I believe we have good biblical grounds for regulating worship by Scripture. True worship recognizes Who God is and gives Him what He wants. We find out Who He is and what He wants in the Bible. God’s Word is sufficient. In so being, Scripture limits what worship is. It is only what God says He wants, which is only in His Word. We know from the Bible that God forbids additions and deletions to the elements He prescribes for worship—since worship is only what He wants. God is God, He wants what He wants, and that’s alone what He will receive. He rejects those elements He does not prescribe.
Worship in and by the church is regulated alone by the Bible. The New Testament reveals elements of worship that God wants from the church: reading the Word, preaching the Word, singing, prayer, baptism and Lord’s Supper, and collection of offerings. You’ll notice that among those six that the altar call or invitation is missing. You won’t find the altar call in the New Testament—it isn’t an element of worship.
Preaching of God’s Word is an element of worship. Regarding preaching, we read the following in James 1:19-21:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Is the listening to preaching an element of worship? I believe that it is part of the element of preaching. The preacher and the listeners, the congregation, are worshiping simultaneously. They are all saying “yes” or “amen” to the message of God from His Word. This is an offering to God, an offering of one’s mind, heart, and body to whatever God says, as preached and heard in the preaching. Only a certain hearing of the preaching is to God acceptable, which is, as seen in v. 19, “swift to hear.” In line with that in v. 21 is “receive with meekness the engrafted word.” “Swift to wrath” and “slow to hear” are both unacceptable to God as an offering. God rejects those two. God doesn’t accept any kind of hearing to His preaching than “swift to hear” and “receive with meekness.”
And then we can see in the above text in v. 21 that besides the preaching and the hearing, there is also a response to the preaching. This too is prescribed worship. What is it? It is to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” A part of the element of preaching is the response to preaching, which is doing what this first part of v. 21 says. This is an actual sacrifice on the part of the hearer. He is sacrificing something: filthiness and naughtiness. Not fulfilling this response is taking away from the Word of God and is not acceptable to God within the perimeters of the element of preaching.
How does someone lay aside filthiness and naughtiness either during preaching or after preaching? How he does this is a circumstance for worship. A church could choose to have him do this sitting there in his seat. A church could suggest to him as an application to get some further instruction and application from someone in another room. A church might apply this Divine instruction by inviting those with the filthiness and naughtiness to come forward and kneel at the front of the auditorium. None of these are the actual element of the worship, but merely the circumstances of the element.
Concerning the circumstances of worship, Brian Schwertley writes:
The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.” The only way someone can learn a worship ordinance is to study the Bible and see what God commands. But the circumstances of worship are not dependent on the explicit instructions of the Bible; they depend only upon general revelation and common sense (“Christian prudence”).
The Bible does not command for offering plates, hymnbooks, pews, or microphones. Those are all circumstances of the elements of either the collection, singing, or preaching. The “altar call” or invitation could fall within the perimeters of the circumstances of preaching.
Richard Baxter wrote:
What a loathsome and pitiful thing is it, to hear a man bitterly reproach those who differ from him in some circumstances of worship.
I don’t think we should assume that someone who gives an invitation at the end of preaching is disregarding the regulative principle of worship. I don’t believe we should regard someone who practices an invitation as an innovation beyond that which God prescribed. He could be obeying James 1:21 as a circumstance of worship.
1 Kings 12:25-33 is a pivotal section of scripture. In those verses we get some insight into God’s thinking about what He said about worship. God wanted the kingdom split at that juncture (1 Kings 11, 12:1-24). However, He didn’t want changes in worship, like changes in the manner, the place, and the time of prescribed worship. To keep his crowd and make it all more convenient, Jeroboam built new places of worship at Dan and Bethel. “But God didn’t say that they couldn’t worship somewhere else!” He did say Jerusalem, but He didn’t say “not Dan and Bethel.” And Jeroboam did argue the advantages of Dan and Bethel. And that reminds me of Saul arguing the advantages of what He did. Stuff makes sense to us that is different than what God said.
Today God prescribes the worship in a place too—the church. I’m happy about all the writing today that criticizes the modern violations of the means and manner of worship. I believe we have New Testament absolutes about the kind of music God wants to receive in worship. I think contemporary Christian music is a travesty. But what about all the deviations of New Testament place of worship? Why then the silence about this aberration? The worship prescriptions of Romans 12 don’t stop at vv. 1-2. You move to vv. 3-8 to find the place of the “reasonable service,” that is, “spiritual worship.” The place is the church. Is modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism moving out of the limitation of the church akin to Jeroboam moving out of the limitation of Jerusalem? I believe they are.
