Evangelical Obfuscation

Recently, I was reading the blog of a well-known ‘conservative evangelical’ ministry, where the topic under discussion was musical style. The author, who wrote a sensible article, suggested a few questions to ask when evaluating church music:

1. What is the lyrical content of the song? Are the words true? Are they biblically accurate?

2. Does the way in which the lyrics are presented cheapen the message?

3. Does the song make you conscious of the Lord, and draw you to Him, or does it distract from true worship?

So far so good. These are helpful, if not a little vague, but helpful nonetheless.

Now comes the clincher: when evangelicals tackle musical style, number four is the kind of thing you get:

4. Do the musical style and performance promote and facilitate a worshipful atmosphere?

Hmmm. That sounds like a politician’s answer.

“How should worship music sound?”

“It should sound worshipful.”

OK. How does this help us? We want to know how we ought to praise the Lord in song, and we are told the music should sound ‘praiselike’.

Now, to be fair, the author is not saying something untrue. It must sound ‘worshipful’. But all he has done is made the question into an answer.  Truth be told, ask 1000 different Christians what ‘worshipful’ sounds like, get 1000 different answers. Some think it is a Hillsong concert, some think it is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Some think it is a blend of hymns and ‘choruses’, some think it is exclusive psalmody. Some think it is rock bands who sing hymns. Some think it is anything musical, so long as the lyrics are doctrinally pure. It seems, to the casual observer, that ‘worshipful’ is in the eye of the beholder.

So, the average evangelical’s standard answer to this sea of opinions is to say, “Music is a Romans 14 issue”. That is to say, music, like food, is something with no intrinsic moral meaning, and the conscience of  individual Christians must dictate what they will listen to.

You can see the gears of Mr Evangelical’s mind working to get to this conclusion:

Premise 1: No one agrees on what worshipful means nowadays.
Premise 2: The Bible hasn’t spelt it out in pedantic detail.
Conclusion: It must be a matter of personal opinion.

As we have said before, the affections are a way of knowing what is appropriate. But because hardly anyone in modern evangelicalism is teaching that the affections are a way of knowing what is worshipful, everyone has carte blanche to bring Cain’s offering, as long as we are sincere, and feel worshipful in our hearts.  And the issue then becomes not about how our affections are shaped to perceive what is worshipful, but how much ‘grace’ I must show others whose idea of worshipful runs completely contrary to mine.
You worship Him with a frenzied cutting of the flesh while frothing at the mouth, I’ll worship Him standing still, singing “Immortal, Invisible”. As long we have ‘grace’ with each other, all is well in the household of faith, it seems.

The fact that modern Christianity has lost the thing that ought to unite us most – a common piety – ought to cause alarm. We have lost a shared feeling of what worshipful is. If we are not united on how we are to respond to the revelation of God, we are in conflict over the central issue. However, modern evangelicalism’s response to the problem has been to take the batteries out of the siren, smile, and say, “It’s a Romans 14 issue.”

Maybe the logic should go like this:

Premise 1: The affections of a Christian help him or her to understand what worshipful means.
Premise 2. No one agrees on what worshipful means nowadays.
Conclusion: The church is in big trouble.

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2 Responses to “Evangelical Obfuscation”

  1. Jonathan Cohen Says:

    This confusion or blurring of the true meaning of worship can only happen in a culture of Christianity where people see church and worship as fragmented pieces of life – things “to be done” when they are not engaged in the more “pragmatic” aspects of daily existence. What is most ironic is that this willful fragmentation, rather than producing a greater zeal for God in the “segment” that has been set aside for His business, in fact results in a greater dilution of the meaning of true worship. It seems the more we flee from a holistic view of Christianity – where our entire lives and hearts are yielded to the Lord – the more He gives us over to our convenient wishy-washy definitions of what it means to serve Him. 1 Cor. 3:13

  2. David Says:

    Fragmentation is the inevitable result of the warping of the affections. When the internal reality is not common, we compensate by ‘specialising’ our ministries and activities. And while we get more and more ‘efficient’ in our ministries, everyone conveniently ignores the camel in the room: we don’t agree on what worshipful means. So much so, that we have to offer different services on a Sunday for different ‘tastes’.

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