Home > Brandenburg, Revival, The Gospel, The World > The Myth of Only Internal Worldliness

The Myth of Only Internal Worldliness

July 9, 2009

False doctrine and practice have been around since the garden, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the constant, growing, and innovative arguments for justifying worldliness.  Satan isn’t taking a vacation from his world system.  And men love the world.  It is tangible, tasty, and at the tip of the fingers.

A recent and common approach sees men, who propose to hate worldliness themselves, vindicate worldly living by redefining worldliness.  They make worldliness impossible to judge by anyone but God.  And He will.  They say it’s only on the inside.  These men challenge definitions of worldliness that recognize worldly externals.  No doubt everything that is worldly in someone proceeds from his heart.  However, what comes out is also worldly.

The World Is on the Outside

It is called the “world” because it relates to this planet we live on.  Worldliness won’t ever have anything to do with Neptune or Venus.   Men become enamored with what’s on the planet.   They mind earthly things.  Many of the things in the world or on the world came from people from here.  They made it, invented it, played it, or produced it.   And most of those things are the problem for men, the competition with God for their hearts.  The stuff that man generates has been affected by the curse of sin.  Because of that, it isn’t all innocent and it must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Music, dress, entertainment, recreation, and even the things that we put into our body have all been trouble for mankind since the beginning.  And all of it is on the outside.

Being “conformed” to this world (Romans 12:2) is external.  Even being “transformed” is external.  It might start on the inside, but it will show up on the outside.  The word translated “conformed” in Romans 12:2 is translated “fashioning” in 1 Peter 1:14:  “not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts.”  ‘Lusts” are internal but “fashioning” is external.  The primary verses on worldliness in the Bible are dealing with something that is external.

The Attack on External Worldliness

A recent primer for this novel approach to worldliness is Worldliness:  Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney with a foreword by John Piper.   Many of the chapter titles reveal the emphasis:  “God, My Heart, and Media,” “God, My Heart, and Music,” “God, My Heart, and Stuff,” and “God, My Heart, and Clothes.”  You can tell where the book is heading in the foreword when Piper writes:  “The only way most folks know how to draw lines is with rulers.  The idea that lines might come into being freely and lovingly (and firmly) as the fruit of the gospel is rare.”  We get the heads up that rules are going to be a problem in a stand against worldliness.  Then Mahaney adds in the first chapter (p. 29):

Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards.  If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating, or indulge in certain luxuries of modern society, surely you must be worldly. . . .  Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within.

When this book came out, you’d think that nothing had been written about worldliness before.  Actually many books have been written about worldliness through the centuries since the printing press.   If you go to google books and use the advanced search mode and look only for full view books, you’ll find many books in the 19th and early 20th century that are now public domain, which talk about worldliness, many of which were sermons (consider this by J. C. Ryle, and this and this and this by Spurgeon).  They weren’t afraid to talk about external issues in the days when to us there didn’t seem like much in the world that could be a problem.

We can all be thankful for a volume intending to slay internal or heart worldliness.  However, circumventing the externals and painting only a partial picture of worldliness does more damage than good.  It offers some leverage to deal with worldliness without depriving the worldly of the worldly things they demand.   It vaccinates the adherents with a worldly, softer strain of Christianity that only inoculates them against the real thing.  It sends an ambiguous warning signal across the bow while worldliness stays on board.  I have to agree with Peter Masters in his recent short review of the Mahaney book, saying that it “hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world.”

Others have obviously been influenced by Mahaney’s book.  Blog posts began to appear everywhere that argued that worldliness is a heart matter, so the standards in churches and lines drawn are moralistic and legalistic, argued with fervent dogmatism.  Of course, the point of Mahaney’s book was to deal with worldliness, not to encourage it, but the adherents caught one of his major emphases well, that is, people who obsess on externals don’t understand worldliness.  “Oh good, I get to keep my music, my entertainment, my worship, etc.”  Point taken.  The book doesn’t do much to hinder worldliness.

