Can or does any objective standard exist for judging church music? Is the choice of musical style completely arbitrary? To what degree can someone judge musical style based upon scripture? The answer to these questions factor the most to differentiate the six positions on church music. Almost everyone in evangelicalism and many in fundamentalism treat musical style like it doesn't matter. To them, the worst thing you could do is judge it, the people who use it, or to be intolerant at all about it.
I want to talk about the development of the six positions, how they came about, why, and who I think takes them. The music issue, as I call it, says a lot about how someone approaches any issue, significantly the so-called "cultural issues," terminology that seems mainly to function as a pejorative, functioning to classify those issues as lesser ones or more dubious in consideration.
The culture is changing everywhere. At her college, my middle daughter looks to her left and sees a female with optic pink hair and to the right one with a spike sticking out of her neck. What's weird to her is talking to and treating them as normal. She treats them like they are made in God's image, when they look like something different than that. I attribute the change in culture to the inability of this generation to know and apply truth. People are more than ever uncertain about the truth and even less certain about applying it.
Like many other issues, evangelicals succumbed to non-judgment of musical style a long time ago. It's not that they didn't ever judge it. They stopped applying scripture to the music issue and since have developed more reasons for doing so. Fundamentalists now in droves are following in their footsteps.
The judgment of musical style corresponds well to the judgment of other issues. You have to rely on biblical principles or as some have explained, a second premise, to apply most of scripture. You won't obey scripture without applying a minor premise. You can and must apply that premise to come to a biblical practice or conclusion.
Even though the Bible doesn't command, "Don't smoke crack pipes," the same characters who can't or won't apply scripture to musical style will still apply it to smoking of crack pipes. I have noticed new applications of scripture beginning, that I had not seen in fundamentalism, especially as they apply to social issues, even as they have discontinued applying the Bible in cultural ones. It seems the choice of application has become completely arbitrary.
The only two consistent positions of the six, as I see them, are the first and the last. Musical style is either immoral, number one, or moral, number six. If some musical style is immoral, then offering it to God as worship is false worship, in essence offering God something immoral as if He would receive it. He won't, but saying that He will anyway, and without reason.
The people who take position number one know when something is wrong. They know that Marilyn Monroe was wrong for singing Happy Birthday in a completely sensual manner to John F. Kennedy. They know that. That know that is immoral. The lyrics aren't a problem. The style is all that's wrong with it. However, they know that it is the only consistent position, so they take it. Everyone knows there is "mood music" and within that general category, "sexy music," that is not appropriate for worship of God, but if music is amoral, then they have to accept that too. They shouldn't, but if they don't, then, again, they know that they have to start judging music, and that opens pandora's box for them, thus reverting back to number one.
As I view it today, more churches practice number one than number six. At one time, no one practiced number one, because everyone in the world, even the unsaved, knew that music was moral. Most of the list is pushing toward number one. There are less of number six than ever and as time passes, I foresee more and more movement toward number one, even if people don't settle on it as their position, because they know it isn't true.
The big argument against number six is that you can't prove it. You can't give evidence. You can give evidence. It's like evidence for the existence of God. You could say, depending on how you define evidence, that there is no evidence for God. You haven't seen Him, so He doesn't exist. He doesn't do astronomical special signs that would indicate His existence, so He doesn't exist. For music, you can't push a play button on the Bible that says what bad music is, so there isn't evidence of what it is.
The same people who say there isn't evidence for permissible musical style by which someone can judge it, neither can say that there is evidence against string bikinis in scripture. It's against the law to scream "fire" in a crowded building. As easy as that is to understand, there is also evidence against optic colored hair dye and Nazi symbolism. Perhaps there is evidence against women running around stark naked, but is there evidence against drawings of women or men naked? I don't have a verse. Can I judge that? I'm saying, yes.
I said I would mention some examples of the various categories. I listened to Mark Dever's interview of Keith Getty, and Dever asked him about musical style. Dever point blank asked Getty at about 48 minutes whether there was a style of music that couldn't be used in church, and Getty said these words:
I don't believe at all in the idea that one style is holier than another.Getty went on to say that it should be whatever style will bring your 72 year old grandfather and his ten year old grandson together in singing a song, which does fit number two in my list. He's saying that is best. He's not saying that any musical style is wrong. I noticed that Getty will lead the singing at MacArthur's Shepherd's Conference again this year.
I don't think John MacArthur himself believes number one. You can read that in his original commentary on Ephesians (5:19). He says rock music is not acceptable for worship. It is immoral in itself there, something that Getty contradicts and Dever doesn't correct in the interview. In the pretty recent Strange Fire conference, MacArthur said all of the following quotes:
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.Later he said:
I don’t think it has to do with what the teachers are saying. I think it’s the music. It’s like getting drunk so you don’t have to think about the issues of life. If you shut down the music, turn on the lights, and have someone get up there and try to sell that with just words, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have some way to manipulate their minds.He followed that with this:
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.Lastly, he said this:
I’m convinced that the contemporary style of charismatic music is the entry point for Charismatic theology into churches. If you buy the music, the theology follows. Because all of a sudden you’re listening to the same songs/artists, experiencing the same emotions. The church may be non-Charismatic, but all the style is exactly the same. That’s the entry point. Show me a church that has a strong doctrinal statement, and I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace even the music. Show me a church that loves great hymns and theology put to music, I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace the charismatic movement. And because the music doesn’t come in, the theology doesn’t either. That’s the seductive entry point.MacArthur does know. So even though Getty won't judge musical style, what number is he? He seems like number three. This allows for false worship, while saying there is musical style that is wrong.
I'll return to this next week perhaps.