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By In Family and Children, Music

Musical Segregation: Questions from a Concerned Pastor

I am not a trained sociologist, though I play one at home as a father. I am constantly analyzing trends and the origination of certain behaviors and offering solutions. Thankfully, as a Christian father, sociology can be summarized simply by the study of sinful patterns; patterns that can be easily studied and analyzed.

As a pastor, I also have the opportunity to study trends and patterns in the local church. Church life is messy, and with it comes messy patterns and behaviors that only Jesus can undo. But I am not only a student of my congregation, I also enjoy studying modern church trends. In such cases, my studies will lack the gravitas found in well-funded research teams. Still, I am comforted by the fact that every sociologist is biased. He may have correct numbers, but what he does with the numbers is based on his presuppositions. How he phrases the questions determines what responses he will receive.

I set this background to emphasize that my conclusions are not flawless but grounded in my personal, ecclesiastical, and societal concerns. With this in mind, let me make the following assertion: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.” I have seen it happen again and again, but beyond the anecdotal evidence, the rationale of modern trends seem to affirm that proposition. Let me flesh out my concerns with a few questions and affirmations:

First, why do we assume that children and teens need a different kind of music than adults? Why do we think that “praise and worship” provide something for young folks and not for older saints? We attempt to accommodate the tastes of Christians in different stages of life, but what are we actually accomplishing? Are we merely perpetuating society’s self-centeredness? Is ecclesiastical music shaped to fit particular tastes and styles?

Second, I have noticed that every church that has a modern flavor differs from other churches that offer modern musical flavors. So to say, “I like contemporary music,” leads to another question: “What kind?” Is Amy Grant “old” contemporary? Is Michael W. Smith “old” contemporary? Is Hillsong music “new” contemporary? We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a span of 20-30 years here.

Third, we have abandoned Psalm-shaped music. I am not advocating exclusive psalmody, but I am saying that when we abandon the regular singing of psalms, we lose gospel creativity to compose biblical hymns. Historically, psalm-centered churches produced psalm-like hymns.

Fourth, as our children continue to grow in evangelical churches where music is dispersed according to age and style, how will they and their aging parents ever come to a proper understanding of the role of music in the Church? Will they ever be able to sit together to sing? Will the college bound son ever wish to come to dad’s church during summer breaks and genuinely enjoy singing praises to God? Or will he merely tolerate it, as a kind gesture to his Fanny Crosby-loving parents?

Fifth, have we considered the consequences of dividing our services into contemporary and traditional? Are we making it easier for older saints to bless younger saints, or are we making it harder? How are we stressing unity when our churches naturally divide over musical styles? Can we fulfill Paul’s exhortations to eat and drink together?a

Sixth, is contemporary music as a category truly contemporary? “Shine, Jesus, Shine” appears archaic to modern worship services. While new musical compositions can be admirable things, many churches only use music composed by their musical team. What happens for visitors who are long-time Christians? What happens when people from diverse contemporary churches visit a church that writes their own contemporary melodies? Are the contemporary going to feel divorced from their fellow contemporary music lovers?

Seventh, does the predominant hunger for the new ever get old? In other words, what happens when millennials raise their own children who think their parents’ music is as old as an MP3 player? What happens when the world turns against the modern?

Eighth, are we teaching through our music that music divides rather than unites? Are we teaching our children that what we sing is what we like and we like only what we sing?

Ninth, will our children leave us when they find us to be evangelically irrelevant to them? Are we setting the stage for their departure by granting their generation musical style privilege?

Finally, what role does the Bible play in our church music? Does tradition provide any help in our consideration of what we should sing? Can we merely discard 1,900 years of church music for the new? Are we a better generation than our faithful forefathers who gave their lives for the gospel? Do we follow in the train of the latest trend, or the Davidic train that offered us divinely-inspired music? Does our inspiration in modern composition stem from cultural romantic tales or the gospel romance of Ruth and Boaz? Is our church music bringing our families closer together, or is it separating us? Can your 18-year-old say, “Dad, let’s sing together?” If not, is that a good thing?

