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Standards: A Shortcut for Inept Workmen

It is seldom profitable, and I don’t recommend it to you as a worthwhile use of your leisure time, but every once in a while, reading folks you’d otherwise never read can reward you. It’s akin to fly fishing in the desert: if you go into it knowing that you’re not going to catch any trout, but cast anyways for amusement, there is always a chance that your hook might snag someone’s car keys, inadvertently dropped when that someone was fleeing from armed nomads. The keys are useless to you, but you will at least come away with a story to tell.

I had a similar experience when I discovered an article called “The Importance of Having Standards In Music.”

It has been wryly suggested, and there is much truth to it, that the real difference between the aesthetic judgments of King James Only Independent Fundamental Baptists (KJVOIFB) and the aesthetic judgments of seeker-sensitive megachurches is that the latter have their revivalism set to update automatically, where the former stopped downloading cultural updates to their revivalism during the Eisenhower administration. I’m not a cultural anthropologist, but in my limited, personal sample, people who leave KJVOIFB churches for “greener pastures” usually do so not because of doctrinal disagreements or prolonged reflection on the holy transcendence of God and what that means for worship, but because the megachurch in the suburbs has been carefully updating their revivalism. Revivalism, tautologically speaking, is revivalism.

When I read that an important Doctor of the KJVOIFB church has changed his argument from “CCM is bad for you because ______” to “We’re gonna do things my way because I’m the Man of God,” it strikes me that he senses a storm on the horizon. It sounds to me like some KJVOIFB churches are tired of losing attendance battles with churches named after golf courses, and are seriously thinking about downloading some updates to their revivalism. Some probably already are. Their resistance is shaking. They have been crying ‘WOLF’ for decades, and now they can no longer articulate why they’re crying ‘WOLF,’ since they never really believed in wolves in the first place.

I cite the article:

There seems to be no consistency in the matter of music. Two welltrained [sic], godly musicians will differ as to what is right and wrong. In fact, each of them will do songs to which the other objects, but with which they individually find no fault.

Well-trained people will disagree; perhaps they will even offend one another. How should they handle this? By searching the Scriptures and discussing the matter? By consulting history to see whether this problem has come up before, and whether anyone had a wise insight that we haven’t thought of? Neither.

We must establish a standard. Any standard will be arbitrary. So are other standards. I cannot prove to you that it is sinful for a man’s hair to touch the top of his ear, or to be onesixteenth or one-eighth of an inch over the top of his ear. I can only prove to you that the Bible says it is a shame for a man to have long hair. I then establish an arbitrary standard which helps us keep the Bible principle.

So then, no corporate judgment shall be exercised in this matter, except to establish a standard. An arbitrary standard ought to solve everything, especially if discussion is looked upon as a problem. But to admit that a standard is arbitrary is to admit that a standard, fundamentally, is unnecessary. No longer can he object to churches that pursue the most transgressive modes of expression and garnish them with some ambiguous Christian jargon. That’s their standard. He’s relinquished any right to criticize the calves at Bethel and Dan. Even if he does not have calves on his own altar, he could not formally object to the practice. That’s their standard.

So it is too, in music. I cannot prove, nor do I need to be able to prove to all those in my church that a particular beat is sinful, a particular rhythm is wrong, a particular style is unscriptural. I merely need to say that as the Pastor, it is my responsibility to establish a standard, that I believe that the standard is safe and will keep us from trouble, and that I urge their cooperation in holding to the standard. Because a pastor cannot prove from Scripture that vocal sliding is sinful does not mean he may not have a standard against it.

Certainly this points to a glaring problem with a certain ecclesiology, but my point is that the author makes no attempt to discover why his prejudice against contemporary music exists, whether it can be substantiated in the light of revelation from God, or whether such a prejudice ought to be normative for a local church. He makes no attempt to clarify his categories: what does he mean by “music?” And what does he mean by the word “unscriptural,” a word that usually does more harm than good in such discussions? What are his parameters for “proof?” The reader is assumed to have agreed with the premise of the article before the argument even begins. This, I believe, is why he appeals to his strongman ecclesiology: trust your pastor. Obey him. He is in the right, even if he cannot articulate his position.

We may rightly decry such an abuse of the office of pastor. Pastors are supposed to be able, through study, to answer questions like this (2 Timothy 2:15), even when such matters lie outside of their personal interests.

