Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Shall we dance?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 30, 2008 at 2:45 am

An old acquaintance of mine called to vent about some matters and ask advice about others. The advice was sought about a particular situation at a church where his wife was the ‘minister of worship.’ Yup, that’s right, can you see where this is going?

He was disturbed at the direction the church he attended was moving. The leaders had commissioned a demographic study to find out how they should go about attracting an audience – excuse me – congregation. The study encouraged them to go after 32-year-old men. Its premise roughly stated was, “If you get the man, you get his family and his wallet.” The likes and dislikes (felt needs) of the hypothetical 32 year old man were expressed in the study. Among other things, he likes sports, rock ‘n roll music, especially oldies from when he was young, and the report stated, for my purpose in writing, he likes to watch younger women dance.

So what does the leadership team do? They increase the number of sports teams and outlets for athletic activities, especially for the men. They change the music during so-called ‘worship’ to be ‘more contemporary,’ using at least one ‘oldie’ feeling song each time the group meets. Then they added ecclesiastical dance at the start of their assembly – at this point, I am having a difficult time calling it worship. It was reported that a young woman came out in a tight fitting outfit to dance to the music. She moved to the flow gracefully, attracting a lot of attention of one kind from the 32 year old men and a very different sort from their wives who thought, “What’s this?” My friend admitted having to avert his eyes.

One of the ‘respected’ men in the group-at-large gathered that Sunday recognized the dancer and quietly told one of the leaders that she really was quite a dancer – an exotic dancer from a local club. Word came out as it usually does. Controversy ensued, but all was forgotten quickly. The action had no consequences for anyone; that was too judgmental. The question to me was, “Mike, what should I do?”

The problems were many. Worst of all was the hidden problem of the collective hearts – utter carnality that drove all this group did. Even the sermons were stories designed to evoke a visceral (read fleshly) response. The music was designed to touch the emotions. What a social group uses to attract people is what they have to maintain in order to keep them.

Reports like these are becoming all too regular as so-called evangelicalism continues to drift from the biblical and reformational primacy of the mind to Romanticism’s primacy of the emotions or Existentialism’s quest for some mystical experience of something beyond ourselves – anything will do, thank you very much. As moderns, or call them what they are, “postmoderns” try to ‘connect’ with others, they are willing to use any means available to them to justify their carnal ends, while thinking they are legitimate pursuits.

As for me, give me the means God has ordained. I have all the confidence in Him that He will accomplish his holy will through the commands and promises given, whether I like them or not, regardless of how I feel, and without regard to my perceived needs. Let God be God and let Him glorify himself. His knowledge of me is able to bring to me and others, what we all truly need – a renewal of our minds, that we may bring all thought captive to our Christ. Having been delivered to a form of doctrine, by His grace and for His glory, tell me the Truth. It is what I really need. But, not only me, give it to my family, my friends and the brethren I have come to love in Christ. To keep God’s Word and ways from them is to deal treacherously with their souls. There is a new liberalism acting as a fox in the hen house. We need another reformation.

Mike Renihan, Ph.D.

  1. Dear Mike,

    I share your concern about churches that justify women pastors or limit their outreach to a narrow group (i.e., 32 year-old men). I also agree that a female dancer whose “ministry” arouses masculine sexual appetite is out of place in God’s house.

    I question, however, the assumption that personal or cultural preferences have no part to play in determining certain circumstances of worship, such as the genre of music. Doesn’t our own confession allow for cultural sensitivity on some matters pertaining to worship (1.6)? I’ve often heard Reformed Baptist pastors rebuke people who leave our narrowly regulated worship services to attend churches where the songs convey the same doctrinal truth but are sung to more contemporary music. The censure usually follows the line of “you’re placing too high a premium on your personal music preference.” But are we who insist that our members must worship to a traditional genre (like the tunes found in the Trinity hymnbook) not guilty of the same thing? I’m actually in favor of teaching our people the principle of mutual deference (Phil. 2:2-4) so that we can learn to enjoy both traditional and contemporary genres of music in our service without a condescending or judgmental spirit.

