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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Charlie's picture

Larry,

There are today competing versions of the RPW, differing (wouldn'cha know) primarily over music and church holidays. In the high Puritan era, the Puritans were pretty set against the use of musical instruments and against the use of music outside the Psalms, or at least outside the Bible. One of the reasons for this was that the commandment most often appealed to was Ephesians 5:19, which does not just say "sing," but "sing psalms" (and they interpreted the three categories there as types of psalms). So, one would not have scriptural warrant for playing instruments, which they viewed as a new element rather than a form, or for singing non-psalms (occasionally room was made for the singing of other scripture texts). We tend to think of music as mere accompaniment or background, but before synthesized sound, it's a lot of work. Someone has to bring and practice on and play an instrument; a new action is introduced. Most Puritans also refused to celebrate ANY religious holidays, forcefully opposing Christmas and Easter. The reasoning is simple enough: they aren't commanded. In official Roman Catholic doctrine to this day, failing to attend mass on a number of holidays (known as "Days of Obligation") is a mortal sin. 

I think that you are right that the mere adoption of the RPW does not settle every dispute. I am convinced that nothing has or ever could settle every dispute. And it sure raised some disputes, as any Anglican historian can tell you. And to many of those Anglicans, the cure was more bitter than the disease. You'd make a Cambidge vicar turn even whiter if you offered to remove the bickering over the church calendar by eliminating it entirely. 

But I still raise the RPW because it puts the issues at hand in an explicitly theological key, and it raises new questions about what really constitutes Christian liberty at the level of a congregation. It suggests that we might need to protect congregations from the inventions of their leaders and that there is value in uniform simple worship. One of the first actions of the Westminster Assembly after the Confession itself was the drafting of a Directory of Publick Worship to give guidance on these matters. The goal was that one could go from the icy tip of Scotland to the southern shore of England and be able to worship in any church without any infringement of (a well-trained) conscience. As I am about to move to a new town and will have to begin the process of trying out churches all over again, I see some value in that! But of course it raises issues of creativity and expression and such.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Shaynus's picture

Mike,

Honest question here, Let's say a member of your church didn't draw the lines like you did. Let's say they themselves would allow for a rock type of worship, but submitted to your leadership on the issue as their pastor and didn't press the matter in your church. Would you, having heard from them of their position, initiate church discipline because they were disobedient? Why or why not? Would you say they were in sin?

Shayne

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Greg Long wrote:

So, does the debate change, and is it more accurately described, if instead of "imposing preferences" we use the phrase "mandating extra-biblical convictions as the basis for separation"? Or, perhaps to be more charitable, "mandating convictions based on biblical principles as the basis for separation"?

I think that is what is meant by the shorthand "imposing preferences." But I agree that "imposing preferences" is not accurate.

As so often happens on this topic, we've got a ton of supbtopics in a pretty short time.

Greg's post jumped out at me because it was on my short list for the next installment on this topic.

But there are really a whole bunch of issues in the phrase "mandating convictions based on biblical principles as the basis for separation" ... all worth thinking about. So I'd like to give them some thoughtful focus... as opposed to having a shouting match.

I appreciate the tone on this so far.

Just got called to supper and it's not a good idea to be slow on that...

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.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

If we put music in the disagreement category as opposed to the departing or disobedient category, then churches can have restricted levels of cooperation based on the nature of the disagreement, its intensity, and its practical impact on our congregations. 

This is precisely where I am at on this issue. I would also add that the ongoing discussions on music at SI have helped me come to this position. Very well said.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Got a few minutes... 

On RPW: I've often said that it's a great concept but can be applied in very different ways. But it may be that it only seems possible to apply it in widely differing ways, much as it seems--to people not really all that familiar with the Bible--like "anybody can make the Bible mean whatever you like" (or the Constitution, or any other document you might want to name). 

It may well be that getting everybody more educated on the whole RPW concept truly solves alot of these problems.

"Mandating convictions based on biblical principles as the basis for separation"

So much I want to say about this. A few observations.