But why would anyone write a book against worldliness but not be against worldliness?   Worldliness is often how churches today got where they are.   Worldliness is the goose that laid their golden eggs.  They’ve produced worldly goslings, but they can’t very well destroy the goose.  They use worldly music, encourage worldly dress, offer worldly activities, and allow for worldly amusement.  It’s no wonder that they’ve got worldly people who need a book against worldliness.  But you can’t slay the goose.  So you go after “internal worldliness” with hopes for some kind of restraint.

However, Mahaney provides a perfect cover for the worldly person, excusing his worldly look, taste, and conduct.  He says he has a scriptural basis for it and he uses the classic passage, 1 John 2:15-17.   In an elaboration on v. 16, he writes:

Notice that in enlarging upon what is “in the world,” John doesn’t say, “this particular mode of dress, this way of speaking, this music, these possessions.”

Mahaney relies on the New International Version to continue with this point:

No, the essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.

Some of what Mahaney says is correct.  The internal is important, even as James wrote in his epistle in chapter 4 concerning carnal desires over which we will fight and war.

Mahaney makes at least two errors that debilitate his presentation.  First, 1 John 2:15 is far from the proof text on worldliness.  What about Romans 12:2?  What about worldliness as it relates to the doctrine of holiness, in setting a difference or distinction between the sacred and the profane?  Second, he doesn’t hit target in dealing with 1 John 2:15-17.  It reads as someone who comes to the text with a lifestyle to protect.

What about Romans 12:2?

Romans 12:1-2 is “gospel centered.”  We’ve got eleven chapters of gospel presentation.  What does the gospel effect?  It effects acceptable, spiritual worship, the saint offering his body to God according to His will.  That offering must not conform in its externals to the spirit of this age.  Certainly, for that to be accomplished requires a renewing of the mind.  You can’t think the same way about the world as you did when you were lost and not be conformed to it.   So this isn’t “moralism,” a regular strawman of the new worldly Christianity.

We don’t have a reason to define worldliness only with 1 John 2:15-17.  Those who claim to walk in the light, but love the world, are lying.  Those who love the world conform to the world.  Loving the world isn’t good and neither is conforming to it.  You can’t say, however, that you don’t love it when you conform to it.  The new approach to worldliness separates loving it from conforming to it.  They’ll say they don’t.  That’s part of the deniability found in ambiguous communication.  They can profess that they weren’t dismissing externals really, but if you read their writing, they leave them by the wayside.

How do you conform to the kosmos, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist?  You do it with the way you talk, dude.  You do it with your comfort first, shabby, disrespectful dress.  You do it with your groovy music, your deco art, your fashions, your recreation, your amusement, and your entertainment.   These externals smack of a philosophy originating from a system operating in opposition against God.

What about Worldliness as it Relates to the Doctrine of Holiness?

Holiness is described by more than just moral purity, but also the transcendent majesty of God.  It relates to distinctions that separate us unto God from the common or the profane.

And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be.  Exodus 8:23

[T]hat ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. Exodus 11:7

And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;  Leviticus 10:10

Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.  Ezekiel 22:26

God wanted a difference put between the holy and the profane.  That explains “be not conformed to this world.”  It also helps us understand this verse in Zephaniah 1:8.

And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

God will punish those who “are clothed with strange apparel.”  “Strange” could be understood as worldly.  The clothing itself is “strange” or “worldly,” in fitting with a profane culture.  The “strange apparel” meant something—it has a philosophy that accompanied it.  We see this same kind of teaching from Paul in 1 Corinthians.  Paul says that an “idol is nothing” in 1 Corinthians 8:4, because “there is none other God but one.”  And yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 19-21 that the idol, even though it is nothing, has a meaning to it that is devilish.

