In the previous post, I explained the problem with each of the different approaches to teaching music in the current Christian music debate. In this post, I’ll explain the problem with the interpretation of Scripture in the Christian music debate.
Unfortunately, many people do not properly interpret the Scriptures, even those who accept it as entirely authoritative. It is very important for you to recognize the difference between a principle and a precept. When someone takes a principle and turns it into a precept, they have violated the warning in Proverbs 30:6, “Add thou not unto His (God’s) words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”
I’ll illustrate. Fundamental Baptist preachers have, for years, used Deuteronomy 22:5 to teach that ladies should not wear any kind of slacks. They have turned the principle into a precept. The fact is that it was written exclusively to the nation of Israel. Though the command was not written to the New Testament Christian, the principle is clear, “God’s design is that there is a distinction between men and women.” The proper attitudes of masculinity and femininity can be observed in this verse. But, since Paul’s words in 1st Timothy 2:9 were written to a church pastor in order to teach to a local assembly, they apply as a precept to New Testament church ladies.
Another example would be in Deuteronomy 6:7. The Israelites were commanded to teach the law diligently to their children, talking of it when they were sitting, walking, lying down and getting up. I have seen this verse on many homeschool websites as a defense for homeschooling and as a proof that neither Christian nor public schools are acceptable for believers today. Again, this can (and should) be interpreted by New Testament Christians as a principle for good parenting – but not a mandate to homeschool. However, Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 are mandates to New Testament, Spirit filled men who are risen with Christ!
(For the record, my family lives by the two principles: we practice a clear gender distinction and we are passionately committed to the discipleship of our children!)
Principles are multi-dispensational, but precepts are restricted to the recipients. Interestingly, principles allow for much more individual soul liberty than precepts do. Principles also give more opportunity for one to demonstrate a willing love for Christ than do precepts, which can be obeyed with no love for Christ. (I’ll write more about this at another time.)
The reason that I bring this up in relationship to music is that there are many principles regarding music that can be observed throughout the entire Bible, but the reality is that there are very few passages of Scripture in the New Testament writings which present precepts regarding music and its practice in the New Testament church.
Now, as an example that relates to music, the book of the Psalms has regularly been referred to as the Hebrew Hymnal. The book is an invaluable resource as it relates to learning principles of corporate worship. The Hallel portions especially, 113-118, 120-134, and 145-150, are a fascinating study. For Israel, this was their hymnal, but the various commands for Israel in their worship would serve only as examples by which we build principles, not precepts. The instructions in Psalm 47:1 “clap your hands all ye people” and in Psalm 134:2 to “lift up your hands” are not mandates for New Testament Christian believers who are participating in a regular worship service.
Because of the importance of the subject, I’ll elaborate on the rarity of commands regarding N.T. church music.
The Psalms are quoted in the gospels, but these are not songs relative to N.T. church worship. Instead, they are generally demonstrating the fulfillment of prophecy.
The first place where one of the Epistles uses the idea of singing is Romans 15:9. This verse is a quotation from Psalm 18:49 in which Paul is proving that the gospel has been designed to go to the Gentiles. In fact, Paul quotes a whole bunch of O.T. Scriptures in a row to prove the point of the universality of the gospel. Contextually, that verse has nothing to do with N.T. church practice.
James 5:13 gives instruction to the one who is merry to “sing psalms.” Here, you must remember that the book of James was primarily addressed to Jewish believers – so their worship would have still had the O.T. connection to nationalism and patriotism (though the precept for them should translate into a principle here). I’ll explain the nationalism and patriotism of Israel in my 3rd post of this series.
The book of the Revelation has three references to singing: 5:9, 14:3 and 15:3. The latter two (14:3 and 15:3) are impossible references for the church, it has already been raptured. The 14:3 reference is the song that only the 144,000 Jewish witnesses knew. The 15:3 reference is the song of those who survived the tribulation – that eliminates anyone who is a believer now. 5:9 refers to the 4 and 20 elders who probably are representatives of the raptured church, but since that is future and in heaven, that reference can’t really be used determinatively for the music of this dispensation. The object of the worship and the holiness of the participants, are certainly displayed and creates an awe inspiring picture, but the book of Revelation is hardly prescriptive of N.T. church practice.
Amazingly, that leaves the careful Bible student only 3 passages of Scripture that directly relate to the practice of music for N.T. Christians. Those are found in 1st Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3. I’ll explain each passage in the 4th post of this series.
The point is that you must be careful to make sure that your interpretation of Scripture is correct. There are principles that can be learned from the Old Testament, but you only have the authority to say, “God said” where God actually said something. The warning of Agur bears repeating, “add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6) Furthermore, when preachers misuse a passage of Scripture, they have essentially emptied the Word of its inherent power. When the Word of God is used according to the original intent of the Holy Spirit, it is “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword . . .”
Part 3 will be posted in a couple of days. Check back soon!