Extrabiblical convictions: it beats "preferences," but it's still a bit too easy to undervalue these because, after all, they are extrabibiblical. The thing is, it's really not all that unusual for the wisest and most devoted of Christians through the ages to apply Scripture to relatively "new" scenarios with a great deal of sober conviction--and then to separate over them.

For example, spiritual abuse, legalism, pornography and materialism are all evils that are not so named in Scripture. We derive these categories from Scripture and rightly reject them. In some cases, they're just modern names for old, old sins or modern variants on old, old sins.

But what the best representatives of cultural conservatism do with music (and a few other culture-entwined things) is not really different in kind from our rejection of materialism, "legalism," spiritual abuse, etc. The process is the same: principles --> applications. 

Separation? That's another topic. I think it's possible to isolate the separation question completely from the culture (and music) question. Work through the latter first, then consider how it relates to separation doctrine.

But I'd like to go this far: many of us are skeptical that views on the cultural significance of clothing styles ought to be grounds for separation. But where is the verse that teaches it's a sin to attend church naked? We'd all separate from any group that taught this was a good idea! But in doing so, wouldn't we mandating extrabiblical convictions as a basis for separation?

I anticipate "But that's different! Wearing clothes is a big deal and music styles are... not" Well, that leads us back to one of the real points of disagreement. Are they not?

So my point is that as a category "extrabiblical convictions" are not necessarily wrong either to "mandate" or to hold to as a basis for separation. I.e., "extrabiblical" is not automatically "not important enough to either mandate or separate over."

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.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Shaynus wrote:

Mike,

Honest question here, Let's say a member of your church didn't draw the lines like you did. Let's say they themselves would allow for a rock type of worship, but submitted to your leadership on the issue as their pastor and didn't press the matter in your church. Would you, having heard from them of their position, initiate church discipline because they were disobedient? Why or why not? Would you say they were in sin?

Shayne

FWIW, I would not. When I was a pastor (still sounds weird to write that), I believed myself responsible for what we used in worship. We did use a bit music I thought to be of inferior quality but that I knew blessed many in the congregation. So there was a degree of compromise between my personal ideals and the feelings of the congregation. Not very much though. I think most would have liked a good bit more contemporary music. But in any case, what they believed on the issue was of interest to me as a teacher, but I saw it as a matter of conscience (aka what we call "liberty") between them and God. So in practice, it was a matter for persuasion not coercion.   (We never had a worship war)

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.

Jay's picture

Shaynus wrote:

Mike,

Honest question here, Let's say a member of your church didn't draw the lines like you did. Let's say they themselves would allow for a rock type of worship, but submitted to your leadership on the issue as their pastor and didn't press the matter in your church. Would you, having heard from them of their position, initiate church discipline because they were disobedient? Why or why not? Would you say they were in sin?

Shayne

Or what if your church planted a daughter church, and they decided they wanted to use songs like "Behold Our God" or "All I Have Is Christ" in their services.  They're SGM songs but do not have a 'rock' sound to them (listen to the T4GL2 CD clips from Amazon to see what I mean).

"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

Greg Long's picture

Mike Harding wrote:

Greg,

 

If we put music in the disagreement category as opposed to the departing or disobedient category, then churches can have restricted levels of cooperation based on the nature of the disagreement, its intensity, and its practical impact on our congregations.  It does not have to be labeled necessarily as disobedient brethren.  Perhaps, it can be called a wisdom issue in many situations.  In the field of music and its relationship to worship, there will be many gradations between black and white.  Personally, I have drawn the line of cooperation for our own church and my relationship to other churches on this specific topic based on a clear use of the rock genre in the public services of the church. On the positive side I encourage our worship music to be melodic, beautiful, harmonious, of good reputation, truthful, doctrinally accurate, admirable, excellent, appropriate to the message, respectful, reverent, joyful, enthusiastic, unifying, singable, and free of any clear identification with something sinful.  To me these qualities are beyond mere preferences.  I am willing to bend when it comes to other ministries, but I would rather not break.  I do not think ill of some pastor who disagrees with me regarding applications of these principles, as long as I know they sincerely believe and practice these principles.  When it comes to biblical insight into music and worship, I lean more heavily toward authors like David Wells, Paul Jones, John Makujina, Millard Erickson, T. David Gordon, Doug O'Donnell, and Gary Reimers.  Their scholarship and insight on this issue make more sense to me than do the arguments from the other side.  When I recently observed the music videos of the Fox River Church overseen by Pastor Guy Conn or the video musical celebration to a large donation in the congregation of Providence Bible Church overseen by Pastor Jason Janz, those examples appeared in egregious violation of these principles and any reasonable application thereof. I use those instances as clear examples of turning from a conservative/serious minded approach to music/worship to something very different. 

