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Category Archives: Fundamentalism

A time not to sing: some continued thoughts

I have appreciated the good discussion and questions that followed my last post; to my discredit, I have not followed up on the feedback as I ought to have, so I’m going to use a new post to do so.

In order to provide a framework for this discussion, I first want to re-establish the analogy that drove my argument. In that first post, I said this:

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?

My point is this: I disagree with this line of the creed, and thus I could not in pure conscience say credo. My refraining from joining them in this portion of their liturgy raises a number of good questions, which I will begin here, and then continue in a few followup posts.

Is a church permitted to make such a statement part of their liturgy?
The question (clarified) is something like this: can a church have, as part of its liturgy, components that are not “mere Christianity”? I am convinced, for a variety of reasons, that churches can indeed have distinctive doctrines which they covenant together to uphold, but which they recognize are not essential to the faith itself. In other words, my church’s doctrinal statement is not the boundary of the gospel; I fully affirm that a person can reject (for instance) believer’s baptism or a particular millennial position without raising even the slightest question about his justification in Christ. And yet I have no problem with a church professing its confidence that the Bible, rightly understood, does teach believer’s baptism.

The root of our problem is, of course, that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (WCF 1.7). This truth, it seems to me, is exactly to the point of the question asked by Scott Cline: “How certain are you that any given song is unfit enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”

Let’s ask this same question about our doctrinal analogy; in time, I’ll suggest how I shift it back to the music discussion. Thus, “How certain are you that any given doctrinal position is errant enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”

My profoundly unsatisfying answer: I think it depends. One relevant factor, it seems to me, is the existence of a number of orthodox churches in a given area. So, for instance, if my church is the only one holding to the gospel within 50 miles, I am less likely to emphasize my secondary-level doctrinal distinctives. However, if our town has both a gospel-faithful Baptist and Presbyterian church, I would be more comfortable making commitment to believer’s baptism a condition of membership.

Perhaps this is sloppy; I’m open to discussion along those lines. But it seems a very practical reality.

Furthermore, doctrinal differences cannot be measured solely by degree of clarity; they must also be measured by degree of importance. So, consider again the two examples I mentioned before: believer’s baptism and premillennialism. Let us say, for sake of argument, that both positions are about equally clear in Scripture; which of the two, if denied, has greater impact on one’s understanding of the gospel and the life of the church? I would be inclined to say that the credo-/paedo-baptism debate is of greater moment.

This discussion of clarity and importance is relevant to our creed-reciting example: the Arminian line from our hypothetical creed is one that I find problematic on both accounts. That is, I think it expresses doctrine against what is clear in Scripture, and that it makes a statement that is significantly wrong. Thus, I cannot affirm it with that congregation. This is, perhaps, not a problem if I am merely a visitor. It is a big problem if that is my church.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship

 

A time not to sing?

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.”

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship

 

Reformed rap and fundamentalist preaching

In the most recently released podcast from Religious Affections, I introduced a comparison that I’ve been mulling over for some time now. Here is a (lightly edited) transcript of the relevant portion of my comments. The section below begins about the 16:00 minute mark of the podcast:

I had mentioned, I believe, in the previous podcast, the fact that hip hop and rap do seem to have a heavy dose of ego involved in them. The form itself is very much that way: “Listen to me.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that I don’t intend to be offensive, but I think is probably true. If we use hip hop for the cause of Christ, let’s compare it to preaching and preaching styles. There is a certain way of presenting the gospel (and fundamentalism in particular has been guilty of fostering this) using an approach in the pulpit that is full of ego.

The guys that support the use of hip hop are going to be very anti-Jack Hyles, and we’re going to be also…. You watch the videos and you listen to the audio (of that style of preaching) and it’s just appalling that it was about him. His preaching style was about him.

And I’m concerned, at least, that Christian hip hop has taken a form that is irreducibly egocentric, and is using it to present the gospel. But the approach to presenting the gospel is every bit as in-your-face and contentious as certain forms of preaching that we’re really trying to move away from.

Again, I say this cautiously, I throw it out there for consideration; but I think it’s worthy of consideration.

