Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Woship: What's the Issue?

Perhaps my favorite part of a football game is when a defender who is totally fooled by a quarterback will come crashing through the line of scrimmage to tackle the running back only to find out he never had the ball. The quarterback had it all along. The defender has put an incredible amount of effort into his goal only to realize he totally missed the point. Those who would pour forth incredible amounts of effort into arguments over musical styles in the worship wars are much like this defender, they miss the point.

The Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 22 which was the greatest commandment of the law. He responded by quoting The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, "Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Jesus's response to this is significant for two reasons: 1) I think he was making a statement about the Pharisees and 2) I think he was making a statement about the nature of faith, the true core of the Deuteronomic law.

First, Jesus was making a statement about the heart condition of the Pharisees. When one goes through the New Testament record of Jesus's interaction with the Pharisees, the volume and tone of his harsh words against them are overwhelming. They were the religious crowd of the day. And they would have expected Jesus to be pleased with them. Many of them had large portions (if not all) of the first five books of the Bible memorized. Doctrinally, they would be the "supernaturalists", the ones who believed in the resurrection and angels. As for practicing what they preached, they kept the law so exactly that they even tithed on their spice rack. Yet, it is clear from Mark 7 what Jesus thought of their 'religion': "And he said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;' ' " Jesus was saying that 'keeping of the law' was more than simply doing what it said, or believing what it wanted them to believe. He summarizes toward the end of Mark 7:

And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

The condition of their hearts was of supreme importance to Christ, that is, what they loved. The Pharisees did many good deeds, but they had little love for God. They may have quoted the Shema twice a day, but they did not heed its words. They loved the recognition of men, but they loved God very little. The Pharisees missed the point.

Second, I think Jesus was making a statement about the nature of Biblical faith. Paul makes a very interesting statement in Romans 10 where he quotes Moses to be speaking of a righteousness that is based on faith. There are debates surrounding the full extent of what Paul was saying with the quote, but the point seems clear, Paul thought Moses was talking about a righteousness by faith. Throughout Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-6, 10:12, 11:13, 30:6 for example) the heart of the matter from Moses is that the nation would "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deut 30:6). My point is that The Shema (Deut 6:4) is not only the center of all the Old Testament law, but it is also at the center of what Jesus meant when he said "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." When Moses said love, he was saying faith (Romans 10:6). When we say faith, we should be thinking love. It is at the center of what it means to be a Christian. And the worship wars miss the point because they center their discussion on style and form rather than on what God is seeking, true worshipers (John 4:24), those who love him with all their heart, soul, and might. The point is, are you a worshipper? Do you love him, or merely act like you do?


Ben Eilers said...


I think the conclusions you came to on worship are great. The heart of the debate is not the external -- when it becomes the external the church drifts toward gnosticism (or possibly legalism). The center of the music debate within certain "conservative" circles tends to source morality in something other than God (and those made in the image of God -- insert your quote of Mark 7).

In terms of the quote from Romans 10 and then the summary of the Torah, I would also agree that faith points to love (ie. Gal. 5:13-15) but that it does so precisely because it points to Christ. Thus, the end of the law is Christ. He demonstrates (reveals) the heart of the law by his act of sacrifice, thus showing the holiness required and the love expected. I think this is what you were driving toward??

Matthew LaPine said...

Hmm... I see what you are saying. This would be a good conversation to chew on over coffee... let me know when you are free.

Tim Little said...

Great discussion. I think you hit on a important yet neglected point within conservative circles, that being the heart attitude of worship. Nevertheless, I believe the means of worship is important as well and we should be careful to not only worship with a correct heart attitude, but in a correct manner as well.

First, Ben, your comment, "The center of the music debate within certain 'conservative' circles tends to source morality in something other than God." I would disagree with this. Maybe some would say that, but I know some would approach it from a different perspective. What does the music mean? Another illustration would be a work of art. Even in the case of abstract art, does the work of art mean something. To different people, the work of art may mean different things, especially abstract art, but I believe we would all agree that the work of art's true meaning is based upon the artist's intention. It may have different significance to different individuals, yet the meaning of the work lies in the author. Likewise, in the realm of music, the writer/composer's intention in writing the music determines the meaning of the music, it may have different significance to different listeners, but the meaning of the music has been determined by the writer/composer and if the meaning contradicts the message, it would be considered inappropriate music.

