Hard heads and hard hearts…

One can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. ~ Someone who never actually tried to catch flies

Our culture places a high value on hardness of heart. We can tell this by our love for soft words. Of course this is not how we describe it to ourselves. In speaking to ourselves, we generally have a most appreciative audience, we have great affection for smooth words, words which go down easily and don’t come back up to trouble us. Jeremiah talked about this. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).

We like to believe that this love of soft words, words which will trouble neither the mind nor heart, nor anything in between, is a deep love of tenderness. Such a conviction flatters us, but our love is actually the opposite of tenderness.

If our hearts were a slab of concrete, and we wanted to keep them that way, our desire to have them caressed with a feather duster would exhibit no love of tenderness, but rather the contrary. The one who really wanted a tender heart would be calling for the jackhammer. Hard words, hard teaching, are like the jackhammer of God. It takes a great deal to break up our hard hearts, and the God of all mercy is willing to do it. But He always does it according to His Word, and His Word is not as easy on us as we would like. “Is not my word like a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).

When Christians call for smooth words, easy words, the result is hard people. When we submit to hard words, we become the tenderhearted of God. But let soft words have their way in a congregation, let soft words dominate the pulpit, and hardness of heart begins to manifest itself in countless ways—the common denominator is always that of granite hearts. Marriages dissolve, heresies proliferate, parents abandon children, quarrels erupt on the elder board and in the choir, bitterness, rancor, envy, and malice abound—and all because people will not abide that loathsome jackhammer, “Thou shalt not.”

We have come to the point—both in the church and nation—where anyone who speaks a hard word is automatically assumed to be displaying his own hard heart. He is harsh and divisive. He is unloving. Like Ahab, we do not like the prophet who tends to disrupt the general bonhomie of the courtiers and kept prophets. “And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?” (1 Kgs. 22:18).

We have lost the antithesis and therefore have forgotten that no virtue can be found in an intransitive verb. We think that it is good simply for a man to love, for example, forgetting that it depends entirely upon what he loves. After all, John told us not to love the world, or the things in it. We believe it is a sin to hate, forgetting that this depends upon what we hate. Is the hatred according to the Word of God or not? We think that it is a virtue to tolerate, forgetting that the Lord Jesus rebuked a church for tolerating that woman Jezebel. Everything hinges on what we are tolerating, and our global love for smooth words indicates that what we are most tolerating is our own hardness of heart.

Of course, because life is never simple, we must acknowledge that there is a type of harsh language which dishonors God and embitters our neighbor. And we also know that there is a type of soft answer which turns away wrath. We know that many cantankerous Christians have defended their sin in the guise of Valiant-for-Truth. Far from trying to smooth these words into an easy fit for us, we must take them as they come, and simply submit to them. There are certain kinds of harsh words which belong to the devil, and our speech should always be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Nevertheless, the one who speaks as Jesus and the apostles did, the one who seeks to imitate the discourse of Sacred Scripture, will soon find himself verbally opposed to sin. Sometime the sin is visible and concrete, an other times it is harder to identify as when a man sins theologically by refusing to accept what God has taught us in Scripture. And when that has happened, the one who reproves such sin will immediately be condemned as troublemaker in the gates of Zion, a pestilent fellow. We want to keep our hearts the way they are. And salt always stings.

But we need men who wake up in the morning knowing that they believe and what they believe. We need men committed to truth in principle, men willing to be unpopular in certain compromised quarters. We need men committed to the authority of truth over us, men who know that debate and discussion are not optional, but rather, are moral imperatives. In an age as compromised as ours, this can only serve to increase unpopularity. But the authority of truth means that hard study was not just a matter of scholarship chasing its tail. Questions are to be raised for the sake of actually finding answers. A wise pastor knows that splitting the difference between the right answer and the wrong answer will only result in another wrong answer. This mentality is not the province of a certain personality type. It is the inheritance of all the saints who would earnestly contend for the faith once and for all delivered. May God raise up many more such saints within the Church who are hungry for truth, along with men who are willing to say hard things.

And the people of God said…

It is important to remember that when we worship God on the Lord’s Day, we worship Him together. One way that we express that togetherness is through the corporate amen. That word is probably the most universally recognized word throughout the world. Each of us probably uses it everyday, and perhaps we understand it. But when we consider what it means, and consider how we usually say it, or respond to it, we may need to reevaluate our understanding. Jerome commented that in the early church, when visitors used to come, they were commonly frightened at the amen—it had the sound of thunder, said by people who understood it.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: And let all the people say, Amen. Praise the Lord. (Ps 106:48)

We begin with the name of God. In both Old and New Testaments, God identifies Himself with this word. In saying it, we must always remember this connection to His holy name and character. Speaking of the time of the New Covenant, Isaiah prophesies, “So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth (literally, “God of Amen”); and he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of [amen]” (Is. 65:16).