The church is the New Testament temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17). The church is the means by which God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10). God designed the church to protect and propagate the truth (1 Tim 3:15). God has chosen in this age for the church to judge all matters (1 Cor 6). Unto God is glory in the church (Eph 3:21). Jesus gave His authority and the promise of His presence to the church (Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-17; 28:18-20).
Neither the college, the mission board, the convention, the association, the fellowship, nor the camp are found in the Bible. They fall outside the limits of biblical teaching, like Dan and Bethel did and like the cart that carried the ark did. Some might say that those things are not prescribed, but neither are they wrong. They are simply out there to supplement the church. They come up beside the church (“para”) to help the church. Consider what God says about the issue of place with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:30: “And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.” Worshiping in Dan was a sin.
Some might argue that these organizations are just additions. They aren’t replacements for the church. But they are innovations that deviate from scriptural worship.
Someone might say that they are well-intentioned. They’ve got good motives. Uzzah seemed to have a good motive too when he touched the ark. And Saul had a good motive when he kept the best of the animals to use for sacrifices.
Someone might contend that these people are doing good things. They have good preaching, good music, and say the right things to one another that are helpful for the Lord. They are a good opportunity to serve. For instance, in the chapel at the Christian university, the preacher preached a good message and the student body sang really good hymns to worship the Lord. Is that true? If you took various components of Jerusalem worship and moved them to Dan and Bethel would they be acceptable? Verse thirty of chapter twelve says it was a sin. It was a sin. Deviating from God’s prescription for worship is sin.
Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Romans 14:23 says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” God says do it this way and we do it another way. That’s sin. Jesus always did the Father’s will. Like Him, we are to be sanctified by the truth, not by our opinions, by what we think will work, or by what makes us feel good. We are not sanctified by an unbiblical way of doing things.
The Jews thought signs were an effective means of accomplishing God’s will. The Greeks thought that wisdom would work if relied upon. Fundamentalists and evangelicals think that parachurch organizations will help. They can even start listing all the good ways that those non or un-scriptural organizations have helped, just like Charismatics will list all the ways that signs have helped their ministries. But then in 1 Corinthians 3 we see that if we don’t do it His way, it is wood, hay, and stubble. It’s not how God wanted us to build.
So, in other words, I’m not wanting people to have their works be worthless. I don’t want them to be sinning. We probably would all say that we want God to be honored. So I want you to think about this. The fact that I wrote this could become the big deal here. The big deal is our worship of God. What God says about that worship is the big deal. I can’t make someone’s worship valueless. They do that to themselves. I’m just reporting.
OK. Now this is the part that most will think is the tough part. I could have even left it out. But I don’t want to be confusing here. Still, however, I’m going to put it in the way of question. What about Bill Rice Ranch, The Wilds, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Ambassador Baptist College, Baptist World Mission, Baptist International Missions Incorporated, or the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches?
I’ll ask it before you do. What about Jackhammer? What about ‘What is Truth’? Fair question. These aren’t organizations. These aren’t institutions. I’m not serving the Lord at Jackhammer. I’m sent by my church to preach where ever I preach, including online. Jackhammer is nothing more than an element like an offering plate, a cell phone, or a letter. Everything I write here represents my church, exactly what my church would teach. I don’t compromise anything my church teaches to write here. Jackhammer and What Is Truth for me are elements in the ministry of my church.
Many of the arguments for parachurch organizations parallel very closely to the kind of rationalization that Jeroboam made in his own heart. They will work better. They’re just necessary in the times in which we live. A lot of good experiences have been had in and through them.
I know my last three paragraphs might be the most popular in the whole piece. The other popular thing, even more important than judging whether the teaching is scriptural, is to make sure that I’m practicing it all consistently. But read everything that comes up to those three paragraphs. Think about that first and consider whether parachurch organizations are sin.
