Thursday, February 28, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #3, Music

I can hardly think of a more beloved Scriptural topic than music. As early as Genesis 4:21 we learn of “Jubal … the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” From that starting point, music fills the Bible from beginning to end. It is amazing to me that there are even such a thing as “non-instrumental brethren,” considering the overall volume of God's word dedicated to those who sing and play music.

Unfortunately, Satan is a master at taking what is good and right … and making it bad and wrong. Currently, music is killing the Restoration Movement. Forget whether music should be instrumental or non-instrumental. Let's set aside whether we should be using contemporary or traditional songs. Can we simply take a moment to discuss why the Lord finds music so important?

The New Testament church has been given clear commands. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “be filled with the Spirit, [19] speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16 likewise says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Just a few verses of Scripture from the Lord is enough to learn! 1) Music is connected with the Spirit of God (“filled with the Spirit;” “spiritual songs”), 2) it is a means of our communicating with one another (“speaking to one another”), 3) it is a means of training and correction (“teaching and admonishing”), and 4) it is a means of communicating with the Lord (“to the Lord;” “to God”).

Our communication … our instruction … is via “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Regardless of what these words may mean or whether they imply the use or non-use of instruments, the key word has to be “spiritual.” These are songs that are byproducts of the Holy Spirit living within us. If we fail to understand that point, then our communication with one another and the Lord fails. We certainly cannot appropriately teach and correct Christians unless the Spirit is directing the process.

So let's take a look at what's happening in the churches today … and why it's killing the Restoration Movement.

Oh, we have music … and plenty of it! If you get out your stop watch and time each segment of your worship service, I'd bet that more time is given to music than to anything else. Most song services (or praise times, or whatever you want to call them) run longer by far than the time of communion, which is supposed to be central to our time of corporate worship. They also normally exceed the preaching of the word. But what do we achieve with the 30-45 minutes we dedicate to music?

Has someone thoughtfully selected “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that reflect a common theme, or simply picked random songs that the musicians can actually play? Has more time been spent in finding a common key signature than in finding a common spiritual message? At the praise band practice, how much time is spent in determining whether or not a song will appropriately teach and correct as opposed to the time spent simply practicing the way the music is going to be played? Again, what do we plan to achieve with the HALF of our “worship service” that is dedicated to music?

Unfortunately, in most Restoration Movement congregations the music has become a sore spot … a bone of contention … a means of loss, rather than gain. Older people have been divided from the younger based on musical tastes. Leaderships have chosen to pursue musical services that they believe will best appeal to God to the masses. The pianos and organs have been sold and replaced with drums and guitars. Why? Is a drum and guitar better suited for playing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” or is it just more in tune with the popular culture?

I have been told often (really, really often) how we will never reach young people unless we play the music that they like. Is that our Biblical mandate … to reach young people? (Such thinking implies that we should care more about the youth that are NOT present than the older people who actually are.) And have we been instructed to imitate the world in order to reach people in general? A song may get the crowd clapping and tapping their toes … yet still fail to teach and admonish. So what if your rockin' praise band brings in throngs of young people? If they have not spiritually strengthened them, then what has been accomplished? And if the only thing you have accomplished in your praise time is to offend the ears of the aged, then someone has never learned Christ's first great Christian lesson … deny yourself (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)!

Almost every congregation I have visited over the last ten years has had a praise band … no matter how small the congregation. I have to shake my head in both sadness and disgust as I hear the latest popular contemporary song butchered in the hopes that maybe – just maybe – it will help build the attendance. Spoiler alert: It won't!

Let's get a few things straight: 1) Great music will never overcome poor leadership or poor preaching. 2) Music is a side issue, not the main issue. The early church (which we are supposed to be restoring) “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Don't you find it a little odd that so much attention is given to music by the church today, and so little is said of it in the New Testament? And 3) what you win them with, is what you win them to. In other words, if it takes great music to get people in the door, then it's going to take great music to keep them. If the music quality falters, then they will attend elsewhere. I've heard “leaders” say they will “teach them once they get them!” Yeah. I've never seen it happen. Go ahead. Set up the walls of the house on a foundation of cotton candy. See how long those walls stand.

Oh, how I would love to see the heart of New Testament Christianity restored, with music taking its rightful place as a tool to assist in the instruction of sound doctrine. There's not one of us who don't know the words to songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” or “Happy Birthday to You.” We learned them as children … and have never forgotten them! Where are the "spiritual songs" we have memorized though? Where are the "psalms and hymns" of which we know every word … which are teaching us sound doctrine and helping us to maintain our relationship with the Lord? I don't see them.

All I see is that music has become divisive, and has opened the door to a casual attitude before the Lord and a dismissive attitude toward others who don't share the same musical tastes. At best, today's musical culture within the Restoration Movement is selfish and indulgent ... at worst, it's promoting false doctrines. Having said that, I ask this: Who will be the first to step up and make the necessary changes to restore New Testament principles?

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