John the apostle records, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God” (Rev. 3:14). And Paul teaches, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Remembering this, we see three main uses of amen in Scripture. First, it is a covenant oath. This is a word which is taken in the context of covenant obligations—recognizing both the blessings and the curses. We can see this in the law concerning a woman with a jealous husband (Num. 5:22). We have a whole chapter of it in Deuteronomy 27. When Nehemiah confronted the Jewish leaders about their oppression of their fellows, the covenant confrontation concluded with an amen (Neh. 5:13).

The word amen therefore has the force of an oath, sealing an oath, indicating the agreement of the speaker with the conditions of the covenant. It is far stronger than a simple, “Yes, I agree with that.”

In addition, it can be used as a benediction, which is a blessing of the people of God. There are many examples in Scripture, and amen is usually a part of it. “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen (Gal. 6:18). “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Phil. 4:23). “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen (2 Tim. 4:22). The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Rev. 22:21). When the people of God receive a blessing, it is right and proper to seal that blessing with an amen.

Amen also has a doxological use. Justified men have also been given the privilege of blessing God. And when men praise, honor, bless, and glorify God (doxology), the Scriptures show us how to conclude with amen—“the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25. “Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen” (Rom. 9:5); “To whom be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21). “To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Tim. 4:18); “To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:21). “To whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (I Pet. 5:11; Jude 25; Rev. 1:6). Whenever we say amen in this context we are tasting eternity.

So what? What is the application? In many of the places where Scripture records the use of this wonderful word, it is said by all God’s people. This is not something restricted to the super-spiritual, religious professionals up yonder in the “amen corner.” The whole congregation is involved in the worship of God, and the amen is one place where this involvement should be very visible. Consider these verses, “And all the people shall answer and say, Amen” (Deut. 27.15). “And all the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord” (1 Chr. 16:36). And all the assembly said, Amen and praised the Lord” (Neh. 5:13). “Then all the people answered, Amen, Amen” (Neh. 8:6). “And let all the people say, Amen” (Ps. 106:48).

This may be a good place to note the problems with individualistic amen-ing, with particular congregants noting when and where and how the last point of the sermon struck them. We assemble as a congregation, and we should learn to worship together as the people of God. Individuals who respond to “can I get a witness” are not working toward corporate solidarity.

On this subject, we have the privilege of applying and obeying together. And so when should we say amen during our services? Whenever the Scriptures are read—God’s covenant word to us—we should respond together with amen. And when we receive God’s blessing on us in the benediction, our grateful response should be amen—and amen together. And whenever we sing glory to Him in a psalm or hymn, we should conclude with a hearty amen. And we must always remember the exclamation mark: Amen!

The Beam in the Eye of the Beholder

It may not seem important right now but Abigail was a beautiful and intelligent woman. Keep that somewhere between whatever is on the back of your mind and whatever is on the front burner right now. Please and thank you.

Christians are good at fighting relativism when it comes to matters of truth. Those who reject a fixed standard of truth are soon engaged in debate by capable Christian apologists. Believers also do well when the subject at hand is ethics. Those who want moral standards to be set, or set aside, according to the dictates of the current situation are also quickly challenged by Christians. But in the realm of aesthetics we all tend to behave like atheists. Christians are almost as relativistic as the world outside the Church. Whenever an aesthetic judgment call is made, inside the Church or out, the chorus of protests from Christians starts in: “But who is to say?” In this, we sound just like the people we debate in matters of truth and ethics. The reason we sound like them is that because, on this issue, we are like them. We are seeking to function as though atheism could be true in a limited way, at least on the question of beauty and loveliness.
As a result, we choose churches on the same principle used in choosing a department store or a gas station. In this choice, the criteria are convenience and suitability to our tastes. We function as consumers, and the church is thought of as a service in which religious products are produced, in order to be consumed by us. And, because tastes vary, we drive down “church row” expecting all kinds of worship services—liturgical, traditional, contemporary, odd, bizarre, and so forth.

Beneath this is the assumption that every consumer has a constitutional right to his particular tastes. Some people like contemporary music, and some don’t. Some people like complicated music played on a church organ, and some don’t. Some like landscapes painted on saw blades, and some don’t. All such debates are resolved, at the end of the day, by our free market solution to this dilemma, which is to get in the car and drive around looking for the product which suits you.

