The following is a general summary of our philosophy of music and worship.
On Biblical Authority in Matters of Contemporary Application
The Bible is sufficient as the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. All three primary terms in this definition are important — authority, faith, and practice. Nothing but the written Word of God is an authority for the Christian. This authority applies to doctrinal issues — whether belief in the virgin birth, justification by faith alone, or the hypostatic union of Christ — and to practice.
The Bible addresses both areas of faith and practice explicitly and implicitly. For instance, some doctrinal issues are clearly addressed (justification by faith alone, etc.), while others are derived through inference (the Trinity, etc.). The same is true of practical issues — some are clearly stated (“you shall not kill”), while others must be deduced through application of principles (such as the sin of abortion).
Most orthodox Christians accept doctrinal issues as authoritative, whether they are stated explicitly or derived through implication. Though significant debate exists in these areas, especially with those doctrines that are simply implications, most would agree that they are important. Furthermore, most Christians would agree that explicit commands regarding practice are authoritative. However, in areas of practical application, some Christians deny that logical inferences and implications from biblical principles have any authority. They insist that if the Bible does not explicitly address an issue of practice, then it is unimportant. They claim that this is a correct application of Sola Scriptura. There are several problems with this view:
First, proponents of Sola Scriptura have never said this. For instance, consider Article 6 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
Defenders of Sola Scriptura in the past realized that God intends all believers to deduce principles from His Word and apply them to every area of practice.
Second, the Bible is not a theology textbook or handbook of personal standards. This fact should be obvious to us, but it is not often practically accepted. We very seldom find explicit statements regarding even important doctrinal issues in the Bible. Except for the Epistles, the Bible is primarily filled with historical narratives, and even prophesies and letters are delivered in a specific historical context. This is not to say that the Bible is not amazingly trans-cultural in its applications. It is. But this is just the point — principles must be drawn from exclusively uni-cultural contexts in order to discern God’s will in modern contexts. This is why grammatical and historical study of the original texts of Scripture is so important. The Bible is not an encyclopedia of prohibitions; it is a window into the mind of God delivered through historical narratives and preaching and messages given to specific historical audiences.
Third, the Bible itself leaves room for application to other issues. Most of the vice lists in Scripture include statements such as “and things like these,” implying again that the Bible is not an encyclopedia of prohibitions (Galatians 5:21, for instance). Paul expected his readers to read his vice lists, draw principles from them, and apply them to other issues.
Fourth, one of the primary marks of spiritual maturity is being able discern what will please the Lord without having to be told explicitly what to do. Consider Hebrews 5:12-14:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
If a parent tells a child what to do, and the child obeys, then the parent is pleased. But a parent is even more pleased if the child discerns what will please his parent even before he is told. The same is true for believers. Immature Christians insist upon being told what to do and what not to do. If they have no instruction on a matter, then they assume that they are free. But mature believers know how to discern what the Lord wants even if they have not been specifically instructed in the Bible.
This method of actively applying biblical principles to arrive at conclusions regarding practice is where we find home for a discussion of music. While the Bible has much to say about music, most of the references refer specifically to sacred music. Scripture really does not directly address the believer’s everyday musical choices. Therefore, just like with any other issue of Christian holiness and conduct, a Christian must strive to apply biblical principles to discern what music is acceptable to God. In particular, music falls under any principles or directives regarding a Christian’s communication. Since music is a form of communication, anything the Bible has to say about communication must be applied to musical forms.
Again, affirmation of Sola Scriptura means that we find no other authority for our faith and practice than in the Bible. But this does not mean that we insist upon no other source of information to help us arrive at right decisions, a sort of Nuda Scriptura. This leaves us with a three step method for arriving at biblical conclusions regarding Christian conduct:
First, discern biblical principles applicable to the practical issue at hand. We may find these principles in explicit statements or in implications from explicit statements. Second, evaluate the issue to determine how the biblical principles apply. To apply biblical principles to an issue not explicitly addressed in Scripture we must use common sense, observation, wisdom, and often information from people more knowledgeable in the issue than we are. This is not to deny the exclusive authority of Scripture in all issue, but neither does it deny that we may be unable ourselves to understand the issue at hand. The Bible is the sole authority in the Christian’s life, but it is not necessarily the sole source of information he may need to make wise choices. Finally, draw wise conclusions from the application of biblical principles.