We all claim our music is praise-worthy, but can our music be God-worthy if God’s people are not singing a new song together?

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  1. I am fully aware of functional/practical building issues, but here I am referring to churches that can easily accommodate everyone in one service  (back)

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By In Theology

Sola Scriptura is the Uniting Language of the Church, Part 2

In this last post, I wish to show how Scriptures is God’s own language and how it serves to unite God’s people (see the first post).

God’s Liturgical Language

Sola Scriptura is God’s language. Scripture shares God’s authority.a For a man to put himself above scripture is to put himself above God. In the Bible, when Satan attacks he always attacks God’s word. But the Bible is always God’s answer to assaults on the Bible. God uses his language to defeat evil. We are well aware of that famous Lenten passage in Luke 4 when our Lord is tempted in the wilderness. Jesus, the Word of God, appeals to God’s word. Scripture alone is the language of Jesus. When the devil tempts our Lord, Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, remember the words of Rabbi Kushner who once said…” No. Our Lord says, “For it is written…” Again, when the Pharisees attack him, Jesus appeals to the Word of God. In Matthew 22, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of Psalm 110 to make a case for His divinity. In John 10:35, Jesus says, “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” Sola Scriptura is God’s language. It’s unbreakable because it comes by the inspiration of an unbreakable Spirit. When the late medieval church elevated unwritten tradition to the level of the Bible, the Reformers said, “No, Scripture alone is our highest authority.” The Bible must be supreme because it is God’s language.

Our Uniting Language

Sola Scriptura unites our language. It is the Church’s liturgical language, it manifests God’s inerrant language, but it is also uniting language. When we talk about the Scriptures, it’s important to make a distinction between Sola Scriptura vs. Solo Scriptura. Sola Scriptura means God’s Word is our final authority. There are other authorities like leaders and parents and creeds, but Sola Scriptura says that all these authorities must submit to God’s ultimate authority. Solo Scriptura teaches that the Bible is the only authority and there are no other authorities.

In the 16th century, a group called the Ana-Baptists rebelled against the Roman Church, but they also rebelled against the Reformation. They wanted no one to have authority over the individual. They did not submit to pastors or civic leaders, in fact, many of them came to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. Only a proper understanding of the authority of the Bible can save God’s people from themselves, from anarchy or from becoming little popes. The Baptists and Reformed will differ on baptism; the Lutherans and Catholics will disagree on the Sacraments, but fundamentally if disagreement over the authority of the Bibe persists, there will never be a united Church. There is no future church, Peter Leithart says, if there isn’t a Bible-saturated church. We are shaped and built in the image of God revealed in the Bible. When we engage the text whether privately or publicly, we are becoming like Jesus Christ, the Logos of God. When we engage the text and encourage others to engage the text, we are uniting ourselves under the banner of Sola Scriptura.

  1. Some thoughts from Rich Lusk’s lecture on Sola Scriptura  (back)

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By In Theology, Worship

Sola Scriptura is the Church’s Language, Part 1

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, I would like to offer some thoughts on the implications of Sola Scriptura in the Christian experience. In these two short articles, I’d like to elaborate on at least three consequences of this doctrine:

First, Sola Scriptura is the Church’s language. Second, Sola Scriptura is God’s language. And finally, Sola Scriptura unites our language.

The Church’s Language

In the late medieval era, Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry of this new movement called the Reformation. The Reformers, led by Luther and Calvin and many others, expressed their gratitude to the God who made the heavens and the earth for His revealed word. The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:13:

We thank God continually for this, that when you received the message of God from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the Word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe.

