IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 4, Number 2, January 21 to January 27, 2002

Music Matters
Show 12

by Robert Barnes

Originally aired Monday at 5:50 P.M. on WTLN 950 AM in Orlando, Florida, Music Matters is a weekly radio show that explores the nature of and antidote for the worship wars that exist in the church.

This is Music Matters, and I'm Robert Barnes. As well as being the host of this show, I'm director of worship at Covenant Presbyterian Church, a solid church in Winter Park, Florida. You can find us on the web at cpconline.net.

Opinions, it is said, are like bellybuttons—everybody has one. And musical opinions can be some of the most entrenched and unquestioned. But can we question our preferences by using the Bible and common sense? Can we determine, using the wisdom of God, which of our presuppositions about music are honoring to God? I think we can, and so today, we are going to identify two more kinds of sinful attitudes towards the arts, specifically music, in the church today.

Last week, there was the Music Lover, the Philistine, and now we come to the Intolerant.

The Intolerant is keenly aware of his or her aesthetic standards—he knows what he thinks is good, beautiful and true. But he elevates his own standards to the level of an absolute. Whatever he thinks is good music is the only thing that is acceptable. All other music styles, whether folk, classical, or popular, are discarded as worthless or, with religious folks, all others are from the devil.

Bill Gothard is an example of Mr. Intolerant. In his seminars, the section he does on music exalts a certain kind of music, with a certain kind of harmony and melody and rhythm, but then he accuses other forms as being rooted in African demon worship.

This kind of blindness to other traditions and musical ideas severs music from the human race. It makes good music come from God, and all other "bad" music come from the devil. This view of music is naïve and dishonors the beautiful folk traditions from around the world.

My Bible is clear: God does not have a certain harmonic, melodic or rhythmic style that He prefers. If He did, he would have charted it out in our Bibles. The Bible presents a great variety of songs in it, from the war songs of Judges to the quiet mediations of David to the heavenly praise of the elect in heaven. And at no time does God tell us that any form of music is sinful—it's just not in the Bible. If God has been silent on this, then so should we. The church must learn not to shout where God has whispered.

Finally, there is the musical sinner known as the Indiscrimnate. This person never met a song they didn't like. They have a radical relativism concerning music, and have no ability to discern between what has lasting value and what is just superficially appealing. This is the most common artistic error in the church today, and it needs to be confronted head-on with the Word of God and common sense.

Overlooking the off-pitch performance of your 3 year old as they sing "Jesus Loves Me" is one thing — but encouraging and promoting bad music and bad lyrics and bad performers is not the mission of the church. The church is called to be building the kingdom of God, and part of kingdom-building is making a new song, making new art, making people look twice at the edifice of the church. Yet because of artistic relativism, the church fails to give any artistic guidelines to their people, fails to encourage excellence in worship, in drama, in dance, in the visual arts. And so we raise generation after generation of bad artists, and those who do manage to create something of lasting value are lumped into the same group as those who are creating Jesus pencils. So dishonored are true artists, they generally flee the church, looking to the world for affirmation of their gifts. There is a reason why S-K-I-T is a four-letter word to any serious drama student.

But the Bible says we are to give honor to whom honor is due. Plain and simple, we are called to encourage those who have true giftedness. But with our relativistic values in place, the truly gifted are dishonored while we make too much of a fuss over second-rate artists.

Again I remind you, what can you do if you have people who take their unsanctified musical tastes and try to force their own sinful preferences on you and your church? First, you pray for them. Second, you repent of your own sin. Third, you speak with them as Matthew 18 teaches, first going by yourself, and then taking a brother with you. Remember that we are talking about sin, not tidily-winks, and if we are going to fix what is wrong with the church, we need to fix sin in the church the way the Bible says to.

Next week, we'll look at how to use classical, folk, and popular music in the church for God's glory. Why? Because all kinds of Music Matters. I'll see you next week.