerable ones. We cannot possibly live in community unless each of us is willing to tolerate something that he perceives as evil. And each of us knows that some evils cannot be tolerated. Whether or not they should be tolerated depends, not only on the gravity of the evil, but also upon the degree of complicity that any particular situation implies. You are more complicit in what happens at a GARBC meeting than I am; I am more complicit in what happens at Central Seminary than you are.

Pity the poor music director? Are you kidding? He has a duty that is as high and holy as pulpit proclamation. He can no more afford to get it wrong than the man in the pulpit can. He should accept his responsibility knowing that.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Andrew K. wrote:
Perhaps this is just me, but is anyone else a bit irked by "Mansion Over the Hilltop"?

"I'm satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that's silver-lined."

Anyone else getting vibes of a Christianized Yukon Cornelius?


As kids, we used to sing it "alot of silver and alot of gold!"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

KevinM wrote:
If a particular member frequently labels the chosen songs as “sin,” he’s probably in the wrong group of covenanted believers.

I think there's a weakness in this particular point because, as someone pointed out earlier in the thread (and I think he's right), a whole lot of folks in the "group of covenanted believers" don't know what parts of the songs they're singing even mean, even less about where they came from. In some cases, the songs we sing contradict the confessions of faith we claim or the covenants we've affirmed.
(Goes with having broadly evangelical hymnals, I suppose)

So, it may be that if, as Kevin B suggested, congregations only used what everybody there believes glorifying to God, plus making a real study of the content, would result in lots of people saying "Hey, these ideas don't fit our confession of faith!"

On the other hand, we sing stuff all the time at our church that does not "work" at all for me. That is, the musical medium seems unsuitable for the message and arguably contradicts it in my judgment. But others do not hear the same meaning in the music that I hear, and--in many cases--the intentional meaning of the composers is long lost. So we use the music because, for many, there is no discontinuity between message and medium.
(But there are limits to how far I can go with this... sometimes it's a case of "I can see how this music means what it needs to mean for them;" other times it's "This is too obvious. If people don't see the discontinuity, it's a case of poor judgment. This is music I cannot live with.")

But if Kevin's main idea: that there is such a thing as a hymn that
(a) says things in its words that we cannot affirm without sinning and/or,
(b) says things in its music that we cannot affirm without sinning,
would catch on, I think this would be great progress.

DavidO's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
we sing stuff all the time at our church that does not "work" at all for me . . . But others do not hear the same meaning in the music that I hear . . . So we use the music because, for many, there is no discontinuity between message and medium.

One possible implication (or cause) of this dissonance in sensibility is that you and the other person actually feel differently about what is being sung, and the music "fits" the way they feel about the subject. If you think the music trite and friviolous compared with what is being said, it is not impossible others who don't think so actually feel trite and frivolous emotions in regards to the propositions in the text being sung-- they may even have been trained to feel this way by singing that song about that particular truth for decades.

*dons helmet, digs foxhole*

KevinM's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
KevinM wrote:
If a particular member frequently labels the chosen songs as “sin,” he’s probably in the wrong group of covenanted believers.

Aaron sez: I think there's a weakness in this particular point because, as someone pointed out earlier in the thread (and I think he's right), a whole lot of folks in the "group of covenanted believers" don't know what parts of the songs they're singing even mean, even less about where they came from. In some cases, the songs we sing contradict the confessions of faith we claim or the covenants we've affirmed.

Aaron, I have sympathy for what you are saying--in the context of a congregation, a pastor would want to carefully plan a teaching ministry directed toward believers who lack maturity (discernment) in this area. It would be a shame to ignore all of the teachable moments that are provided by theologically-rich songs. I'm more thinking of the mature believer ("fully convinced"?) who understands that his or her position is often contrary to the church leadership--but who decides to stay and cause trouble. Maybe we're just talking about two different things. I think KB is coming from the standpoint of a person who sometimes has more discernment than the worship leader. And you seem to be raising the possibility of a church member who has less discernment than the worship leaders. Both are real.

KevinM's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
Kevin, No, I'm not posing a contrast between "good" music and "sinning" music. I am simply assuming such a thing as "sinning" music and asking how we should respond to it. I suggest that the sin may occur at the musical as well as the propositional level. Wherever there is meaning, there is the possibility of sinful meaning

Kevin--I’m comfortable with this, though perhaps we would discern the lines differently. Part of what you are saying is commendable, in that you have provided a solution for those who wish to stay within a congregation, despite their differences. To my way of thinking, your thoughts are much superior to someone who leaves a church (entirely) because of musical style. Some folks have trained their affections so narrowly that they cannot fellowship with anyone at all, dropping the idea of church membership entirely.

