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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Greg Long's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Greg Long wrote:

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

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

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

I would not say it music in and of itself communicates "messages" in the same way the lyrics do. I think that, like non-verbal communication, it communicates on an emotive level and contributes to the overall message being communicated.

Don Johnson wrote:
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?
I can't say that it is with any degree of certainty.

Don Johnson wrote:
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")?
No, no it's not "merely" a matter of majority rule. I evaluate musical styles and their appropriateness for worship in the same way I would evaluate the non-verbal communication of the friend at my house (in no particular order):

  • My personal opinion/impression, hopefully led by the Spirit and guided by biblical wisdom in a general sense
  • Consultation with others ("Bob, you were at my house the other night. What did you think when Joe rolled his eyes when he thanked my wife for dinner? Do you think he was being sarcastic?")
  • An understanding of culture. This might include research, reading of experts on the issue, etc. If I think a man initiating a handshake with a woman means he is hitting on her, but after research find out hardly anyone else thinks that and there are even research studies indicating hardly anyone else in our culture thinks that, I would have to rethink my position.

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."

Don Johnson wrote:
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?

It might be possible, but I haven't been convinced of that to state it dogmatically.

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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

Larry wrote:

Greg Long wrote:
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'm not sure that punching someone in the face qualifies as non-verbal communication. It seems more like an action to me, which of course certainly communicates something.

Larry wrote:
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.

Greg Long wrote:
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?

I have never seen a situation where I would separate from another church based on music alone.

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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

Jay wrote:

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

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

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

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

I agree with you, Jay. Almost all of the time it is done on a song-by-song basis. I'm just saying there are certain genres that might not even be considered as appropriate for worship because they clearly communicate emotions opposed to normal Christian worship.

I love SGM music as well!

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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

dcbii wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:

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

If yes, how do you determine that?

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

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

DavidO's picture

Brenda T wrote:

DavidO wrote

I personally think God created music.

Which day?

I think this is worth considering.  If the angels sing "Holy, holy, holy . . ."  around the throne of God, did they only do so subsequent to one of the six days of creation?  Does this mean there is air carrying musical vibration in heaven or is music there produced differently than it is here?  Is the singing in Isaiah 6 metaphorical? 

Personal opinion all of this is, but I believe God intended us to make music to Him, so gave us the laws of nature and gave us all that is needed to produce it. 

[/rabbit trail of rampant speculation]

Greg Long's picture

DavidO wrote:

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

 

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

Wow, as a former Lostie, I would say you nailed it. Smile

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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

JNoël wrote:

Anne Sokol wrote:

Are certain forms of music inherently sinful?

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

 

V/r

+1

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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

DavidO wrote:

Brenda T wrote:

DavidO wrote

I personally think God created music.

Which day?

I think this is worth considering.  If the angels sing "Holy, holy, holy . . ."  around the throne of God, did they only do so subsequent to one of the six days of creation?  Does this mean there is air carrying musical vibration in heaven or is music there produced differently than it is here?  Is the singing in Isaiah 6 metaphorical? 

Personal opinion all of this is, but I believe God intended us to make music to Him, so gave us the laws of nature and gave us all that is needed to produce it. 

[/rabbit trail of rampant speculation]

Let me beat others to the punch...

David, angels are never said to "sing," only "say." So obviously God created rap. Smile

(Although the four living creatures and people are said to "sing" in heaven in Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3.)

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It may help to get clear that in act of worship you have at least three notable parts:

- the act itself

- the motivation behind it

- the results of it/response to it

It is possible to get any two of these right and still get the third wrong. An act can be wrong and sinful even if it has good results and our heart was in the right place when we did it.

Similarly, the act can be a good thing in itself but have an evil motive, yet a good result, etc.

So we can't reduce the right and wrong of worship choices to just what's going on in the heart of the worshiper.

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.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

DavidO wrote:

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


Of course, if we go down this road, it pretty much would point toward CCM being OK, since a tune would then be judged not on its own merit, but by the purpose to which it is put. I believe that judgment of use is necessary, but not sufficient. I just happen to think that further judgment is based on how it interacts with the listener, based on a lot of factors, with many of those being subjective, not based on inherent moral value of the music itself. I just can't prove that last, one way or the other.

