Saturday, November 07, 2015

Christian Music Wars: Reprise?

This is a subject on which I've touched before, and wade into again with some reluctance. Among many things that will raise ire very quickly in church circles is the subject of music. And it doesn't have to be just music within the walls of the church building during the worship service to get a flame war started.

I first got a taste of the ugly side of Christian music when at a secular station of all things - a station where there was a Southern Gospel program that aired from midnight to 6 a.m. Since I had to do the shift on weekends and programming was pretty much left up to the person on air overnight within limits, I decided that at least one night a week ought to be given to what was then called "Jesus rock," "Jesus music," "Contemporary Christian, etc. Judging from the first couple of times I played any (and we're talking Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Love Song, etc - hardly heavy metal/Black Sabbath type stuff. It was all really rather tame) - oh, my. To some callers who expressed themselves with voices throbbing with outrage, you might have thought I WAS playing Black Sabbath! Burn this radio announcer heretic at the stake! Doesn't he know that only fiddles, steel guitars, and quartets are biblically anointed! For shame!

Get over into the church world, and you'll find the worship wars are alive and well, sadly. Rather than bringing the body of Christ together, recognizing we're all made differently and wired differently, people feud over what kind of music style is done during the service. The main focus of course should be worshipping and glorifying God, not our own desires and tastes, but you wouldn't know that by the snits some people can have. I long ago decided that I'm not going to waste what precious time and breath I have arguing over music style. It's a stupid argument (and don't waste my time quoting Bill Gothard - I do not agree with him. End of story). There are different music styles and have been since human beings strolled the planet. God isn't concerned about style. He's concerned about message and truth. And that actually brings me to my real subject.

I find as I get older my music tastes—which have always been rather eclectic—are broadening out. I had never been much of a country fan (with the exception of instrumental bluegrass). Southern Gospel quartets were not at all my cup of tea. I am appreciating and even enjoying them now, even as I can still pop on DeGarmo and Key's "Straight On" album and rock out. Again, the style isn't the issue to me and never has been. It's the message.

For the time being, I'm going to withhold names, but I've been watching a lot of Southern Gospel stuff with Mom lately. And as I've gotten interested in the groups, I have done some reading online including The Singing News, various websites devoted to the genre, etc. I've also seen a lot of different artists up sharing the same stage singing great old hymns together. And that's where some of the heated controversy is at the moment.

Some are very bothered by the fact that there are artists participating who, to put it kindly, don't seem to evince much of a Christian testimony in their daily lives. Their normal music on the country charts can be pretty raw from a moral/biblical point of view. But they share the stage and sing along with those who, from what I can tell, DO make every effort to live what they say they believe and keep a good testimony before a fallen world. The ones who are bothered say so, and sometimes in a very ugly spirit.

Others are concerned over doctrinal matters. And for me (and anyone who knows me knows this) - biblical truth is ALWAYS my first concern. The rule of thumb for me is that there are core, non-negotiable doctrines of the faith, and then there are secondary doctrinal matters where salvation is not an issue. But some make these secondary matters tests of fellowship.

One side says that they are "grace Christians," and that doctrine doesn't matter. Doctrine divides. Just love everybody and pay no attention to biblical truth. Hey, we're all singing about Jesus, aren't we?

The other extreme are "law, fire and brimstone Christians." They'll fight over anything and everything if it doesn't meet their particular test. You see, hear, and feel very little if any love or grace out of them. It's all judgment and condemnation. And between the two camps, it's a take no prisoners, ugly war of words and self-righteousness.

Where am I in all of it? I hope I strike a true, biblical balance. I believe in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. I believe in the power of God to change lives through the Gospel—any life. The prodigal can still come home in repentance and find love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

But. However. And you knew that was coming, didn't you? Extremes tend to go too far in both directions. A disturbing trend (it's been largely in the Contemporary Christian camp but in recent years has become an issue in Southern Gospel) has been toward the heresy called antinomianism. Things go so far over on the grace side that no repentance is expected or even desired. Lifestyle and speech doesn't matter. Live anyway you want and talk anyway you want. Just as long as you "love," behavior doesn't matter. Doctrine doesn't matter. Just unify and get together. Unity at any price. Unity over truth. No way, Jose.