    You may be correct that the “primacy of the mind” is reformational. I’m not a historical theologian, so I’ll have to defer to the experts. (Though I find it interesting that our Puritan forefathers described man’s chief end in terms of the exercise of an emotive faculty—“to enjoy [God] forever.”) Nevertheless, I question whether the primacy of the mind over the emotions is a biblical doctrine. In my reading of Scripture, I find just as much emphasis upon orthopraxis and orthopathos as upon orthodoxy. My point is not to defend Romantic or Existential ideology. My point, rather, is to underscore the obvious truth that God does care about how we feel and behave.

    You say, “I have all the confidence in Him that He will accomplish his holy will through the commands and promises given, whether I like them or not, regardless of how I feel, and without regard to my perceived needs.” Of course, God will accomplish what He has decreed regardless of whether we like him or not and in spite of how we feel. But God is definitely concerned about the state of our heart (which embraces both the intellect and the affections) when we respond to his commands and promises (Deut. 28:47; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thes. 5:16). Moreover, the fact that Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, and performed many other deeds of benevolence demonstrates that God is not indifferent to the perceived needs of fallen humanity. Nor does he expect us to be (Matt. 5:16; Gal. 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17).
    I realize that your comments have a specific context, and if I knew the particular circumstances you’re alluding to, I’d probably sound more sympathetic. I am concerned, however, that our rhetoric against the “worldly evangelical church” sometimes goes to far and lacks appropriate nuance and balance. I agree that we need a new reformation. But in my mind, that spells a movement back towards sola Scriptura and away from an encroaching traditionalism.

    Sincerely yours,
    Bob G.

  2. Amen, Pastor Gonzales! Preach it brother!

    It is definitely an imbalance to over emphasize the mind to the (almost) exclusion of the emotions. God is an emotional Being, He created us with emotions.

    Stuff like this is what makes the outside world think Reformed Baptists are mainly concerned with making sure all their theological ducks are in a row than they are with meeting people’s needs. That imbalance was not in Jesus’ earthly ministry. It’s as if precise propositional truth is what REALLY saves. Some Reformed Baptist pastors would rather drive their church into the ground than consider changing some of their worship music. The number of defections from our ministries over relatively minor issues is alarming…

    (not defending the church that was the subject of this post either, just to be clear)

  3. Personally, the cause of the most joy, longing for Christ, and conviction of sin I have experienced in corporate worship had to do with the Spirit attending the text being preached, the truth being sung, the prayers being prayed, or the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or baptism. I’m not saying that there wasn’t real joy or heartfelt worship in the churches that I was at that were more “contemporary.” But I am saying that I, and I trust my brethren, have been moved more by the baptism of a new convert or a sermon on the great and awesome Day of the Lord or the singing of “It is Well With My Soul” than by a thousand “7-11 praise choruses” along with electric guitars and drums.

    Pastor Jim has often said that the Regulative Principle regulates our emotions too, and to say that the problem with worship today is that it is “too emotional” (I used to say that myself…) is to miss the point. True worship is emotional, but it is unfeigned joy and reverence and thanksgiving, not something manufactured by “mood music” or something man can conjure up.

  4. I think there can be a danger in chasing after people just to get attendance “up.” Not because it’s wrong to seek new people to come to church, but because the tempation is to focus on attendance instead of God.

    But I don’t see why style is an issue. By its very definition worship “style” is about personal preference. And from what I can tell, as long as whatever we do honors God, I don’t think he really has a preference. I’m pretty sure he existed before either organs or electric guitars were invented. 😉

    Bob G said it well, worship is about both our minds and our hearts.

  5. Contemporary worship music doesn’t violate the regulative principle. There was a day when the hymns in the Trinity Hymnal were considered contemporary worship music, and some well-meaning folks opposed them.