Quote:

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


There may be some here saying that all music is usable, but it would only be very few. The real disagreement is over where the lines are drawn and how to draw them in the first place, not (in most cases) whether or not lines should exist. Even if everyone completely agreed that music was inherently amoral, I believe most of us would still not want to use "Mary had a little lamb" or "The Star-spangled Banner" as hymn tunes for other reasons.

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

It may help to get clear that in act of worship you have at least three notable parts:

- the act itself

- the motivation behind it

- the results of it/response to it

It is possible to get any two of these right and still get the third wrong. An act can be wrong and sinful even if it has good results and our heart was in the right place when we did it.

Similarly, the act can be a good thing in itself but have an evil motive, yet a good result, etc.

So we can't reduce the right and wrong of worship choices to just what's going on in the heart of the worshiper.

Aaron,

I'm not quite sure what you meant by the bolded section.  The response to worship comes from God, not from us.  We can only worship with right motivations and right actions (although I'm not backing down that worship forms can and do vary).  While we may feel good after worship - I've felt well after delivering a sermon and also walked off the platform feeling like I'd just bombed out on my message as well - that has little to nothing to do with what actually happened in the act of worship.  Only God's response to us (since we're trying to please him in worship) really matters.

I think what you're trying to get at is that we don't allow the 'warm fuzzies' of our church services to steer how we worship.  Is that right?

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

DavidO's picture

dcbii][quote=DavidO wrote:
Of course, if we go down this road, it pretty much would point toward CCM being OK, since a tune would then be judged not on its own merit, but by the purpose to which it is put.
Quote:

Not exactly.  A tune could in itself be unfit, just as a sword could be useless for some purposes.  Ideally, one would want a 1)quality tune 2)fit for the purpose 3)used within an appropriate arrangement.  The ability/criteria for determining both seem to me to be points of dispute (or simply agnosticism) for some here.

There may be some here saying that all music is usable, but it would only be very few. The real disagreement is over where the lines are drawn and how to draw them in the first place, not (in most cases) whether or not lines should exist. Even if everyone completely agreed that music was inherently amoral, I believe most of us would still not want to use "Mary had a little lamb" or "The Star-spangled Banner" as hymn tunes for other reasons.

Ture enough.  But we are having a hard time pushing through from the fact lines are drawn by some to the actual criteria they would use.

I do note, though, that GregZodFritz's enumerated criterea violate Sola Scriptura according to Jay.   (My evil deed for the day Smile )

Shaynus's picture

Jay wrote:

 

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

 

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5, ESV)

 

Jay, I'm going push back a little and play devil's advocate. I would have jumped in here earlier, but I was too busy having a steak dinner with Ed Stetzer last night. <- True story 

It is true that everything created by God is good. But nearly everything that God creates can be perverted. He created wood and we can make idols of it. If someone were to say "music in general is wrong" we'd definitely have some verses to say God invented music to a degree. He rejoices with us with singing after all. So the traditional side of this could argue that music can be perverted in some way that would be unclean, but the arguments generally fall very flat to me. To me, this argument is like the Supreme Court's test for what is pornography: "you know it when you see it." They know they can't come up with a long litmus test that would hold in every case, so they don't try too hard. Christian Death Metal I think is demonic. Can I give you a long drawn out reason for that statement? No. 

 

Greg Long's picture

Shaynus, I've heard this argument countless times: "Everything God created can be perverted by Satan--sex within marriage can be perverted into immorality, wine can be perverted into drunkenness, food can be perverted into gluttony, etc." I don't deny any of those things, BUT...

Why is music the only thing God forgot to warn us about perverting? He warned us about the perversion of sex, he warned us about the perversion of alcohol, he warned us about the perversion of food, he warned us about the perversion of money, etc., but the perversion of music must have slipped his mind.