I disagree. Vehemently. TRUTH is what unifies. The ones sowing division are the ones bringing in false doctrine and teaching. Pay close attention now. What is the greatest commandment in Scripture? Loving God. The second greatest commandment is loving one another. What qualities does biblical love of God and one another have? The answer is in 1 Corinthians 13. "Love does no wrong." In other words, if I love God, I will not want to sin against Him. If I love others, I will not want to sin against them or lead them into sin, or tell them a lie about biblical truth. True biblical love and the kindness of God leads us to REPENTANCE. Turning the old life behind, and walking forward into newness of life. "Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" (That's Bible talking there)

A faith and a belief without repentance is not a genuine faith. When you believe the biblical Gospel—that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification—it changes your life forever. That is not to say you won't battle the old nature. You sure will, and will continue to battle it until glory. But the new nature created in you at salvation (with the indwelling Holy Spirit) wants to lead you into a deeper walk with Christ, and sanctification - OUT of sinful lifestyles and behaviors that grieve the Lord. You do not WANT to live and talk in ways that grieve the Lord or compromise our witness.

Above all, we dare not compromise the Gospel. If we are in Christian music ministry, and we are unequally yoked to anyone who denies the biblical Gospel, its a problem. A big one. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory. Any "gospel" that adds human works to salvation is a false Gospel. And if we give false doctrine a public platform or seem chummy with those who espouse it in a ministry setting, we will be held accountable for it.

It gets a bit knottier when we mix the secular and sacred. I have never thought that being a Christian meant that you couldn't do secular music or enjoy secular music. You do, however, need to be selective about your listening choices. A Christian musician is not mandated to HAVE to only do Christian music. We need lights in the world, and I rejoice that many are out there. Christian singer David Phelps put it well, that the older we get, we realize the "secular" and "sacred" are more intertwined than we realize. Martin Luther and John Calvin realized that centuries ago too.

But what about those who are actually in Christian music, and use their music as a platform for ministry and reaching others for Christ? It is there that you really have to evaluate what you are doing and why. It is there that you have to be certain you are not compromising the truth, and giving "hearty approval" to things that Scripture condemns (Romans 1).

The big driver in all of this ought to be love. Real, biblical love. Love for truth. Love for God. Love for one another. And if the love we exhibit is real, it will not be the type willing to leave people in sin or sluff it off. Sooner or later, we're going to have to get to the Gospel and the need for a Savior. And that means that the sin issue and lost state of those who do not know Christ will have to come up. Eventually the claims of Christ on everyone must be faced and answered. If we do not end up on that road, in essence we are wasting the talents God gave us for a purpose.

I can hear the comments now. "You won't win anyone by condemnation! You can only win people by 'loving' them!" People want the warm, fuzzy, friendly Jesus who carries lambs, not the Alpha and Omega Jesus who will return one day as Judge. We can't pick what divine characteristics of Jesus we like and ditch the rest like a smorgasbord. We must take Him as He revealed Himself to be.

To be sure, if all people hear out of us is law, condemnation, death, and salivating over Hell, it will be a turnoff. They need to see our love, our kindness, our good deeds. They need to see Christ's love in action in us and through us. And that actually helps give us the opening and right to speak, although I hate using the word "right." We have the right already because we've been commissioned by the Master. I'm talking about the practical application of that right. People will know we are Christians by the love we demonstrate toward one another. But that is only one side of the coin.

Let's strive for obedience. Let's strive to be fully orbed believers who tell the whole truth, not just part of it. In the right heart and in the right spirit. Be a Daniel. Do not compromise. But let your love show in what you do and say. Otherwise, all we are leaving is cotton candy, which tastes sweet at first, but melts fast and leaves a bad aftertaste.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Today, I would like to recommend a ministry for your prayerful support—Slavic Gospel Association, which has served evangelical churches across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the former Soviet countries of Central Asia since 1934. The website is linked here and I encourage you to check it out. 

SGA supports Russian-language Bible training through sponsorship of several evangelical seminaries and Bible institutes. They provide Russian-language Bibles and Christian literature, ministry to children including orphans, sponsor Christian summer camps for children, sponsorship of missionary pastors/church planters, and so much more. 

One of the things I appreciate so much about SGA is their attention to sound doctrine and the careful handling of God's Word. Prayer is also a key emphasis. The founder of the mission, Peter Deyneka, Sr., was known for his motto: "Much Prayer, Much Power. Little Prayer, Little Power. No Prayer, No Power." Above all, as you'll see, the "G" in the logo stands for Gospel, and the Gospel is central. 

So please, when you get an extra moment or two, browse SGA's website, and consider sending a gift. Russia and Ukraine have been back in the news, and it has largely been negative press. But the churches are not the government, and they are proclaiming the ultimate solution to the problems of their countries—repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They need your prayers and ongoing support now more than ever. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Welcoming Back The Zombies!

