And the Worship Wars Go On and On: On Music Genres

In an article entitled “And the Worship Wars Go On and On: Musings on Why Adventist Worship is Changing for the Worst” I presented R&B as part of the change that has happened in Adventist worship. What I didn’t do is present my views on music genres. For those that don’t know I’ve been involved in worship as a musician since I was about 12-13 years of age. This year makes me 34. So that’s about 20+ years of ecclesiastical worship setting experience. This doesn’t make everything I say dogma. My perspective is simply one of many with flaws and all. Take it with a grain of salt.

There will always be differences of opinion on how to do worship. That much is true. The issue is finding that balance that doesn’t conflict with Seventh-day Adventist belief and lifestyle. The either/or approach doesn’t resolve anything. It encourages unnecessary labeling, and in some cases, demonizing of those with opposing viewpoints. The best way to address the various issues in the worship debate is to be honest about what we can be certain of.

Does the Bible specifically address music genres? I don’t think so. If you see it feel free to share. A big part of the worship debate is music genres. To be honest I think that most people who are addressing this issue usually ignore evidence that contradict their perspective. The arguments are un-fair and un-balance. They exaggerate points which they have no evidence for. This happens to everybody, no one is excluded. What makes the difference is those that, from time to time, step back and evaluate their own perspectives.

I’ve watched myself literally transition from one perspective to another base on what I believe the evidence was saying. This article is my current perspective on music genres in the ecclesiastical worship setting. I will not address the individual worship setting for reasons that will become clear as this article progresses.

The music commonly labeled as “gospel” can easily be classified, or associated with, R&B. The older versions of this music genre and others (rock, country, etc.) are easily accepted as proper in many Haitian Adventist congregations. Perhaps at their arrival they may have been an issue but now they are generally accepted as fitting, proper, and holy. Any sign of initial opposition to these older forms of music genres seem to have long disappeared in the fog of time.

However, a change has come. The change is brought about by the usage of modern gospel music which in some cases sound very different then the older ones. This change has brought about much concern and a “back to classical” movement which is equated with “holy music” in the minds of some. We have one side that wants classical hymns and another that wants modern gospel. I’m in the middle. I think the church will do well with a mix.

Most that are in favor of more modern approach to things share my perspective. However, I think there is a reason to be concerned and to be cautious in what we use and how we use it. First let me present my perspective on music genres. I do not find sufficient evidence to support arguments that claim one music genre is better than another. If I’m in error please show me the evidence publicly or send me an email.

I’m well aware of Lucifer’s role as musician in heaven. I believe that is enough to argue that he can do destructive things with music. However, I don’t think that is sufficient to say that a music genre is bad. On what basis can that claim be made? What’s the rubric by which to judge? These questions are often ignored as arguments are made against a particular genre. If we are going to use something to judge one genre it should be used to judge all.

With all that being said here is where I think we would do wise to be careful. With music genres come culture and lifestyle. Ever heard the phrase “Hip Hop culture?” Music genres can promote a lifestyle. It’s not simply about the sound of the music, it’s also about the ideas and feelings it brings to mind. There are many that gain their philosophical perspective on life base on the words of Hip Hop and R&B artists. These artists selected music that they felt merge well with their thoughts.

Is all Hip Hop and R&B negative? No. Should those Hip Hop and R&B that promote Christ and scripture be allowed in the ecclesiastical worship setting? It Depends. Some of you may be shock at this point. The best way to deal with an issue is to think it out all the way through. The allowance of Hip Hop and R&B should be particular to the congregation in question. If it would cause an issue with the conscience of those people in that congregation then it would be a grave error to allow it. However, if all is in acceptance and the theological nature of that church is not affected then why not?

I won’t say that a Hip Hop or R&B song is bad simply because it is Hip Hop or R&B. I will judge it base on what is being said. But this is not where it ends. It is important to understand that music genres have different effects on people. For some hearing Hip Hop and R&B doesn’t create a longing or a pull for street life. For others a distinction can’t be made. This is where it can really be dangerous.

I’m not against Hip Hop Christ-base gospel and the likes. Where I think it can be really dangerous is when consideration is not given to the impact of a music genre on an individual. Just because you are ok with it doesn’t mean it will benefit the entire congregation. Analysis is required to understand the impact of a music genre on your person. We need to think of what is good for the spiritual development of the entire church and not just ourselves.

_________________________________________

I’m always glad to hear from Readers. Please leave a comment below.

Advertisements

Confess Your Sins to Each Other?: Dealing with James 5:16

The Wednesday section of the Sabbath school lesson[1] presents us with a verse that we are not so fond of. In fact, some may think that the Bible would do well without it. However, despite the eyebrows that the author must have surely known would be raised, the decision was made to include the terrifying words of James 5:16 which calls us to, “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed” (NIV, emphasis mine). Frightful, is it not? Not exactly what we wanted to hear.

Not only does the author bring the verse into the relationship conversation, which is the theme for this week, but we are also given four lines to write our interpretation and how we can apply it in our lives. I imagined the eyes of my Sabbath school students rolling as they stared at those lines (smile). I certainly can’t wait for Sabbath morning to hear what will be said concerning this verse. I anticipate that much of the discussion will be aimed at a caution that is given concerning confessing to others: “there is always the risk that our friend will reveal the confidence to others.”

Is it true? It certainly is. Gossip, popular in our culture, seems to be a fundamental quality of our dysfunctional characters. If we are not the ones telling the tale, then we are the ones hearing it. Often times, this is overlooked in personal reflections because we don’t realize the seriousness of gossip. I’m sure that many sermons are preached on the topic, but for the most part we tend to brush the wrongness of it to the side. We are not concerned, unless, of course, it is about us.

