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.