My blog hiatus (unintentional) is being interrupted today to send high praise to the reunited 1960s group, "The Zombies."

It's very rare that a band comes back together after 50 years, and receives the kind of ovation they have been getting. But it's deserved. Bandleaders Colin Blunstone (vocals), keyboardist Rod Argent (keyboards, backing vocals, and primary writer) and their bandmates have a new album called "Still Got That Hunger." It was a crowd funding project, so you know the fans have been clamoring. The band delivered, and despite their ages, the guys sound like they did in 1968 - the date of their last huge hit, "Time of the Season." They brought their A game.

I have been listening to it all week, and it's rare that a new album gives me this kind of pleasure. The music is classic baroque pop. The music is upbeat, positive, and even joyful at times. That in and of itself is a rarity and a reason to buy it, considering the negative stuff being put out by the industry these days. The band's performances and vocals are fantastic, and if radio does the SMART thing, they'll get behind it.

You can get a taste of the album here at the Rolling Stone, and it is available via Amazon and I think the band's website. My radio broadcaster ear picks Blunstone's "Now I Know I'll Never Get Over You" as the radio ear candy single, but the musician side of me picks Rod Argent's "Chasing the Past" because of it's wonderful jazzy piano, unique melody, wistful lyrics, etc. I'm really, really liking it. I think you will too.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Remembering Genesis in 2007

It's hard to believe eight years have gone by since Genesis' 2007 reunion. The photo to the right was taken at their first of three shows in Chicago—the first two of which were sold out. And as always, the concert was fantastic. Great lights, great sound, intriguing LED video displays. At the time, that was the largest LED screen yet on stage. More trend-setting.

In the years since then, the fans have been yearning for another reunion or album—especially with Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel back in the lineup. Sadly, since Phil Collins injured his spine during this tour and underwent surgery, he has not been able to play drums, at least to his accustomed standard. When he did his most recent "Going Back" album a few years back, he had to tape the sticks to his hand with gaffer tape because he had no feeling in his hands. So this makes any reunion pretty unlikely unless there is a divine miracle for those damaged nerves.

Be that as it may, I'm thankful to the guys for decades of great music and a lot of fun. If this 2007 show was indeed their last hurrah as band, I'm glad I got to see them play. One last time. They're in my prayers.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Gay Marriage: What's An Official to Do?

Right now, I'm sure most of you have heard/read of the big blowup over the county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses, citing her Christian faith. Knowing I'll eventually get asked my view of the subject, here it is. I see I only had one or two posts last month, so maybe this will help begin catching me up for September.

Being a Bible-believing Christian, I must subscribe to biblical standards on this issue as an individual. The Bible makes it clear that we are to obey the laws of the land unless they demand that we disobey God. We are not, and never have been, a theocracy. An elected official in a secular, statutory position such as a county clerk cannot pick and choose what laws they will or will not obey. I believe the clerk must resign her position until the law is changed, or delegate issuing the licenses to someone else such as a deputy if allowed to do so by statute. 

Now, if the state were to order me as a minister of the church to marry someone in disobedience to biblical standards, that I would refuse to do as the state has no authority over the church. The state also cannot command individuals (or churches) to violate God's Word - and if it tries, we must disobey no matter what the cost. The Bible itself makes clear that, at times, there will be consequences for adhering to our faith, up to and including death.

The America of the 2000s is not the America of the early to mid-20th Century, or of 1776. The culture and demographics have changed, and there is no longer a Christian consensus in the country. Ironically, part of the reason for that is because the church abandoned its prophetic role in the culture, opting for the "social gospel" and watered-down faith for the sake of popularity. The faithful preaching and teaching of God's Word has been largely abandoned except for a remnant. Unless God grants a miraculous spiritual revival, things are only going to get worse from a biblical perspective. We were warned about this in advance by the Lord Jesus Himself. Why are we so surprised? 

As an interesting aside, the late King Baudouin of Belgium temporarily abdicated in 1990 because the Belgian parliament had passed a pro-abortion rights law. He could not grant Royal Assent to the bill in good conscience, but to refuse Royal Assent would have provoked a constitutional crisis. So he abdicated for 24 hours until the law was promulgated by ministers, and then he reassumed the throne. That was probably the most peaceful way of dealing with it, but I would think he could have just refused assent and let the chips fall where they may since refusal of assent is supposed to be a crown right. 

But we're in America, not Belgium.