Monday, April 04, 2016

Evangelical Mumbo Jumbo: Ziplines and Worship Wars

For regular readers, I've started on certain series, that I think I will finish, especially speaking of the one, French Protestants and the Waldenses: The Church and the Text of the New Testament (parts one and deux).  I've definitely not come to a conclusion there.  There are a lot of subjects I'm wanting to cover, based on reading I've done, but I'm going to go to a continuation of a dealing with some sessions from the recent Shepherd's Conference.


In one session, Phil Johnson reported that one evangelical preacher tried to attract interest by starting his sermon with a zipline to the platform and in another he began with the following disclaimer:
This is the seminar titled, Young, Restless, But Not Reformed.  They've asked me to evaluate the New Calvinism, and if you read that title and came to the session thinking that I'm going to deliver a scathing critique, you might be disappointed.  And I also noticed that a lot of the books that deal with the New Calvinism, and I've read several of them -- almost all of them have quite a lot to say about music and worship styles -- and so if you're hoping that I'm going to say something either positive or critical about worship and music styles, I'm not.  I'll leave that to others.  I really have enough to say without firing a salvo into the worship wars, but most of what I'm going to say is in the affirmative.
Johnson, the executive director of Grace to You, John MacArthur's radio program, gave two of the sessions at the 2016 Shepherd's Conference in Southern California.  His two addresses dealt with similar subject matter that concern him in evangelicalism.  In his previous general session, Johnson took the first five verses of 2 Corinthians 4 as a text, especially parking on v. 2, what he calls "a very potent one sentence manifesto in which defines how biblical preaching should be done."  He continues:
[T]here is a lot of really bad advice offered to pastors these days.  Preachers are constantly being told that they need to spice up their preaching.  You can't just explain the scriptures and expect people to obey, and just exhort them and rebuke them and -- you can't do that.  You have to add gimmicks and attention getters to your messages.  We actually have preachers nowadays who are so desperate to grab attention or impress young people that they will make their entrance into the pulpit on a zipline.  Seriously, look it up on youtube.  And it's not just one guy.  This is apparently a thing.  I don't know how much that costs either.  I didn't even consider it.  I imagine it's expensive.
I agree with Johnson's assessment about using a zipline on Sunday in church for a sermon.  Johnson charges the zipline gimmick with the violation of Paul's teaching, which says in the King James Version:
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
He quotes the English Standard Version, which reads:
We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Johnson is sure enough to preach in this session that the Word of God is being subjugated to human cunning with these methods in preaching.  He next refers to the Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren:
Rick Warren was telling us, "You cannot start with a biblical text."  These were his words.  "You cannot start with a biblical text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it.  You  must first capture their attention."  And today that approach is regarded as received wisdom.
Johnson refers to Rick Warren as a bad example with a bad reason.  In the same book, Warren though wrote about choice of music in a church plant:
The style of music you choose to use in your services will be one of the most critical (and controversial) decisions you make in the life of your church. It may also be the most influential factor in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach.
You've got preaching and you've got worship.  Phil Johnson is sure, very, very sure, that ziplining preachers violate 2 Corinthians 4:2.  I don't see "zipline" in 2 Corinthians 4:2.  He won't say anything critical about music styles or fire salvos into worship wars.

In 2010, Phil Johnson wrote the following:

Let me say this plainly: It is a sin to impose on others any "spiritual" standard that has no biblical basis. When God gave the law to Israel, He told them, "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). And, "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32). 
The same principle is repeated in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for their sectarianism, saying "I am of Paul"; "I am of Apollos," and so on. His rebuke to them includes these words in 1 Corinthians 4:6: "I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written." 
That is a good guideline for how we should exercise our Christian liberty: Don't go beyond what is written in Scripture. Don't make rules to impose on others; don't devise rituals and forms of worship that are not authorized; and don't speak on such matters where God has been silent. That's the whole principle of Sola Scriptura applied to Christian living. If we really believe Scripture is a sufficient rule for the Christian life, then we don't have to add anything to it.

Something Nathan Busenitz, on staff with Johnson, wrote at Pulpit Magazine in 2008 about music parallels what Johnson wrote in 2010:

The Bible does not prescribe a particular style of music as being solely acceptable to God, nor does it condemn any particular styles. But it does contain principles that we can apply to any situation and ascertain what course of action will please God. . . .  Some churches and Christian schools teach that any music with a drumbeat or electric guitar is worldly and sinful. We do not do so at Grace Church because the Bible tells us "not to exceed what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to the Scripture without subtracting from its effectiveness in our lives. If we elevate personal preference and man-made tradition to the level of God's Word (Mark 7:6-15), we risk entangling people in the bondage of legalism and diverting them from the true issues of sanctification (Romans 14:17).

I don't see "ziplines" in scripture and yet Johnson's application, according to him, does not violate sola scriptura.  In that case, he "does not "exceed what is written.'"  Take Busenitz's first sentence and use "preaching" instead of "music."
The Bible does not prescribe a particular style of preaching as being solely acceptable to God, nor does it condemn any particular styles.
Johnson and Busenitz both pervert the doctrine of sola scriptura.  The reason music can be judged is because of scripture.  Scripture does apply to music, sans lyrics.  Scripture does apply to style of preaching too.  Ziplines violate scripture, even though ziplines are not written in scripture.

Johnson sounds quite proud of himself for not firing a salvo into the worship wars and criticizing musical styles, but he squeezes every bit of rhetorical flourish and style to repudiate ziplines.  The impression one might take from the contrast is that worship is less important to Johnson and Busenitz than preaching.  They aren't very picky about the worship God hears, but very picky about the preaching people hear.  People take a high priority.