Mike, forgive me if you have already detailed this before, but could you help me understand where you find the Scriptural support for separation from the disagreeing brother (disagreement, of course, based not on clear Scripture teachings but rather based on convictions built upon biblical principles)? Obviously there is the case of Paul and Silas separating from Barnabas and John Mark over a disagreement, but this passage seems more descriptive than prescriptive or permissive. In other words, although it was obviously part of God's will of decree that these brothers should separate and he used it to further the spread of the Gospel, I don't believe God was pleased (in the sense of his revealed will) by their "sharp disagreement" and separation.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Greg Long's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Got a few minutes... 

On RPW: I've often said that it's a great concept but can be applied in very different ways. But it may be that it only seems possible to apply it in widely differing ways, much as it seems--to people not really all that familiar with the Bible--like "anybody can make the Bible mean whatever you like" (or the Constitution, or any other document you might want to name). 

It may well be that getting everybody more educated on the whole RPW concept truly solves alot of these problems.

"Mandating convictions based on biblical principles as the basis for separation"

So much I want to say about this. A few observations.

Extrabiblical convictions: it beats "preferences," but it's still a bit too easy to undervalue these because, after all, they are extrabibiblical. The thing is, it's really not all that unusual for the wisest and most devoted of Christians through the ages to apply Scripture to relatively "new" scenarios with a great deal of sober conviction--and then to separate over them.

For example, spiritual abuse, legalism, pornography and materialism are all evils that are not so named in Scripture. We derive these categories from Scripture and rightly reject them. In some cases, they're just modern names for old, old sins or modern variants on old, old sins.

But what the best representatives of cultural conservatism do with music (and a few other culture-entwined things) is not really different in kind from our rejection of materialism, "legalism," spiritual abuse, etc. The process is the same: principles --> applications. 

Separation? That's another topic. I think it's possible to isolate the separation question completely from the culture (and music) question. Work through the latter first, then consider how it relates to separation doctrine.

But I'd like to go this far: many of us are skeptical that views on the cultural significance of clothing styles ought to be grounds for separation. But where is the verse that teaches it's a sin to attend church naked? We'd all separate from any group that taught this was a good idea! But in doing so, wouldn't we mandating extrabiblical convictions as a basis for separation?

I anticipate "But that's different! Wearing clothes is a big deal and music styles are... not" Well, that leads us back to one of the real points of disagreement. Are they not?

So my point is that as a category "extrabiblical convictions" are not necessarily wrong either to "mandate" or to hold to as a basis for separation. I.e., "extrabiblical" is not automatically "not important enough to either mandate or separate over."

Aaron, I understand what you are trying to get at, but your analogy is not valid. We are commanded in Scripture to wear modest clothing (well, at least women are!), which, logically, would include the wearing of clothing in the first place.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Greg Long's picture

Although it may surprise many on SI, I am actually sympathetic to the conservative music argument. I was raised and educated in that environment. I prefer a balance of contemporary and traditional music. As I have taught my class on Church History this quarter at church I have had us sing a song from each era we have studied.

And to be fair to Aaron, I think he is absolutely correct that all of us have "extra-biblical convictions" we would be willing to separate over. Although I didn't think your nudity example (that looks a little funny as I type it) was valid, I'll give you one I do think is valid, Aaron. If I were in Colorado, I would consider very, very carefully whether I could fellowship/partner with a church that publicly and clearly taught it was acceptable for Christians to smoke marijuana.