The pagan, anti-God philosophy of this world weaves its way into every part of a culture.  For this reason, everything must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that which associates itself with a humanistic or depraved way of thinking must be eschewed (1 Thessalonians 5:22).  This applies to piercings, modern art, tattoos, extreme hair styles, rock, rap, and country.  In other words, we are not to “[fashion ourselves] according to the former lusts in [our] ignorance: but as he which hath called [us] is holy, so be [we] holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:14-15).  Every aspect of our conduct or behavior is to be distinct.  In no way should our externals reflect the old unregenerate life.

Hitting or Missing on 1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Mahaney leaves out the first part of 1 John 2:15 in his exegesis.  His description of v. 16, which isn’t completely accurately portrayed by the NIV, explains the love for the things “in the world.”  But v. 15 starts with “love not the world” before it moves to “neither the things that are in the world.”  The world itself is external.  Mahaney argues that “the world” is only internal because that’s how it is described in v. 16.  But v. 16 is explaining the things in the world, not the world itself.

The word “man” isn’t even found in the original language of v. 16 (or in the KJV).  What is translated “sinful man” in the NIV is a single Greek word, the word for “flesh” (sarx).   The NIV makes this “sinful man.”  The Greek words translated “cravings” and “lust” in the NIV are actually the same word in the Greek New Testament (epithumia), as we can see reflected in the KJV.   When you read the NIV, you’d think that there were two different words.   Mahaney applies two different meanings, when they are actually both the same word.  The NIV uses so much dynamic equivalence that you can’t get the true sense of 1 John 2:16 from its translation—and yet that is the translation that Mahaney chooses to use.  It suits his purposes for his treatment of worldliness.

The lust and pride are a problem, but so are things in the world.   We are not to “love the world.” “The world” that we’re not to love is a system that includes dress, music, entertainment, art, conduct, politics, and fashion.  Satan is the prince of this current system, one that will be overthrown by Jesus Christ in the imminent future.  Yes, weaving its way in this false system are the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”  Those are not of the Father.  We are to love only that which is of the Father.  Whatever smacks of the world’s philosophy, the spirit of this age, we’re not to love.  We’re called upon to show discernment and say “no” to some things.  Those things are on the outside.

Quietism versus Pietism

From Mahaney and Piper (and many other evangelicals) we’re to assume something gospel driven that so swings away from human effort.  I believe it misrepresents the gospel and God’s grace.  God’s grace teaches to deny.  Grace fuels human effort.  We live by faith.  We don’t let go and let God.  The new nature possessed by the converted will do good (Romans 7:21).

The truth is that the new definers of worldliness emphasize conduct.  It’s just that it is, and ironically, the loose conduct appealing to the lust of the flesh.  And they’re judging externals.  They will judge your standards (which they do have) to be more strict than theirs, so you must be the legalist and the moralist.  Even in writing style they work hard to make it as easy as possible to understand.  Even in the dress down style of the sovereign grace ministries, something strategic is going on with their urban chic and soul patches.   They are working at attracting or making comfortable a certain demographic.  Something is driving all that, but it isn’t the gospel.

Perhaps it might dawn on these “gospel driven” that grace works toward using the ruler to draw the lines.  It is grace working though.  Old Testament Israel tested God’s grace by getting as close to evil as possible ( 1 Corinthians 10).  Thinking their liberty would kick in on their behalf, these Jews in the wilderness fell because they didn’t get further away from the evil.  They should have set up some safety boundaries.   The real bondage was found in their attraction to worldly things.   God’s grace and the gospel would have driven to distance themselves from them.

What we have here is the age-old tug of war between quietism and pietism.  Quietism is a view of sanctification in which the Christian exerts the least effort possible to ensure a product from God’s working.  On the other hand, there is pietism, which asserts that we must work hard and discipline ourselves to effect the favor from God that will empower the Christian life.  Neither of these are true.  The phantom enemy of Mahaney and his crowd is a pietism that wishes to bind his adherents in shackles of extra-scriptural regulations.  Most false beliefs that would dictate their desired point of view benefit from a boogeyman to inspire irrational fear.   Pietism is the boogeyman of only internal worldliness.


