Monday, January 16, 2017

Trinity Doctrine or Worship Music, Which Is More Important?

I have a sister three years older than me and a brother three years younger than me.  When my brother and I were juniors and teens, we would sometimes engage the brotherly conservation of "would you rather" or "do you like better"?  Would you rather get killed by drowning or by the direct hit of a nuclear missile?  That kind of thing.  Do you like this girl better or that girl better, neither actually good choices, but actually intended to leave the other with only bad choices.  The point of the exercise seemed to be leaving everything a bad choice.

For quite awhile, I have noticed a very common evangelical critique of fundamentalism is something to the effect that it's evangelicals who spend their time defending the really important doctrines, like the Trinity, and fundamentalists quibble over non-essentials.  Evangelicals pump out paper after paper, dissertation after dissertation, journal article after journal article, and, of course, book after book, defining and defending major doctrines of scripture, putting their efforts where it really matters. Evangelicals wrangle over justification by faith, while fundamentalists arm wrestle over Bible versions.

In an assessment of the choice of hills to die on, the evangelicals fight with liberals, who deny the faith. Fundamentalists fight with evangelicals and other fundamentalists, what some people call shooting or executing your own wounded.  One person in my comment section characterized what I in particular do as just throwing rocks at people.  As a member of cub scouts, I remember actual mud ball or dirt clod fights, sometimes a stone inserted into one of the balls or clods.  I've thrown rocks and been hit by them, and this, what I do here, this is no rock throwing.

Certain conservative evangelicals especially list as their major critique of fundamentalism, characterizing it as at the most on life support after careening down this cliff of self-destruction, its obsession with non-essential issues.  Adults, these evangelicals, contemplate bare cupboards in the pantry while toddlers, fundamentalists, tug-o-war a plastic toy in the nursery.  Fundamentalists should consider this criticism.  Some self-identifying fundamentalists push back by dividing fundamentalists into the historic fundamentalists, the ones who wrote The Fundamentals and that heritage, from a more recent mutation. They grasp the mantle of the original fundamentalists and promote the initial idea of fundamentalism.

I have a great fondness for fundamentalism, because it has taught a doctrine of separation.  I said "a doctrine," because I don't believe it is a scriptural doctrine of separation, but it's at least separation.  It's got some scriptural separation in it, even if it isn't following what the Bible teaches on the doctrine. Fundamentalists have written some good material about that subject that you will not see in evangelicalism at all.  Separation is holiness. Evangelicalism is not holy.  Unholiness and worldliness characterizes evangelicalism.  However, I do not self-identify as a fundamentalist in some part because of the same reason that evangelicals criticize fundamentalism.  That isn't the main reason, but it is one of them, even if people call me a fundamentalist by whatever definition.

With all of the above in mind, I want to take the evangelical criticism of fundamentalism into consideration by asking the question of the title of this post as a type of thought experiment. Evangelicals would say that fundamentalists would get sidetracked from something very important like Trinity doctrine by their over emphasis on a "non-essential" like worship music.  Is Trinity doctrine more important than the issue of worship music?

It is true that some evangelicals have been deceived on the doctrine of the Trinity, that they have a less than biblical or distorted view of the Trinity, and, therefore, God.  Even though fundamentalists might not give much thought to what they believe about the Trinity, you don't see the same kind of contortion of the Trinity among fundamentalists.  If it were a problem, there would be a greater emphasis on Trinity doctrine.  The reason there is a fight on the Trinity in evangelicalism is because that's where the perversion is occurring and probably due to the lack of separation in evangelicalism.  Fundamentalists would think that there are already many good publications written in times past about and defending the biblical, orthodox teaching of the Trinity.  Rather than write another book, they'll separate from organizations over their false Trinity doctrine, which is what the Bible teaches to do.  Evangelicals write a book on the Trinity, defending it, and fundamentalists separate from the false doctrine.

Ungodly, unholy, so-called worship music, I believe, is a greater danger today to professing believers to being deceived about God than wrong teaching about God.  The Mormons, Islam, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and even Apostolics I don't see swaying people in church to the wrong thoughts about God. The music is a major factor though.  People get the wrong imagination of God through worldly, fleshly, sensual worship music.  They say they are offering the music to God and that shapes what people think about God.  It affects what people understand about loving God.