It's just that, as Jay has pointed out, the conservative music argument (again, the militant type, or as Joel T calls them the BGs) seems to be based on a whole series of extra-biblical and, in some cases (IMHO), UNbiblical arguments. I have no problem for someone personally coming to that point of conviction. But as I've said before, I can't understand how (it seems to me) it rises to a level of a fundamental doctrine of Scripture and used as a clear basis of separation.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

JNoël's picture

Greg Long wrote:

Although it may surprise many on SI, I am actually sympathetic to the conservative music argument.

I prefer...

I have no problem for someone personally coming to that point of conviction.

This reveals that you are a preference towards music person rather than a conviction about music person. It shows just why it is difficult to debate these issues, just like the Version issue.

I suppose the real skill lies in getting both sides to agree upon what the Healthy Debate really is. I think prefer-ers are those who are generally comfortable with the Imposing Preferences argument and would have a tendency to use it. The other side would tend away from the Imposing Preferences argument because they are convinced it is a matter of sin, not of preference. Prefer-ers probably believe they are personally presenting a godly, balanced position. The others see that balance as compromise.

 

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)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron, I understand what you are trying to get at, but your analogy is not valid. We are commanded in Scripture to wear modest clothing (well, at least women are!), which, logically, would include the wearing of clothing in the first place.

My example was intentionally extreme. But the point was to show a point about a category. Matters of conscience or application are not, as a category, improper bases for separation... though I would hasten to add that they are not usually bases for separation.

I think the analogy works for that particular point because just as we reason that if women are commanded to wear modest clothing we must therefore all wear clothing (the case against going about unclothed--or very close to it--is actually a bit more complex, and might seem ridiculous but I think it might not in 20 years, depending on geographical factors). 

Anyway just as women are commanded to dress modestly, so all believers are commanded to worship appropriately. Where? Mainly the OT, but passages such as Coloss. 3:16 in the NT communicate that these principles still apply. And just about everyone accepts that, in theory, there is such a thing as inappropriate/just plain wrong worship.

So then the usual question is, where is the passage that says there is inappropriate music for worship? And then where's the passage that says "style" is what makes it inappropriate?

Those arguments have been made, but we've strayed from the point. The point was that it's often argued "we should not mandate or separate over extrabiblical convictions" ... But this argument fails because we all believe in doing that in some cases.

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.

Jay's picture

Anyway just as women are commanded to dress modestly, so all believers are commanded to worship appropriately. Where? Mainly the OT, but passages such as Coloss. 3:16 in the NT communicate that these principles still apply. And just about everyone accepts that, in theory, there is such a thing as inappropriate/just plain wrong worship.

 

So then the usual question is, where is the passage that says there is inappropriate music for worship? And then where's the passage that says "style" is what makes it inappropriate?

See, this is almost exactly my whole argument.  I don't think we have merit to argue that dressing modestly must necessitate long dresses and high heels (for example) in today's church.  It would not be possible to argue that God has ordained one specific dress style for women to use in part because the cultures and times continually change (hence the quote in my signature).  

Even if one could argue that the style is fixed in Scripture - what happens when the culture changes?  It used to be that short hair on women was a reproach and a sign of prostitution (1 Cor. 11:1-16).  Yet that entire pericope closes with an admonition to not be contentious with each other over this matter (11:16); Paul also says explicitly in v. 13 that we are to 'judge for ourselves in this matter'.  In any case, now the short hair / long hair discussion isn't something we think about unless she shaves her head entirely (like Sinead O' Connor from a couple of years ago).  Now, maybe there's someone here who has disciplined a woman from a church for having short hair, but I think we'd all be pretty amazed if that were the case.

If people want to argue that there are songs inappropriate for worship - great.  Let's discuss that; I agree with that argument to a point.   But I do not see where Scripture says that all acceptable church worship must use songs that sound like something produced by SoundForth or whomever.  I don't think that it's acceptable to use driving rock music as the basis for congregational performance (as opposed to congregational singing), but that's a different discussion as well.

