Friday, March 23, 2007

Life Notes - Relational Thing (2)

Christianity is a relational thing.

A friend on a forum where I take part in the discussions recently wrote:

"If I could sing praises to God with the instrument alone in my home, then I could do it in a church building with others. Worship is worship is worship. If I'm home doing it and NOT worshiping, then what am I doing? Pretending to be worshiping?"

So I wrote her a note back to share how my own thinking about instrumental music and Christian worship got started with a similar question. Here's what I wrote to my friends on that forum, many of whom, like me, have questioned the fact that where we grew up going to church, we never used instruments to accompany the vocal singing. We never used them at all, except for the occasional pitch pipe for the first note of a song or a hymn. We sang a cappella style. Why? I wondered. Here's a few more of my thoughts on the subject of music and questions we ought to ask ourselves...

I grew up asking that very same question! I asked a lot of questions then, and still do, I guess. And I agree with your answer, as far as it goes. Would you mind if I share some more questions? If you do, then stop reading...because I have a few I'd like to ask anyone who never sings a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song to the accompaniment of musical instruments. I ask to learn.

Please note that I am not seeking to accuse anyone with these questions, but rather am seeking to get us all to focus in on the influence that music has in our lives...even subliminally.

Here goes:

1) Do you only listen to a cappella music, or do you sometimes listen to Contemporary Christian music and just not sing along - even in your heart? Also, do you ever listen to Rock'n'Roll or Country or Metal or Classical or Jazz or R&B or other genres of music? And do you know any of the lyrics to Garth Brooks' song Unanswered Prayers? or the Kentucky Headhunters' version of Spirit In The Sky? or Cat Stevens' Peace Train or Morning Has Broken? or any of dozens of other poular tunes of almost every genre that express the faith of the writers? How are those songs okay to hum or sing along to if we should never use IM in praise to God?

2) IF you listen to other types of music than just a cappella, do you pay attention to the words to keep your mind and heart pure and undefiled by the messages of songs that do not seek to glorify God at all, but rather quite the opposite? (Why allow subliminal messages that promote acceptance of sinful thinking?)

3) IF you only listen to non-verbal instrumental music - or at least, non-vocal - do you seek to find out whether the composer wrote that song in appreciation to the Lord? Would it matter to you if a song using IM was written to lift the soul and open the heart to the very Spirit of God? (And do you ever feel so lifted when you heard a song played with IM accompanying?)

4) Do you believe "secular" music to be sinful, since it does not focus on bringing glory to God? Do you listen to such music on the radio? What do you do when someone else turns on such music in your presence, or when an elevator has Musak playing softly as you ride in it?

5) How do you feel about music that links nationalistic patriotism with faith in God - the way God Bless America or America the Beautiful does? And what do you do with John Denver's Thank God I'm A Country Boy? or even a song like Barry Manilow's Oh Mandy that speaks of someone who came and gave without taking? Do you quickly shut off the radio when such a song with IM stirs you to think about Jesus or God in some way?

These are all good questions, some admittedly more valid for some people than for others. And I have wrestled with every one of them many times over, as one who grew up in the non-IM churches of Christ. I wrestled with them when my Dad played a song from the hymnal in our living room on the organ or piano. I wrestled with them when I first heard The Imperials perform Water Grave. I wrestled with them while I was in a very conservative preaching school and listening to Amy Grant and Ray Boltz and The Imperials on my compact tape player as I worked at my Grounds Maintenance Chief job that helped to get us through those lean years.

But I was never satisfied to just accept the music, even when in High School as a part of the Chorus we had Christmas and Easter programs that included the Hallelujah Chorus(?) and Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee and even Handel's Messiah. I searched the scriptures and read all I could find on why we didn't use IM in worship and what the words meant in the pertinent passages and what the messages of those passages were. I read as widely and as exhaustively as my reading skills and eager mind could find and allow. And I sought to expand my reading as I expanded my skills in reading languages. I spoke with brethren privately who taught me and whom I respected as students of the Word to ask what they taught and why. I studied and memorized all the arguments for and against that I could get my greedy little hands on. I did not just accept that we live in a world moved by music and have not enough control over all that we hear. For a while I even took to using the stairs, no matter how high the climb, to avoid the Musak - so I know what it means to be serious about this.

You know the conclusions I've reached so far. I have not made any of them secret at all. I have poured out my heart here. Would you share with me what you struggle with about IM as well? I hope so - so that I can continue to grow and so encourage you...because I have studied long and hard and have not arrived at perfect knowledge. I live what I know and I trust in grace all along the way. So...will you journey beside me in this study? We may not agree, but I, for one, will be richer for the time spent sharing the journey...and maybe you will, too.


reborn1995 said...

i had an opposite sort of struggle. when i was a very young Christian, i was involved in "Christian music"--i was in a heavy metal band that would play in churches, we wrote lyrics that were religious in nature, and we would even preach to the crowd sometimes in between songs.

but i had a nagging thought in my head toward the end of a year of being in that band. who's idea was it really for me to be using music this way? who's idea was it really that my band and the songs i wrote in it is what God really wanted and what pleased Him? i couldn't find anywhere where God has *asked* me to do such a thing. And more than that, i became more and more honest about the fact that i was doing it because *i* wanted to regardless of what God asked me to do. My will and desires were really the center of my practice in that case.

So i gave it all up. i came to the belief that, insofar as i could understand and detect, i needed to not presume to know what God wants or what pleases Him. If it does, He'll tell me so. And besides, there's plenty that He has told me He wants and pleases Him to keep me busy for a lifetime so that i really don't have time leftover to worry about inventing new things to test His pleasure or desire.

i do still play guitar for fun. i don't think it as a hobby brings any more or less glory to Him than gardening or scrapbooking or stamp collecting. And it's also been a livelihood for me as well.

i believe i can listen to "secular" music and do so still to His glory. i can listen to music every bit as much to the glory of God as i can pick up To Kill a Mockingbird and read it to the glory of God.

i do agree with the sentiment of your quoted writer though, i don't see the distinctions in times and places of worship that we've historically drawn. That's why i personally wouldn't use an instrument to worship whether i was alone or gathered with others.

Candle (C & L) said...

Zeig - Thank you for sharing this. I am not all musically inclined -- indeed I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I have however learned to sing with my heart and can follow someone else's lead and sing fairly well now afer years of doing so -- I doubt that in an IM setting that I would ever have even participated and I would have missed the joy of praising God for his "Amazing Grace" or expressing my longing to "Fly Away" so I appreciate my non-IM heritage and wish it to continue.

Having said that I no longer accept the scriptural "case" against IM as something I would want to "bind" on other Christians. God made us as a diverse people with a variety of gifts and I expect he can accept people who praise him in various ways. We need to learn how to be united in that diversity-- even if we can't hum and strum in the same place at the same time.

I've been lurking on the BS list and see your continued writings. Looks like I'm over the crunch of the past 6 weeks and hope to embark on our "land cruise" on Monday so maybe I'll have some time for these "virtual" visits and discussions over the next month or so.

God Bless