Here's my take.  Johnson defends John MacArthur's preaching.  I applaud that.  Johnson defends the musical styles of his church.  He contradicts himself in doing so, but the common ground here is his defense of himself.  To do so, he and Busentiz and his church twist sola scriptura, pervert the meaning of 1 Corinthians 4:6 in its context, greatly harm the discernment of Christians, and offend God with their worship.

Phil Johnson and others have learned something that Rick Warren did before he wrote the Purpose Driven Church:  music is very important to numerical growth of a church.  No salvos will be fired on music -- message to New Calvinists:  you're safe with us.  It's going to be risky, but they just have to cut down their ziplines and all will be well.  Rock and roll trap set stays; zipline goes.

Rock music violates numerous biblical passages.  This is not an arbitrary interpretation or application of God's Word.  God hates rock music.  He doesn't accept it as worship.

The experience of the rock music is the threshold through which victims enter the massive lie and fraud of the Charismatic movement.  It's like someone said in 2013:
I’m convinced that the contemporary style of charismatic music is the entry point for Charismatic theology into churches.
Whoever said that seems like someone could and should judge styles.  Later he said:
The contemporary evangelical church has very little interest in theology and doctrine, so you’re going to have a tough sell. It’s about style. And style is the Trojan Horse that lets Charismatics in the church. Because once you let the music in, the movement follows. It all of a sudden becomes common. We sound like the Charismatics, sing like they do, have the same emotional feelings that they have. It’s a small step from doing the same music to buying into the movement. So the tough thing is you’re going back to a church that is thinking like that. It’s hard to make sound doctrine the issue when style is much more the interest of the leaders of the church.
At the same time, he said:
I would go so far as to say that evangelical noncharismatic churches are using music that is unacceptable to draw people in. They’re using the music of the world to suck people in as if somehow people would get saved through the music. The two have no connection. This is so close to what’s in a normal evangelical environment that it’s a very small step to getting sucked in, because the style is the same.
Those quotes come from John MacArthur at the Strange Fire Conference.   The New Calvinists won't be judged for their music, even if it is a thoroughfare to Charismaticism, even if it is a pragmatic cunning, Finney-esque new measure, to lure people in to hear their Calvinistic expositional preaching.

You are who you worship.  Who you worship is how you worship.  People don't know God as seen that they think He's fine with rock music.  He isn't.   This continues the mumbo jumbo of evangelicals.  How cunning.


Lance Ketchum said...

The most difficult part of listening to these guys is their irrational disconnect between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This is always what happens when Pragmatism begins to define Church Growth and Evangelism.

Anonymous said...

When you write that "Rock music violates numerous biblical passages... God hates rock music. He doesn't accept it as worship."

Could you give me the texts? I really want to know and would love if you could also point me to the type of worship God does want. My church has both traditional and contemporary services, but I've never been fond of the worship band or praise band.

I'm trying to learn more about the worship that is acceptable to God and would value any resources you could give me.


Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

That question was already answered in the article:

Some churches and Christian schools teach that any music with a drumbeat or electric guitar is worldly and sinful.

Please run, don't walk, from any of this type of music.

Anonymous said...

This is a touchy subject and none of us are above reproach. While it is correct to be against the influx of zip lines in churches, to be ok with CCM at the same time is confusing. I am starting to like this blog and appreciate the articles and discussion. But let's call a spade a spade: to have links to articles that spread the unkind stereotype that "Muslims are violent" while at the same time denouncing Trump is confusing. Most Christians are against Trump because of his war on women and his Islamaphobia. Being against Trump and at the same time publishing articles that support Islamaphobia is as confusing as being against zip lines and not against CCM - at the same time. We all need to be careful of our messages, including me. said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the question. Please check out for resources on rock music. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, lots of good stuff at that site. Appreciate the resource and I have lots of reading.


Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm going to comment now. I've been doing a lot of different things -- a lot -- and prioritized just writing these two posts.

First, Lance Ketchum,

Thanks. I appreciate that and you.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Paul,

I've written a book on music. You could read that. I've also written quite a bit here.

Rock music itself, for an example, is a fleshly lust that wars against the soul (1 Peter 2:12). It was not invented by the godly. It conforms to the spirit of this age (Rom 12:2). It is not lovely (Philip 4:8). It makes provision for the flesh (Rom 13:14). The genre itself means something and that meaning is corrupt.

Paul wrote that the idol was nothing (1 Cor 10:19). Sure. That was also a Corinthian argument. The meat was also nothing (1 Cor 10:19). It was just meat. And meats were for the belly and the belly for meats (1 Cor 6:13). Another Corinthian argument. But Paul said, not really. Demons were actually involved with the idol. Demons were also involved with the meats. The association was much stronger than a skillfully crafted piece of wood and a nice cut of steak. And there is more to notes than just notes in the hands of men.

Rock music is corrupt communication. The Bible doesn't say what corrupt communication is. It expects us to know. We have known. We do know.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Second Anonymous,

I've never said that anything with a drumbeat is sinful. That was Nathan Busenitz who used that strawman argument. He uses that strawman as an argument and any reasonably thinking person knows it is a strawman. I think you know it was one. By using a strawman, he makes the argument look stupid. I think he does it on purpose, or he himself is just superficial.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous Three,

The Koran encourages violence, so Moslems are violent. Not all of them commit violence, but it is part of the religion. That isn't a "Trump" thing. Saying that doesn't put you with Trump. It's hard to take what you're writing seriously.