 

About Christopher Ames

Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Bicycle owner and operator. I used to play in a Campus Crusade band.

6 Responses to Standards: A Shortcut for Inept Workmen

  1. I wonder if your portrayal of this pastor might be a bit uncharitable. I get that you disapprove of his King James Only revivalistic brand of Christianity, but I doubt that he has not spent time and effort to convince his flock that a right understanding of the scriptures calls for a judgment of what is appropriate in worship music – no doubt somewhat different than RAM. His post could more charitably be viewed as a bottom line rather than a shortcut. The teaching of the Bible on music is not so clear-cut as to end all debate, so in the end we must set a standard that safely resides within the boundary of acceptability. That doesn’t seem so bad to me at least in principle.

  2. Paul,

    I truly appreciate your willingness to be charitable. That is an honorable default. I don’t know how familiar you are with that strain of ministry, or what your own fellowship and affiliation are, but may I suggest that you listen to a half dozen of their sermons, in their entirety, and then see if my characterization is far off the mark? I have a good bit of familiarity with such models of ministry. In fact, they keep me up to date by mailing me their publications and invitations to their conferences. I have tried to educate myself concerning their approach to disagreements because I minister to people who are quite familiar with such models of ministry. If the author of the article is an exception, he has not evidenced it in writing.

    As far as the nature of the charity you extend, I agree in principle: there needs to be some sort of guideline in place for the new things that will come up. You’re exactly right in your expressed wish to act principially. But how should we derive those guidelines? What principles should shape those guidelines?

    I would say that we (and your “we” may vary) should derive such a set of guidelines inductively from Scripture and from the wisdom of people who know more about poetry and music than I/we do. That is hardly an arbitrary standard based on my (or any other pastor’s) preference.

    Will that look different among congregations? I have no doubt that it will, on the margins. But I think that the truly Christian core of the hymnody tradition would be pretty consistent.

  3. Christopher,

    I agree with everything you wrote in the article. If you don’t mind though, I’d like to take a moment to consider one aspect of it. You talk about definitions, music and unscriptural and the like. What about independent and Baptist and KJVO and fundamental and revivalist? I believe Ouellette preaches a false gospel along with a lot of other revivalists.

    Ouellette’s standards are arbitrary like revivalism and like fundamentalism. Definitionally, those two are arbitrary. What are the fundamentals? How does revival occur? Those are arbitrary.

    I could see how someone might call Baptists arbitrary. I talked to an unsaved man last week, searching, who wondered out loud about the differences between Baptists — huge differences. He has visited different Baptist churches, some very casual and some very formal. Being Baptist isn’t arbitrary like the churches named after country clubs though if one ties them into biblical distinctives and history.

    Then KJVO. I’m called KJVO by most and well known as KJVO. So are many confessional Presbyterians for the same reason as I, who also follow the regulative principle of worship, as do I. It is an original language preservation position, differing with double inspiration and English preservation. I believe the multiple Bible position is the arbitrary position though, like revivalism. If you believe in one beauty and one goodness and one truth and one God, there is only one Bible. It’s not a conservative position. However, I’m not attempting to persuade you of that.

    What I am writing is that I think you hurt your article by pulling certain non-arbitrary concepts — independent and Baptist, and, yes, KJVO — and tying those in with arbitrariness. You were arbitrary in doing so. KJVO has nothing to do with what music one believes is acceptable for worship. Reading your article, one might think so.

  4. Kent,

    Not to chase secondary matters into the weeds, but the only thing I referred to as ‘arbitrary’ was the manner in which a standard was being applied to music. The author admitted, yea commended, as much; so am not dinging him for a tangential issue.

    I know that all of the words could be used in such a way as to preclude being thought of as arbitrary. “Independent,” “Baptist,” and “fundamentalist” all mean things: no objection here, nor in the article.

    In fact, that was the nature of my objection in the article: one is irresponsible to set an arbitrary standard when there is plenty of information and precedent available to come to a properly educated and defensible opinion. I think it is a pastoral duty to take these matters seriously and to think them through.

  5. Chris,

    I agree. It’s just that you treated the title you gave him as if it was the cause of the arbitrariness. Do you see that? Are these the cause of arbitrariness? Do people like that tend to be arbitrary? I actually think that New Testament Christianity is somewhere in there among those titles.

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