Coming from the church, we ask whether we liked the music, and not whether it was any good. We ask whether the service met our felt needs, and not whether God was honored in what was sung. We do this because we are relativists, and we might as well say so.

So then, back to Abigail. The fact that the Bible tells us that she was attractive means that such a thing as attractiveness in women exists. The idea that everyone is equally good-looking is consequently unscriptural. Extending the point, the fact that a psalm can be played skillfully means that it might not be. it might be played poorly (Ps. 33:3). The musicians selected for the worship of the Temple were talented. Apparently this mattered, but my point here is a more fundamental one. Apparently, musical talent exists—in just the same way that truth and goodness exist. The Bible says that musical ability exists and is to be preferred in the worship of God.

This is not to say that aesthetic judgments are easy, or that we could flippantly make them without hard thinking and good training. The subject of aesthetics in the light if the Bible’s teaching has been long neglected among us, and we cannot expect to recover what we have lost in short order. We cannot throw away a legacy for several centuries and then expect to get it all back in fifteen minutes. But the fact that the task is difficult does not make it somehow optional.

Given this difficulty, it is not surprising that we are all confused. In our debates about worship music, we frequently miss the central point. For example, the issue of first importance is not which side is right in the debate over contemporary forms or traditional forms. The things that really matters is that a true debate be acknowledged to exist. For example, I sometimes jokingly describe the worship at our church to be “seeker hostile.” We do not exactly have what could be described as a contemporary service. This is not because we do not know how. It is a deliberate choice. But if someone were to challenge what we are doing because he believed we were not honoring God, I would hail him as an adversary well-met.

This is because the Bible says that an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. If privileged to debate a brother who said that what we were doing was aesthetically inferior, I would be delighted, because we would share a belief that some standards exist. A man in error will pick up the wrong side of the debate. But a relativist says that all such debates are silly and unproductive. There is no debate, because there is no answer. And this is what we tend to hear from most Christians. What we hear is a poor substitute for for honest debate, and is, in the final analysis, the counsel of despair. “Who is to say what good music is?” If the question cannot be answered, what shall we sing in heaven?

Our motive for all that we do is to be the glory of God—even if it is something as mundane as eating or drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). How much more, then, should we be seeking the glory of God when we are in the act of, well, glorifying Him? Now, of course, Christians would agree that we should sing to glorify God—but the snares come when we assume that whatever we like is suitable as an offering to God. This was the error of Cain, of Nadab and Abihu, and of those guilty of “self imposed religion” in Colossians 2:23. When we ask what glorifies God, we must seek the answer through careful study of Scripture. Our motive must be to glorify God in our singing, according to the pattern found in His word. An essential part of this is the necessity of beautiful music.
Of course, church music must not be evaluated aesthetically alone. Men and women express themselves to God through music. This is why it is important for those who sing, whether individually or congregationally, to have hearts prepared to offer the sacrifice of praise. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15). If we do not prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, God is not pleased with our musical offerings. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:21-24). God takes a dim view of musical hypocrites.

Having said this, we must also add that the aesthetic poverty of much church music really proceeds from our irreverence. Through the prophet Malachi, God protested the blemished offerings given to him. “Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee?” (Mal. 1:18). Invited to sing at the White House of Buckingham Palace, how many of us would sing the way that we do in our church? The flippancy with which some churches address God is truly frightening. “The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved. The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people. Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy” (Ps. 99:1-3). We should note the translation here—His name is terrible. And this requirement to be God-fearing was not some bygone, Old Covenant thing. Paul taught the Philippians to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). But because we do not fear God, we do not worry at all about what kind of music we offer Him. This is folly of the highest order. God has killed men for less.

Our music must be well done, and the Bible says that such beautiful music exists. What is beautiful and what isn’t is not simply a matter of personal taste. In Colossians 3:16, we are required to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and the result of this rich indwelling is to be music. The music that comes forth should reflect the richness of our faith, not the poverty of our faith. If the faith is rich, then the music will be rich as well. Scripture teaches a correspondence between tree and fruit, fountain and water.

Not only must the worship of the congregation be good, it should be good and loud—Scripture does not require the people of God to come before Him in order to mumble. “Sing…with a loud noise” (Ps. 33:3; 150). In another place it says, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise” (Ps 98:4). Of course instruments are a hall here. “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing praise unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King” (Ps 98:4-6).

