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What kinds of differences affect cooperation?

Last week I suggested that differences of worship and music philosophy will sometimes necessitate withholding cooperation, but that depends upon (1) the particular difference and (2) the particular situation. I also pointed out that when we do express those differences, we should be sure to accurately portray our opponent.

Today I would like to address the first of the factors listed above that could potentially affect cooperation (and, therefore, are worth “fighting” over). Exactly what kinds of differences should affect cooperation?

I have strong convictions about worship philosophy and music’s place in corporate worship. I also have strong opinions about certain applications of that philosophy, such as what songs exactly fit in corporate worship.

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 Christians 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.

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 wouldn’t.  I can’t find sufficient ground for withholding 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.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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.