As some evidence for my proposal, I’d ask you to watch this and this. (The early going of the second video is especially useful for this comparison, when they’re having technical difficulties. This has the effect of isolating the rhetorical form of the rap.)

Note how both the preachers and the rappers employ rhetorical bombast; both seem to aim for the same kind of response from the gallery: “Oooo, that (guy, version, sin, whatever) just got burned” (or something similar). You can hear it in the crowd replies both videos at different points.

For the sake of this comparison, ignore the content of the message; I want to focus on form alone here.

If this parallel holds, both fundamentalists who oppose rap, and advocates of rap who loathe this style of preaching, need to give some consideration to the way in which their own arguments turn back against them.

There is some further discussion of this issue at the original post.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity (links to the whole series)

  1. Part 1: Overview of the Argument
  2. Part 2: Conflicting Advantages
  3. Part 3: Diversity, a Proximate Good
  4. Part 4: Diversity in Corporate Worship
  5. Part 5: Diversity and Cultural Relativism
  6. Part 6: A Musical Exercise
  7. Part 7: The Conclusion of the Matter
 
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity, part 7

In my last post, I linked to a number of recordings of one of the great hymns of the faith; I offered a handful of links of each traditional and contemporary recordings. That exercise leaves us with some questions.

The first is this: can anyone legitimately say that all four of the “conservative” recordings express no diversity? I am inclined to believe that anyone who would say that they “all sound the same” would be outraged if I offered the same evaluation of, say, U2 and the Beatles on the one hand and Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus on the other. And they would be right; the music represented by those names is not the same; there is a diversity there. But I would suggest that a strong argument could be made that the conservative tradition allows for at least as much diversity within itself as does the pop/rock/whatever genres.

If I’m right, the idea that we need progressive music styles to express the manifold glories of God seems strained. The onus would be on the advocates of progressive music to demonstrate that the newer styles highlight elements of God’s character that we would otherwise likely overlook. I, for one, do not see how the modern settings of “A Mighty Fortress” drew my attention to some new aspect of God’s character; it seems to me (and I’m open to correction) that the primary appeal of the modern settings is to make the weighty, sublime poetry of that great hymn more immediately accessible to a new generation. We can have the conversation as to whether that is a good thing; note, however, that that argument now moves away from the contention that the musical diversity helps us see something about God’s nature.

Let me offer what I believe to be the conclusion of the whole matter: the argument for worship diversity is correct in form. That is to say, everything that Kauflin says, I could agree with. Just as a certain kind of diversity is very helpful when we’re doing the work of theology, so that we can see God better and appreciate the unique giftings of our brothers more readily, musical diversity in worship allows the same thing. But the parallel with doing theology offers us this further insight: after a certain point, diversity in theology is no longer profitable.

I should expand on that: for individual study, especially for the student of theology, exposure to a very broad range of theological opinions is very helpful, both to allow the student to incorporate what is true in a false system, and to prepare the student to confront what is evil. But the wise pastor does not bring all his liberal studies into the pulpit, into the corporate worship, with him. To do so would be foolish; it is ecclesiastical suicide. The very nature of the gathered body places additional strictures on the value of the diversity expressed.

This holds true, I think, for music as well. It may well be that some piece of music may enable me to see some element of God’s character that I would not have seen before, but the piece of music (taken as a whole) is as mistaken affectionally as, for instance, liberation theology is theologically. So while it may be interesting for me to read a liberation theologian and gain “eyes” to see God’s works of deliverance in Scripture (and in our lives), I will not bring it into the pulpit.

Ultimately, then, the difference that I would maintain with Kauflin, and with all others who would use his argumentation to introduce contemporary worship styles into the church, is that a given musical style can communicate something mistaken about God. That issue, of course, is enormous. Perhaps I will pursue that topic at some point; I conclude for now, however, with the thought that the scope of the diversity that we allow in worship will be so intrinsically related to our understanding of the nature of communication in worship that, while we may agree about the principle of diversity, our application will always be determined by another principle.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity, part 6

Our discussion on this subject is drawing to a close. I argued, in my previous post, that I suspect that much of the enthusiasm for the worship diversity argument is in no way distinctively Christian, but is, rather, an attempt to re-purpose the idealogical pluralism that pervades our society. In this post, I wish to begin to address the most theologically significant of Kauflin’s arguments: that the manifold perfections of God cannot be expressed in a single style of worship.