The lessons points to two interpretations for the verse: confessing sins committed against someone “in order to secure forgiveness and to restore the relationship”; confessing sins in general to someone that, all evidence indicates, has a mature faith. In my personal analysis of the text, the second one was the one that quickly came to mind. In my reading, James 5:16 seems to be setting up a principal.[2] If we are being called to confess to each other, then there is a need for a change in the way we are and the way we look at each other.

Let me clear those two points up. First, if we are in the church and are not considered persons that can be called upon to pray for others—what James calls a, “righteous man,” then there is a problem. What is the problem? What are we doing in the church if we can’t be identified among the faithful? That is a problem. By saying “righteous man,” James indicates that there are people of mature faith in the church. It behooves us to be amongst that company.

As I was reflecting on this point, it occurred to me that those who are to pray are functioning as mediators. They take the confessed sins and plead to God on behalf of the confessor for pardon, forgiveness and healing. This is a mighty and noble act, reminiscent of Moses and Christ. In order for us to partake of this great service on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the faith, we need to be what we claim to be.

Second, on the part of those who confess, there must reside within them not only the ability to trust, but the ability to discern character. The need for trust is not stated in the verse, it is implied. Discernment of character comes through prayer. With analysis inspired from God we can be directed to the best person to talk to. One of the best indicators of maturity is visible consistency in devotion to God. Of course, it can all be a show. This is why it is essential to not only ask God who or when, or if you should at.

Imagine what type of community the church would be if these things were so. Well, it can be so, but it would have to take some Bible believing souls who are interested in putting the principals into practice, trusting that God will work mightily through them as they do so. The togetherness of the church would rise to greater heights. We would be closer to the scriptural ideal for the church, a family.


[1] Julian Melgosa. “Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human Emotions.” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (2011), p. 34.

[2] There are two ways that I suspect one may look at James 5:16. The first is that it is calling for a moment in which people gather together, confess their sins—whether it is to that individual or not, is not indicated—and pray for each other.  What may dismiss this argument is the fact that the word “healed” connects the verse to the three prior verses. The three prior verses deal with being sick and therefore verse 16 may be calling for those who are sick to be the ones to confess. The second way, which is the one I prefer, is that it is stating that we should confess to a trusted spiritual person.

Applying Before Analyzing: A Common Problem

It goes without saying that Bible study is a necessity for Christians. It is not only use to initiate one into the worldview of the faith, but also to deepen one’s ability to evolve that worldview through the continuity of study. This does not require that one neglect the command to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) in order to enclose his/herself in  ivory towers with those who, because of their biblical knowledge, are recognized as elites. There is no call to a monkish lifestyle in which an anti-modernity stance — involving the demonization of modern technology, clothing, etc. — is taken in order to perfect one’s knowledge of the Bible.

Now, in case some may be confused, which usually happens despite disclaimers, taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of modern life is profitable. Shutting down our technological devices in order to experience the sound of silence will do more good then one may suspect. The allure of “flossing” — used in the street to mean showing off what you got — drives us to expenditures that will only result in economic slavery to creditors and further resemblance to the Luciferian spirit of pride. So the far-right of Adventist conservatism does have a right to be concerned and to feel the need to withdraw at times.

Let’s get back to the topic. Since most will never go to a seminary and be instructed by seasoned theologians on the art of biblical exegesis, it behooves us to pay particular attention to recommendations that arrive in hopes of correcting common problems. Any proposal to provide a full exposition of the problems here is preposterous. However, one can reflect on a particular problem that is common in that it is one that many make, and that it is recurring to those that make it.

It is applying before analyzing. That is to say that often time Bible students contemporize a passage or a verse without analyzing the original situation. There are many reasons why this is done and one can’t assume to know them all. It may be that some are going through trying times and, in their haste to comfort their soul with inspirational words, read certain meanings into the text that may or may not be there. Of course there are some texts who’s meanings are pretty clear and thus most people who are within those situations usually go to those texts and therefore may not be in grave interpretive danger. However, this manner of dealing with the text is, in less trying times, used as the normative way of interpreting.

There are many who can further their interpretive ability but refuses to do so. This may be due to laziness or simply an attitude of indifference. There are many who are contempt with the way they have always done things and therefore calls to modifications will fall on deaf ears. As much as information is available, it is rarely used. Instead it is glanced at and quickly pushed to the side for the next, resulting in a lack of contemplation — which may be the real root of the problem. The problems that all these have caused so far is unfathomable.

How should these problems be address? That is easier answered then applied. There is always to be found in the pews of the church a coalition of the willing who will answer the call of handling scripture better. No one is perfect in this task, however, one should possess the urge to improve, if it is indeed believed to be the word of God. It is better to take time and be right then to rush and be wrong. The coalition of the willing should be taken by those who are knowledgeable in the art of interpretation. It is not difficult, however continuous application of it deepens one’s understanding of scripture.

In these teaching sessions, which should be done in warm and friendly environments, there should be explanations and examples given concerning how one should interpret and what have been the results of misinterpretation. Emphasis should be place on the need to allow the passages, as is, to flow through the mind of the readers until they become well acquainted with them. the objective is to be thoroughly familiar with the original passage. The next step would be to determine what is the Christo-centric principle that is to be found within that passage. Then, if one chooses to apply this passage to a contemporary situation, they can reflect on the original context and be able to determine if the principle is applicable and how it is applicable.