"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

Mike Harding's picture

Greg,

 

I made my case for my position on my church website under two documents:  "Music That Glorifies God" and "Toward Biblical Music Standards (for Worship)".  I also have another document entitled "The Beauty of God," but I need to repost it on our site.  Check out the two examples I gave and give me your honest evaluation.  Also, familiarize yourself with the authors I mentioned and see what they are saying about music and worship in the evangelical church.  This is a concern that stretches far beyond the fundamentalist environment.  Also, levels of cooperation do not necessarily equal biblical separation.  You might want to re-read Bauder's articles on that subject.

 

Shaynus,

 

I have not and would not.  I would restrict their leadership position in the church, however.

Pastor Mike Harding

DavidO's picture

what happens when the culture changes?

One evaluates the reasons behind the change and the meaning of the new expressions.  Clothing trends reflect cultural attitudes, interests, inclinations, and, yes, morals.  It isn't enough to say "people in our culture just don't 'dress up' as much any more."  We must ask why they don't and what that means. 

I don't think that it's acceptable to use driving rock music as the basis for congregational performance (as opposed to congregational singing), but that's a different discussion as well.

I don't think it is a different discussion.  I think it's the very same discussion.  Why do you think it's different?  Also, are you saying that driving rock is ok to accompany congregational singing? (I don't really suspect you are, just wanting to clarify).  I think it's all part of the same thing.  Music in church, I mean.

And don't worry.  No one wants all Soundforth all the time.  Biggrin

 

Shaynus's picture

So Mike, would you say that they would be in sin? or would it be a preference or is there another name for it?

Jay's picture

DavidO wrote:

what happens when the culture changes?

One evaluates the reasons behind the change and the meaning of the new expressions.  Clothing trends reflect cultural attitudes, interests, inclinations, and, yes, morals.  It isn't enough to say "people in our culture just don't 'dress up' as much any more."  We must ask why they don't and what that means. 

I don't think that it's acceptable to use driving rock music as the basis for congregational performance (as opposed to congregational singing), but that's a different discussion as well.

I don't think it is a different discussion.  I think it's the very same discussion.  Why do you think it's different?  Also, are you saying that driving rock is ok to accompany congregational singing? (I don't really suspect you are, just wanting to clarify).  I think it's all part of the same thing.  Music in church, I mean.

And don't worry.  No one wants all Soundforth all the time.  Biggrin

Well, I did want all SoundForth all the time for a while...so maybe that's the REAL reason why I changed and I just never realized it until now.  Thanks for clueing me in Wink

Seriously, though, I think you touched on a nerve and wanted to mention it (although I've already done it a few times here).  I believe - and I'm sure Greg Long would agree with me on this - that it is possible to present an argument from Scripture for modern music without doing so because "I want MY music played in church" or because "Well, people just need to change" or because congregations should "rock out" to the Lord (as Lou Martuneac would say).  Those are underlying attitude and pride issues which need to be examined before you can deal with style issues.  That kind of attitude ("rocking out") goes so much deeper than just the music that we use in worship.

As an Interim Pastor, I was put in an situation once where I was told by a church member that we needed to change our music to a more contemporary style in order to "attract kids".  We disagreed on that, and it wasn't because I liked the music as it was (all the music was organ oriented, and it gave the services a funeral-type feel that I thought communicated all the wrong things) - it was because the motivations for the music change were wrong.  And that's, as you said, where some of this issue lies.

I tire, frankly, of the idea that guys like Zod and I (or whatever we're calling him now) are using different music because we want to "rock out" at church.  That's a crazy and sinful idea (we don't go to church to make ourselves 'feel good' - we go to church because we are preparing an act of worship and sacrifice to the Lord), and it's disrespectful of fellow believers to say so.  So let's discuss style, pride, culture, etc - but a large portion of the debate has been structured around the argument that we want rock music in church because it feeds our fleshly desires.  That's flatly not true of either of us (and I suspect, anyone else on this site).  But we (as modern music people) can't seem to move the discussion off of "________ loves rock music", which is maddening and counterproductive.