The breadth of Psalm 98 tells me that God can be and should be worshiped not just with voice or lyrics alone or with voice and instrument combined but also solely with instruments. Here are the words of the psalm:
1 O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. 2 The LORD hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. 3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. 7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together 9 Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
In v. 1 the psalmist calls on his audience to sing a song to God for worthwhile reasons seen in vv. 2-3 and then at the end of v. 9. Everyone is called to praise God, Israel and the rest of the world (vv. 3-4). As we move through here, we can see that God is praised by more than just voice. For instance, in v. 7 the sea is called upon to roar. The sea sings to God in that unique way. And then the floods or streams clap (v. 8a), the hills be joyful together (v. 8b). This passage isn’t calling on people to find the sea or hills to accompany their voice. Each of these—voice, instruments, seas, or streams—separately can praise God.
Certain men allegorize these psalms based upon their New Testament priority. They spiritualize much of the content, leaving the New Testament as the only literal guidebook for worship. And the New Testament doesn’t mention instruments, so churches shouldn’t use them. However, in Ephesians 5:19, the term “making melody” (psallo) means “to pluck on a stringed instrument.” God wants psalms sung, so the psalms are still in play as songs to be sung. Both singing and making melody are to be presented to the Lord, but what about just the “making melody.” I believe Psalm 98 would say “yes.”
I would like to see great musical pieces composed and played for God, offered to Him as worship. It doesn’t have to be the music from a hymn that is sung. It can be music that on its own will praise the Lord. Music that communicates within the nature of the Lord can be used to worship Him. I believe an orchestra even without vocalists can and should play music to God. A soloist can and should play his instrument to the Lord. This justifies becoming a great musician for the Lord not just as accompaniment and with only songs that people may know the words. Great music can and should be written and then played to God. This would be a worthwhile project of a church.
Nobody is really neutral. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “hold” means “suppress.” Whoever does not receive the truth suppresses the truth. Everyone starts from a position of knowing the truth. Paul elaborates a little further in v. 25 by saying that these truth suppressors “change the truth into a lie.”
You might be thinking, “well, they suppress the truth about God, but they don’t suppress all the truth.” Wrong. When you suppress the truth about God, you have also suppressed all the truth. Why? Without God there is no absolute truth, no objective truth. Without God, everything is random and haphazard. Someone may say that he believes the truth about something, but he cannot qualify it as truth without some standard of truthfulness, a standard that does not exist without God.
Now you might be thinking, “well, someone can say that an object is the color red without God.” Wrong again. There would have to be the idea of color, and someone can’t know there is color and that a color is red unless an idea can exist and that someone could think. Without God, everything is essentially molecules indiscriminately meeting and bouncing off of one another. Why is that color? And how could it be red? Without God, everything is subjective. What’s happening on earth is of no more consequence than what is occurring on Neptune. Chemical processes and colliding matter can’t think or make value judgments. They’re just accidents moving toward ultimate entropy.
So for all truth, we start with God. And everybody knows that even if they do suppress it. Since God began everything, He defines everything, and He determines reality. We know God and we know because of God. We don’t really know without Him, so what we know, including what is true, beautiful, and good, is based on Who He is. And there is no neutrality. We all begin with God. It’s just that one admits it and the other suppresses it.
Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, however, have embraced neutrality. This is a trick of Satan, a shell game that he plays with men, so that they will begin to look at life on his terms. He would like men to think, in contradiction to God’s Word, that everyone starts out on even ground or with a blank slate in the development of his beliefs and the determination of what is true or false. With neutrality, revelation is personal so theological knowledge is ambiguous, requiring a response to evidence.
WHERE WE SEE AN EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
This embrace of neutrality is seen in the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of beauty. Beauty has been reduced to a mere mechanical response to sensory input. This neutrality denies intrinsic or inherent beauty or any absolute standard of beauty outside of man’s personal choice. While once Christianity accepted an objective standard of beauty that started with God, evangelicalism has fallen prey to the world view espousing man as the arbiter of beauty. This is manifested today in the evangelical embrace and fundamentalist acceptance of anything-goes in music. Objective beauty, sacred and unprofaned, has been sacrificed on an altar of modern and post-modern culture.
I expect evangelicals to deny this, which, of course, they’ll especially have the right to do in their contemporary realities, dogmatic in their tolerance. Modernism broke down traditional institutions through secularization and urbanization, giving numerous opportunities of pleasure and self-fulfillment. Men then looked at life on their terms. Instead of concentrating on what God expects, churches focused on what people thought or felt they were missing. As modernity stripped life of meaning, which begins and ends with God, men have turned to self to explain. The individual became the ultimate adjudicator of what is beautiful. Evangelicals have accepted this.
