Response to RC Sproul Jr.’s article on Worship
Chris Newman, another elder at CFLD, sent me a short article by RC Sproul Jr. concerning the nature of the worship wars. I have reproduced the article below. Afterward, I provide my rebuttal, and some observations to the article.
The Kingdom Notes
by Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr.
APRIL 17, 2012
Ask RC: Is there anything wrong with drums and guitars in church?
I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors.
So why bother with the question? Because there are a few battle-scarred, dazed, war survivors out there wondering what happened.
What happened is that we fought with the wrong weapons, and naturally lost. We objected to the drums and the guitars for at least two bad reasons. First, because we associated them with a rebellious rock culture, we thought they didn’t belong in church, though they did belong in our living rooms. We couldn’t keep them out of the sanctuary because we welcomed them into the rest of our lives. While not everything in our work week rightly fits on the Sabbath (work, for instance), Sunday is not the day wherein we are supposed to be good, and the other days when we are free to be bad. So if they are bad, drums and guitars, let them be bad. If they are not bad in themselves (which I would argue) then let’s not object on the basis that they seem bad to us, or that they are often used by bad people.
The second reason was rather unspoken. Too many of the soldiers on our side objected to meeting the felt needs of others in the church not because felt needs are unimportant, but because it means our felt needs are not getting met. If the music with which we worship is decided by popular vote, some of us with unpopular tastes are going to lose. But if our argument in favor of our tastes is that they are our tastes, we can’t expect to win. If everyone agrees we should get what we want, there is no use protesting when they are we and we are on the losing side.
My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars. Few traditionalists would object to kettle-drums. Few would object to all instruments wherein tight bands of steel are struck. That, after all, is what a piano does. The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music. The war did not end when fifty one percent of churches embraced contemporary worship. It ended when we bought into the devil’s lie that forms don’t matter, just thoughts; that media carries no message; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It ended when we determined to watch the lyric front, but give up the music front.
It’s true the evil isn’t in the instrument; it’s in us. Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental. Jesus, remember, didn’t throw the money out of the temple, but the money-changers.
First, I have to preface my comments to this article with a statement – I personally think that RC Sproul Jr. is adept at proclaiming the gospel of our Lord, clear in his scriptural interpretation and honestly just a great guy. But sometimes, even the best men are wrong about particular topics.
I’m going to have to say that I disagree with a good portion of his assessment above – but probably not for the reasons that you are thinking – “Well – Anderson plays a guitar on stage – obviously he’d have a problem with RC Jr. taking pot shots at his instruments.” That’s not NEARLY the biggest issue I have with this article.
Let me state first: the Church of God has a single enemy, and his name is Satan. We have been at war and enmity with Satan since the fall of man – for which we endure all hardship due to sin. Now – I hate the term ‘worship war’ – because it is a misnomer. There is no ‘war’ in worship – worship is something rendered unto God and does not consist of battles – it has no winners or losers. So when RC Jr. makes statements like: “The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors.” and “there are a few battle-scarred, dazed, war survivors out there wondering what happened,” I become irritated. I dislike the language that he uses – as much as I hate the language that the world uses terms like ‘deistic cannibalism’ to describe communion or ‘galactic child abuse’ to describe the death of Christ. The idea that men and women of the church of God would draw blood from one another – that we would cause physical violence for the sake of our created purpose is offensive to me.
Second, RC Jr. has fallen into the modern misunderstanding about the proper definition of worship. As I grow as a Christian, I have found that utilizing the term ‘worship’ to refer to ‘songs on Sundays’ is more and more incorrect. Worship is what we do when we pray, when we minister to people, when pass out veggies on veggie day, when we place a hand on a suffering friend’s arm. Worship is what we DO as Christians – and is so much deeper, wider and more magnificent than ‘singing’. Worship started when the first words erupted from the mouth of God as he separated the heavens from the earth – and it still goes on. The methods have changed in God’s plan over time, but never has the term been JUST music. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this pithy little article.
Third, there is a logical fallacy in RC Jr.’s interpretation of the role and purpose of ‘music’ in the worship of God. From the quote above: “The war did not end when fifty one percent of churches embraced contemporary worship. It ended when we bought into the devil’s lie that forms don’t matter, just thoughts; that media carries no message; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It ended when we determined to watch the lyric front, but give up the music front.” Does RC Jr. truly think that the majority of contemporary worship leaders believe that ‘form does not matter?’, that ‘media carries no message?’ and that the traditionalist somehow do? I somehow doubt that. I think everybody would agree that musical forms matter in terms of being appropriate: we don’t sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to the tune of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. We don’t take ‘I could sing of your Love forever’ and rework it with heavy drums, funk bass and screaming guitars. Certain forms are appropriate for the text being performed. There is a time to dance, and a time to mourn as the Psalmist says. When I want to convey the sorrow of Christ on the cross, I will utilize a particular musical form to convey the emotion behind the words – probably something sad. When I am proclaiming the awesome power of God – strong dynamics and majestic music are appropriate. Music places emotion upon the Word of God in a way that no other form does. Music by itself ilicits emotion – and how much deeper and stronger is that emotion when we tie it to the Word of God? Singing God’s Word is like a megaphone to the heart – which is why Ray and I cry all the time.
Is it the devil who states that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’? – that God is somehow more pleased with one particular musical style over another? He created us as music makers – and I am a firm believer that the hymns whispered on the wind by believers in China show God just as much devotion as a Sunday morning worshipper in the ‘bad churches’ that RC Jr. is accusing. Ultimately – what is this life, music, worship, breathing – what’s all it about? GOD!
Finally, most of this article is from really a good man who sees the fallenness of the world encroaching on the church and he picks the thing that he doesn’t like to hang as a result – and that happens to be contemporary music. Yes, the church has become worldly – I will stand next to him and agree. But really, the argument against music is more about ‘personal preference’ and less about a person’s sense of sanctification. I listen to Bach, and I listen to Metallica – am I any more or less sinful as a result? Nope – still depraved – still fully dependent upon God for my bread, my breath, and my salvation. RC Jr. is trying to make the case that the traditional music of the church has been around a long time – therefore it must be more approved by God. He uses the article to appeal to emotion in an effort to ‘guilt trip’ people into dusting off the organ and playing what our great grandparents did. He is trying to play the victim in what he views as a vicious attack on the church because he feels his needs are not being met musically. We have all fallen into this same trap – where we have the selfish nature to make worship about ourselves and what we want and like. When worship is about God – you don’t need music or instruments – because the glorification of God is bigger than my guitar and RC Sproul Jr.’s organ.