    Granted, some contemporary worship music is shallow, but there’s nothing wrong with including what would be called “Praise and Worship” music as long as the content isn’t in theological error. Nothing wrong with appealing primarily to the heart sometimes in worship music. If there is, I would like to hear the biblical arguments…

  6. If our minds, hearts, and worship are not biblically informed and grounded we are in trouble. If worship matters so much (and it does) why do so many let the world dictate what goes on during corporate worship?

    Nadab and Abihu? King Ahaz?

    The church ought to be salty to the world, not sweet.

    I am pretty sure that most would agree that manipulation through music is easy, rampant, and widespread in the church. Shouldn’t this mean that we are extremely careful of what we do and why we do it?

    Some choice quotes from the master of growth…

    “I will admit that we have lost hundreds of potential members because of the style of music Saddleback uses. On the other hand, we have attracted thousands more because of our music.”

    (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church, p. 285)

    “I believe that one of the major church issues [of the future] will be how we’re going to reach the next generation with our music.”

    (Rick Warren, SuperConference 2003, at Liberty University)
    “We have used film clips, we have used some dramas, we have used some object lessons. One of my favorite is called “point and play,” which is separate the points by music. We always at Easter and Christmas Eve do a “point and play” message. For example, with my Easter sermon, I took every point and we divided it up into five sections, and we had a song that went with each point. So there is an emotional punch as well as an intellectual punch at the same time. We layer it: tension/release, tension/release.

    I learned this when I was a consultant on the DreamWorks movie, “The Prince of Egypt,” to help keep it biblically correct. One day I was in the hall at DreamWorks, and I noticed something on the wall called an “Emotional Beat Chart.” They actually monitor the emotional highs and lows of a movie. I counted up and there were nine peaks and nine valleys in this 90-minute movie — about every ten minutes there’s tension/release, tension/release. Well, you can do that in a message: you can do it with humor, you can do it with an illustration, or you can do it with a feature, but it allows us to keep people’s attention longer in order to give them more material.”

    (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Preaching: An Interview with Rick Warren. Sept-Oct 2001)

    “Saddleback is unapologetically a contemporary music church. We’ve often been referred to in the press as “The flock that likes to rock.” We use the style of music the majority of people in our church listen to on the radio. Years ago, after being frustrated trying to please everyone I decided to survey our church. I passed out 3 x 5 cards to everyone in the Crowd service and asked them to write down the Call Letters of the radio station they listened to…What we discovered was that 96% of our people said they listened to middle-of-the-road adult contemporary music.”

    (Rick Warren, Selecting Worship Music, July 29, 2002)
    “Although music is usually the most controversial element of a seeker service it is a critical element that cannot be ignored. We need to understand the incredible power of music, and harness that power by being willing to set aside our own personal preferences and use the music that will best reach the unchurched for Christ.”

    (Rick Warren, Selecting Worship Music, July 29, 2002)
    “You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach…. The music you use ‘positions’ your church in your community. It defines who you are…. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose.”

    (Rick Warren, Selecting Worship Music, July 29, 2002)
    “If you were to tell me the kind of music you are currently using in your services I could easily describe the kind of people you are reaching, without even visiting your church. I could also tell you the kind of people your church will never be able to reach.”

    (Rick Warren, Selecting Worship Music, July 29, 2002)

  7. Dear Pastor Gonzales,

    You mentioned, “I’m actually in favor of teaching our people the principle of mutual deference (Phil. 2:2-4) so that we can learn to enjoy both traditional and contemporary genres of music in our service without a condescending or judgmental spirit.” I am not sure if I understood your point here. What did you mean by contemporary genres of music? Did you mean genres DIFFERENT from the ones used in Pentecostal groups like Hillsong Church (Australia) where alternative rock has almost become the norm? Thanks. 🙂

  8. Marie, Christian, and Albert,

    I’ll try to respond to your questions later. I’m hosting a theological module this week, so I’m pretty busy and my wife doesn’t want me to stay up too late 🙂 Thanks for the interaction and good questions.

    Bob G.

  9. Christian,

    Just in case you were addressing your comments to me…I’m certainly not in favor of unbiblical, Rick Warren-type nonsense. That wasn’t my point at all. And we should be careful, but not unbiblically narrow.

