Parameters for the Christian music debate, part 3

Well, it took several more than 2 days to add this next post, but – “such is life.”

I’ve already pointed out that in the Christian music debate there is a problem in the kind of approach (subjective, philosophical, or technical) as well as accurate interpretation (recognizing the difference between a precept and a principle and saying more than God said) that people and preachers have in the music issue.

Thirdly, there is a problem with grouping of music.

Several years ago, when we were re-writing our church documents (statement of faith, covenant, constitution and bylaws), I realized that the matter of church discipline had all offenses dumped into one box and most churches dealt with all offenses according to Matthew 18.  It was a watershed situation.

When I considered several different passages of Scripture, I realized that there are three categories of offenses dealt with in the N.T. church and we needed to be a little bit more distinctive.  Hence, in our church documents, we have delineated between, 1) personal offenses and unknown sins, 2) open and public sins, and 3) doctrinal heresy or division.  These categories of offenses are dealt with differently in the Scriptures and, of necessity, must be dealt with differently in the church.  (I will write more on this at another time in another blog post.)

I have come to the conclusion that the same thing is true of music.  There are different categories of music that are in the Scriptures and we should examine them individually instead of “music in general.”  There are too many variations to try to establish general music principles that apply to all kinds of music.

The classic illustration of this problem is found in 2ndSamuel 6 when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  David was dancing and there was shouting and the sound of the trumpet upon its return.  I have heard young people question “what is wrong with dancing?  David did it.”  The answer has at least two aspects: the first is what was discussed in the previous post (the difference between Israel and the church as well as it is a descriptive passage of Scripture and not a prescriptive); the second is the problem that I want to address in this post – that is the kind or grouping of music involved.

There are at least 5 different categories of music in the Scriptures.  I’ll give an example of each.

1.  Music of Parties – Exodus 32.  This is the kind of music that probably best compares with much of today’s popular music and should have no place in the life of the believer.  It is characterized by sensuality.

Exodus 32 is a passage that deserves attention in the contemporary Christian music debate because it produces the principle that worship can be, but ought not to be adulterated.

2.  Music of Personal Preference – Genesis 4:21; 1st Samuel 16:14-23; 18:10; 19:9.

Remember that this is not an endorsement or condemnation of any music; this is just an acknowledgment that there was music that a person enjoyed and used for the purpose of relaxation.  There was music that existed about which we have no idea of its genre.

This is a gray area.

Some, undoubtedly, will be tempted to look at this as a watershed for like, dislike, or even permissiveness of various kinds of music, but every kind of music must be governed by Biblical principles – as any activity in life.

3.  Music of Passion

            A.  Loss (Psalm 12-13, Job 30:31, Matthew 2:18)

There are a few places in the Scriptures that reveal that there was music that was used in times of grief, defeat, or death.

            B.  Love (Psalm 45, Song of Solomon)

Love songs are also a part of Biblical literature, as are love stories.  However, the majority of love songs do not meet the Biblical criteria for actually being love.  Most love songs produced by Nashville, are songs which proclaim some kind of illicit love and should not be recognized as legitimate.  Most secular love songs should be categorized as pop/party music that only appeals to sensuality and again, should have no place in the life of a committed disciple.

However, there were times, when legitimate love was in view, that music was used as an expression of the emotion that is partial to true and willful love.

4.  Music of Patriotism – Exodus 15:1-21; 1st Samuel 18:6-8, Psalm 137.

Remember that Israel was essentially a theocracy; there was not a separation of church and state.  So, Israel would have had little distinction between their worship music and patriotic music.  God was the Head of State – even a king was required to write, by his own hand, a copy of the Law of Moses and was supposed to read in it every day.  Fundamentally, the Law of Moses, for Israel, was the equivalent of our U.S. Constitution; every minister in each branch of government was subject to the law of God, whether it was king, general, judge, priest, patriarch, or elder of a town.  Wars and Battles were perceived to be spiritual struggles.  If they gained victory, God was praised.  If they suffered defeat, they questioned how they had offended God.

Israel’s patriotic music was nearly indistinguishable from its religious music because God was such an integral component of its existence as a nation.

As Americans, we only have a few songs like that and we live in a separation of church and state.  We don’t march together as a nation singing songs on the way to Jerusalem for the Passover or other instances of worship.  Though many of our U.S. patriotic songs do give glory to God, the United States is even less Israel than the church is.  Furthermore, patriotism is notoriously egocentric; you love and are loyal to whichever country it is from which you come.

For Israel, patriotic music was worship music; for any other country, though God may be acknowledged, patriotic music is not worship music in the sense that it is observed in the Old Testament.  (Compare this with the beginning illustration from 2nd Samuel 6 of David’s dancing.)

5.  Music of Praise – Psalm 40:1-3, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:8-9.

The Scripture abounds with descriptions of the praise music of Israel.  Interestingly, as noted in the previous post, there is little that is stated explicitly about the music of the N.T. church.

There are many principles that can be applied to worship music from both the Old and New Testaments.  However, unless the Scripture lays out a mandate, great care must be given to allow individual soul liberty and autonomy for each local church when it comes to the application of principles for music.

In other words: the dogmatic mandates of music that apply to the entire Body of Christ are found in 1st Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3.  But, the application of principles – as much as some apologists dislike allowing it – should be left to individuals and/or local assemblies of believers.

I’ll spend quite a bit of time developing this particular category in the next post as it is the one that is primarily the subject of debate among Christians.

Conclusion:  In this post, I’m simply pointing out that the Scripture reveals different kinds of music, specifically: sensual and carnal music, relaxing personal music, sad music, love music, patriotic music, and worship music.  It is impossible to create a few principles that apply to every category of music.

Because I believe in individual soul liberty and the autonomy of the local church, it is not my intent to develop principles or restrictions regarding every category of music.  However, in the next post, I will develop the three passages of Scripture that I believe are mandates for every Biblical church.