Was there was no such thing as "bad music" until jazz and rock-and-roll, so that God couldn't warn us about those things just like he couldn't warn us about cigarettes and online pornography? The problem with this answer is conservatives have told us all along that Satan was God's choir director and so did he not think about perverting music until the 1920s-1950s?

-------
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

Anne Sokol wrote:

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

I would say Yes, because some music communicates emotions or moods such as unbridled rage or sensual sexuality. Just as there are dirty paintings, there is dirty sound.

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

No, one has to be an active participant. We live in an environment where we all hear objectionable music fairly frequently. We can't always control our environment. By active participant, I would mean the creator of the music or the one deliberately choosing it or seeking it out.

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

As I understand the Amish etc, their objection is to modernity (along with theological errors that have led most of them into a works-based salvation). My view of music has nothing to do with an objection to modernity or any of the rest of the Amish problems. There are pieces of music written in the classical form that are objectionable as well, or perhaps the way they are performed make them objectionable by the adaptations or stylings of the performer.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

JNoël's picture

Greg Long wrote:

Why is music the only thing God forgot to warn us about perverting?

Isn't it usually shaky ground to argue from silence?

 

V/r

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

Ron Bean's picture

Are certain forms of music inherently sinful? Yes/why. or No.
I would say Yes, because some music communicates emotions or moods such as unbridled rage or sensual sexuality. Just as there are dirty paintings, there is dirty sound.

For this post let's not consider the Christian rap or heavy metal. What's "dirty" about the sound of the CCM that conservatives are opposed to?

Over the years I've heard the following condemned as worldly by well-respected fundamentalists: hand-held microphones, taped backgrounds, guitars, crooning (?), amplification. 

The only pre-twentieth century battle over music that I've ever heard  concerned the introduction of hymns in churches who believed in only using the Psalms (God's Hymnbook).

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

Don Johnson's picture

Greg Long wrote:

Don Johnson wrote:

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

I would not say it music in and of itself communicates "messages" in the same way the lyrics do. I think that, like non-verbal communication, it communicates on an emotive level and contributes to the overall message being communicated.

First, Greg, thanks for taking the time to respond. I have been trying to get some others to be specific (with no luck so far), so I appreciate your response.

I agree that the communication of lyrics is different from the communication of music. The word "messages" is probably not the best word to ask the question. You replace it with communication on "an emotive level", with which I agree, and would say music communicates emotions and/or moods.

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."

Well, I don't know the song you refer to, so can't comment, but I would say that you are mixing in two different things in this argument. You say, "the offbeat communicated sex and drugs in the 1950s" and "drums were used to call African natives to idol worship", but these are really associative arguments. There is an associative argument to be made, but that is not the argument we are addressing in this discussion. We are addressing an inherent message communicated by a piece of music.

If a piece of music inherently communicates a mood/emotive element/emotion of "sex and drugs" (not sure how you communicate the drugs bit), then it would still communicate the same thing today. If a piece of music communicated the moods/emotive elements/emotions bound up in African idol worship in Africa, it would communicate the same today, here in North America.

By phrasing the opposing argument the way you have here, it seems that you are saying there is no inherent meaning communicated by a piece of music, it only depends on association and cultural conditioning. I am not sure that is what you want to say, but unless music inherently communicates what it communicated in the 1950s, for example, then there could be no possible objection to the same style today. We don't live in the 1950s anymore. The only objection that could remain is an associative one, where we would object if someone took an actual tune out of the 1950s that was very well known and associated with the drug culture, say, and used it for a hymn.

Which brings us back to this question again:

Greg Long wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
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?

It might be possible, but I haven't been convinced of that to state it dogmatically.

That is probably where the impasse lies.

So on what basis would you say you exclude certain pieces or certain styles from worship?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

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

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

Joel, first let's dispense with the disorderly brother passage. It's just a red herring designed to distract from the discussion at hand. I won't deal with it here. Another time and another place, perhaps.

Let's work our way through the passage step by step.