False worship starts with worshiping the wrong God.  Buddhism is false worship.  However, false worship also occurs when worshiping God the wrong way.  Israel started with worshiping God the wrong way and ended by worshiping the wrong god.  The former precedes the latter.  First, God isn't worshiped, because He doesn't accept false worship.  The understanding of God distorted by the false worship turns into having a false god.

Doctrine and practice are corrupted faster by the music than they are by some wrong doctrinal statement.  What I'm writing here is a little more difficult to explain why Worship Music is more important than the Trinity Doctrine, but it can be understood if someone cares.  Someone should care if He wishes to preserve true worship of God and then the right doctrine about God.

We want to love the Trinity:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, these Three are One.  We aren't loving Trinity when we engage in false worship.  We might believe the Trinity doctrine, like a Roman Catholic, without worshiping the Trinity.  If evangelicals believe a true Trinity doctrine, but then don't worship the Trinity, what is the point of believing the Trinity?

Nadab and Abihu worshiped the right God with strange fire.  God killed them for it.  The false worship music is strange fire.  God is holy.

17 comments:

Matthew Devers said...

Excellent post. I often am bewildered in how some don't get this. Many Baptists seem to be just fine allowing this false worship into their churches. I guess they don't realize it will corrupt their doctrine too. Like you said they could understand this if they cared. Thanks for the post.

James Bronsveld said...

The “Trinity vs. worship music” may be too nuanced. Corrupted worship is a direct consequence of a corrupted knowledge/conception of God. In Eve’s temptation, the corrupted experiential worship she was offered (since the offer was an implied closer communion to Him) was in no small way connected to her perception of 1) an overly severe command of God, and 2) a minimization of His threatened consequences for disobedience. Both of those formed part of her conception of God leading to her subsequent embrace of sensualism.

It’s not just about the Trinity, though worship is communion, and that communion is with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think it goes back further – to the gospel. A person with a corrupt knowledge of God will only offer corrupt worship (e.g. the Samaritans in II Kings). Is the worship issue secondary? It’s not non-essential because worship is essential, but it does flow from one’s knowledge of God, which is why the knowledge of God is of primary concern (but not the sole concern). I mention the gospel, because if one sees the gospel only as the good news that Christ died to free him of the consequences for the sin he still loves, his worship will reflect that. His worship necessarily becomes will-worship, whether that manifests itself in the manner described in Col. 2:23 or otherwise. Why? Because of his corrupted view of God (no authority/Lordship). We see its fruits in everything from the contemporary worship movement to the revivalism and irreverence in many fundamentalist churches. I can’t think of one corruption of worship that does not stem from the worshipper’s (mis)conception of God. Even Israel and the golden calf reflect this in that the corrupted representation of God led them into their corrupt worship.

Some of this may even be highlighted by the differences between the regulative principle of worship (i.e. only those elements of worship expressly commanded in Scripture must be used – worship regulated strictly according to knowledge) and the normative principle of worship (in which anything not forbidden by Scripture is essentially permitted – thus, elements of worship are not regulated strictly by knowledge). Evangelicals may pride themselves in their battles defending the Trinity, but with a corrupted conception of God’s holiness, and of reverence and solemnity in worship, their worship will follow in the footsteps of their Samaritan forefathers.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Matthew,

Thank you for your comment about rock throwing. :-D

Kent Brandenburg said...

James,

If I could add everything that you've said to this post, I would, but instead I'll say right now, your comment would be a great addition to this post. I agree with all of it. I might even add more to your comment and to my post.

Another thought provoked by your comment is that this strategy of saying, you don't care about the Trinity, because of your focus on worship music, is called a red herring. Red. Herring. It isn't an actual argument. It'a an excuse for false worship. God doesn't follow the bright shiny thing, like people do. He's the Judge though.

Anonymous said...

So what type of music is acceptable?

Paul

Anonymous said...

Well written article.