Because the lyrics must have Christ at the center, the lyric must also be worthy of Him. “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). An important aesthetic attribute is symmetry; and, in order to be symmetrical, our lyrics must effectively focus on Christ (Rev. 5:9,12), the One in whom all things hold together. They must do so not only in content, but also in form. In order to glorify God as He deserves, the lyrics must be well-written. If they are not, then they will only confuse, distract, mislead, or stumble the saints as they sing to Him. How words go together is not irrelevant to the effectiveness of the communication, and certainly not irrelevant in their effectiveness in giving God honor and glory.

Biblical symmetry results in aesthetic balance. The lyrics should express the doctrine of God’s people in a clear, balanced way. This is simply another way of saying that the lyrics should be creedal and systematic (Phil. 3:16). Further, the lyrics should express God’s truth with the same aroma as found in Scripture (Ps 95:1-2). Our joy and thanksgiving may not be pro forma, but rather an expression of gladness and simplicity of heart. In short, beauty in our music and lyrics is necessary for one overriding reason—He is worthy.
Beauty with a Bayonet…
To many Americans though, this just sounds like a total drag. We are a breezy lot; we like things casual. Whether we are flipping burgers in the backyard or approaching the throne of the Almighty God, we want to wear shorts and flip-flops. The problem is nearly universal; the only thing that varies from church to church is the extent of the damage.

The one thing needful, as C.S. Lewis once argued, is represented by a Middle English word solempne, which expresses something which is desperately needed in our worship. On either side of this solempne, we have this error or that one. Either we are right out there on the cutting edge with worship teams, a thumpin’ band and all the rest of it, or we are content with our lazy afternoon orthodusty. If the preacher were ever to whack the congregation with one of those things you use for cleaning rugs, the cloud of dust would look like it had been raised by Jehu’s chariot.

Like our word solemn, solempne represents the opposite of casual, but unlike solemn, it carries no connotations of austerity, moroseness, or gloom. We moderns have come to associate spontaneity with innocence and virtue, fresh and unsullied. Our adoption of unbiblical criteria means that we frequently overlook those things which the Bible associates with a healthy church, dismissing them as dead simply because they have more formality in the liturgy than we like.

Solempne is out of reach because we simply assume that formality is deadness. But many different scriptural arguments against the spontaneity assumption could easily be brought up—Christ’s worship in the synagogue, the elements of worship required by Scripture, etc. But for our purposes here, one argument should suffice. God prohibits spontaneity in worship.

In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul requires, among other things, that everything be done according to taxis, according to order. He is not just discouraging pew-jumping and chandelier-swinging, he is requiring something else, of a different kind, in its place. The word means “arrangement; order; a fixed succession observing also a fixed time; orderly array (in a military sense).” God requires that everything in the Church should be done according to a set arrangement. Far from “quenching the Spirit,” these are the instructions of the Spirit. He tells us that our worship service should be planned and, dare I say it, predictable. This means that a preset order of worship printed in the bulletin is the result of the Spirit’s leading. It is not spiritually stifling but rather, spiritually stimulating.

Paul uses the same word in Colossians 2:5 when he rejoices at what he hears about that church. “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joyful and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5). How many of us would write to a smilier church today, rejoicing to behold their regimentation? A vast difference exists between quenching the Spirit, which the Bible prohibits, and being quenched by the Spirit, which is a result of hearing and obeying His word.

Of course a worship service may very well be formal and lifeless. This is disobedience. “Wherefore the Lord saith, ‘Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13). In the opposite corner, a worship service may be informal and lively. We have no Scripture for this one, other than the implication that the absence of taxis did not unchurch the group of saints at Corinth. They in turn, were sternly rebuked for it.

A worship service may be informal and spiritually chaotic, meaning that lifelessness is just around the corner. “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). If the disorder evident in their worship went unaddressed, the end result of their activity would be final, lasting spiritual inactivity. The activity in a church can simply be a form of pandemonium.

Obedience requires that a worship service be both formal and lively. To say it again, “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joyful and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5).

We should therefore see that there are two types of order. When a formal church is unhealthy, it is because their arrangement is the order of china figurines on a shelf. When a formal church is obedient and healthy it is because their arrangement is that of well-disciplined troops preparing themselves for battle. An opposing general would not look at their calvary, wheeling as though one man, and dismiss them as a bunch of heartless statues.

The worship of the Church accomplishes work in the world. Battles are won or lost as a result of how our churches worship God. Too often we act as though our differences over liturgy were simply difference over decoration, instead of differences over effective strategy in the midst of a fearful war. There should be no disagreement over whether the warfare of an army should be coordinated or not.

