Biblical Principles for Music and Worship, Part 3

March 11, 2017 by Paul Chappell

piano-keyboard

In part 1 of this post, we set the context for wanting our music to be honoring to God and offered three principles related to music. In part 2 we looked at seven more principles, for a total so far of 10:

  1. I believe preaching is central in worship and evangelism.
  2. I believe music is to reflect the holiness of God.
  3. I believe there is a true danger in over contextualizing church ministry.
  4. I believe sacred music is for the purpose of worship, thanksgiving, rejoicing, consecration, edification, evangelism, and preservation of our faith.
  5. I believe in the priority of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as taught in the Word of God.
  6. I believe a hymn is a celebration of God based on Scripture.
  7. I believe Christian music should reflect the orderliness of God in its melodies and rhythms.
  8. I believe the CCM movement as a whole denies the scriptural teaching to come out and be separate.
  9. I believe music can be used in a moral fashion to glorify God or in a worldly fashion to glorify man.
  10. I believe new songs are commended and helpful in worship.

If you have not yet read the previous posts (1 and 2), I’d encourage you to do so before reading this one.

Otherwise, here are five final principles as well as a few concluding remarks:

11. I believe using a song written by someone who is doctrinally different does not equal an endorsement of their position or doctrine. The real issue to me is not association but identification.

If the Holy Spirit impresses upon me that a song because of its style or recent identity too closely identifies our church or ministry with the world, we won’t use it. If we find this out after a song has been sung, we stop singing that song. (We have done this on multiple occasions.)

I have found that many of my pastor friends use a “slide rule” approach to this issue. Some wait three or five or seven years for a song’s association with a particular artist to diminish. One dear pastor friend said, “If the song screams out an identity with a worldly CCM group, we don’t use it.” I cannot tell another pastor exactly where the line is. I can only say I appreciate pastors who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit in this matter.

With regard to newer songs written by those of other doctrinal positions, we use them in our ministry with less frequency and only when they meet doctrinal and musical tests of scrutiny. Because of our desire to not endorse the CCM movement, we have adapted our own guidelines to ensure that we are considering the test of time, the test of doctrine, and the test of dominant melody.

However, most of our music is not from newer sources as we use songs that have been tried and tested through the years and have proven to be a blessing to God’s people over time. Newer songs are used only when they meet the above mentioned evaluation.

Often a tried and true scriptural song will be sung by someone whose lifestyle is unscriptural. Many secular artists sing songs like “O Holy Night” and “Amazing Grace.” We do not refuse songs in these cases just because someone with an ungodly life or music style sang it.

I do not want to identify with non-soulwinning, carnally-living, doctrinally-incorrect singers. But not every song that could be associated with such a person necessarily identifies with that person. For instance, the song titled “My Tribute” which says, “How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? Things so undeserved yet You give to prove Your love for me…” was written by Andraé Crouch, a Church of God pastor. Yet very few identify that song with the Church of God or its doctrine.

Another example is “Because He Lives” by Bill Gaither. It’s a wonderful song, full of resurrection-anchored hope. I know many pastors who don’t recommend the Gaithers; yet, virtually every conservative pastor I know uses “Because He Lives” (as well as “The Longer I Serve Him” and “Sinner Saved by Grace” which are also Gaither songs) in their church services. In truth, these songs are associated with someone whose music and doctrine they do not recommend, but they are not identified as representative of that music or doctrine.

My good friend, Dr. R. B. Ouellette, once reminded me of another example in the song “The Saviour Is Waiting,” written by Ralph Carmichael. Carmichael also wrote the song “Love Is Surrender,” which was popularized by the Carpenters (a well-known group from the late 60s to early 80s). We wouldn’t sing “Love Is Surrender,” but we haven’t stopped singing “The Saviour Is Waiting” because most people don’t identify it with Ralph Carmichael or the Carpenters. You get the idea.

Some suggest that we should completely avoid the music of non-fundamental publishers and authors. Even among godly, fundamental people, however, there are inconsistencies in which some publishers or song writers are acceptable and some are not.

For example, many of our cherished hymns are written by people whose associations are very different than mine. (As Dr. Bud Calvert pointed out in a helpful article on music in the local church, “Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by a Roman Catholic, “Blessed Assurance” was written by an active Methodist, and “Amazing Grace” was written by an Anglican pastor.) I grew up singing hymns written by Methodists, but I have remained a Baptist.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?—2 Corinthians 6:14

12. I believe a song by a particular author can be used, without that use meaning you are endorsing all the writings of that author.

Did you know that Horatio Spafford, author of the beloved “It Is Well with My Soul,” finished his life in a ministry that was in significant doctrinal error? He was Presbyterian when he wrote “It Is Well,” but in his later years, he formed his own Messianic group and moved his family to Jerusalem where he established a utopian community and as a Universalist denied significant Bible doctrines, including eternal punishment and the reality of Hell.[1] However, when we sing “It Is Well,” we are not endorsing Mr. Spafford’s Presbyterian or Universalist beliefs. We are simply singing truth that honors God and encourages our faith.

As I mentioned a moment ago, I grew up singing hymns written by Charles Wesley. I’ve been to his home and his grave in London, and I greatly appreciate his contribution to worship. However, not all of his hymns are doctrinally correct (such as “Father of Me and All Mankind”). But most churches I know are willing to sing the ones that are correct while avoiding the ones that aren’t.