In many ways conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have objected to doctrinal relativism. They have held the line to a certain degree at certain fundamental truths. They seem to be proud of this. However, they have embraced neutrality in relationship to aesthetic values—what is beautiful—and all absolute truth to maintain their credibility in a post modern world. This embrace of neutrality is seen in the rampant subjectivity in music for worship both personal and corporate, in the casual and coarse, often immodest, apparel, the vast slippage in the realm of entertainment values, and in the wide-ranging acceptance of doctrinal ambiguity, which includes a shunning of the doctrine and practice of separation. God has been marginalized by having far less importance in man’s actual life.
When you watch evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about doctrine, you hear the damage that their own embrace of neutrality has caused. They pander post-modernity with their theological reductionism, relegating truth to essentials and non-essentials. This plays right into the attack on meaning and the self-autonomy of interpretation. Men are on a quest for knowledge, whose progress is slowed by the oppressiveness of unequivocal and authoritative conviction. Certainty violates personal viewpoint and self as source of meaning. This has reduced the church to a shop for religious consumers. The message must be contextualized to the shopper for accomplishment of mission.
With a conformity to post-modern culture, unity has become the highest value of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. You hear this narrative in today’s political speech, the era of post-partisanship. Political operatives vie for the admiration of the independent voters, a mass of humanity in the ambiguous middle, who are proud for not having made up their minds. Uncertainty is elevated to a sacramental place in American culture with few exceptions, such as food and celebrity. Evangelicals and fundamentalists won’t hold your differing belief and practice against you. You can join in by agreeing to disagree and all getting along based on the supreme injunction of unity in the body; well, with the exception of a few essentials that even in those it’s probably just going to be a matter of interpretation. The embrace of neutrality is witnessed in the compliance to this view of unity.
THE RESULTS OF THE EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
Evangelicals and fundamentalists proclaim the supremacy of the gospel. I don’t mind an emphasis on the gospel. But the point of the gospel, the worship of God, is often lost with this embrace of neutrality. God is seeking for true worshipers (John 4:23-24). The profane, desecrated music that evangelicals especially, but also fundamentalists, offer as worship results from their aesthetic neutrality. They have forsaken an objective beauty and worship is the casualty. God doesn’t accept the ugliness they have decided is acceptable to Him because they have forsaken an absolute standard of beauty.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists have devalued aesthetics, resulting in heteropathy. And as they relate to God, they can’t separate doctrine and practice from affections. Without the proper affections, our relationship to the Lord can’t be right, even if we happen to be doctrinally and practically orthodox. The imitation affections, actually passions, desires mistaken for love, are more blasphemous to God than if He had received nothing, no affection, no passion, no nothing.
The product that is devised and delivered by churches today and called worship blasphemes God by its deviation from beauty. It is often profaned by its fleshly stimulation, its banality, or its kitsch. Like animals churches have become driven by their desires, needs, and appetites, and have treated God and worship itself as an instrument to fulfill those things. God is to be the end in itself of worship, the worship to be governed by devotion to Him and not those things that are the means to us. In his book, Beauty, Roger Scruton has called this profanation that he has seen the “Disneyfication of faith.” He has also written, and I agree (pp. 176, 182):
Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims. In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged and in order to escape the judgment we destroy the thing that seems to accuse. . . . One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total profanation: in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity for the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing of the world, and not just a thing in the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.
What people really love is themselves and the world. They know that’s not right. Their true love they profess is about God is really still about them.
Almost all evangelicals and fundamentalists would say they love the truth. But truth can’t survive their embrace of neutrality. Some truth, sure, but truth as a whole won’t make it with the accession to modern and post modern culture. It does start with certainty about the Words of God. Evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t know that because they have elevated reason above faith in line with modernism. And then meaning of Scripture comes crashing down close behind, because how can we know what words mean if we aren’t sure what they are.
The next victim of the embrace of neutrality is discernment. With the forsaking of objective beauty, what is goodness and true must also necessarily fall by the wayside as well. The certainty here all comes from the same source. When you change the basis of your conclusion to make way for your own opinion, you lose the ability to decide with any authority. Various factions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism stand at various stages of deterioration, but none will survive their embrace of neutrality.
In the end, perhaps what is lost more than anything is obedience to God. God is not pleased. His truth is not respected. His ways are not kept. And the churches are not so concerned.
