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Letter to a Concerned Saint

Dear saint,

You have been reading about orthopathy and ordinate affection, and perhaps it all sounds rather perplexing and intimidating. The controversy around these matters is unnerving and unsettling, and you wish it would go away.  It has caused you some real anxiety. You are close to real distress, or worse, to dismissing the whole matter. You have wondered about your own love for God.

First, let me encourage you: concern and soul-searching are always better signs of eternal life than indifference. A struggle with assurance is very often a reason for assurance. Only the hard-hearted treat something as important as loving God with ridicule, scorn, and dismissal. I’m thankful such is not your attitude.

Second, understand that a lot of this is more familiar to you than you might think. After all, you already know that love is trust, commitment and joy, or as I tell my congregation, dependence, devotion, and delight. To love God ordinately is to regard God as your ultimate dependence, devotion, and delight. Isn’t this largely what you already know as the struggle of spiritual growth? Sanctification is learning to trust God, not as a means, but as the ultimate end. Spiritual growth is learning to be devoted and committed to God, not because He is a springboard to some other commitment, but because He is worthy of ultimate commitment and service. Becoming like Christ is learning to rejoice and take pleasure in God, not as one you use, but as the One all your delights terminate on. This is sanctification: repenting of our idols, and learning to love what we love for God’s sake, and discovering God as ultimately reliable, valuable and desirable.

No, it certainly doesn’t happen in a day. Regeneration gives us a new heart, with new inclinations and new dispositions, but sanctification is the process that must continue all our lives. Unlearning old loves, putting on new loves: this is at the heart of ordinate affection. You were probably doing this long before you heard someone use the term ordinate affection. You must admit though, it is helpful to remember that our loves are to be ordered around the Great Commandment, and if the term ordinate affection, or orthopathy helps to do that, then all the better.

So what of these controversial matters such as music? Do they matter? Yes, they do, though not always in the way the arguments are framed. Of course, music affects us. It shapes our loves, so that we end up loving the music that has shaped us (Do you see why it is so controversial? Jeremiah 17:9!). Music can no more “become” what we want it to mean than language can. Music has meaning: meaning which God knows, meaning which is discoverable, and meaning which is fitting or not so for worship. Music is a part of orthopathy, but it is by no means the only part! We should love God ultimately and appropriately in our relationships, roles, vocations, ambitions, desires, goals, speech, thoughts, and habits. We should learn to use food, clothing, technologies, entertainment, media, leisure, sport and exercise, hobbies, education, and every other area of our lives as ultimate love for God.

So what should you do in the midst of all this controversy? Keep seeking to love God in all of life. Focus your energies on knowing and loving God and communing with Him. Bring your worship offerings of dependence, devotion, and delight to God, as best you understand them. This includes the music you listen to or use in corporate worship, but it also includes every other aspect of your life (1 Cor 10:31). Since I know it is your desire to please Him, you would not deliberately bring what is sloppy, tacky or a mere leftover. God knew the difference between the Israelite who could only afford to bring two birds, and the lazy priests who brought blind animals  – and He still knows the difference. One is a genuine limitation of ability or circumstance, the other is deliberate, self-serving sloth. Take courage! A.W. Tozer said “He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied. He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will.”

So apply yourself, in all areas of life, to “test all things, and hold fast to what is good.” I know that the busyness of your life will prevent you from having the time to search out the meaning of every thing in your life in detail. However, some people study the meaning of things for a living, and give themselves to understanding some corner of God’s creation. We ought to listen to them, to help us in our busy lives to better worship God: be it in our use of money, our use of the Internet, or our use of music. Learning these things is part of the process of gaining wisdom, and becoming more like Christ. Isn’t God worth it? I know what your answer would be: you want to please Him, and you agree He is worth our best offerings.

Lastly, I’m afraid you cannot avoid controversy over these things. You will find controversies over doctrine, controversies over church practices, and controversies over worship. Meaning in all these areas will always be debated. Don’t be discouraged by all this. It may look like it, but things are not out of control. God is sovereign, ruling over these battles, and shepherding all His people through them. He gets glory from turning chaos into order, and apparent defeat into victory. Rest in that. Pursue the truth, and show gentleness to all.

Your brother,

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.