Worship Music: Theocentric or Anthropocentric?
Today there is a battleground over and there are those who claim that you can use any kind of music, any form of worship, in order to worship God as long as you add words to it, and that there is no such thing as a universal overriding principle to govern and control the music that is used. Francis Schaeffer, who is now with the Lord, stated in an address at the University of Notre Dame in April, 1981: "Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather is truth spelled with a capital T; truth about total reality, not just about religious things. Biblical Christianity is truth concerning total reality and the intellectual holding of that total truth, and then living in the light of that truth." Truth is at the very heart of biblical worship. John 4:24 NASB "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." At the very least truth affects singing in worship, not just the words but the music, because if the Bible represents total truth then it speaks to every aspect of worship, not just the words. We live in a time today when numerous biblically orthodox doctrines are under attack, not just from outside the church but from within the church, especially doctrines related to the purpose and function of the local church, the purpose of the pastoral ministry and corporate worship.
In the Scripture music is an integral part of worship, it is a very important. We'll se in Ephesians 5:19 it is related to the filling of the Holy Spirit. We saw in John 4:25 that if we are going to worship God—and in this passage the Lord is talking about a future time, specifically the church age—we must be worshipping in Spirit and in truth. What we have in this verse is the use of the word PNEUMA [PNEUMA] for "Spirit." It is also translated "wind" in John 3, it is already used some 10 times out of the 24 times it is used in the Gospel of John. In this Gospel PNEUMA primarily refers to the Holy Spirit. In the ten uses so far it refers to the Holy Spirit seven times, it describes the wind one time, and two times is refers to the new regenerate nature inside a believer. But what we have here in this verse is more than just the use of the word PNEUMA, we have the phrase EN PNEUMATI [e)n pneumati], and that phrase is used only one other time in the Gospel of John in 1:33 where it refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or by means of the Spirit. It is used seven other times in the other Gospels where there is an instrumental use meaning by means of the Spirit. In all but one case in Paul's writing it refers to an instrumental use. Why is that important? Because when we look at this phrase EN PNEUMA we don't have capitals in Greek, and upper case to tell us when the author is using it to refer to the wind or to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, or to the attitude of thought, or any of the other eight or nine nuances to this word. So we look at usage and when we look at how this phrase is used in the Scripture it has this idea of instrumentality or means, that we are to worship God by means of the Spirit. And that certainly fits with Ephesians 5:18, and 6:18 where it talks about prayer by means of the Spirit, that it is God the Holy Spirit that is the one who energizes our worship as part of His sanctifying ministry in the church age. So worship is qualified in John 4:24 by means of the Spirit and by means of truth.
The reason for emphasizing this is because people want to say that worship today is what you want it to be. It is defined by the heart of the worshipper how he thinks and defines his own worship of God. After all, if you bring to God what you want and what you believe is honourable to Him, God should honor that, shouldn't he? That is what Cain thought. He brought what he thought would honor God and God rejected it. He accepted the worship that was brought by Abel in line with what he had revealed to them already. So we see that worship must be done in fellowship, by means of the Holy Spirit, and by means of truth. This implies that every aspect of worship—giving, the music, the words—comes under an umbrella criterion of absolute truth; it is not autonomous.
The basic assumption in contemporary music is that it is completely use it and we can use it any way we want to. According to their literature and what they have written contemporary Christian music advocates say that you can talk about good music and bad music within styles or within categories but you can't talk about good music versus bad music. So what they have done is to segregate an aspect of God's creation from His role as creator and made it independent and autonomous, which is the foundation for any kind of idolatry. When you take any aspect of the creation and separate it out from under the revelation of God and the authority of God it is the first step in establishing idolatry. So we see that the fact that Jesus says that worship must fit an absolute standard of universal truth this would apply at the very least to the musical aspect of worship, and that runs contrary to the basic assumption in the philosophy of contemporary Christian music.
We also find this same verbiage of EN PNEUMATI in Ephesians 5:18: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with [by means of] the Spirit,  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." We see that v. 19 is connected to the filling of the Spirit. If we are going to let the Holy Spirit have this expression of worship in our individual lives then that means we have to know the hymns. The spiritual life has to do with thinking, thought, with learning things, with memorizing things, with making them a part of our everyday intellectual baggage.
So what do we conclude from these passages?
1) First of all we conclude that music is part of God's creation from the very inception. We understand that as the creator from eternity past music is in the mind of God. We have looked at passage like Job 38 that speak of the angels singing together for joy when God laid the foundation of the earth.
2) We understand that music is a central part of worship and is a result of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
3) We recognize that music therefore must be in conformity with absolute truth, which means that as part of God's creation it is not neutral, it is not independent from God's authority or His revealed Word.