This is no different than how we come to conclusions in other areas of Christian conduct. For instance, should Christians smoke? Well, the Bible doesn’t address it explicitly, so it’s unimportant, right? On the contrary, the Bible is clear that we as believers must take care of our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The second step involves acquiring scientific information about the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, information that is not available in the pages of Scripture. It is no stretch, then, to arrive at a wise conclusion regarding the need for Christians to avoid smoking.
Many biblical principles apply to the practical issue of music. Principles of communication, right presentation of truth, worldliness, and influences upon our Christian growth. It is the Christian’s task to strive to come to right applications of these principles to music.
Now, we must quickly admit several implications of using such a method to apply biblical issues to areas of Christian conduct: First, our derivation of biblical principles may be flawed. Our own fallibility assumes that interpretations of Scripture may indeed be wrong. This is why discussion and debate about interpretation is needed and profitable. We must use every tool available to us to arrive at right interpretations of biblical principles.
Second, our evaluation of the practical issue at hand (or the evaluation of others) may be flawed. As we gather information to evaluate an issue, we must again be willing for discussion and debate over the validity of the information.
Third, a measure of flexibility must be allowed with differing applications. Since these issues of practice are not addressed explicitly, good people may come to differing conclusions. This is not to say, however that believers should not strive after right application — they must. Nor is it to say that one’s application is just as good as another’s — if two applications differ, one or both of them are wrong. Nor is it to say that debate on issues of application is not profitable — it is necessary. Nor is it to deny that we may sometimes find it necessary to withhold cooperation with some who disagree with us in areas of practical application in certain circumstances — it may be prudent.
Music, without any text, communicates general moods universally (Job 30.31, Isa 16.11, 30.19, Jer 48.36). It can, therefore, communicate moods that affect people morally or immorally. In the mind of God, there is a definite line between music that is pleasing to Him and music that is not pleasing to Him. Because we are finite, however, and because Scripture does not explicitly tell us what pleases God in this area, that line is difficult to determine. Every decision in life should be an act of worship (responding to truth; John 4.19-24). We must, therefore, make decisions in this regard just as we make any other decisions in the Christian life.
- Does the music risk failing to bring God glory (1 Corinthians 10.31)? True, dedicated believers will more concerned with the glory of God than their personal tastes, and will not see how close to the “line” they can get.
- Does this music offend others (1 Cor 8.9, 10.32-33)? True, dedicated believers will be willing to give up what may be their legitimate right for the sake of weaker brothers.
- Does the music control me (1 Cor 6.12, 9.27)? True, dedicated believers will not allow their tastes to control them. They will be willing to give up that which is taking the place of God in their lives.
- Is the music beneficial for sanctification (1 Cor 10.23-24)? True, dedicated believers will actively pursue holiness and godliness in their lives (Eph 5.9-10, Phil 1.9-10, Col 3.10-14, James 3.17-18, 2 Pet 1.3-11), and only chose that which is beneficial for their spiritual growth. The question is not, “What is wrong with this?” but, “What is right with this?”
Believers should acknowledge the existence of “better” music both in content and style and learn to appreciate what is best. They should then actively choose what is best, both in quality and in benefit for their spiritual lives.
Culture is a tangible expression of worldview. It is religion externalized. Therefore, all culture contains certain inherent values. All cultures must be evaluated for their intrinsic merits or demerits; no culture or cultural elements may be accepted without careful biblical evaluation.
The biblical essence of worship is response of the spirit to truth (John 4). This kind of response should encompass all of life.
Congregational worship is the gathering of believers for the purpose of a unified chorus of responses to God expressed publicly to God as a result of understanding truth about God.
On Congregational Worship Music
With regard specifically to congregational worship music, the qualifications are even more narrowed than with music and general. Unfortunately, many believers view sacred music as simply good truth set to enjoyable music. The power of music, however, is more significant. Music takes the message of the text to the heart, and therefore, what a given style of music says to the heart is very important.
- Congregational worship music must be God-oriented. It must express Bible-based, complete truth about God, and the musical style should be worthy of the truth.
- Congregational worship music must be doctrine-oriented. Because believers can worship only when they respond to objective, biblical truth, music used in congregational worship should be filled with doctrinal truth.
- Congregational worship music must be affection-oriented. Because the very nature of worship is response to truth, the music used should develop deep affections for God and not simply emotionalistic passions. This involves the way the text is written as well as the composition of the music itself. Congregational worship music should stir the affections through the intellect.
- Congregational worship music must be congregation-oriented. Because the purpose of congregational worship is that believers join together as the body of Christ to express a unified response to God, music that is very individualistic or personal does not have a place in congregational worship. This applies to the content of the text as well as the style of the music.