If your whole life has been lived in a bunker, it will be hard to see the world with any other perspective than the bunker in which you live. That’s what will make this essay hard to accept for evangelicals and fundamentalists. Most will likely never understand because they will refuse to separate themselves from the bunker. If they hear this in a post-modern way, influenced by the world and the Satan’s work to that extent, they will hear this about how Bill Clinton listened to Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I’ll be the villain like him for attempting to impose my oppressive and narrow moral narrative on their unity and their freedom. I’m pretty sure I’ll be thought to be kooky right wing fringe who attempts to dictate my personal preferences to others.
The barbarians are not standing at the gate any longer. In many ways, we’ve become the barbarians. We have allowed the Philistines to have their way. Churches have lost their will to contend. We’re at a very serious time for the truth, for Scripture, for obedience to God, for true worship, for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Please do not dismiss this. Do not take it lightly. Don’t marginalize it. Don’t be fooled. I ask that you consider whether it’s me or it’s you.
8:30-9:30 p.m., March, 27, 2010. Pagan Hour.
If it’s already 9:30 p.m. for you, it’s too late. Sorry. For the rest of you, turn your lights ON between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. TONIGHT. Why on? Because you love God and are jealous for his glory and worship.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)
Maybe I won’t explain myself well enough, but I’m going to make a defense for reckless waste during this one hour of the year.
When God created the earth and man, he gave man responsibility for it and we, therefore, are to be stewards of the whole world. For this reason, I conserve my resources everyday of my life. God has given to me bountifully and as his steward, I strive to keep good care of his gifts. I try to save money and resources all the time because all my money and resources are not really mine–they’re on loan from God.
The World (and it’s ideologies) wants me to make a statement tonight that I’m concerned about the earth and the crisis we are in globally. Are we in a global climate crisis? The Word tells me that God is in control and that He is the one that will destroy it someday. For it to be here for Him to destroy, it will have to stick around until He’s ready to do that. Also, the World tells me that I should surrender the responsibility God has given me and do what my “Mother Earth” wants. If I do that, I’m rebelling against God. If I cave in to the pagan idea of “gaia,” I’m joining the heathen in their worship of the earth. I want to stand in STARK contrast with pagan-heathenism. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
So I’m turning every light on I can think of: and to revel in the bountiful goodness that God has created the earth with, and allowed me to steward, I’m also turning on every electric device I can think of, and leaving plugged in every appliance I can think of, and if I think of anything else, I’m turning that on too.
Tonight at 8:30 p.m. is NOT the time any Christian should be “off the grid.” Consume all the energy you can to the glory of God! (1 Corinthians 10:31)
The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2′
Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.” It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here. I post-scripted it with: “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing. I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes. I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.” That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.
I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism. I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals. Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here. How so? They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness. In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:
I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.
Bravo Art. That’s what we need. We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example. It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier: “Truth is immortal.”
Back to Romans 15
There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.” I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.” Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord. For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God. Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ. They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.
I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God. It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Paul didn’t war after the flesh. In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work. As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.” Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.
Here’s what happens today. Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed. The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work. The seed needs a little help. It needs music. It needs entertainment. It needs stage lights or a night club environment. It needs to look like a theater. It needs a trap set. Maybe even some tattoos. It needs syncopation and driving drum beats. It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction. It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt. It needs stylin’. It needs “dude.” It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving. It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background. It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity). It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample). These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with. Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t. The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged. It smacks of the spirit of this age. It pertains to man.
Holiness Pertains to God
To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.” Those things which pertain to God are holy. Holiness is not just moral purity. It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency. Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane. It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.
The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God. It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17). That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods. The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.” Holines is related to consecration. When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord. Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord. Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.
The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms. He looks to scripture. He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh. A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common. They guarded against the sacred being treated as common. While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.
Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin. It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common. The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred. God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly. They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness. Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred. They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.
Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude. They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness. Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.” “Conformed” is not internal. It is external. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:
14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
“Fashioning” is external.” “All manner” includes internal and external. Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God. That’s why God said through 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.
He would punish those clothed with strange apparel. In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture. God didn’t want them fitting in with the world. He wanted a sacred Israel. He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.
I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with the world. They know how to do it. Almost everybody does. The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more. We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating. We know when a man is acting effeminate. We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word. We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations. The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends. When they succeed, they say that God was responsible. God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock. That end did not justify the means. And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.
Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles. It knows how to play something sensual or sexual. It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions. Conservative evangelicals imitate them. They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in. This is called syncretism—“worshiping” God and using worldly means. It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.
Limitation to Scriptural Parameters
To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19). To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ. Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”
The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines. Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word. That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success. God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives. Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said. Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.
Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture. However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth. Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God. They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God. Paul kept just preaching the gospel. He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work. We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.
Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture
We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example. We’re to be distinct from the world. We should have a unique Christian culture. Culture itself isn’t amoral. Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning. Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not. God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth. He wants us to be different.
If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness. We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy. Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change. They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age. The change will not allow us to fit into the world. The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.
A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).
In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).
Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.
What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.
Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.
This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.
Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.
You sit down with the doctor and he talks to you about a new medication. It will get rid of your skin irritation. However, it will cause migraine headaches, blurred vision, and severe stomach cramps. I think I’d take the skin irritation.
The lure of revivalism is amazing short term, tangible results. Churches have experienced a burst of conversions that overflowed their seating capacity. Sometimes they have had those events and then saw nothing like it ever again. Some haven’t ever seen it, but they’ve read about it. Who wouldn’t want it if it were available?
Revivalism doesn’t advertise its peripheral effects. However, it has several. We’ve already talked about whether revivalism is even revival. That’s bad enough, but then the side effects.
Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (pp. 163-164):
From attitudes of indifference, or of cold religious formality, many are suddenly brought by the hearing of the truth to a concern and distress so strong that it may even be accompanied by temporary physical collapse. The phenomenon of hearers falling prostrate during a service or crying out in anguish is not uncommon at the outset of revivals. . . . A revival is, by its very nature, bound to be attended by emotional excitement. But the course of a revival, together with its purity and abiding fruit, is directly related to the manner in which such excitement is handled by its leaders. Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.
Murray talks about revivalism in Kentucky during what is called “the Second Great Awakening” (p. 177):
We have considered the general detrimental effects which accompanied the awakening in the churches of Kentucky, and noted how these effects gained strength on account of the low level of biblical instruction that was prevalent. Ideas popularized by the spirit of the age were too strong to be counteracted by preachers who were too few in number, or inadequately prepared for a situation of such an extraordinary character.
Murray mentions the “detrimental effects which accompanied” something that was known as a revival. I have my own observations about the harmful side effects of revivalism. I believe that a common assumption today is that these effects are seen almost entirely within a certain branch of fundamentalism. I see revivalism in evangelicalism — including what is considered conservative evangelicalism.
People probably have their idea of who is sanctimonious—anyone with stronger standards than they. I support church-wide application of biblical principles. However, I have noticed a rigidity, tightness, or edginess that often characterizes revivalists. So much is dependent on their getting everything aligned correctly for revival that they obsess over administrative minutiae. Often from top to bottom, revivalists feel a guilt for holding back revival. The Achan in the camp must be found and dealt with harshly.
Much of the Christian life is external. We must obey God in our body, which is His. Externals have gotten a bad rap especially recently. However, because “revival” in revivalism so hinges on a certain performance by us, a wrong emphasis is placed on the externals, resulting in a kind of hyper-externalism.
Young people in hyper-externalism learn how to perform in order to fit the required appearance. They know how not-to-get-in-trouble. They know what it takes to be a good boy and girl. They train themselves to conform to the rules. The strong one could actually be the weak one in this system. The “strong one” may not develop at all in his love for God and scripture. He may just be the one who knows how to toe the line better than others. He knows how someone becomes considered good.
It’s not that internals are ignored completely with revivalists. It’s a matter of not following the emphasis of scripture, which starts on the inside and works its way out. Since so much depends on us in revivalism, keeping everyone in line becomes the challenge, rather than developing the internal convictions and the affections for God. Keeping standards high is seen as the means by which other revival-receivers have obtained their coveted experience. The standards are seen as a means to get God’s blessing.
There are two extremes to externalism. One moves the way of better-than-thou rule keeping. The other travels the road of “I’ve got more freedom than you do.” I call it left wing legalism. It’s probably akin to the Samaritan religion. The left winged legalist focuses on externals as much as the right winger, just in taking about every possible liberty that he can with almost no limitation. And he talks about his liberty all the time, reminding people how free he is by mentioning the movies he went to, his favorite rock band, his latest micro-brew, and the beauty of his goatee and mustache. This guy may be someone who was once a right winger and now he’s proud to be a left winger. He changed uniforms, but he’s still on the same team.