The grace of God that works in believers “denies ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12).   As God is working in both to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), true Christians are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  What is this “fear and trembling”?  It is the fear of sinning, the distrust of human strength in the face of powerful temptations, and the terror at the thought of dishonoring God.  The fear of God and his judgment seat motivated Paul to labor for Christ’s acceptance (2 Corinthians 5:11-12).  When Philippians 2:13 says “to will,” the word speaks of the believer’s intent.  God instills in His own the desire to please Him.  He so respects God that he puts a distance between himself and the world, making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).

Noah and his family were “saved by water” (1 Peter 3:21).  What did water save them from?  The ark saved them from destruction, but the water saved them from the world.  God promises to be a Father to those who come out from the world and “be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:18).  Having that promise, a believer will “cleanse himself of all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Worldliness is more than internal.  Believers will visibly and tangibly separate themselves from the world like Noah and his family did on the ark, and like God expected of Israel in the wilderness.  Out of honor to God, to please Him, and with fear and trembling, they will work out their salvation.  If it’s out, then it isn’t in.  God put it in.  Christians work it out.  What God’s children work out is going to look and sound like something way different than this world system.

  1. July 10, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Honestly, I sometimes wonder if the tension over things like movies, music, and so on is not just a convenient way to distract ourselves from bigger things.

    I note that the scriptures frequently applaud poverty, and say things like “give everything you have to the poor”. When you point these scriptures out to the typical baptist/reformed/evangelical, they will come up with all sorts of sophisticated reasoning to justify having a fat 401k and two summer homes. But they’ll make sure you know that it’s wrong to show your kids a rated “R” movie.

    I myself am guilty of living a too-comfortable life, so I’m not judging anyone but myself here regarding money. But the point is that there is a huge lack of perspective in most of these discussions, and I really don’t trust the credibility of anyone who talks about separation from worldliness without addressing the issue of money. I suspect that if Christians treated personal property the same way as the early Christians did, then most of these other issues of worldly separation would solve themselves automatically,

  2. July 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

    “How do you conform to the kosmos, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist? You do it with the way you talk, dude. You do it with your comfort first, shabby, disrespectful dress. You do it with your groovy music, your deco art, your fashions, your recreation, your amusement, and your entertainment. These externals smack of a philosophy originating from a system operating in opposition against God.”

    For some reason I can’t escape the irony of that being posted on a BLOG.

  3. July 10, 2009 at 11:18 am


    Thanks for commenting. We don’t have anyone like you are mentioning in our church—no one that owns a summer home. I think that you are right that love of money is an issue. You could categorize it as a love for the world. Maybe I separate it into its own category. I see money getting in the way of salvation, the thorny ground, and holding young people back from serving the Lord full time. They don’t want to do what my wife and I have done because you won’t have much—or go to the mission field because of the living conditions. So that is a kind of worldliness, yes.

    I don’t agree that today you’ve got worldliness solved if you deal with the issue of personal possessions. We are right next to Berkeley, and I’m in that town all the time. You’ve got a lot of people there that live a kind of monastic state regarding personal possessions, showing off their care for the poor, that are worldly as anyone. And the truth is that they never do solve the problem of the poor. They make it worse. It’s mainly a show, their concern for the poor. To help the poor in most countries, they need a change in lifestyle, so again it is evangelism. They are suffering and will continue to suffer no matter how much money you pour into them.

    This isn’t an either/or. I don’t think you should see it that way. In other words, the kind of worldliness I’m talking about is very serious. In this article I was mainly exposing one thing—the internal only worldliness. However, people want to fit into the world and it has more to do than money. And plenty of poor people are as worldly as one can get, especially in this country. They stay poor in part because they can’t say no to the world.