Now to complicate things, can another author/writer/composer change the meaning of someone else's music? After all, we have a new author now communicating a different meaning? Can the new writer jettison the meaning of the original writer, creating a new meaning to the "new" music? :)

Concerning the primary purpose of the post, I believe your point can be substantiated from Deuteronomy 6. It is very clear here that God is after the immaterial (the heart) not the material (frontlets between the eyes, etc). I believe this can easily be applied to the realm of music. I don't think I would go to Matthew 22 to prove the point, nor Romans 10. Your entire argument is based upon Jesus' response to the Pharisees from which you make two deductions, both of which seem tenuous, as illustrated by your qualification "I think..." which has been appended to both. Have you been studying through the passage? I don't think anyone would disagree with either or your main points, but I don't see how that makes your case?

Ben, Cafe Diem 7:30 AM we translate Hebrew, you should come! :) We could talk then!

Matthew LaPine said...

Tim, thanks for entering in. I'll have to bring this up on Wednesday if I can make it. I have a few quick comments for you.

I believe the means of worship is important as well and we should be careful to not only worship with a correct heart attitude, but in a correct manner as well.

Does the Bible give a "manner," or does it give principles which must be applied? My understanding is that the Bible defines what good 'culture' is, love, joy, peace, etc.

Another illustration would be a work of art.

This illustration breaks down very quickly for this reason. Music is far less specific than words are. For instance a cave man might make a grunt and it could mean I'm hungry, I love the food, you woke me up, etc. A grunt then becomes a medium, but one which can be used to communicate all sorts of things because of it's lack of specificity.

On another level, Authorial intention is very important in determining what God was saying to us through scripture, but less important in terms of using a love poem to communicate to my wife. It's not morally wrong to use Shakespeare's words even if he was talking about a different type of love to a different woman.

In a certain sense the medium really impacts the message. Music without words can communicate some, but it is a VERY blurry medium. People may work out a soothing melody on the keyboard and mean nothing other than it made them feel good. I don't think authorial intention is that big of an idea with regard to art which is why I also struggle with abstract art in general, why do it? I'm driven by ideas not sentiments.

As to the last comment on the Deuteronomy 6 passage, it only really relates in the sense that I'm saying love is important to Christian life because it is VERY closely related to faith (yet distinct). I really just included this because I was reading through Deuteronomy and I came across Paul's quotation from Romans 10 and was absolutely befuddled as to how he was being faithful to Moses with this quotation. My only conclusion (regardless of how you take the quote) is that Paul says "Moses spoke of a righteousness by faith". So I went through Deuteronomy to look for it. And I think it was laced all the way through Deuteronomy but especially centered in Deuteronomy 6. This is a blog post and I should probably have taken more time to realize that the Deuteronomy discussion is one for its own time, but I thought it was an interesting idea and one that has been reappearing all over for me that faith and love are related (like when Dr. Newman said it in class the other day).

Tim said...

Concerning your first point, we are on the same page, the "manner" or "means" would be principles.

I don’t think the illustration breaks down. Music, art, and literature communicate something. Even if music is “less specific” it is communicating. The cave man illustration is perfect to illustrate my point. The cave man is communicating that he wants some food. The question isn’t the clarity of the communication, but that communication is taking place. You seem to recognize this in a later statement, “Music without words can communicate some, but is a VERY blurry medium.” That the message is discrete or subtle may, in fact, argue the case for the other side of the music debate. ?

Deuteronomy 6 is like the Romans of the Old Testament. It completely flies in the face of the legalism of Judaism or, for that matter, Fundamentalism. Like I said, I don’t think anyone would deny the relationship between faith and love, but I don’t see how it makes your case for CCM. Maybe we can talk over coffee sometime. Tell Eilers to come as well! :)

Matthew LaPine said...

