by John Vaughn
Nothing seems to provoke dogmatic statements like dogmatic statements. Solomon said in Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” The thoughts in this column are a sincere attempt at a soft answer, but they may still touch a nerve. Most of our controversies involve three groups that don’t seem to be very helpful. Some that don’t really know the subject; others who have a limited understanding of theology; and some who just aren’t godly. But as much as we would love to do our arguing out of earshot of those we are trying to reach for Christ, we may have to admit that these three groups force us to think about the issues.
Music matters. When fundamental churches have resolved this issue and moved on to some new controversy, we will all have a better understanding for having gone through the debate. Without repeating what has been written elsewhere — even in this issue of Frontline [Sept/Oct, 2000] — may we suggest some other areas on which the debate has impact. A generation is growing up listening to what we are saying and watching what we are doing. Many of them couldn’t care less about this fuss over church music and just follow their personal tastes and interests. Others want to do right but are either confused or developing convictions that will bring them leadership in the future.
The articles in this issue have raised some serious questions that suggest there is more at stake than many realize. Someone needs to ask how the current debate on music will effect our claim to believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Some years ago I wrote in the forward to Tim Fisher’s book, The Battle for Christian Music, words to the effect that God is the audience of the music we use in worship and we should, therefore, be more concerned about what He enjoins rather than what lost men enjoy. That statement has been batted about by pundits with statements such as, “And just how are we supposed to know what kind of music God likes?”
The man who claims to believe 2 Peter 1:2-3 shouldn’t be so sarcastic. We should rather be making statements that support Peter’s prayer that “grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” This statement is true or it isn’t. The Scriptures are sufficient or they aren’t. We can’t have it both ways. Either we can know what God expects us to do about music, or we must abandon our claim to the sufficiency of Scripture.
Also, a generation of future leaders is learning how to discern the will of God. Those of us who settled the big decisions of life long ago — who to marry, what career to follow, where to go to college, where to live, etc. — forget how difficult it looks from the other side. The teenager who must decide what kind of music he will listen to is learning how to make decisions about the will of God. The way we make our decisions will influence the way they make their decisions. Do we really want to teach them to make all of their spiritual decisions the way some are making decisions about music? Do we really want to support a theological dualism that holds that some things are rooted in theology and other things are just “cultural?” What must they be thinking when they listen to a sermon on “How Lot Caved in to His Culture!” after sitting through shallow songs not far removed from what their friends are listening to at the charismatic church around the corner? If God has no will about music, can we be sure He has a will about other things?
It is not just the sufficiency of Scripture and the will of God that is at stake; it is the very use of the Bible to bring change into our lives. At the heart of the doctrine of sanctification is the fact that God has given us His inspired word to teach us doctrine, bring conviction, and give us grace for change and growth. Second Timothy 3:16-17 make this perfectly clear. If ongoing discussions about music do not begin with the Bible, then continue with the demand for obedience to the Bible, we are engaged in folly. Call it alarmism if you will, but dismissing the possibility of a theology of music plants the seeds of the destruction of pastoral theology itself. There is more at stake in the music debate than what we decide on music.
This article first appeared in FrontLine • September/October 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Dr. John C. Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.