In order to make this conversation profitable, we should have some reference points. Let’s consider a number of settings of Luther’s “Ein’ feste Burg.” I’ve selected these not entirely at random; several I’m familiar with because they’re part of my own music collection. I have attempted to pick legitimate representative samples of various styles; it would have been quite easy (and quite unfair) to highlight many abysmal recordings of this piece of both conservative and modern style.

  1. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Track 5)
  2. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir (Tracks 1–8)
  3. Himlische Cantorey (Tracks 5–7, preview only)
  4. Concordia University Wind Symphony (Track 5)
  5. Indelible Grace
  6. GLAD
  7. Crossroads Live Worship (Track 2)

We can now consider how these artists imagine God as our fortress; what does each portray that the other lacks? In what way do they help us understand the manifold glories of God?

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity, part 5

In our earlier discussion, we noted three arguments for musical diversity in worship. These arguments have been presented (in various forms) by any number of defenders of diversity in worship; however, I believe they originate from Bob Kauflin’s work Worship Matters. I offer these paraphrases of his arguments:

  1. The multiplicity of perfections of our God cannot be rightly expressed by one style of music.
  2. Differing musical styles allow us to see different aspects of the truths expressed in the words of our songs.
  3. Musical diversity expresses that God is seeking worshipers from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

In my next posts, I will address Kauflin’s first and third arguments. I have no objections (in principle) to his second argument; we would obviously differ on the range of music that we would find acceptable for highlighting different aspects of the truth, but the point of his argument stands.

I’m going to begin with Kauflin’s third argument, not to be contrary, but because it seems to me that this third argument may well be driving much of the popular enthusiasm for worship diversity.

Let me first state that I think that Kauflin and others who use this argument are to be commended for their love for the spread of the gospel to all peoples. One major emphasis of the young Reformed movement is missions; John Piper’s work Let the Nations Be Glad has been a significant influence on my own thinking about and love for missions. The fact that a rising generation of believers is endeavoring to spread the worthiness of Christ’s name (even in dangerous places) is, obviously, a very good thing.

That being said, we do need to recognize how easy it is for us to be self-deceived, particularly about the motivations of our hearts.

The rest of this article may be perceived by some as unnecessarily inflammatory; I want to do all I can to assure you that this is not my intent. I am not, in writing this, seeking to question the motives of any particular person; I have no one in mind. I simply wish to ask us all to consider the ways in which our hearts may be shaped by the culture around us, so that what we claim to do because we are Christians is actually done because it is popular, and then baptized.

I love Asian food; in particular, I especially love Thai and Indian food. Japanese is outstanding; I’ve developed a fondness for sushi. Chinese is good. I’ve heard good things about Korean food, but haven’t had opportunity to sample that cuisine to this point.

Why would I bring up a list of favorite foods in the midst of this post? Because it would be silly of me to suggest that my love of Indian food, for instance, is really or primarily about my burden for the Hindus of Mumbai. The reality is that I like Indian food (or Thai food, etc.) because I find it tasty; to embellish my affinity for it by attributing to it a loftier motive would be, on my part, quite disingenuous.

Furthermore, one of the distinguishing features of Western culture is a curiosity about other cultures. Without question, we might point to many examples of Western imperialism imposing its own view of culture on other people groups; I don’t dispute that. But it is also Western culture that has taken the initiative to learn about other cultures, to seek to preserve their uniquenesses. This distinctive of Western society has blossomed into the near cult of multiculturalism that pervades our society today: if something is from another culture, it carries its own virtue with it. Being “from another culture” is enough reason to prize something.

Because this mindset so pervades our society today, we must cautiously consider whether our love for diversity in music is really rooted in a heart for missions, or whether missions is a convenient Christian cover for us to pursue what is already very accepted in our pagan society.

Please, again, do not misunderstand me: I am not for a moment suggesting that you are not sincere in your love for missions. I am not setting myself up as judge of your heart; I am merely suggesting that the pervasive values of our society embed themselves deeply in us, sometimes without our notice.