That the message is discrete or subtle may, in fact, argue the case for the other side of the music debate.

As to this, I have never advocated a "music is neutral without the lyrics" position. My view is that the music either assists or detracts from the communicative ability of the lyrics. My overall point is that we should judge music by whether it promotes worship in spirit and in truth or whether it detracts. So the internal aspect is THE aspect.

You said: Nevertheless, I believe the means of worship is important as well and we should be careful to not only worship with a correct heart attitude, but in a correct manner as well.

My point is if music accomplishes A, that it has accomplished B already.

As to the art example, I reread the illustration and now I having trouble seeing the connection between what you said and what Ben said...

Also, as to authorial intention, I just don't see how that's a big issue. It's not very important for me to understand what Debussy meant when he wrote his music. By nature music without lyrics can communicate strong emotions but not much by way of propositions. One can be sad the Vikings lost and one can be sad over their sin. Perhaps the same song would express both their emotions appropriately without lyrics.

Enjoy for the discourse,
- Matt

Ben Eilers said...


I have been living under a rock for the last few days . . . sorry about that. I think I missed the coffee date! My bad. I have only had time to semi digest your discussion but here's my preliminary thoughts.

I would advocate a view that music and lyrics are devoid of morality. They are thus "amoral." I believe that both the notes and the words are merely "signs" (or place holders). I could superimpose a song with perverse lyrics in a native African context and not offend. The key seems to come in MY understanding of what is sung or spoken. I do understand the possible implications of this view for meaning but also believe the opposite is also true of fundamentalism. On the one hand meaning is controlled by the reader (subjective) on the other meaning is so objective that there is no contextualization needed. Meaning becomes propositions that change us somehow without our interaction with them and the truth they contain. This seems to be the error of many in fundamentalism both with their view of inspiration and their view if authority. A sort of "verse a day keeps the devil away." In order to stave off the hard reality of the "neo's" I find some consolation in the doctrine of illumination -- a doctrine much maligned in some of fundamentalism because of their view on the nature of objective propositions (modernism run-a-muck).

Getting back to music. . . in terms of morality. How holy must my motives be to write music that is worthy of being sung in the church? How well intentioned does the artist have to truly be to honor God. These questions seem to illustrate a faulty view of the gospel (justification) and of common grace. Within the realm of depraved humans there is an element of common grace that enables them to produce beauty. Is this beauty scarred by their intention? Perhaps, but how much different is their intention then the believer? In the words of the revered Luther we are at the same time "righteous and sinners."

Sorry about the haphazard way this came out. In the end Jesus seems to source morality in something that flows out from my heart. I would agree that the illocutionary effect of the text (coupled with the perlocutionary effect) does contain morality (both intent and effect) but deny that the words or the music itself contains any inherent morality.

Matthew LaPine said...

I agree that signs have no inherent morality, but there is no situation where a sign has no significance, so it is by implication always moral. It always meant or means something (In fact in that way there is nothing that has no moral tone). I do agree in part with you Ben that we have more freedom with music to manipulate it as we see fit, that is the user becomes the signifier. But I would argue that's part of the nature of the genre, not an epistemic rule.

When it comes to communication I don't think one has to be a hard foundationalist to believe in authorial intention. Could it be that in the sovereignty of God that he allows communication even if imperfect?

And as to the nature of Scripture, we need to sit down and chat on this one. We can do a Vanhoozer book review.

Ben Eilers said...

I think we agree, then, in relationship to your first point. My concern with finding morality in music relates to finding the "source" of that morality. Music attached from an image bearing element has no intrinsic moral characteristics. Thus, music derives its morality from the image bearer. Maybe I'm splitting to many hairs but there seems to be a fine line between orthodox truth and gnosticism in this case.

And, I would love to sit down and discuss Vanhoozer. My thoughts on the subject of epistemology are ever evolving.