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Category Archives: Worship

The Resurrection in music: an exercise

Here are two attempts to picture the power of the Resurrection in music. The first takes a bit longer to develop; give it about a minute and a half. The second is quicker; give it about thirty seconds.

Both begin with a measure of solemnity, attempting to portray the death of Christ, then both build to a triumph in the Resurrection.

The question: are they doing the same thing? Are there differences in what they communicate?

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Music, Worship

 

A music observation

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

Jonathan Edwards

The quote above is one that I first encountered in a sermon from John Piper. I was reminded of it this past week, when I traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Desiring God Pastors’ Conference. For what it’s worth, the speakers did a very good job; I certainly commend the sermons from Drs. Ferguson and Horton, and would concur that union with Christ is an unjustly neglected doctrine.

But my remembering this quote was not provoked by the sermons, but the music. I was not surprised by the music; it was what one would expect in such a context. But it was interesting to me to watch, in a more firsthand way than normal for me, the kind of responses that the music seems to generate. In particular, there is a nearly automatic response to certain kinds of swells in the music, as when the drum hits to announce the chorus, particularly after that one verse that is always sung more contemplatively. The drum hits, and all the hands go up. As I say, it’s nearly automatic.

[What I’m not doing here: critiquing hand raising, critiquing music, probably some other things. Read to the end for my one observation that I’m making here.]

It is clear that the idea of this kind of worship service is likely undergirded by something like what Edwards says in that opening quote. The truths of the gospel are the highest and grandest that are conceivable. If so, than it is wholly legitimate (and perhaps holy legitimate) for those leading worship to “raise the affections” of the audience to the highest possible level, because the truths contemplated are of the highest importance. And so the music is employed to raise affections (and hands).

Now, one of the first things to note, which I will not explain here, is that Edwards is almost certainly operating with categories that distinguish affections from passionsEmotions, then, is a sloppy equivalent; it is simply too broad a term to capture what Edwards is saying here. Raising affections, raising passions (God forbid), and raising emotions are not interchangeable, at least for Edwards. So if we are going to enlist Edwards to support a view, it is only fair to make sure we are using him accurately.

But even if we were to grant that Edwards is used rightly, it still seems to me that there is something odd here. I notice that when the same truths are preached rather than sung, a different response is elicited. When the grand truths of the gospel are unpacked by the speakers, when the weight of those truths hits the hearer through the proclaimed Word, the response, most often, is one of sobriety. This is sometimes accompanied by the weighty utterance of Mmm. What is rarely seen, when the truth is proclaimed, is the listener bouncing on his toes, hands outstretched.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, such responses are not caused, then, by the affections of the hearers being raised by the truth, but by something else?

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music, Worship

 

Accepting sola scriptura and arguing musical style

This is a little intro piece that I’ve written for some friends who have asked for a basic defense of musical conservatism. It hardly gets us to full-blown conservatism, but at least offers the structure of why I think the Bible, while not addressing musical style, still gives us a standard for musical style.

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Here’s the quick outline of my argument on music; it’ll be something to get the conversation started, as we can then have specific claims to discuss. I’ll also say this: I find that these conversations are much better in person than in pixels. There are reasons for that, but given the circumstances, I am happy to do whatever you think would be helpful.

1. In any given passage of Scripture, we can ask what the passage is saying. This is basic hermeneutics.

2. However, I would also contend that every passage of Scripture not only has a what it is saying, but a how it is saying it.

3. I would further claim, then, that faithfulness to the Word of God means that our re-presentation of the text (whether in sermon or song) must accord not only with the what of the passage, but also with its how.

A quick example that I used at our church: I read to them Revelation 21–22. Then I had them sing “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop.” My point is that, even if every phrase of that song were true, the focus of the song and the triviality of its poetry and tune are such that it is utterly incompatible with the content of John’s vision of the final making right of all things in Christ. The longing created by that song simply is not the longing created by the text of Scripture. It might say what John says, but it doesn’t come close to saying it how John says it.

Another example: a pastor could preach a message that faithfully states Paul’s teaching of justification in Romans. If he does so, however, in the manner of a stand-up comic, I would say that he has not been faithful to how Paul has told us about justification, and is therefore liable to criticism. An obvious modern example of this kind of preaching is Mark Driscoll. Another obvious example would be a great many fundamentalist evangelists, even on the occasions when they did get the doctrine right.

As I say, this is the core of my argument, and it does not give direct and precise applications. Music and poetry do things; that is not disputable. It is disputable what a particular piece of music or poetry is doing. That is to say: even if you agree with the idea that Scripture has a how it is saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to agree that any given song matches the Bible’s how.

This, to me, does not undermine the basic argument, because of the parallel notion of the what and the how of a passage. Christians do not always agree what the text is saying. Consider the diversity of positions on the end times, etc.