God is totally distinct from creation and he speaks across that barrier which distinguishes the creator from the creature to His creation. He created everything. So that means that He is the one who defines matter and energy. He defines who mankind is as image-bearers of God. God is the one who defines mankind's purpose. He is the one who establishes social laws, marriage, family, politics, government, law. All of these things related to human social activity is defined by God. That is a profound statement and it means that if you are going to think anything about politics you had better start with what is going on in Genesis 1-3 and society, and then deal with the Noahic covenant and the tower of Babel. You can't truly think biblically about politics or law if you don't start there. You are just starting with some aspect of the creation and then you expand that out autonomously from God. That is idolatry. We have to think about these things biblically. It doesn't means that we run away from these things and we don't have anything to do with them, but we have to understand what is going on in the world. Ethics are grounded in the righteousness, veracity and integrity of God. Aesthetics: God is the original workman and creator, He created a universe of beauty. The study of art, music, literature, all of these things, come under the category of aesthetics and we need to go to the Scripture and we can extrapolate principles related to beauty and actually build a theology of beauty. What we are saying here simply is that you can't come along and say we are going to take animals, everything about zoology and biology and take that out from under God's authority, He doesn't speak to that element of creation. After all, that is what the Darwinists will say and the theistic evolutionists: the Bible doesn't address biology. We understand principles of the animal creation because God is the creator and it originated with Him. The same thing is true when it comes to music. We have to extrapolate those principles from what we have in the Word of God.
What we have studied so far in terms of worship and music and worship is that we have defined worship basically as an act whereby the individual subordinates and submits every thought, every aspect of his being in life to the authority of God and God's revelation of Himself. It starts with God and has to do with our individual attitude of submission to divine authority. As we submit to His divine authority and God speaks to us through His Word then in the process of Romans 12:2 we are getting rid of that human viewpoint, worldly cultural frame of reference, and replacing it with divine viewpoint. So thus we recognize that worship begins with the individual in terms of being in fellowship, and second, it extends to humility and orientation to God. The second thing we have pointed out is that worship includes the styles and forms of worship, including the music, and that this isn't a matter of personal taste. And third, music originated in the mind of God.
It originated in the mind of God; God created everything. But after the fall of Adam in Genesis 3 everything in the creation is subject to the corruption of the fall. That means that everything in creation can be abused and misused and distorted, and can itself become worship, and that is the source of idolatry. So music has to be redeemed through Christians who are willing to think consistently and profoundly about the nature of music. Through different talents and abilities then develops excellent music that is used in worship. There is such a thing as good music and bad music and we have to go to the Word of God in order to understand this. But before we get there we have to understand some cultural aspects about music and how we got here, because music has become a Trojan horse of pagan worldview. One of the reasons that so many Christians are ineffective in their spiritual life is not because they hold bad doctrine, although some of them do, but they have allowed their cultural viewpoint to envelop biblical truth and reinterpret it within their cultural or worldly framework. As Charlie Clough has pointed out several times in his Framework series, the problem is that in human viewpoint we are so committed to autonomy and independence from God that when we hear divine truth we often envelop it within our human viewpoint opinions and preferences and we have selective hearing. We want to absorb that which is comfortable and, "Well, I'm not so sure about that which makes me uncomfortable." That is the basic assumption of a lot of worshippers today because this contemporary worship is connected with the whole church growth movement and the mega-churches. They build on this assumption that we have to have music in the church that is going to make the unbeliever feel comfortable. When we come into the presence of divine truth it is going to challenge our basic opinions about life down to the very core of our being.
This brings up a very important point, that ideas have consequences, that the issue in music is related to worldview. It is not simply that some music is evil in itself or holy in itself, but it reflects a certain view of the universe. What do we mean by worldview? We must understand that everybody has a worldview. Worldview isn't the same as a philosophy. A worldview is basically a set of ideas or beliefs about the nature an operation of reality. Everybody has some sort of grid to which they organize the data of life—what is a good decision, what is a bad decision, what is right and what is wrong, how do I explain who I am? Am I perfect? My destiny and why I am here, etc. Most people have inconsistent worldviews because they have never thought about it very much. But a worldview simply answers these basic questions related to life, and thus it provides a mental map or guidebook or grid for looking at the world around us. And the way we look at the world around us is going to leak out in our opinions and views on life—on law politics, ethics, education, psychology, money, economics, right and wrong, music, art, social institutions; these all come out of our worldview. Worldview explains the origin, purpose and meaning of life.
When worldview changes, culture changes. Worldview is at the very core of what we call culture, that set of ideas that we have as a group of people that collectively helps us all to figure out why we are here and what we are doing. Down through history there have been three or four key points of ideas where there are major shifts that have taken place, and every time we get to one of these major shifts it affects how the church worships. Each time there is a major cultural shift art changes, music changes, the church changes. Unfortunately, as we look at the history of Christianity, the church sadly imitates the world rather than influences the world, with only a couple of exceptions and a couple of time periods. What we see as we study this is that when the culture changes the music changes. Then the music reinforces and promotes those changes and becomes a purveyor of the new ideals in the new worldview. So there is this cyclical effect.
A significant event occurred at the beginning of the 19th century. There was a philosopher in Europe by the name of Emanuel Kant. He changes everything. Up until the end of the 18th century everybody believed there was some sort of unifying truth out there that was "out there." They might debate who had it but they believed there was such a thing. After Kant you can't know things as they are, you can only know your perceptions. This changes how art is portrayed. In the 19th century there was also the rise of romanticism, subjectivism and a focus on the self that is merely a precursor to the kind of subjectivism and feeling-oriented music that we have today.
All of this is to help us understand how we can redeem music in terms of a biblical worldview. Next time we will talk about the fact that music isn't neutral, that there are criteria, there are absolutes that we use to judge and evaluate the kind of music that we use to worship God.