Rituals are not the sole domain of revivalists, but ritualism is a side effect of revivalism. I call it a “punching the time-clock” mentality. We must perform as Christians. Actions are important. However, we are not to be performance based. In revivalism, you’ve got to jump through a certain number of hoops to get the blessing of God. God holds us to the demands of a certain degree and quantity of performance, withholding His special working until we reach the tipping point.
Many revivalists just give up on attempting to fulfill all the criteria required to get God’s special favor. The bar seems to keep getting moved or God has entrusted only a few deserving ones with the special endowment of His power. Once they see that they’ll never find the pebble under the shell, they give up on the inside and start painting on their Christian life. You could call it “paint by numbers” Christianity. They become faithful to the ritual of being a Christian, playing the game, going through the motions. They assume it’s their duty. Lost is joy and love.
Inordinate Human Ingenuity
I read a lot of explanations from evangelicals on their music. They betray their revivalism in what they say. Here’s a typical statement of someone who wants to leave fundamentalism and go to evangelicalism because he doesn’t see enough emotionalism in the “worship”:
While worship can certainly be “overdone” and focused purely on emotions in more contemporary services, Fundamentalism goes to the other extreme. There needs to be balance here and, unfortunately, I’ve attended exactly 2 services in any Fundamentalist church that managed to strike this balance. . . . We are careful to ensure that the emotions are not engaged during the song service because we believe emotional engagement is wrong….unless of course it’s time for the invitation. The command to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (these address the will, emotion, and intellect) doesn’t seem to apply in the church service. We want to engage the will and intellect, but the emotions need to be put down. You will never see hands raised in worship in an IFB church (unless there is an “outsider” visiting), nor will you see anything other than dry eyes at any point during the “worship” service. The church service tends to be a very regimented, dry, rote, obligatory occasion.
What I find very interesting is the emphasis on externals and emotionalism as signs of genuineness. Notice the quote from Murray above, the last part in which he says:
Once the idea gains acceptance that the degree of the Spirit’s work is to be measured by the strength of emotion, or that physical effects of any kind are proofs of God’s action, then what is rightly called fanaticism is bound to follow.
For those who embrace such beliefs will suppose that any check on emotion or on physical phenomena is tantamount to opposing the Holy Spirit.
Later he writes (p. 209):
And in their [wise pastors] view, to lay importance on outward signs of conviction, such as tears, was a sure way to confuse the natural with the spiritual. They also knew that if displays of emotion were allowed to go unchecked in large congregations then, by a principle of natural sympathy, others would soon be affected. The consequent heightened emotion, far from advancing a true revival, could well bring it to an end.
One of the problems with the contemporary “worship” is that it choreographs the emotions with the music. This was a characteristic that Edwards dealt with in his Treatise on Religious Affections. He showed how that scriptural affection starts with the mind, not the body. The latter could be called passions, which is not the quality of the love for God. The mind feeds the affections, which results in an act of the will. Obviously Edwards didn’t have a problem with affection. He criticized the manipulation of it which occurs today with the productions of contemporary Christian music. The problem is not the emotions, but how it is that the emotions are influenced. Targeting them is an act of the flesh.
The nature of contemporary music, which is fitting of the culture from which it was spawned, is emotional. It is intended to make people feel something. This should help you understand the existential nature of this spirituality. It isn’t spiritual worship, which is what scripture requires. It is a feeling that makes someone think he is being spiritual. Because the feeling exists, it must be the spirit. But the feeling was produced by the music. It didn’t come through the mind, but through the body, the flesh. And if it is being sent to God, consideration of making us feel something should be the furthest thing from our mind and will. This is what corrupts the worship to the extent that it is false worship.
I’ve talked about revival being “to be made alive,” so that when revival is occurring, sinners are being converted. Preachers were not satisfied with only the preached Word as a basis for conversion. They wanted more numbers, so they began enacting certain measures that they found worked at seeing more professions of faith. New means were invented to ensure that those hearing would make a decision. The purpose was to get a physical response, either by walking to the front, to an anxious room, or by joining in a scripted prayer. Murray talks about the argument that was used by preachers at the time of the so-called “Second Great Awakening”:
If only some souls are saved by the use of these new measures, we ought thankfully to own their power, and give them our countenance. Conversion is so important that if any cases prove genuine is that not enough to justify the method?
(to be continued)