"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

Joel Tetreau's picture

As much as I am not comfortable with some of the views Harding takes - As long as he does not mark out other believes/leaders etc.....as "heretical" because of a different approach to music - especially when those are good men, in the end I don't think Mike is "out of line" (per se) to say that he would limit internal leadership or external relationships with those who have a different-enough philosophy of music/worship, etc.

Mike is the lead pastor of a congregation - and for those of you who eventually read my upcoming book (shameless plug - sorry), I make the case that the lead pastor has a special burden to protect and direct the congregation. Mike is passionate that the right kind of music be protected at Troy because the right kind of music will aid in projecting and worshipping the right view of God. In the end the way we do this may be different but the motivation is the same.

BTW - for those of us who take a different approach to limiting especially "church music" than the Beehtoven Group - I would love to see how you do that. If we are telling guys like Harding and Bauder et al that their approach is out of order - I'd like to be able to show them what a more responsible apporach is. What are the biblical paramaters in your philosophy and approach to especially corporate music? My fear is that some of us have never constructed a philosophy but we are quick to tell these guys we don't like what they have constructed. In other words - we don't like the lines these guys have drawn - fair enough. So where do you draw your lines - and why do you draw them where you draw them? Perhaps you have no lines?  

Straight Ahead!

jt

ps - my apologies for defending Harding - this is very disconcerting and kind of throws us into some kind of cyber twighlight zone. I promise not to make a habbit of this sort of thing.  

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Mike Harding's picture

Joel,

 

Thanks for the kind words.  They meant a great deal to me.

 

Shay,

 

It is possible for issues like music or dress for that matter to go beyond a lack of wisdom to something that violates the glory of God.  I think the examples I gave reached that point.  In music or dress, it is not always easy to know when something has actually become something sinful or a lack of wisdom.   Partly, because sin is something that occurs in the mind as well as the body.  When a man knows to do right and does not do it, to him it is sin.  Some sin out of ignorance; others willfully.  In many cases I think the matter is a lack of wisdom or discretion.  It's not always easy to define when something becomes a pile of sand (10 grains, 100, or 1000 grains), but there is such a thing as a pile of sand.  That's a good analogy for this topic.

Pastor Mike Harding

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jay: strong point about attitude.

One question I wrestled with as a pastor was--in regard to a number of issues--Can this be internally regulated (as in, regulated by the internal beliefs and understandings of people) or do we need a rule? Of course, you always want understanding, belief, genuine commitment, etc. But to what extent can "suitability for worship" be selected by internal regulation alone? I don't claim to know the answer, but I have been around enough to see that some churches seem to select pretty well without proscribing anything. There are general principles, goals, teaching on the purpose of worship and purpose of the things we use in worship. And mostly that results in, from my point of view, pretty good choices.

Some might argue is "mostly" good enough?

Well, consider the actual trade offs: if you make a really specific set of rules for worship music, dress, etc., there are some advantages in terms of the end result externally. To some that alone is an indictment because they undervalue externals (read Exodus and tell me how unimportant the appearance of worship is). So to me, that's a plus. The downside though, is that with a rule that addresses outward conduct, there is a certain natural tendency to not bother to think about things. On a certain level, it's irrelevant: that's already decided so what does it matter what I really believe?

Then factor in that external regulation is also only, at best, going to be "mostly good enough" because the regulation process has much of the merely human in it and is carried out by humans.

So I'm not sure that external regulation fairs well as an approach once you remove the ideal outcome and accept that it's a fantasy.

But I want to point out that the debate about how music in worship should be regulated is a separate debate from the "what does style and culture have to do with acceptability for worship." So the process question is important but is really a question to go into separately. It's like the border control and immigration debate. We keep mixing "how do we control the border?" with "who should be allowed to come in or stay in?" They are two related but distinct problems.

