The Christian Music Debate (Part 4c)

Wouldn’t it be nice if one of the N.T. epistles had a concise paradigm by which all the corporate activities of the church could be evaluated?

It does.

While the issues in the Corinthian church were such that most of us who pastor would hope we never have to deal with them, the instruction given to that church is most helpful in our local churches in this 21st Century.

The first six chapters of 1st Corinthians contain Paul’s admonitions to the church regarding divisive quarrels in their midst, as reported by those of the household of Chloe.

In the second half of the book, the Apostle Paul answers six questions that were posed to him by the Corinthian church. Though the questions are not stated, they are implied by the Greek wording introducing the answer to each question.

In 7:1, Paul mentioned the things that had been written to him by the Corinthians, he used the words “now concerning” to introduce his answers to the things written to him. Though the English words vary slightly, that pattern is also seen in 7:25, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1, and 16:12.

For an outline of the book beginning in chapter 7 and based upon these phrases, Paul answered a question about marriage (7:1-24), a question about virgins (7:25-40), a question about things offered to idols (8:1-11:34), a question about spiritual gifts (12:1-15:58), a question about the collection for the saints (16:1-11), and finally a question about Apollos’ ministry (16:12). Incidentally, the request by the Corinthians for Apollos to come and minister to them seems to indicate that they were without pastoral leadership at the time. Furthermore, Paul instructed them to be submissive to the apparent deacons of the church (16:15-16). These two nuggets help explain why in 14:26, Paul spoke of the coming together of the church in which “every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. . .”

The issue of music is found in the fourth answer that Paul gave, which is the one regarding spiritual gifts. It is not my intent to give a complete exposition of 1st Corinthians 12-15, books could be written on these chapters by individuals far more capable than I am. Nor is it my intent to say that music in the church is an exercise of a spiritual gift, though psalms are mentioned in parallelism with doctrines, tongues, revelations, and interpretations in 14:26.

However, chapter 14 is the model which governs all activity in the local assembly.

Chapter 12 introduces this entire segment by explaining the body analogy. A couple of thoughts should be understood from chapter 12. First, there is one Spirit which distributes gifts and works according to His will. Secondly, the church is compared to a body in which there are different members functioning in unity.

Chapter 13, often used at weddings to describe the reality of love, is actually written here to define the governing demeanor of the exercise of gifts in the church.

Chapter 14 has one driving purpose – edification! We typically think of this as the chapter on tongues, and it is. However, the reason that Paul spent so much time on this is that the exercise of the gift of tongues in the church of Corinth was missing the point of edification. The gift of tongues happened to be the issue that was causing division at the time. People were enjoying themselves individually, but the body was not being built up as a result of the speaking in tongues. Though the primary writing is the proper exercise of tongues, the broad picture is the edificational exercise of gifts in general, as verse 26 indicates. The principles established by Paul for the corporate usage of gifts in the church are appropriately applied to music in the church. (Paul used music as an illustration in verses 7-8 and 15. He also used the idea of a psalm as one of the vehicles of edification in verse 26).

Chapter 15 is a fitting conclusion. As Paul emphasized that all things were to be done decently and in order (14:40), he moved onto the point that they must keep their focus on the gospel. The majority of this chapter is Paul arguing the reasons for a belief in the resurrection (the foundation of the gospel), which some had begun to question.

I think of chapters 12-15 as being a paradigm for all things that happen in the church. Each of these four chapters has its special emphasis that should be applied to the activities in the corporate assembly of the church, whether it be preaching, singing, praying, or anything else.

Chapter 12 – Spirit empowered.

Chapter 13 – Governed by love.

Chapter 14 – Exercised for corporate edification.

Chapter 15 – Gospel centered.

These four things are what N.T. believers have as the litmus test for music that should be used in the church.

Conclusion: I know that many people will think I should have taken a more distinct stance with more specifics. However, I cannot say more than God has said (Proverbs 30:6). Practically, I have a pretty strict application of these things in my own life and in the church which I’ve been given the responsibility to pastor. I have developed principles from various passages of Scripture, both from the Old and New Testament, which in context, are not referring specifically to music, but I have applied them to my own life and ministry. However, as I’ve attempted to show through these articles, there are only a few limited passages of Scripture that directly relate to music in the N.T. church. Those are the absolutes which we all must accept. The application of principles is left to individual soul liberty and autonomous churches.

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