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Applications are not as important as Philosophy

I have strong convictions about worship philosophy. I also have strong opinions about certain applications of that philosophy.

But these are not the same thing. Neither are they equally important.

Philosophical convictions are judgments based on clear, biblical principles. Notice that I did not say that the convictions themselves are necessarily clear, but they are based upon clear principles.

Applications, however, are methodological opinions with much less clear, objective basis. They are based (hopefully) on wise consideration of the philosophy and how it works in real life. This means that although I think strongly about these particular applications, they are not as important as the philosophy, and I certainly do not insist that all churches should adopt them.

On the local church level it is important that all of the leadership agree philosophically when it comes to worship. It is also fairly important that the leadership come to agreement about how that philosophy will be applied in that ministry. This has been true of both churches in which I’ve served. The pastors under which I’ve served and I have agreed completely on philosophy and, through continual discussion, came to a consensus on how that philosophy would be applied (although the exact applications differ between churches somewhat). It seems clear to me that this must be how it works on a local church level.

Beyond that, however, agreement on particular applications becomes less important dependent upon the situation.

This is why, for example, when I am preaching in churches, I never make direct applications for those churches. I focus primarily on biblical principles and the important philosophy we should draw from these principles. It is not my job to make applications for autonomous churches; that is the job of the leadership of that church. When I’m preaching at a pastors’ conference (or writing on this site!), I sometimes express my opinions about applications, but never in church meetings. This actually frustrates some folks who wish I would come right out and name names, styles, or other specifics.

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Distinguishing high culture from folk culture

I think that it is important to distinguish between these two categories as we discuss worship and music. Both are important, but my biggest concern is always philosophy rather than particular applications.

I know some pastors with whom I share convictions about both philosophy and general applications. There are other pastors I know with whom I agree philosophically but who make applications of that philosophy that I woudn’t. I can find sufficient ground for most levels of cooperation with men in both of these groups. Differences in particular ways of applying a similar philosophy don’t necessarily affect much.

It is fundamental philosophical differences that will often limit cooperation. Differences in philosophy often result in significant differences in application, and it is usually these differences in application that are most apparent and that appear to be the primary reason for limiting cooperation. Yet in reality, it is the more important philosophical differences that are the real reasons for cooperation limits.

The ministry commitments of Religious Affections Ministries illustrate some of what I consider important philosophical principles.

It is not always easy to keep these categories separate in discussions, but I’d like to urge us all (including me!) to make the effort.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

6 Responses to Applications are not as important as Philosophy

  1. Scott,
    I'm not sure how you can separate the philosophy from the application. There are, to be sure, principles which are not disputable and about which people must agree to cooperate in ministry. However, any difference in application must come from either a philosophy or personal inconsistency with stated belief.
    In my opinion, a person who agrees with me on the principles but differs on their applications has a different philosophy, even if the difference is minor. Through careful communication, I am sometimes able to distinguish nuances in the philosophy which cause the differences in application.

    In any case, I think that the agreement over major components of a philosophy is much more important than agreement over nuances. However, I don't think it's a split between philosophy and application as it is between major and minor differences in philosophy.

  2. I understand what you're saying, Jeremiah. Let me see if I can be clearer.

    1. The reason I allow a little more flexibility in applications is that how to apply a philosophy is not as clearly obvious as the philosophy itself.

    2. Also, it is possible to apply one philosophy is several different, legitimate ways.

    3. Now, I do agree that we must be sure that our applications do indeed flow from our philosophy. So I think you're right that philosophy and applications are connected. I do believe that we can look at someone's applications and discern their philosophy. All I'm saying is that there are more than one way to make applications of the same philosophy.

    4. And I am not implying that we cannot disagree with each other whether certain applications truly flow from a right philosophy or whether certain applications are actually better than others. I think that's a healthy discussion to have. But I don't think I can have that discussion with church members of another church. I have that kind of discussion here, and I have that kind of discussion when I'm asked at pastors' conferences. But it's not my responsibility to make applications for autonomous churches.

    Is that clearer?

  3. Scott,

    Thanks for adding clarity in an arena where many of us would rather focus on the differences between us rather than on what unites us — the principles of God's Word. Let's defend the autonomy of the local church in making applications without broadcasting those applications and implying that they should be precisely replicated in every church and in every culture, now and forevermore. No one would argue that our applications are the same now as they were fifty years ago. The point is that we keep making responsible applications based on something that does not change — God's Word.

    There is room for differences in application, and even changes in application over time, as long as we are are careful to maintain the integrity of the original principle.

    Kevin Suiter

  4. I also am a little confused about this. It sounds like only the theory is important, but the way that theory plays out in real life doesn't matter as much. You said "The reason I allow a little more flexibility in applications is that how to apply a philosophy is not as clearly obvious as the philosophy itself." I have a question and a counterpoint to this. First, what is your basis for making this claim? Second, if taken to its logical end, your statement makes it nearly impossible to make decisions in everyday life. You assert that whether or not a statement is true is clear, but how to use a true statement is not. However, every action we take is based off of what we believe (James 2:14-26 — granted, this is deducted from this passage. I can explain my reasoning if you like). This necessitates an understanding of how to use the knowledge base that we have.

    I'm not sure that this is what you are trying to do, but what you are doing is taking away the ability to say that an application of scripture can be wrong. All you are willing to say here is that it may not be as good as another application. You also said "So I think you’re right that philosophy and applications are connected." I would go one further and say that philosophy and application cannot be separated.

    I think my biggest question is what do you base all of your claims on. Your article is merely one assertion after another with examples of how you have applied your assertions, but you do not give any scriptural or even logical basis for your claims. I am aware that I sound like I'm attacking you personally. That is not my goal, but I don't know how to ask these questions without sounding that way. They really are just questions. I greatly appreciated your book. It's the first I've come across that really addresses the foundational issues in the music/worship debate, and I know your motives are pure. I'm just confused on this one issue. Perhaps yo could explain further. Thanks!

  5. Paul,

    You're correct in that what you suggest is not at all what I intend to imply. I DO in fact believe that applications are important, and that some applications are simply illegitimate.

    What I'm arguing here is that the underlying philosophy is the most important of the two, for several reasons:

    1. It is possible to make all the right applications for all the wrong reasons. In fact, I would suggest that is the case with many people who claim to be "traditional" in their worship.

    2. There are different ways that legitimate applications can be made from the same philosophy. What often happens, though, is the people defend their particular application against another which is just as legitimate.

    3. Discussing various applications will be fruitless unless we first agree on philosophy. I've seen debate after debate about application in which the parties involved are talking past each other because they have fundamentally different philosophies.

    But this does not mean, I say again, that applications are unimportant or that there cannot be illegitimate applications. I think we need more careful, lively discussion over what applications are legitimate or which are not.

    Does that clarify things?

  6. Yes, that helps clarify things a lot. Thank you. I agree, it's completely pointless to discuss applications if there are two completely different philosophical starting points. You never get anywhere at all until you can agree on a starting point.

    I can also see what you mean about defending applications when they both legitimately come out of the same philosophy. I've taken part in a few of those myself. Usually a good ways in, you start to realize that you really don't disagree at all. You just went different ways with the same philosophy, usually because of different situations.

    Thanks again for clarifying.

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