Let me cite a humorous example of what I’m talking about, by way of illustration. (As always, a link from this website doesn’t mean that I endorse all of the language/wordview/etc. of the site to which I’m linking.) I have been amused by the site Stuff White People Like, which spoofs the lives of the stereotypical white upper-middle class Americans.

Consider, for instance, some of these things white people like:

  1. Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore
  2. Promising to Learn a New Language
  3. Self Aware Hip Hop References
  4. Multilingual Children
  5. Being the Only White Person Around
  6. Mos Def
  7. Sushi
  8. Being an Expert on YOUR Culture

(This list could continue for some time. I must add, for sake of completeness, Appearing to Like Classical Music.)

What you notice from this list is that “white people” (whether believing or unbelieving) stereotypically have a soft spot for anything that is from another culture. We could speculate on the motivations for this; such a discussion might profitable. Regardless of the motivation, this love of all things from other cultures is a widespread part of being a white American today; for this very reason, then, we must realize the danger that we might simply be attributing Christian language to something not distinctively Christian whatsoever.

As I mentioned earlier, I am inclined to believe that this mishmash of motives is the main driver of the advocacy of musical diversity in the church. But for now, I simply offer these thoughts for your consideration.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

 

Bauder on Christian Affections

In the summer of 2008, Kevin Bauder taught a course for the Schaumburg Bible Institute, which is a ministry of Bethel Baptist Church. The audio of these lectures has been available for quite some time, but with my new job giving me more time to listen to preaching and lecturing, and I’m only getting to listen to them now.

And you need to listen to them as well.

They are available for individual download from Bethel’s own website, but there you have to download each individually. I have update the tag information for each sermon and combined them into one file for ease of downloading.

If you have time to listen to sermons at all, listen through this series (nine sermons in total). You may not agree with everything that Dr. Bauder says, but he will give you a great deal to consider.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity, part 4

In my last post, I began a discussion of a few points about diversity (ultimately, about diversity in worship music) that built a bit of framework before we consider Bob Kauflin’s arguments. The first point that I made is that diversity is a proximate, not ultimate, good.

I had said previously that I had three points; the second of the three, however, rolled into the first; I will therefore suggest only one more.

2. The value of diversity, considered within the context of corporate worship, is even more limited.

I am committed to the regulative principle of worship. Because others have written more careful and substantial descriptions and defenses of the regulative principle, I will not attempt anything profound here. The short form of the RP is this: in the context of corporate worship, the church is permitted to do only what Scripture commands it to do.

If the RP is true, there are hosts of good things that the church is simply not permitted to insist that people do in the gathered worship. (If you understand the concept of the RP, you will recognize that, among other things, it protects the liberty of the believer’s conscience.) So, for instance, I noted in a previous post that different cultures have different kinds of greeting rituals. I also contended that these greeting rituals do not all say the same thing; they communicate in different ways, and in so doing, sometimes communicate different messages.

We are commanded in the context of the gathered church to greet one another. While high fives and small talk are not evil (they can, on the contrary, be very good), neither are fair equivalents (in our culture) of the holy kiss (in the NT church); to insist that these elements become part of the gathered worship is, therefore, to violate the RP.

It seems to me that those elements of worship which include the direct participation of the congregation ought to be even more thoughtful about the implications of the RP, as one of its chief purposes is to protect the believer’s conscience. Can we, for instance, rightly insist that the believer sing in church? On the authority of Scripture? I believe that we can.

Can we rightly insist on singing with instruments? Or singing songs of non-inspired composition? Again, I think we can, and that we have Scriptural reasons for saying so. Those who would scoff at such questions demonstrate that they do not take the authority of Scripture in gathered worship seriously enough. Contentious debate has, at various times in church history, surrounded each of these questions; to consider such questions foolish is to engage in a sort of chronological snobbery.

The point of all of this is that the regulative principle, rightly understood, adds constraints to the value of diversity. We may not import elements into corporate worship merely on the basis of our own justification; they must be authorized by our one final rule for faith and practice.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

 

The argument for musical diversity, part 3

And we now return to our regularly scheduled discussion.