    When you talk about giving everything to the poor, I know of Jesus and the rich young ruler (Mt 19). That wasn’t a command to everyone to give to the poor—there is some personal and national context there to that text. Jesus was exposing his covetousness, when he said that he had kept all of the law—so he was dealing with his self-righteousness.

    Sometime we’ll write here on the issue of poverty and the believer’s relationship to it. I have definite beliefs on it. I think someone would be hard-pressed to deal with those kind of issues on an everyday basis as much as I have in my life. I caught the “don’t trust the credibility,” but I think you should take a step back from that.

  4. July 10, 2009 at 11:28 am


    The internet and a blog of themselves are not worldly, any more than new kinds of fabric, projectors, sewing machines (versus your hands), and padded pews are worldly. I think it is a deflection totally. I’m reading someone’s personal memoir about WW2 right now, who was involved in artillery, and he moved from the horse drawn artillery to the motorized, half-track, variety. His battalion blew up some horse-drawn German guns. Were the Americans worldly? They should have stayed with horses? I see that as the level of argumentation here.

  5. July 10, 2009 at 11:33 am

    By the way, the biggest criticism of Masters’ article was: no exegesis. Just two verses included. Of course, this written by men who had zero exegesis in their criticisms. They used no exegesis to criticize no exegesis. Can anyone say “beam in the eye?” Masters has written a ton of exegesis, and I think he really was fleshing out Romans 12:2.

    So here I use exegesis. Here is the exegesis. I’m debunking the internal only worldliness. That was my point. Is it a valid point or not? I think it is and I also have a historic basis for it as seen in a few of my links.

  6. July 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    But are they really advocating “internal only”? I think it’s more like internal emphasized. And that’s probably a reaction against external emphasized, which admittedly many on the side of Mahaney would probably inaccurately call “external only.”

    Even with the things in your article I still don’t know if the case is internal only. The emphasis is on the internal, but isn’t that the Bible’s emphasis? Is it not a major problem when people conform on the outside and are not changed on the inside? I’m reminded of Jesus rebuke for those who worship Him in vain but their hearts are far. The command in John is to “love” not the world. That’s internal. I could appear to love not the world, but the command isn’t “appear” it’s “love.” Furthermore, Romans 12 speaks of being renewed in our minds. That’s pretty internal.

    Please don’t get me totally wrong here, I agree with you to some extent. And I think many on the side you’re criticizing have been too careless and there is an underlying fear of legalism so no one wants to point to tangible things that are right and wrong. But, I’m also fully acquainted with a checklist sort of righteousness that I think is more destructive and deceitful. Out of the heart are the issues of life, and I’m thankful for those who keep the emphasis of worldliness on the heart and not the externals. If they take it so far as to deny that any external action is worldly (internal only) then, yes, they would be wrong. But reducing worldliness down to a style becomes way too messy, and we set ourselves up as the arbiter for what modern, trendy things are good (blogs, perhaps), and bad (designer jeans to church, perhaps).

  7. July 10, 2009 at 3:03 pm


    Good discussion.

    1 John 2:15 does deal with the internals. So does James 4. However, you’ve got Rom 12:2 and that’s what Masters was pointing out. And holiness, as I showed through scripture. That is missing in the Mahaney book. It’s obviously both, in and out. Out is the greater problem today as I see it.

    Notice evangelicals being concerned. MacArthur and Johnson about the grunge Christianity, but they really do not provide much of a basis for not being grunge. They go after the bad language, but they don’t give enough nuance to show how that in application, based on their own terms, they’re adding to scripture. It’s as if they’re afraid to develop what I’ve shown here. Plus, perhaps their principles will come back on their own practices.

    Was there a problem with someone’s heart who worshiped in the high places? Yes. But was there something wrong with worshiping in the high places? Yes. But why? Scripture didn’t say it was wrong.