We all do the same thing with quotes. I use quotes from Hudson Taylor about prayer and faith, but I don’t use his quotes about interdenominational missions. No one assumes that when I use one quote I endorse all of his thoughts or writings. Even Paul, as he preached on Mars’ Hill, quoted from a secular author who would certainly have had other writings Paul did not endorse:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.—Acts 17:28

The original quote was from the Greek poet Aratus, and its English translation is still published today.[2]

Paul quoted from a non-Christian author again in Titus. This was “Epimenides, a Cretan poet and philosopher from the sixth century B.C. who was widely believed to be a religious prophet.”[3]

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true…—Titus 1:12–13

            Although the Apostle Paul quoted from secular and even wrongly religious philosophers, none of us call into question his doctrinal orthodoxy! The truth is, arguments regarding association are somewhat subjective.

13. I believe that people should not be showy or “breathy” in delivery of music, but I will not stifle normal expression in someone’s singing as unto the Lord.

I believe there is a difference between someone singing in a “show business” way, imitating styles of secular artists in breathiness, sensual sliding, hoarseness, etc., and someone trying to communicate the joy they know in a relationship with Christ. I do not believe in stifling our musical presentation to prove a point not supported in Scripture. To critique every note of every song is to run the risk of despising one whose heart is after God.

And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.—2 Samuel 6:16

I remember as we were preparing to start West Coast Baptist College, Dr. Curtis Hutson advised me to not change the spirit of the church for the college. His caution to me was a reflection of this truth—to not stifle heart expressions of God’s grace at work in a church and in the lives of individual Christians.

We must not give way to pragmatism in our music by singing or selecting music to entertain or draw a crowd rather than to worship God. And we must not give way to Pharisaicalism in our hearts by creating extra-biblical standards to which we hold others.

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.—Romans 14:3

14. I believe pastors of independent churches have liberty to follow the Holy Spirit.

Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church under the headship of Christ. Every pastor has music preferences, and every church has a music “culture.” These often vary from church to church based on location and other factors. The senior pastor will one day give an account to the Lord for the ministry he was given to oversee. It’s his job as the undershepherd of the flock to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to establish and ensure a biblically-based philosophy of music.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
—Acts 20:28

15. I will give grace to those whose doctrine is clear and whose music is Christ centered and biblically worshipful, even where slight differences may be present.

You don’t have to discern music the exact way I do to be spiritual, and vice versa. We should beware not to strain at gnats, attempting to discern intricate musical expressions, while the direct orders Christ gave the church concerning evangelism remain incomplete.

As I shared these written thoughts on sacred music with Ron Hamilton (known to many as “Patch the Pirate”), he commented, “I wish that church musicians had less conversation about music and more about soulwinning and one-on-one ministry.” He’s right. The mission of the church is not music but reaching the world with the gospel (Matthew 28:19–20). As our mission, it should be our focus.

I have friends whose church music is in a more formal, almost liturgical, style and others who use songs that we may not be comfortable using in our services. These men are not endorsing Catholicism on the one hand or the CCM movement on the other. So long as their doctrine is correct, I pray God’s blessing on them.

My observation of church life has shown me that every church and pastor has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes arguments about music have been a smoke screen issue to hide a discrepancy, sin, or testimony issue in another area of someone’s life. Some of the most vocal regarding music issues tend to be the most unfruitful in other areas of the Christian life.

We should be careful to apply the truths of Romans 14 regarding giving grace to one another where there are slight differences between us. Often when such variations are present in someone else’s ministry, a person with a competing interest or institution makes dividing comments. Even more distasteful is to observe parachurch ministries becoming critical of the very churches they are called to serve.

In reality, we each give account to God. But we can—and should—give grace to one another.

But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.—Romans 14:10, 17–19

I realize my stand may not exactly be where someone else’s stand is. I fully believe in the autonomy of the local church and that each pastor will give an account to the Lord for the church he leads.

As I mentioned at the beginning, while I believe these to be biblical principles, there are some interpretation-based preferences. I also realize that some, for the sake of promoting themselves or their institutions, will accentuate the few small areas of difference rather than staying focused on the trail of souls. I realize that in every discussion about issues related to distinctiveness and separation in church ministry there will be those pathological antagonists who are never completely satisfied.

However, most godly men are encouraged when other godly men establish biblical principles for the purpose of ministry governance. For me, I intend to lift high the banner of the cross and, by His grace, keep a right spirit as I seek to promote God’s holiness with a “certain sound.”

In the area of music as well as so many other issues that seem to face church leaders these days, we must remember that God is not as interested in fault-finding as He is in glorifying His name and seeing men of God join together for that cause. The heart of God is reconciliation. I’m thankful to the Lord for men in this country who seek reconciliation, fellowship, and Holy Spirit revival. And while they will not compromise their principles, the motive of their heart is not to find fault; it is to glorify God.

The goal of every pastor must be Christ Himself. If growth is your goal, these thoughts are useless. If pleasing Christ is your goal, I pray these thoughts have helped.

I believe our worship should be worthy of the holy God we serve, and I believe the Word of God should be our guide for music as well as for every area of our Christian walk. I also believe we should walk in love and that we should let all things be done with charity.

Finding the balance of singing with distinction and walking in love requires grace and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The most direct counsel of Scripture concerning music is simply to walk in the Spirit and listen to music that assists that walk. May our lives reflect His presence, and may our spirit in this issue show forth His grace.

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;—Ephesians 5:18–19

(This three-part post is from the booklet Biblical Principles for Music and Worship. Additional copies are available from Striving Together Publications.)

 

Endnotes

[1].     Most biographers of Spafford understandably gloss over these details, yet they can be found in brief mention in most books about him, including Rachael Phillips’ Well with My Soul (Barbour Publishing, 2003).

[2].     A. W. Mair and G. R. Mair, trans. Callimachus: Hymns and Epigrams; Lycophron; Aratus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 207.

[3].     John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook), 763.