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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.