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.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I can't understand how (it seems to me) it rises to a level of a fundamental doctrine of Scripture and used as a clear basis of separation

Greg, let me throw this scenario out and see how you respond to it: Let's say you have a friend that you have over for dinner and he constantly speaks to your wife in what you believe in a inappropriate and disrespectful manner. At times he yells at her, uses a sarcastic tone of voice in his compliments, or perhaps uses a tone of voice that indicates a close level of familiarity towards a romantic direction.

How would you respond to this friend? Would you continue to have him over?

Greg Long's picture

I do see a major difference between personal and ecclesiastical separation, but I realize we are trying to establish principles and applications. I'm also assuming that in your scenario you are referring to a professing Christian.

I would use clear Scriptural commands related to proper speech and apply them to this situation. I would use Matthew 18 as an offended brother to work though this situation.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing you would use the same approach (examine clear Scriptural commands and apply them to the situation) as it relates to how we worship God.

So if I may jump ahead, you find a lot of similarity between the way tone of voice communicates and the way music communicates. Is that right?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Moderator

My point is only that you probably recognize the value of the conservative argument in other places. You would not continue to have that guy over to your house unless he changed, and you would do it out of respect and honor for your wife. You said you couldn't see how the conservatives separate, yet I think here you would do exactly what the conservatives do. They believe that the way we talk to God matters (probably as much if not more than how someone talks to and about our wives), and that when someone consistently does it wrongly (in their judgment) there can be no fellowship, or having them over for dinner in the illustration. They may be right or wrong about that, but it should fairly easy to see why they do it.

It may be as simple as just not working together when music is involved. It may be formal separation of some sort. It probably depends on the person.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've pointed this out before in other threads/articles, but one of the problems in separation doctrine & practice is that there is some variety in how people use the term. Some use "separation" to include any "not together" situation, from a natural geographical distance to a conscious shunning and everything in between.

All of these forms of "not together" do occur, obviously, but where we run into trouble is when we're relating these to Scripture. In the Bible "have no company with him" is a punitive act. It happens after other steps have occurred and it isn't the same thing at all as selective non-cooperation or just natural/geographical non-cooperation. The latter happens by default and we have to go out of our way to "get together." I'm not sure the NT speaks of that at all.

But this important category of matters of conscience usually calls for selective non-cooperation rather than punitive separation. It's usually a case of "I can work with group A or group B, but there isn't really enough time and energy to do both, so I'll work with A because they agree my/our sensibilities in more matters of importance to us."

My vote is for not calling this "separation."

But I think it's already been demonstrated in this thread that sometimes a matter of conscience can be a basis for separation in the fullest sense. When it should be or should not be is quite a different topic from the culture and style/form debate, though.

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

1. Preferences is probably better rephrased as "convictions." I think we're discussing people 'imposing' their convictions (not really preferences) on others.

 

2. convictions are important for the individual or even group, but they are not universal. they are important because they are expressions of faith/belief. if something is a sin for you, in this realm of convictions, then that's a serious thing. for you.

 

3. convictions are subject to change and convictions are formed somewhat subjectively--one's beliefs, information, associations, background.

 

4. as a person matures, i think these "convictions" (debatable areas) become less an issue of sin for that person, maybe the standards loosen, or they remain but with the understanding that others can legitimately have differing convictions.

5. I think the whole "separation" thing and music, well, it's different from separating from doctrinal heresy. I think it needs to be presented as more of a wisdom issue in one's life or one's church's life. not a sin issue.

Greg Long's picture

Larry wrote:

My point is only that you probably recognize the value of the conservative argument in other places. You would not continue to have that guy over to your house unless he changed, and you would do it out of respect and honor for your wife. You said you couldn't see how the conservatives separate, yet I think here you would do exactly what the conservatives do. They believe that the way we talk to God matters (probably as much if not more than how someone talks to and about our wives), and that when someone consistently does it wrongly (in their judgment) there can be no fellowship, or having them over for dinner in the illustration. They may be right or wrong about that, but it should fairly easy to see why they do it.

It may be as simple as just not working together when music is involved. It may be formal separation of some sort. It probably depends on the person.

I understand what you are saying, Larry. Thank you for the analogy, because it is helpful to understand the perspective of the "conservatives."