And as the Scriptures declare, when the choir in militant joy goes out as the advance guard of the army, then God’s name is glorified, and His enemies are scattered. The worship is formal but formidable; it is alive but it is also deadly.

A Short Treatise on Round Pegs and Square Holes…

There is a time and place for everything. This little profundity is missed by the masses. Apparently it takes the wisdom of Solomon to teach us this simple truth. The Preacher says to us in Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…” In poetic fashion, He reminds us that God never intended for us to dance the Tango at funerals.

Don’t misunderstand, the Almighty isn’t opposed to fleet feet with a Latin beat. Solomon actually says (contrary to most fightin’ fundamentalists), “…there is a time to dance…” Wisdom is learning when to shuffle and when to sit still.

This is the place where the modern evangelical Church really seems to have some difficulty. She has a hard time making distinctions where they matter. The struggle is really over the meaning of the word propriety, and this inability to make distinctions is right at the heart of our problems in the “worship wars.” What kind of music should we use in our worship of the Most High God?

Rejection of a particular kind of music for worship is not the same as a rejection of that kind of music. I have very eclectic taste in music. As I sit typing just now Pandora is playing in the background. In the last ten minutes I have heard everything from Bach to Bachman-Turner Overdrive…and I like it. I like jazz, I like rock and roll, some of it, I like classical, I like the blues, I like classic country, and I love the Psalms. Now given this hash of musical interests and appreciations, you would think that I would be arguing that we should employ all of it in the worship of God. The assumption is that anything we like ought to be hauled into the worship service. Not a bit of it, and the key word is propriety. I like Guinness too, but it would be sacrilegious to have a pint in the pulpit. It would not, however, be sacrilegious to have a glass of water there.

The problem with many modern evangelicals who automatically insert the kind of music “they like” into their worship of God is the fact that they haven’t studied the direction and use of their own music. The problem is not that they like their music too much, the problem is that they think so little of the music they like that they refuse to study what it is for.
Music is teleological; it is designed to perform certain functions, to arrive at a certain end. It is not true that any piece of music can be performed for any function, and have the results be at all reasonable or normal. When Saul was in a blue funk, David’s music would soothe him (I Sam. 16:14-17). When the musicians of the Temple came to prophesy they did it with musical instruments (I Chr. 25:1). When certain children wanted a jig, they played a pipe (Mt. 11:17). When the prodigal son returned home, the residents of that household broke out the instruments that were conducive for a bit of lively dancing (Lk. 15:25), dancing and music, incidentally, that could be heard down the driveway. Music must suit the occasion, and because the tone and mood of occasions vary considerably, the kind of music we play must vary considerably. As we study the subject of music we see that God has given us an impressive range of musical options to accompany us through our lives. The problem with contemporary worship music is not the kind of music it is, but rather the kind of occasion everyone seems to think the service is.

“Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may worship the Lord acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). Let those words, reverence and godly fear, roll around in the mind and heart while you sing through some inane song, with all the hand motions. The difficulty is not the music, but rather the incongruity of the music and what the Bible says the occasion of formal worship should be like. The music itself, that song itself, might be perfectly fine at a birthday party for someone’s kindergarten class. But in the worship of the God of Abraham, it is a wretched insult.

Ragtime is not suitable for a wedding march. Complicated operatic music is not suitable for congregational singing. Conversely, swing is suitable for a particular kind of dancing. It might therefore be suitable for a wedding reception, but not during the wedding itself. The Preacher tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance (Eccl. 3:4). We have music for dancing, we have music for funerals, we have music for military parades, we have music for lovers, we have music for a peaceful evening at home, we have music to pump up a crowd at a football game, and we have music to write articles like this by.

Music can be evaluated in two ways. One is pure aesthetic evaluation, with teleology forgotten. Considered in this sense, Brandenburg Concertos are vastly superior to anything in the world of rock and roll—Chuck Berry made this point, perhaps inadvertently, when he said, “Three chords and eighteen great albums.” This “abstract” evaluation is important but should not lure us into forgetting the teleology of music entirely. Despite the abstract superiority, a performance of the Brandenburg Concertos would not be appropriate in a worship service, anymore than some song by Big Fats O’Toole and his Ragtime Seven would be. Superior music is inferior in some settings. Inferior music is inferior in some settings. Music that is poorly done within the constraints of each genre is bad music and shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. Thus, we have good and bad superior music and good and bad inferior music. And surrounding all such distinctions we have the category “appropriate music.”