The subject of the sentence from v. 1-3 is the ones who fall away from the faith. These people are characterized by the following things:

  1. Attending to the deception and teaching of demons (4.1)
  2. Having seared consciences (i.e., unable to discern evil because of defective consciences (4.2)
  3. Forbidding
  • to marry (4.3a)
  • to eat certain foods (4.3b)

In verse 3, there is one participle ("forbidding") governing the two infinitive clauses: "to marry", "to hold one's self from".  There is no conjunction "and", it is supplied by the translators for clarity, one would suppose, but I suspect it makes the sentence less clear.

In other words, the two infinitives are not talking about a collective group joined with an "and", but they are two examples of what these apostates forbid.

The second infinitive, "to hold off from" is modified by a noun "foods" to tell us what it's talking about. The noun is a neuter plural. The relative pronoun that follows "which" is also a neuter plural, used in apposition to "foods". In other words, it renames the term "foods", not the verbal idea "to marry" or the verbal idea "to hold off from".

It is the foods "which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth" (4.3c).

The only thing said to be created by God in verse 3 is the foods. Verses 4 and 5 picks up on this idea and tells us the reason why it is wrong to forbid any kind of food: "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer."

"For..." in v. 4 gives a reason for the statement in v. 3, "God has created foods to be gratefully received" - why? - "for all things created by God are good and nothing is to be rejected if it is thankfully received."

The passage is very specific and very clear. What God is describing as created here are foods, nothing else.

~~~

On a side note, whether God created music or not, we have no biblical evidence that God did so that I am aware of. We have God creating creatures capable of making music, like the angels of Isa 6, who "SAID" ... note, not "SANG"... etc. I will grant that the 4 living creatures of Revelation appear to be angels and they do sing, but very very few references in the Bible speak of angels singing. Rev 4 and an obscure passage from Job are the only ones I know of.

We could say that God is musical, that God, by creating beings capable of producing music also created the idea of music, but we know of no music that God actually created.

Even if you say that God created the idea of music, it does not follow that God created rap, punk, heavy metal, rock, jazz or even classical and traditional Christian music. Men did that and it is the works of men that we must evaluate.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Jay, I'm going push back a little and play devil's advocate. I would have jumped in here earlier, but I was too busy having a steak dinner with Ed Stetzer last night. <- True story 

It is true that everything created by God is good. But nearly everything that God creates can be perverted. He created wood and we can make idols of it. If someone were to say "music in general is wrong" we'd definitely have some verses to say God invented music to a degree. He rejoices with us with singing after all. So the traditional side of this could argue that music can be perverted in some way that would be unclean, but the arguments generally fall very flat to me. To me, this argument is like the Supreme Court's test for what is pornography: "you know it when you see it." They know they can't come up with a long litmus test that would hold in every case, so they don't try too hard. Christian Death Metal I think is demonic. Can I give you a long drawn out reason for that statement? No.

Well, if the options were steak dinner with Ed Stetzer or spend time discussing music online, I'm pretty sure that A1 sauce would swing the vote in steak's favor. Smile

I agree with you to an extent, and I'm not really comfortable saying that we know music is good when we decide we like it.  I'm just not convinced that the argument can be made any different way (especially now that Zod shot Don's argument about man creating music, not God, through of holes from Revelation).  I do agree with you that there can be no such thing as 'Christian' death metal because I do believe that some of man's sinful actions distort things so thoroughly that they simply cannot be redeemed by other believers.  God alone can do that kind of redemptive work (he does it in salvation, for starters).

I actually thought of the definition of pornography earlier in this thread, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to say that worship music is as simple as 'I know it when I hear it'.  Yet in some ways - I do think that Christians will recognize good and worshipful music when they hear it because it will drive them to praise God; it certainly seems to be a better criteria than "Style X is bad" or "Syncopation is wrong" or whatever minor chord is of the devil this year.

I mentioned looking in commentaries at 1 Tim. 4:4-5; here's what Donald Guthrie has to say in TNTC, p. 104-105:

The false teachers insisted on two prohibitions: marriage and the eating of certain foods.  There is no doubt that these point to an incipient gnosticisim with its dualistic view of matter, which found its climax in the heretical teachers of the early second century.  The apostle's strong opposition to these practices is due to their dangerous implications.  He argues that prohibitions such as these are in conflict with the divine ordinance.  Here he strikes at the root of dualistic gnosticism, which denied that God created matter....

The insistence on the reception of God's gifts with thanksgiving (original emphasis) is a typically Pauline theme.  Such a note must never be absent from the believer's attitude either to material or spiritual realities.  What is at stake here is our whole conception of God (as we're seeing in this discussion on music - Jay).  The false teachers were acting as if God were niggardly and were losing sight of his largesse.  Those who cannot thank God have no real knowledge of him (sic).

The concluding words of verse 3 are not to be taken as promising any spiritual material benefits for Christians (i.e. those who believe and who know the truth) but as demonstrating that what was created for all men must therefore be legitimate for Christians.

4-5 The apostle next supplies a reason for his previous statement.  It involves a fundamental principle that what a good Creator creates must be good.  The word translated to be rejected (apobletos), which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, means literally 'to be thrown away'.  It is here used in the sense of taboo.  Such taboos should have no place in an intelligent Christian's approach, in strong contrast to the many systems of taboos in heathen cults.  The repetition of thanksgiving here is significant for what is thankfully received could not be rejected for ritual reasons.

Walvoord and Zuck in Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 739-740:

Contrary to the teaching of the errorists, everything God created is good.  Here Paul echoed God's own verdict (Genesis 1:31).  Whereas the false teachers were intent on 'forbidding' and 'abstaining' (1 Tim. 4:3), Paul said that nothing is to be rejected--nothing, that is, that God created.  Man can abuse what God has created, as adultery is an abuse of the marital sexual relationship, and gluttony is an abuse of a normal appetite for food.  Such abuses should certainly be rejected.  But God's creations themselves are all good and should be received with thanksgiving, not with taboos.

4:5 All the seemingly 'ordinary' things of life can then become extraordinary as they are consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.  In the light of the Scriptures a Christian recognizes God's good hand behind the things provided, and offers thanksgiving to the Lord.  In this way the ordinary things so easily taken for granted (some of which are forbidden by errorists) become sanctified as occasions for worship and praise.

Expositor's Bible Commentary:

