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Why I don’t preach specific applications in church meetings

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 (you can hear some examples of what I preach here). 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 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.

Editor’s note: this article was originally posted in 2009.

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.

10 Responses to Why I don’t preach specific applications in church meetings

  1. And yet your "ministry" is clearly built on fighting against lots of specific applications–rock beats, "sensual singing" (whatever that is), etc. Seems like you run the risk of irrelevancy by pretending this isn't the case. I don't know many Christians who don't agree with your foundational philosophy–that worship of God is very important, that it must be undertaken with care and an understanding of the Scriptures. Your whole ministry is based on refuting other people's applications of those Scriptures (but now you're saying you won't preach on those specifics). Huh?

    Maybe this is why, looking through your itinerary (http://religiousaffections.org/itinerary/), I find a super-narrow range of Christianity represented. Your message has no play outside of this little group.

  2. Clinton,

    1. I stated very clearly that on this blog and when I speak to pastors, I am more willing to address specific issues of application.

    2. Even so, may I ask you to give me some examples of where I have addressed specific applications even on this blog? I would suggest that where they exist, they are rare.

    3. May I ask you to give me a single example of where I preach specific examples in local church settings?

    4. I would suggest to you that you do not have a grasp of my "foundational philosophy." I would encourage you to read more carefully.

    5. I would also suggest to you that you assume what I believe based on your own experience and not what I have written.

  3. i'm inclined to agree with aniol here that clinton doesn't fully grasp the mission of "religious affections." i do take issue with your definition of "convictions"–or at least the way you're using the word. you imply that all convictions within the true faith ought to be monolithic. but the paradigm, no matter how much you want to say it's the Bible, ultimately is your interpretation. look, i respect your knowledge of church history and hymondy, and so i find that part of your blog pretty interesting. but when you try to assert a conviction (or even an application) regarding the style of worship the church needs to adhere to, that's where i'm lost. and i think that's what clinton was trying to point out. but sometimes his intent gets lost in his accusatory tone. i hope both of you boys keep up the good work, though.

  4. That's fair, lux. And I welcome the interaction when I assert a particular conviction or application. The problem is that very few actually engage on that level. Usually comments (or tweets) consist of mere sarcasm… :)

  5. "mere sarcasm"? Hey, let's not debase a critical grammatical tool (pun intended).

    Clinton is probably too busy with his FB status update comments, but regarding your points:

    1. This is Clinton’s point, viz., you feign to avoid your specifics of application (at least in this post) . . . but eventually, you do it anyway.

    2. This:

    a. _Can Rap Be Christian? No._ (the entire article or group of articles)

    b. _CCM's Theology Of Music Should Be Ranked Among The Theological Aberrations Of Modern Evangelicalism…_ – “CCM’s theology of music . . .Pelagianist aesthetic autonomy . . . are desecrations of God . . . needs to be re-categorized as theology miscarriage – even heresy”

    c. _Worship That Is Acceptable To God_- “What about skits and drama? No . . . What about visual aids in worship? No. God did not prescribe visual aids, and in fact He forbids them.” (So I’m guessing you were NOT a fan of BJU Vespers nor Living Gallery :)

    d. _A Brazilian Tribesman Talks About Culture, Worship, And The Gospel_- “Rober said . . . growing up, he listened to a Christian short-wave radio station while he and his father worked. Sometimes the station played hymns, and sometimes it played Contemporary Christian Music. . . . Rober said that his favorite music to listen to was always the hymns because they just seemed to best express Christian sentiment . . . his regenerated heart discerned “western,” “Classical” hymns to be the best expression of Christian values and worship.”

    3. Clinton has probably never heard you preach, so this would be difficult.

    4 and 5. I thought Clinton had a decent understanding of your foundational philosophies, and even agrees with most if not all of your Biblical principles, *based on* what you have written. I could be wrong but please elaborate.

    Regarding the mission of this blog; it seems obvious to Clinton. Again, please elaborate if he misunderstands.

    Now regarding Clinton's proclivity to stir the pot, I think his record speaks volumes. :)

  6. "Now regarding Clinton’s proclivity to stir the pot, I think his record speaks volumes. :)"

    As a general rule, sarcasm is only funny when its true – which is why even people who tell me they don't care for Clint's tone really don't have an answer when I remark that he's right most of the time.

    As to the mission of the blog? It is fairly obvious, I don't believe anyone is confused about that.

  7. Well, Scott, I have listened to ALL 21 of your sermons on sermonaudio.com

    http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?SpeakerOnly

    As well as spending quite a but of time browsing your site. So I think I pretty much "get" what you're doing with RAM. Now, I suppose I'll never get the true experience since you wouldn't be caught dead in my church–believe me on that one.

    I can tell that you and I will never agree on even foundational elements of things because of this statement from your site:

    "Music, without any text, communicates general moods universally (Job 30.31, Isa 16.11, 30.19, Jer 48.36). It can, therefore, communicate moods that affect people morally or immorally. In the mind of God, there is a definite line between music that is pleasing to Him and music that is not pleasing to Him."

    http://religiousaffections.org/about/philosophy/

  8. Clinton states: "I can tell that you and I will never agree on even foundational elements of things because of this statement from your site:

    “Music, without any text, communicates general moods universally (Job 30.31, Isa 16.11, 30.19, Jer 48.36). It can, therefore, communicate moods that affect people morally or immorally. In the mind of God, there is a definite line between music that is pleasing to Him and music that is not pleasing to Him.”

    Our sense of our ethical obligations to God and our consciences are assaulted by the notion that God will judge the motives behind our singing based on what we sing. The idea that I can be sincere in my motives and yet still be sincerely wrong before God is terrifying. Unless, of course, I understand divine grace and the nature of the love of God. More and more I'm seeing the doctrine of Grace ignored or replaced by moralistic therapeutic deism. What Religious Affections is proposing comes across to moralistic therapeutic deists as narrow, harsh and rigid. The philosophy of many modern evangelicals is based on a kind and generous god who is broad in his/her acceptance of the efforts of those who are trying really, really hard. This god would never judge as harshly as Scott Aniol! On the other hand, if I understand the doctrine of Grace and the complete love of the true God, I am free to understand the absolute nature of my obligations to Him and the absolute inability to meet those obligations apart from the work of Christ. If I understand and embrace grace, then I am not filled with an unholy dread of the God who revealed Himself as the unyielding judge who will not ignore, but will punish every sin. This unholy dread is not the righteous fear of God which I am commanded to feel. It causes me to redefine God in order to assuage my guilt. The Pharisee had the same problem with Grace that today's modern evangelical has. Instead of redefining God as soft, warm and vague, the Pharisee redefined Him as limited and easily manipulated. Both errors are designed to do the same thing: put man in control of his own salvation.

    Grace allows me to admit that God has expressed His preferences for how I am to relate to Him (yes, even when it comes to aesthetics) and allows me to admit that I will always fall short of those expectations. Once I understand the vastness and depth of the Grace that has set me free, I am able to gladly seek that which will please God. I can reform my affections to His image.

  9. Wow, Clinton. You must be quite a fan having listened to all of those sermons! :)

    You make my point exactly, however, in what you site as an example of what you would never agree with. That is a principle; it is a philosophical statement. It is not an application. An application would be something like, "The music of Casting Crowns communicates messages incompatible with the theology of their texts."

    My point of this post was that although I make applicational statements like that from time to time on this site (although even that is rare), I never do so when preaching in churches.

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