I suppose it works the same way for congregations who are concerned about the “other” churches in their fellowship or association. But as you suggest, our complicity increases the closer we are to a particular group. Our fellowship with other churches gives us important responsibilities (gotta get Straub to finish that article!)

Yes, God’s mercy for the songleader, too, in the sense of His showing compassion or forbearance when we offend Him (and those in our congregation.) Yes, I agree that I have a duty that is as high and holy as pulpit proclamation. Having accepted this calling, many of us labor so that we do not “get it wrong,” and we must confess our worship sins when they are committed. We do not fear God’s wrath, but our worship sins prevent us from seeing and receiving God’s rich blessings and close fellowship. I say this on behalf of the erring worship leader, and also on behalf of his erring critics.

Yes, I agree with your ideal: “only those expressions that the entire congregation could agree were glorifying to God”. But I wonder if it is better to articulate this as a shared burden between the leaders and the congregation. The conscientious objectors in the back, the non-singing ones with their arms folded, must avoid playing the “sin” card too soon. I suppose your phrase “tolerable evil” is a bit more helpful here. Please understand that I greatly value your essay. I’m trying to suggest some practical qualifiers, lest we begin to name something “sin” when it is “not sin.”

Mathew Sims's picture

I was greatly encourage by reading this article and I think we would all do to hone our discernment. Rather than building fences around every single issue we would be wise to apply Scripture and then allow other Christians room to grow where it's permissible. We must filter everything through Scripture and must to learn to choose between best, better, and bad.

Mathew Sims

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Kevin,

To be clear, I would definitely leave a church over music--some music. I would leave the leadership sooner than I would leave the membership--it entails a different level of complicity. And I have certainly made this one of the most important questions in determining what church I will join. Before I came to Fourth Baptist and Central Seminary I spent hours of time and pages of text making sure that the leadership knew exactly what I believed and would do. They knew what they were getting!

Not all evils are tolerable evils. Sometimes we do separate, even over music. On the other hand, not every musical error merits separation. And you are quite correct that you and I will draw those lines in different places.

Also, to be clear, I do not believe that the issues is simply one of how we have trained our affections (though that is certainly part of the problem). The primary question with music, as with any other utterance directed toward or about God, is, What does it mean? Until we have answered that question, we are not in a good position to make moral judgments. This, I think, is the primary flaw in almost all of the older fundamentalist discussions of music. They tended to leap first to moral conclusions, then backfilled their arguments with rationales that were too often contrived or entirely specious.

Finally, to be clear, I do not believe that it is fair to caricature those who do not sing as the conscientious objectors in the back, as "the non-singing ones with their arms folded," or as those who protest silently. Their point is not to conduct a demonstration or to register a complaint. Their point is simply not to do what one would be wrong to do: i.e., to express what they believe to be false.

By the way, if their arms are folded and they are exceptionally visible, that is probably because the leadership has taken away their hymnals (which they would surely have opened to the correct page) and projected the song's text on a screen. They have no hymnal to hold, they are exposed to a scrutiny that they would prefer to avoid, and they are offered limited choices. Put their hands in their pocketses, precious? Stand defiantly at attention? Lift their hands in prayer? Perhaps you would prefer that they just rolled in the aisles? Clutching their hymnal was their last alternative to being accused of a surliness or even defiance that they do not feel and have no wish to express. No wonder some of the slink to the back rows, relegating themselves to the position of the second-class members that they are thought to be.

They judge the music. Their brothers judge them. Which is less seemly?

Brenda T's picture

This article was helpful, because it is not simply a matter of "stay at the church" or "join another church" for a lot of people. Some who are employed by certain institutions may be required to attend a particular church or a particular denomination. If there are only 1 or 2 churches of the approved denomination in the area, a person's options are limited. Some students at certain colleges or seminaries are required to attend certain churches. If there are not a lot of the approved ones in the area, again, options are limited and one sort of gets stuck with something they may not otherwise choose. Also, a wife may find herself in a church that uses some music that is "sin" for her to sing. She shouldn't leave and join another church without her husband, should she? One more example: there are preachers who speak at other churches or conferences who believe the music being used falls into the category of "sin" and therefore they should not sing.

So, choosing not to sing is really the only option that some people have (or I suppose he or she could always conveniently have to go to the bathroom during the music or keep a pocket full of lozenges and frequently pop them in to feign a sore throat) but that would be dishonest and disingenuous, wouldn't it?

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