The fact that Christians do not always agree about what the text is saying does not allow us to conclude, however, that there is no what it is saying. Furthermore, there are disagreements about what it is saying that are significant enough to break levels of fellowship. It may be that differing eschatological views are sufficient to hinder some cooperative ministry. However, if someone denied a literal return of Christ altogether, that person would be so far from the what Scripture says as to be outside the bounds of any real Christian fellowship.

I would say that the same thing is true about the how Scripture says. Christians disagree in their reading of how a thing is said in Scripture; this does not allow us to conclude that there is no correct understanding of the how. Further, it may be that two well-intentioned, Christ-loving Christians come to sustained differences in their understanding of the how of Scripture. This is no mere triviality: it has to do with their understandings of what God is like, in a manner beyond the propositions of systematic theology. And so it may be that these Christians find their ability to cooperate strained in some way. If the differences are great enough, they may come to the conclusion that, while their propositions are largely in agreement, their views of God and his revelation are so different as to cause them to suspect that the other person is not loving God rightly at all. The claim here is that there is, in addition to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, such a thing as orthopathy, and that the standard for all three is the Word of God, and that disputes about the contents of each are not sufficient to undermine their existence.

Again, I have not yet made the case that a trap-set is on the other side of a line for me. What I want to establish, before we might even begin to discuss application, is that these issues of right affections have an objective standard for evaluation in the Word of God.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about our style of worship. The Bible shows us its style of worship, and we must submit to that.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Conservatism, Music, Worship

 

My candidating sermon

In January, when I candidated for the pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church, I preached on the qualifications for the elder in 1 Peter 5. The sermon is available for listening here.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Preaching, Worship

 

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The point of the picnic

I rarely give significant theological thought to meat, so while my last post asked about the propriety of serving idol meat at the Corinthian church picnic, most readers of this blog (the vast majority of whom have no reason to worry about the morality of eating meat offered to idols) could guess that I was up to something else.

Yep.

The most contentious issue in any potential Christian liberty/Romans 14/1 Corinthians 8-10 situation is often whether the activity under debate is truly a thing indifferent. The brother who feels liberty to partake is (obviously) quick to insist that it is indifferent, but the brother whose conscience is pained by the activity almost inevitably insists that the activity is forbidden to the believer. For him to acknowledge otherwise (that is, for him to concede that the activity is an adiaphoron) is to acknowledge that he is the weaker brother. Such acknowledgment not only means accepting a certain stigma, but it also demands that the he cease his efforts to convince others that he is right.

If we shift topics from meat to music, those of us pressing for musical conservatism are asked to see music as an adiaphoron, and ourselves as the weaker brother. For the sake of discussion, let’s concede that argument: music is a thing indifferent; those who cannot in good conscience use certain music are weaker brethren who should not seek to restrict the liberty of their stronger brothers.

Even granting all of this, it seems to me that the employment of the very music which pains the conscience of the weak brother in the gathered worship of the church is relevantly akin to the Corinthian church serving idol meat at the church picnic. (For those who insist that idol meat is not a thing indifferent, substitute the unclean meat from Romans 14; the point goes through either way.)

I concede that what I’m suggesting here invites the potential of being handcuffed by a perpetually offended minority of the church; undoubtedly, there are practical limits of this kind of deference. Nonetheless, I still think that the basic principle is sound.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Worship

 

The church picnic of Corinth

Meat is a thing indifferent, an adiaphoron. We have this as clear apostolic pronouncement, and no Christian can claim otherwise. None of the Roman nor the Corinthian brethren, having read Paul’s letter, could afterward insist that eating meat (even if it was unclean or offered to idols) is sin.

Let us suppose, then, that the church at Corinth held a church picnic. (If the church at Corinth was a Baptist church, as some suggest, such a happening is certain). And let us further suppose that the bulletin announcement looked something like this:

If your last name begins with Α-Μ, bring a salad. If you last name begins with Ν-Ω, bring a dessert. The church will supply the meat.

Would Paul approve of purchasing the meat for the church picnic at the idol temple?

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Worship

 

The conservatism of the normative principle

At this year’s Conference on Conservative Christianity (which concluded yesterday), Steve Thomas of Huron Baptist Church made a point in one of his sessions that I found remarkably insightful. Most of those attending the conference would either embrace the regulative principle of worship outright, or would advocate something very much like the regulative principle. The contrasting position (the normative principle) would be viewed by most conservatives with some suspicion, as it is typically defended as the basis for allowing innovation in the church.

And yet, as Pastor Thomas observed, the original impetus for Luther’s advocacy of the normative principle was actually a conserving, traditional impulse. Luther did not endorse the normative principle because he wanted to innovate; he endorsed it because he saw wisdom in maintaining the not-specifically-authorized-in-Scripture worship practices that had become common in the Roman church. Because such practices were not forbidden in Scripture, Luther did not see the need to terminate them immediately and risk alienating those for whom such practices had become normal.

Thus, modern advocates of the normative principle, who find in it license to add elements to the liturgy and task of the church that are not authorized in Scripture, still violate the spirit of the normative principle.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Worship