When the role of teleological function is remembered, we see that inferior music can be superior. For an “inferior” social event, that is to say, an informal social gathering, inferior music is better. Blue jeans are better than Armani suits if you are chopping wood. Put another way, when chopping wood good clothes are no good. Failure to recognize this can result in serious social weirdness.

The music of Bach and Mozart are the equivalent of a great cathedral. And we all recognize the vast architectural superiority of such a cathedral over the typical suburban house. But it would be a drag to have to make your breakfast or watch Monday Night Football in a cathedral. The fact that it is a superior building does not mean it is superior for every function.

In the same way, congregational worship has a particular function; our corporate goal should be to hallow God’s name. This is what we are doing. This is where we are wanting to go during worship. We want our music to take us there. If this is true, then we should ask what music is fitting.

“Gimme the beat, boys…”

Worship in the modern evangelical Church is, by and large, pathetic. The Church has left her biblical standard for worship, which is to glorify God, and has embraced a man-centered goal, which is the enjoyment and pleasure of the viewer. A successful service is now thought to be one in which the participants (or spectators) are pleased. In a biblical service, the desire of the worshippers’ hearts is fulfilled when God is pleased. But once the goal shifts from the pleasure of God to the pleasure of man, the Church has taken the first step towards liturgical idiocy. When that happens, all conservative challenges to this deterioration will be resisted by the ever sliding status quo until God is pleased to grant a reformation to the Church.

Whenever a culture’s goal becomes entertainment, a law of degeneration immediately sets in. In the field of economics, Gresham’s Law states that bad money drives out good. In the same way, bad entertainment displaces that which is not quite as bad. In a sinful world, poor comedians will go for the easy laughs with dirty jokes, lousy screenwriters go for the high ratings by using half-dressed sex cookies, and mindless rock bands yell into the mike, using a lot of dry ice and lasers in the background.

In the Church the principle is no different. When God is the audience, standards will be high. “And if ye offer the blind for a sacrifice, is it not evil? If ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 1:8). Biblical Christianity is a series, intelligent, and demanding faith because the God we serve is the Most High.

The evangelical Church at large has opted for the superficial in worship. Devotees whoop and holler their way through trite upbeat songs; sometimes the songs are even blasphemous. At a conference, I once saw grown Christians jumping up and down, lustily singing away, with hand motions, splish-splashing in the blood of Christ. When the moment turned serious, they cooed their way through worship songs that sounded like they were written for somebody’s girlfriend. One minister lamented once that songwriters could substitute Sheila for Jesus into many of these songs and it would not make much of a difference. At other times good biblical words like Alleluia are sung over and over and over, as though it were a mantra for the born-again lobotomized.

The church building itself often resembles the set of a television variety show. Some members, disgusted with these ecclesiastical monkey shines, have tried to leave, but they have not really succeeded. Tiring of the circus, they decide to go to the opera. Wanting more serious entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless, they worship with mummeries that resemble an initiation down at the local Masonic Lodge. They have simply changed the channel from MTV over to a liturgical PBS.

But the focus of our worship is to be the glory of God. When evaluating a song, or any part of our worship, we should not ask whether we like it, but whether God’s name will be lifted up through it. In contrast to this God-honoring evaluation, we often see people visiting various churches the same way a bored television viewer channel surfs, looking for something “he likes.”

Because God must be our focus, the standard should be high, not to impress people with a virtuoso performance, but rather to honor His name. This means our lives should be in order, the lyrics scriptural in content, balance, and tone, and the music worthy of Him. The last point is very important because relativism has invaded the church more successfully in the area of aesthetics than anywhere else. Whenever high musical standards are set, all of a sudden Christians start talking like nihilists. “And who’s to say what constitutes good music? You?

The answer is found in Scripture. God is the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. When it comes to music He has said that there is such a thing as skill. “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Ps. 33:3). This is how those who love Him must strive to honor and serve Him.

The New Testament calls us to have the Word of Christ dwell in us richly as we worship. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). The majesty of our God and the richness of our faith will not manifest themselves in poverty-stricken lyrics and three-chord wonder songs.

The richness of our worship is a good litmus test for the richness of our faith. Tragically, by this standard, the modern evangelical Church has sold her birthright. Our name is now Ichabod—the glory has departed. Until the glory returns, the believer can begin consistently to pray for reformation and revival. Or he can shrug it all off, return to Howdy Doody time at church, and juke for Jesus.