In my previous post in this series, I argued that the proposed benefits of musical diversity in worship present an interesting conundrum, in that these advantages are inversely proportional to one another. This observation does not undermine the argument for diversity in worship (ADW); however, by showing that the proponents of ADW have created a “heads we win, tails you lose” situation, I hope to have shown that diversity is not as perfectly glowing as it might seem at first glance.

What I’m going to do in this post is set up some background discussion about how we might evaluate diversity as a good. This is an important discussion before turning to Kaulfin’s specific arguments, because this discussion creates the boundaries on our potential agreement with him. So, for instance, even if we agree with Kauflin that God’s immensity and incomprehensibility suggest that one style of music is not sufficient to reflect his attributes, we need to know whether his argument thereby justifies every single style of music. Does diversity have limits?

With that introduction, I now offer three propositions (two of which will be forthcoming):

1. Diversity is a proximate, not ultimate, good.

I am somewhat hesitant to articulate this point publicly, because I haven’t yet found a set of terms that satisfies me. However, I will sketch my point here, and hope that I am saying something coherent.

That we are both fallen and finite is abundantly evident, and one result of these limitations is that some things that would ultimately be desirable in themselves create problems for us. For instance, for an unfallen, infinite being, perfect certainty is not only good, but is an essential component of knowledge. We would like to be perfectly certain about all of our beliefs (thus, certainty is a good goal in itself), but we recognize that such certainty in fallen and finite beings can create significant problems. And so humility and correctability in our believing is a good, but not an ultimate good; it is only good because of our limitations.

What happens when this proximate good is made into an ultimate good? Emergent.

Another example: religious freedom is not a good in itself. When our Lord establishes his Kingdom on the earth and reigns, religious freedom will be abolished, and this is a good thing. However, in a fallen world in which power often corrupts, most of us would prefer a society in which a variety of views are tolerated, even if the ultimate philosophical foundation for permitting multiple religions in the state is shaky.

Or consider theology. One advantage of modern communication technologies is a prodigious increase in the variety of theological positions to which one can be exposed. We are no longer bound to hear only those opinions of those around us (who are, most often, quite like us); we can listen to the theological musing of brothers in Christ from all over the world, and from ages ago. The accessibility of this theological diversity is a good inasmuch as exposure to positions not our own allows us to see our theological blind spots.

(Consider, along these lines, C. S. Lewis’s essay on the reading of old books.)

However, those of us with any sort of conservative theology see trouble lurking in this good. For instance, while a number of oppressed minority groups have, in their distinctive theologies, drawn attention to the liberation theme of the gospel, liberation theology (as a governing structure) is outside the bounds of orthodoxy. So while we might learn something from a theology not our own, we cannot accept this theology on a par with orthodoxy without disastrous consequences for the church and the gospel. The misguided step of making diversity in theology an ultimate good results in the sort of ecumenical dialogue that reduces all the world’s religions to a blank moralism.

How does this relate to the music debate? It seems to me (this is opinion) that some have made diversity in music a goal in itself. I will explain why I think this is so in a later post, but for now, I simply want to make the point that diversity does not carry its own justification; the examples above should show that, in many cases, even when diversity is desirable (because of our fallen condition), making diversity an end in itself creates serious problems.

Diversity can only be a good in itself if no style of music is better suited for worship of the Christian God than any other sort of music. This is, it seems to me, a very debatable claim (although I recognize that I am in an increasingly tiny minority on this point).

Note, here, however, that I’m not even suggesting which musical style might be better suited for worship. Let me advocate a position that is not my own, just for illustration’s sake. Let us suppose that the governing principle of choosing corporate worship music is that it allows people to worship using a culturally familiar idiom. If a person buys this argument (and many do), throwing a Bach motet or a big organy setting of “A Might Fortress” into the corporate worship, although such actions might be diverse (from the perspective of a church using contemporary worship music), they are not good. The Bach motet is so foreign to most people that (given the criteria), it just isn’t worth the work to that it would take to allow people from a different culture to own it.

Now, I have a very different set of principles for determining what is good in corporate worship. My point here is not what principles that we ought to have; rather, I am suggesting that if we have any principles at all, diversity is only a proximate good, and we cannot justify the inclusion of music into our services merely on the basis that it is diverse.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship