I have recently had conversations with several people about the propriety of choosing not to participate in the singing of certain songs in public worship. More specifically, those of us who have embraced the arguments for ordered affections and conservative worship believe that some of the songs sung in our churches, or at other churches or conferences, have texts or tunes that misguide the affections; that is, these songs teach people to feel the wrong way about God (or about some Christian truth). In such cases, some of us choose not to sing those songs.
Is this an acceptable choice?
The argument for singing everything on the order of service is often very simple: certainly, it is claimed, these songs are not so far outside the bounds that we’re really violating our conscience to sing them. Instead, our refusal to sing is merely public demonstration, and is almost certainly rooted in condescending arrogance (elitism, if you will). The imperatives of pursuing unity (over petty preferences) and submission to one another in love trump our concerns about the merits of these songs.
It seems to me that the validity of this line of argument hinges entirely on the initial premise: these songs are acceptable. This is, of course, just the point under dispute.
For purposes of this post, I’m going to write as though we have little hope of resolving that issue (that is, whether these songs are appropriate). However, I think for many readers (even those who are not sympathetic to where we’d draw our lines), the idea that some music is either textual or musically inappropriate for worship is not utterly crazy.
If so, I think we can change the topic slightly, and in doing so draw some useful parallels. Suppose that you’re visiting in a church service, and as part of their liturgy, they recite a creed (which is helpfully printed for you in their bulletin). Suppose further that this creed is not one of the standard ecumenical creeds, but one which has been drawn up specifically for use in their assembly. And suppose finally that one line in their creed is as follows: “I believe that God equally intends all people to be saved, and that only their own free will keeps them from salvation.”
Do you recite this line of the creed? (Obviously, the dilemma presents itself only to those who are Calvinistic; if you are not, change the illustration to fit your theological persuasion.)
The point of the illustration, for me, is this: I would not recite the creed with this congregation, because I could not do so in good conscience. My refusal to join them in this creed, however, does not in any way imply that I think they are all pagans, or any such similar nonsense. It merely means that while they believe that this statement reflects the teaching of Scripture, I do not.
In the same way, I believe that certain songs do not reflect the mood of Scripture. This is not to say that my understanding of Scripture is absolute; I may be wrong about my judgment of the song, just as I may be wrong about my judgment of the Bible’s teaching on election. (Of course, I happen to believe that I’m correct about both.)
In either case, however, to join in the public use of these devices, when I believe they are not supported (and are instead actually contradicted) by Scripture is, in the words of Luther, “neither right nor safe.”