    You can’t really confront a worldliness of the heart. It makes it a very convenient kind of worldliness. You can confront why it is that someone has deco grafiti font on their shirt and a pierced eyebrow and jeans hanging down with boxers peeking out. Be not conformed, yes, must be judged. That’s why we have spiritual leaders, to judge things that are based on principles of scripture. Spiritual leaders aren’t automatrons who function as scripture playback.

    I think we live in era where more young people than ever don’t want to be told what to do. They want to dress and talk and do what they want without judgment. We’ve got older adults who want to attract this sector of the population. They do it with these props or as Finney would put it, new measures. The thing is to be Christian and hip. Hip to what?

  8. Joshua A
    July 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Looks like there are two Joshua’s here, I’ll give myself a A just to differentiate:


    I think your point that money is also important stands, but I’m not sure it stands in such a way as to negate any of the points Brandenburg made above. Maybe that wasn’t your intention.

    Just something that bears pointing out – 1 Timothy 6:
    17Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
    18That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

    Paul is giving Timothy instructions to pass on to the rich people in his Church. He’s not assuming they wont be there. I’m not rich, and I know I’ll never be so, but you can judge folks for being rich just as quick as you can judge them for what they watch/do. I’m part of the counting ministry at my church, and some of the wealthier people there give more proportionally than anyone else. It’s not cut and dried with wealth.

    My advice – just take it all as is. Brandenburg’s points about external worldliness hold. You can add the love of money to that. But lets not fall into the trap of saying “I’m not going to hear standards talk until someone starts talking about money”. Ignoring one part of Scripture because you think someone else is neglecting another is never wise. Examine the life of any preacher and you’ll find some measure of inconsistency because he is a fallen creature.

  9. P S Ferguson
    July 11, 2009 at 7:34 am

    It is ironic that those “fake-Calvinists” who claim to be obsessed with “the Glory of God” go out of their way to defend everything opposed to that glory. When Moses met the Lord he had to remove his shoes from his feet and when David went into the tabernacle after the death of his son we are told he, “washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped” (2 Sam 12:20). When John the apostle met the risen Christ He fell at His feet as dead (cf. 1 Pet 2.17; Rev 19.5). Unfortunately these “legalists” had not read Mahaney’s “new revelation” that externals do not matter!!

    If it is all just “inward” why did Uzzah lose his life because of the failure of David to observe the outward prescribed order of worship? Charismatics and Neo-Evangelicals continue to perpetuate the false doctrine that the outward form of the music is irrelevant. Typical is John Piper who argues, “What we find in the New Testament, perhaps to our amazement, is an utterly stunning degree of indifference to worship as an outward ritual, and an utterly radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart…. The very epistles that are written to help the church be what it ought to be in this age [are] almost totally devoid of…explicit teaching on the specifics of corporate worship.” The Scriptures make abundantly clear that God is very concerned about both the outward and the inward aspects of worship. Most church music today deceives the listener about the character of God by delineating Him as a fluffy grown up version of us. If we cheapen God before our children by representing Him as our “buddy” then we should not be surprised if they become adults without an exalted view of Him.

    There is a style of singing that is sensual and ungodly. The Scriptures record that there is a singing style of a harlot (Isa 23:15) and a dress style of a harlot (Prov 7:10). So clear is this that the Scripture does not need to detail this. We see this sensual style exhibited in the immodest attired worship bands who sensually croon into the microphones using the name of our Lord. The world knows the power of music to stir the emotions in certain ways – hence the billions spent on composing the right kind of advertisement and movie music. Music in these contexts is arranged with a deliberate agenda to move people in a specific way.