The idea of abstaining from certain foods goes back, of course, to the Mosaic law.  But Christ has freed us from the Law (Gal. 5:1-6).  We are no longer under its restrictions regarding certain kinds of foods "which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth."  Only those "whose faith is weak" avoid eating meat and restrict themselves to a vegetable diet (Rom. 14:1-2).  In spite of this, some still advocate and practice vegetarianism in the name of Christianity.  Paul deals much more severely with this heresy in 1 Timothy than he did in Romans...4,5 The simple fact is that "everything God created is good." This is an echo of the first chapter of Genesis, where the statement "God saw that it was good" occurs no more fewer than five times (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).  It is true that vegetarianism may have prevailed before the flood (cf. Gen. 2:9, 16), but God clearly told Noah that animals could be eaten as food, as well as vegetables and grains (Gen. 9:3).

Paul declares that "nothing is to be rejected [apobleton, 'thown away', only here in the NT] if it is received with thanksgiving".  This perhaps underscores the importance of 'offering thanks' always before we eat, and this is reinforced by verse 5: "because it consecrated by the Word of God and prayer".  The Greek for 'consecrated' is hagiazetai, 'made holy'.

So it seems to me that Expositor's backs Don and others that it's all about the food, but BKC and TNTC seem to back me and Greg.  Do what you will with that.

"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

GregH's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Anne Sokol wrote:

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

I would say Yes, because some music communicates emotions or moods such as unbridled rage or sensual sexuality. Just as there are dirty paintings, there is dirty sound.

Seriously, I find it amazing that anyone says this. It is absolutely unprovable, even for people that are experts in the field. I would like Don to provide just one example of "dirty sound" and explain why it is dirty. 

Or just tell me one song that communicates "sensual sexuality" (whatever that is supposed to mean)? Obviously, sex is good or bad based on context, so maybe Don could give a music example that communicates misused sex and then one that communicates good sex.

Or, perhaps just one music example that communicates "unbridled rage" as opposed of course to the rage of Jesus in the temple. Maybe give us an example that communicates bad rage and one that communicates good rage.

Ron Bean's picture

Zephaniah 17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

 

 

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

Don Johnson's picture

Ok, there's one. But note that it doesn't say that God created music.

Now, since we don't have the score, and we know that all the music we are contending about is created by men, perhaps we can get back to discussing if some music is acceptable for Christians and some is not.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Shaynus's picture

Don, did God create steak? Should we, before eating our steak pray thus: "Thank you for this food, and also this steak which man invented,  deciding to cut from a loin of cow about an inch and a half thick, thus grilling it on each side until pink in center. . . all our idea. But thank you for the raw materials. Weren't we smart?" Good grief. Of course music was God's idea. We all are. Everything we see, hear and breathe was fashioned out of nothing. 

Greg Long said:

Shaynus, I've heard this argument countless times: "Everything God created can be perverted by Satan--sex within marriage can be perverted into immorality, wine can be perverted into drunkenness, food can be perverted into gluttony, etc." I don't deny any of those things, BUT...

 

Why is music the only thing God forgot to warn us about perverting? He warned us about the perversion of sex, he warned us about the perversion of alcohol, he warned us about the perversion of food, he warned us about the perversion of money, etc., but the perversion of music must have slipped his mind.

Was there was no such thing as "bad music" until jazz and rock-and-roll, so that God couldn't warn us about those things just like he couldn't warn us about cigarettes and online pornography? The problem with this answer is conservatives have told us all along that Satan was God's choir director and so did he not think about perverting music until the 1920s-1950s?

 

Arguments from silence aren't great arguments. In surmising what God didn't say about music, I could come up with all kinds of reasons why he would write loosely. He might know something about our amazing ability to be legalists and get around what he might say about the mechanics of music only to observe the letter but not the spirit. He might understand music to be on such a deep level emotional plain that he really should talk about the deeper level and let that suffice. That's what I think he did. He talks about anger. Is Death Metal angry? Like the good kind? I could go on but there are lots of ways that God makes hard commands where music is not explicity talked about, but things can be applied. Note that I said "Christian Death Metal I think is demonic." That's a lot different than saying "Thus says the Lord: Christian Death Metal is demonic." For that I would need more chapter and verse type scriptures. 

Shaynus's picture

Jay said:

 

I agree with you to an extent, and I'm not really comfortable saying that we know music is good when we decide we like it.

 

To flip that sentence in logical order, you're saying that I may have been using the following logic: 

MP: I like it

MP: If I like it it's good

C: It's Good

I'm saying that there is music, and it is at such an emotional and "gut" level that we just know about some kinds of music and how we feel about them. We have a moving of the spirit that says "this isn't right." That's conscience. I can't tell Don (for example) that his conscience is way off. I can just say, quit using bad logic and biblical arguments to convince other people that you're right. Allow for differences, but it's OK to say "that's wrong" without knowing all the reasons why as long as you don't try to come up with bogus reasons why.

Shaynus's picture

Exhibit A for my last post 
 

Don said: 

 