I just want to add the point that evangelicals have played a "bait and switch" on people by calling music worship. The vast majority of instances of worship in the Bible have nothing to do with music. In fact, worship is more often associated with silence than with music.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Paul,

First, even though there are numbers of Pauls and this doesn't really identify you as someone who someone would know, you've been brave to put, hopefully, your actual name, and that's all it takes. Kudos for adding your name.

However, the question of which music is acceptable is also a sort of red herring often. We live in an era of neutrality in which you can't judge truth, goodness, or beauty. Of course, you can't know what worship music is. How do you know what is acceptable?

You use biblical principles. We know what music means and we know what God likes and doesn't like. Everyone knows this except for professing Christians today, and they only don't know it, because they don't want to know it. They want to keep their music and their pragmatism.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Anonymous,

Thanks. What is worship? It is giving Him what He wants. When we play or sing music in church, that is an offering to God. The audience of the music is God. It is worship. I understand that the music that evangelicals and many fundamentalists use has as its audience people, which is why whether people like it, personal taste, is their chief criteria.

Tyler Robbins said...

Kent:

You wrote, "the audience of the music is God." That single statement should put a stop to 99% of the silliness floating around out there about this issue. That single principle should be the driving force behind the entire conversation about music.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Tyler,

Thanks. Very true. I never heard it growing up in revivalist, fundamentalist church, because they thought it was for evangelism. Southern gospel has this uncanny ability to evangelize.

Jim Oakley said...

The article makes many good points yet there was no mention of the importance of Spiritual discernment. I believe most people get off into wrong doctrine and music because they have neglected the gift God gave them at the point of Salvation.

"But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." ~ Hebrews 5:14

This gift is essential and must be "exercised," used, and trusted in order to grow. To discern is to judge and most professing Christians today have been led to believe it is a grave sin to make a righteous judgment. Yet they have no qualms about making unrighteous judgments such as condemnation of those they disagree with.

When our ability to discern is working as it should we know instantly what is of God and what is not as well as what is pleasing to Him and what is not. It is how the prepared Christian avoids the pitfalls of the devil.

Most "Christian" music is not pleasing to any but the flesh of man for it comes from the flesh and not the Spirit of God.

Craig Kuha said...

Hello fellow bloggers,
Kent's post was kind of a personal, Christian , social expierement with theological meaning. Hopefully, more people will think more about this and respond. We always want to help truth along, proclaim it and preach it.
The truth has a unique way of teaching itself, and uttering words out of her heart. Job 8:9-10. It states, For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, because our days upon the earth are but a shadow. Shall not they teach the , and utter words out of their heart. I don't have a specific answer to Kent's post, but we live in changing times and "how" Pastor Kent's message is given and received is as important as the what and the who of the message. By the way,I ordered your book on preservation and its the house ready to be read im a horrible reader but I'm determined to read this book.
To the rock thrower, Kent posted your comments so your voice is being heard, you do know how to make words into grenades, give it some thought and prayer, we are all Christians here.
Also, James your a very deep thinker. Thankyou craig

Anonymous said...

To that last guy who commented. I am a Christian and disagree with much of what is on this site. But I do agree with the essentials of the faith: aka "the fundamentals," which have nothing to do with music. At least at the time they were written, in the early 20th century, music was not even considered part of the fundamentals. The thing I like about this site is that the blog owner, whoever this Kent guy is, does often allow comments from all people, even those who disagree. For that in and of itself I respect him, even though I disagree with much of the site. Many blog owners totally shut down all comments and won't allow a conversation, so this is refreshing.

Tyler Robbins said...

Kent wrote:

"For quite awhile, I have noticed a very common evangelical critique of fundamentalism is something to the effect that it's evangelicals who spend their time defending the really important doctrines, like the Trinity, and fundamentalists quibble over non-essentials. Evangelicals pump out paper after paper, dissertation after dissertation, journal article after journal article, and, of course, book after book, defining and defending major doctrines of scripture, putting their efforts where it really matters. Evangelicals wrangle over justification by faith, while fundamentalists arm wrestle over Bible versions."

I've written some of the very things Kent complained about, above. My own point is not so much that music and separation don't matter. It is that, in some cases, it is ALL that matters. I'm saying some segments of fundamentalism are very unbalanced, in that all they seem to care about are (1) what English Bible version you use, (2) what your music looks like, and (3) how you dress.