    We are to serve and worship “with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29; Psa 2:11). We get an insight in Revelation 5:11-14, of the style of worship that God enjoys continuously in Heaven, which resembles the reverential fear we see in Isaiah 6. This means that we need to avoid frivolity and frenzied worship. Disorderly worship was a characteristics of the worship of the Corinthians which is why Paul had to remind them that orderliness was next to godliness, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). Disorderly singing is like disorderly speech as both dishonour God. As Paul reminds, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33) and “Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor 14:26). The Lord forbids his people to imitate pagan ways of worship (Deut 12:2-4). We are commanded “Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jer 10:2) and not to pour new wine into old wineskins (Psalm 137; Mark 2:22). The 10th chapter of Leviticus sets forth a telling reminder of God’s displeasure with mixing “strange fire” not “commanded” by God. In a solemn warning of the need for holiness in worship, “the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3). Good intentions is not an excuse for worship which God has not sanctioned (1 Sam 13:13-14). Erroneous worship is built upon the convenience and personal desires of the worshipper (1 Kings 12:28b, 29).

    As a consequence of the character of God, and as we are offering our music to Him, it is necessary to offer Him the very best we can do. Psalm 33:3 tells us to “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” The musicians selected for the worship of the Temple (2 Chron 5:11-14) were mature (above thirty) and clearly very talented, which obviously mattered. The concept of musical skill is mentioned several times in the Bible (1 Sam 16:18; 2 Chron 34:12; Ps 137:5). They were also well dressed in “fine linen.” So here we have order and excellence with Levitical music directors, a trained orchestra (trumpeters), and choir (Levitical singers) joining together to praise the Lord. The performance of the ministry of music was subordinate to the priests (1 Chron 23:28). The Levites did not sing whatever they wished but from an inspired God-Centred hymnbook of the Psalms “praising and thanking the LORD” which sang that was written for corporate worship. They were headed up by a theologically mature Levite, Chenaniah, who taught them the theology as he “instructed about the song” (1 Chron 15:22). The other prominent musicians such as Heman, Asaph, and Ethan (1 Chron 15:19) it should be noted were Levitical priests, men who had been trained in the Scriptures. All the temple musicians and singers were prepared spiritually and set aside and ordained for their ministry (1 Chron 15:12, 14).

    Christians are generally clear at fighting relativism when it comes to matters of truth, save for the truth of hymn lyrics and music genres. If music is neutral why does the world call it “the universal language?” Also, if we cannot objectively determine what is good music, then what shall we sing in heaven? If we deny there is music that is bad, we have completely abandoned any thought of good music which denies the nature of God as a God of beauty. Music, as an art, is an expression that forms the culture. Today, we have music as a dominant indicator of an apostate culture, in which the trend is truly downward, spiralling from tonality to mere brute noise, but taking the culture with it. The great hymns and tunes of the past were composed under the purview and authority of the church, they were not taken from the world.

    Holiness is not a lottery, where you choose the numbers and hope for the best as “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Psa 119:6). We must note that the hymn writers we sing are teachers to our people also and, indeed, are arguably more so as their words are heard repeatedly and are memorised by our children. If we fail in maintaining the highest standard in corporate worship, then we will allow the next generation to be taught their theology from those least able to instruct such as sodomites, Unitarians, and charismatics. Aside from the insult to Almighty God of offering anaemic worship, the didactic failure will have tragic consequences for the future.

  10. July 11, 2009 at 7:52 am

    @Kent — Very good point about the union of worldliness with “thrift” in places like Berkley, Williamsburg, etc. I think you’re 100% correct: choosing poverty can be done for worldly motives. I do think that God calls us to give sacrificially, and I think most of us err far too much on the side of personal property rather than giving all we have to God, but I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts at a future date.

    @JoshuaA — Funny, my initials are J A, too 🙂 And you are right: I didn’t mean to negate the point about worldliness being external, but instead to underscore it. I think Kent’s point rebutting the idea of “internal-only” is a very important point. And to my mind, nothing is more external/objective/material than money.

  11. July 13, 2009 at 10:35 am

    PS Ferguson,

    Very well written and informative.

    Joshua (the first commenter),

    Thanks for your consideration and the thoughts about money.

    Joshua (the second commenter),

    Again, well thought out and argued.

  1. July 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm
  2. April 2, 2010 at 4:11 pm
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