The Church of our Lord has since its early days feasted on the richness of God’s word. As Van Til once wrote: “The Bible is God’s love letter to his bride.” This love letter, through the body of Christ, has saved orphans, built hospitals, adopted, and contributed for the good of society because the Church believed what God commanded. The city of Geneva where Calvin pastored and where the Scriptures were taught faithfully was known all over the world for its generosity to the poor and needy. It is true that Christians have ignored biblical truth leading to some damaging practices, but the vast majority of the Christian population led by the authority of the Bible and the ministry of the Church has served this world in beautiful ways since the Early Church. Paul says that this word which you have received and welcomed is truly the Word of God. These are not the words of uninspired men, but the very words of God working in men and women in the Church to change and transform not only themselves but their surroundings.

The Roots of Sola Scriptura

In the Reformation, the Scriptures returned to their proper place, shaping the language, liturgy, and life of the Church. The classical and historical Christian worship found in many Reformed churches today reminds us weekly from where our language comes. It originated from an early church that believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.

The authority of the Bible causes the church to develop habits of gratitude. One way the liturgical church makes this clear is that at the end of every Scripture reading the people respond together by saying, “Thanks be to God.” This is our way of expressing thanks for Sola Scriptura. When our children are nurtured in this environment each Sunday, they have no other option but to contemplate the Bible. The Church’s language ought to be scriptural language. It’s precisely when we abandon the church’s language that the Church abandons the authority of the Bible.

One of the most important studies on why people return to church after years of being away from church was done by Dr. Tom Rhainer. He observed that the main reason people once unchurched came back to church and stayed in the church was not primarily for the music—which by the way, out of the ten reasons, music was #8—but because churches taught the Bible. The second reason people come back to church after not being in church for many years is when churches hold firmly to their convictions. This explains the phenomenon of why mainline churches—that is, historic denominations that no longer believe in the authority of the Bible– are declining rapidly in the last two decades. The Church must proclaim in Word and Sacrament the authority of the Bible. Sola Scriptura must form our language.

Spurgeon once expressed marvel at a pastor who was saturated in the Bible and said:

“Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”

Similarly, the Church needs to be bibline; living and singing God’s revelation as a demonstration of submission to God’s inspired Word.

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By In Podcast

Episode 3: “Why Celebrate the Church Calendar?”

On this third episode, Andrew Isker interviews Uri Brito to discuss the question of why we should celebrate the Church Calendar.

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By In Podcast

Episode 2: “10 Questions to Ask Before Preaching”

On this second episode, Pastor Dustin Messer interviews Pastor Uri Brito concerning his most recent article entitled:”10 Questions Preachers Should Ask Before Sunday Morning.” We would love to hear your comments.

Original music by Mr. George Reed

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By In Podcast

Episode 1: Abraham Kuyper and His Influence

On this inaugural episode, Pastors Steve Jeffery and Uri Brito discuss the influence of Abraham Kuyper and the purpose of Kuyperian Commentary.

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By In Politics

How Pastors Can Incorporate the Creeds in their Independent/Evangelical Churches

Christian, what is it that we believe?

While Creeds like the Nicene and Apostle’s have been fundamental pieces of Christian liturgy and life, the American Church is highly unattached to these classic statements. From this creedal phobia has arisen the popular “No Creed, but Christ” slogan. Such slogan, of course, only proves that creeds are inevitable. The question ultimately is determined not by whether we will use a creed, but which will we use.

The Nicene and Apostle’s Creed are inestimably valuable since they connect the 21st-century church to the historic Christian Church. Yet, many evangelical churches are confused about the Creeds, while some outright reject the Creeds as a Roman Catholic conspiracy. Rod Dreher observes that “New social science research indicated that young adults are almost entirely ignorant of the teachings and practices of the historical Christian faith.”a Yet, many evangelicals are determined to remain in ignorance.

Over the years I’ve heard many Southern Baptist pastors attempt to add the Creeds to the congregation’s life and worship only to be met with the worst of skepticism about their motives. One pastor of an independent church was immediately accused of being a Romanist. The Creeds are not welcomed in most churches in this country. How then can pastors encourage their congregations to adopt such historical affirmations without dividing their flock? (more…)

  1. The Benedict Option, pg. 2  (back)

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