If a piece of music inherently communicates a mood/emotive element/emotion of "sex and drugs" (not sure how you communicate the drugs bit), then it would still communicate the same thing today. If a piece of music communicated the moods/emotive elements/emotions bound up in African idol worship in Africa, it would communicate the same today, here in North America.

 

Michael Riley's picture

Jay wrote:

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

Jay, while I understand that you might insist that some folks defending a conservative position are essentially saying this, I think you'll have a hard time finding any of us actually saying this. No Christian, in his right mind, suggests that his worship is acceptable to God because he absolutely nailed every pitch of his performance, or because he had the right instrumentation. Our worship is acceptable, in this ultimate sense, only because God has mercy on us in Jesus. Our access to the Father is not through our hymn forms, but the cross.

For us to express our concern for obedience in these matters is in some way akin to any other issue in our sanctification, as we seek to be conformed more and more into the image of our Lord: we do not pursue that goal so that the Father finds us acceptable. That said, we do not abandon that goal either.

 

Jay wrote:

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

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

Surely there are of others. Perhaps (I offer this one cautiously) Esau sincerely offered an inappropriate sacrifice. It is commonly assumed that Uzzah's intention was sincere as he steadied the Ark. And (I'd place my emphasis here) the very detailed strictures for the sacrifices in the Old Testament make it unlikely that God was OK with sacrificing maimed animals so long as you meant well. My point here is not to say that advocates of progressive music are in any way like these examples (lest I be accused of such a comparison). I am merely asserting that there are reasons to think that sound intentions and qualified sacrifices were both important.

 

Jay wrote:

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

Putting my two paragraphs together, I would reply here that no faithful Christian is truly seeking such a thing. If one were to seek such a thing, he would hold Christ cheap, making the cross worthless. There is no form that God is somehow forced to always accept, regardless of the heart of the worshipper. In kindness, I'd ask: don't you think to suggest otherwise is to erect a straw man version of the conservative position? Or do you really believe that this is what we're advocating?

Ron Bean's picture

One of my favorite seminary professors used to say, "Where the Scriptures do not stipulate, we do not dare to speculate."

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

Andrew K.'s picture

Michael Riley wrote:

Jay wrote:

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

Jay, while I understand that you might insist that some folks defending a conservative position are essentially saying this, I think you'll have a hard time finding any of us actually saying this. No Christian, in his right mind, suggests that his worship is acceptable to God because he absolutely nailed every pitch of his performance, or because he had the right instrumentation. Our worship is acceptable, in this ultimate sense, only because God has mercy on us in Jesus. Our access to the Father is not through our hymn forms, but the cross.

For us to express our concern for obedience in these matters is in some way akin to any other issue in our sanctification, as we seek to be conformed more and more into the image of our Lord: we do not pursue that goal so that the Father finds us acceptable. That said, we do not abandon that goal either.

 

Jay wrote:

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

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

Surely there are of others. Perhaps (I offer this one cautiously) Esau sincerely offered an inappropriate sacrifice. It is commonly assumed that Uzzah's intention was sincere as he steadied the Ark. And (I'd place my emphasis here) the very detailed strictures for the sacrifices in the Old Testament make it unlikely that God was OK with sacrificing maimed animals so long as you meant well. My point here is not to say that advocates of progressive music are in any way like these examples (lest I be accused of such a comparison). I am merely asserting that there are reasons to think that sound intentions and qualified sacrifices were both important.

 

Jay wrote:

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

Putting my two paragraphs together, I would reply here that no faithful Christian is truly seeking such a thing. If one were to seek such a thing, he would hold Christ cheap, making the cross worthless. There is no form that God is somehow forced to always accept, regardless of the heart of the worshipper. In kindness, I'd ask: don't you think to suggest otherwise is to erect a straw man version of the conservative position? Or do you really believe that this is what we're advocating?

Not sure those examples work. How can anyone be "sincere" when they directly disobey instructions given by God? Under what conditions can we speak of "sincerity" in the face of direct disobedience? Uzzah might have been "sincere" in his desire to help, but he wasn't sincere in his fear of God and in his obedience to God's instructions. How can "sincerity" be defined apart from reverence and obedience to God's commandments?

Now if we had direct commandments with regard to music in worship to be obeyed or disobeyed, none of us (hopefully) would be even discussing this.

神是爱

Don Johnson's picture

Jay wrote:

So it seems to me that Expositor's backs Don and others that it's all about the food, but BKC and TNTC seem to back me and Greg.  Do what you will with that.

Well, you know that both the Tyndale commentary and BKC are not in depth commentaries, don't you? Expositors is usually a bit better.

Regardless, the issue is what the text actually says. I think I have provided the necessary data to see what the text is actually saying. I would invite anyone who has some competency with the original languages to evaluate what I have offered and point out any errors. I think that the text is pretty clear.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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