But let's explore the analogy a little further--the analogy of this guy over at my house whose tone of voice or body language communicates rudeness or inappropriate flirtatiousness with my wife. We all understand how powerful non-verbal communication (body language, gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions) is. We all also understand that non-verbal communication are subjective and is culturally determined.

Because it is subjective, it can be missed, misunderstood, or misinterpreted. Obviously there are many times when non-verbal communication is anything but subtle. If my Christian friend who is over for dinner at my house says to my wife, "Thanks for a GREAT dinner!" but rolls his eyes, makes a choking gesture with his hands around his own throat, and emphasizes 'GREAT' in a clearly sarcastic way, I'm sure if we gathered 100 people in my house from around the neighborhood they would nearly all recognize his sarcasm and rudeness. If my friend said to my wife, "Thanks for the great dinner!" but smiled as he said it, and I said to him, "How rude of you to smile when you complimented my wife! You obviously weren't serious with your compliment! The Bible says let your speech be gracious, and so I need to ask you to leave and never come back", we might find a difference of opinion among those same 100 people as to whether my friend was being serious or was joking and as to whether he was sincere or being sarcastic, but we would probably find no difference of opinion that I was the one being rude.

Likewise, because non-verbal communication is culturally determined (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonverbal_communication#Across_cultures -- yes, I am citing Wikipedia, but this is hardly disputed, I would imagine), it can vary in meaning over time and across cultures. There is no inherent meaning in particular gestures, tones of voice, facial expressions, etc. Rolling one's eyes does not inherently communicate sarcasm, but for whatever reason does communicate that in our time and culture. If when my friend (I'm not sure this guy is going to be my friend much longer) is leaving, he grabs my wife's hands with both of his hands, looks her up and down, winks at her, and says, "I sure had a great time here tonight" in a sultry voice, no doubt all 100 of those same people (we have a big house in this analogy) would say, "That was inappropriate!" But let's say he reaches his hand out to shake her hand with a normal handshake, looks her in the eye and says, "I sure had a great time here tonight!" and then turns to leave. Then I say, "Hey, quit hitting on my wife! The Bible says the marriage bed is sacred!" He responds, "What? What are you talking about?" I say, "You initiated a handshake with her and made eye contact with her! You were obviously hitting on her!" He says, "So? That doesn't mean I was hitting on her!" I say, "Well, in the 1950s, if a black man initiated a handshake with a white woman in the South and made eye contact with her, he was hitting on her, and so obviously that is what that means. And because you just hit on my wife, I never want you to visit my house again." I would wager that most of those (here they are again) same 100 people will recommend I be committed.

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.

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."

The problem I have, and--if I understand him correctly (although he expressed it much more articulately than I)--Bob Bixby has, is this objective and inherent view of meaning in musical style is used as the basis for separation in music. Or, even if music is acknowledged to be somewhat subjective and culturally determined, an extreme view of what it means/communicates is used as the basis for separation. This extreme view is based not on clear Scriptural principles, but on intellectual and cultural arguments very difficult for the average person or the average Christian to fully understand. Additionally, these arguments are not so cut and dried as they are presented to be. If a full understanding of Jonathan Edwards' view of the affections necessarily leads to musical conservatism, John Piper must not really understand Jonathan Edwards' view of the affections.

Anyway, I am starting to ramble. Thanks for the interaction, Larry, it is thought-provoking.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Don Johnson's picture

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?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

We all also understand that non-verbal communication are subjective and is culturally determined.

For the most part yes, but probably not entirely. If someone punches you in the face, it probably means the same thing everywhere. But that's an aside.

I am not trying to advance the conservative argument with respect to separation, particularly since as I said, they probably would not agree with what we do here. I was only responding to your comments that you didn't understand it, so I offered an illustration of I how I see their argument. And I think your interaction with it here shows you do understand it, and how separation is a natural conclusion for those who hold it. I think I understand why they say what they do.

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

So what would your relationship be with people who use these genres for praising God? Would you join freely with them and encourage them? Would you recommend others join with them? Would you simply not participate with them? What would you do?

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