Now, these are all important questions, and a church needs to know what it believes on this topic and have answers for people who ask. It is very important. But, so is basic bible doctrine (e.g. the Trinity).

In my church, I taught a lot about the Trinity whenever it came up in verse by verse preaching. I wasn't trying to make the church members professional theologians, but I did take the opportunity to draw out systematic theology when the text allowed it. I took the opportunity to explain the Trinity when, for example, Jesus prayed to the Father. I took the time to briefly mention the hypostatic union when I preached in Philippians, and always referred back to that explanation when I could during my preaching. In other words, I tried to be well-rounded with ALL of the doctrine.

I think it is a valid critique to say some fundamentalists SEEM to major on some issues (e.g. music) and ignore others. I don't think it is always because "my church is already good with doctrine." In many cases, I think it is because the Pastor himself does not know systematic doctrine on a deep level. That is the critique - some fundamentalists know more about their doctrine of music than the Trinity - and that is a shame.

In effect, I'm saying that fundamentalism's doctrinal focus is often imbalanced. Of course, evangelicalism (whatever that means, anymore!) often is, too. I believe any Pastor, whatever label he prefers to own (convergent?!), should make it a priority to really know what he believes about what ALL the Bible says, whether the topic in question is worship music or the Trinity.

I believe the call Kent criticized which urged folks to "focus on the majors" is really, in many cases, a call for doctrinal balance. That is a goal both fundamentalists and evangelicals ought to agree on.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous Who Thinks I Give Liberty to People Who Disagree,

I agree that people who disagree can come here. Of course, when they do, I might not always comment to them. Sometimes I will write something to attempt to blow them away too, but that doesn't mean they don't have liberty to come here. We do live in a society today that thinks it is unsafe if it can't make a comment without criticism. College campuses are full of that. I don't have to agree. This is a pluralistic society. So I thank you. I'm sure that some opponents will be unhappy that you are saying that we allow for opposition comments. There are fundamentalist sites where I can't go and comment without being shut down. These are theological snowflakes themselves. I'm happy about pushback against that. There are others who see themselves as consumers, and they want to give feedback, like Yelp, and if I oppose what they say, they don't feel welcomed, then fold up into the fetal position. I've got one anonymous commenter right now like that, and I don't publish all his comments.

With that being said, when the fundamentals were being written, there was a homogeneity between American popular music and sacred music. Society was so informed by biblical principles or what one should call natural law, that this chasm wasn't there. People "got it." They could still call a painting ugly or banal. That was 1910-ish. Things went downhill fairly rapidly after that, which is why the fundamentals were read in the first place. What I'm saying is that your comment needs some historical context. Today we have same-sex marriage and they said "nothing" about that. That means that same-sex marriage is acceptable? Or doesn't relate to the fundamentals?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Tyler,

I've noticed that a few Fridays down the road Thomas has a post coming offering his Trinity class from seminary. We are big about defending the Trinity. I don't want to diminish your comment by saying that, but just to say that with the evangelicals (which we've got to have some technical name, it would seem for a wide range of non-separatists, and I think this one is right) they act like this is an argument. Some of your dense theological offerings at SI and at your blog are doing good work. When I preach exposition, I park for week after week on doctrine in our church. Then I write a blog against women wearing pants, and people are freaked that I'm so unbalanced and superficial. I know there are defenses out there on some of those doctrinal subjects, but designed gender distinction goes by the wayside and very often unchallenged. This does take some nuance to understand. Not much, but some. Paul did write 1 Timothy 2 and said to pastors, teach on dress. 1 Cor 11:3-16, wow.

Anonymous said...

Mr. KB, I don't think that homosexual marriage is one of the fundamentals, directly speaking. Yes, it is covered by the fact that one of the fundamentals is that the Bible is indeed the word of God. The German, humanist influence became so entrenched in society that there was a need to get back to the basics. Hence, the "fundamentals."

I did already make a recent comment about homosexual marriage where I talked about how "flowers" in the Bible can sometimes be referred to that which is negative and full of impurities. "Flowers" are generally thought of as beautiful, wonderful things, but this is not always the case. (Leviticus 15:24)