    I have not heard a cogent biblical argument against contemporary Christian music. That being said, personally I’m not in favor of guitar/drums type music in the church–just modern hymns that incorporate contemporary expressions of praise and worship to God.

    God bless,

  10. I should also say that I used to be quite narrow myself on this issue, but when I was challenged to defend my position from the Bible I realized that I was trying to assert my personal opinion about music style, etc. rather than building my case from Scripture.

    We need to beware of the imbalance of being a traditionalist rather than being Berean and searching the Scriptures. We must always be reforming.

    Pastor Gonzales has expressed my sentiments well in his comments…

  11. G.C. ,

    No the comments weren’t aimed at anyone in particular…just the overwhelming number of cases where the modern day church has mimicked Ahaz, Nadab, and Abihu.

    It is a very slippery slope and I can sympathize a little bit those brothers who maintain that only inspired words should be sung…that stance appears to have a certain amount of safety to it.

    If the means can turn into a distraction easily then we ought to be extremely guarded. Once we start chipping away at worship there is no end.

  12. Marie, Christian and Albert,

    I agree that genuine joy and a heart-felt desire for Christ must spring from the root of divinely revealed truth. So do a good number of Reformed Christians I know who happen to be edified by solid lyrics accompanied by contemporary music. Why must the debate be framed “the presentation of the truth” vs. “stimulating music”? Why can’t the kind of music that stimulates the emotions in a way that fits the biblical lyrics of a song be acceptable in worship?

    Acts 14:1 speaks of Paul and Barnabas preaching “IN SUCH A WAY that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.” I don’t believe Luke is merely highlighting the accuracy of their message. Nor do I believe he’s simply saying they were “filled with the Spirit.” I think he’s underlining the manner in which they preached. I think we all would agree that a sermon preached in a monotone, emotionless drone would be less effective than the same sermon preached with passion, boldness, and the employment of one’s “aptness” to teach. So if we agree that would-be-preachers need more than mere head knowledge and a good heart—if we believe they should also take a homiletics course to improve their preaching and teaching ability in order to increase the likeliness of winning the lost and edifying the saints—then what’s wrong, in principle, with joining solid lyrics with emotionally stimulating worship provided, of course, the music is stimulating emotions that correspond to the lyrics and the context of worship?

    Christian, I would beware of the line of reasoning that attempts create a safety net in order to “protect” one from sliding down a perceived “slippery slope.” That kind of reasoning led the Pharisees to build walls (i.e., man-made traditions) around God’s commands, which walls eventually invalidated God’s word. Let’s strive to biblical, nothing more, nothing less. Exclusive psalmody is not the answer to some of the extremes in contemporary churches today. Biblical balance is.

    Finally, I would recommend that you read John Frame’s Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997) and listen to John Piper’s four-part seminar on worship entitled “Gravity & Gladness: The Pursuit of God in Corporate Worship.” In my opinion, these men provide a good defense of the careful use of some contemporary music in worship without condoning extremes and without depreciating the continued use of traditional hymnody.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

  13. Amen, Amen, Amen to Pastor Gonzales. Praise the Lord.

  14. Bob,

    The warning is duly noted. I am aware that there is some room for interpretation on this and one Ref Bapt church may look different than another in this regards.

    My concern is, where is the pressure coming from to change? It seems that answering the whys and the wheres are important. If the change has been because God’s people have sought the Lord’s direction through searching His word, prayer, and careful thought then I can understand. But, if the source for change has come from some other place then we need to walk circumspectly and carefully.

    Sola fide,

  15. Well said, Pastor Gonzales. Biblical balance is key. We must beware of an unbiblical traditionalism which drives good Christian people from our churches, and be Berean as well as forbearing. There is room for differences among us…

  16. Christian,

    If there is biblical balance, these changes are coming from the right place–hearts that want to express praise and worship to God within their current time and context. We don’t need to be stuck in the 1700s in that regard, there is no biblical justification for it.

    God bless,

  17. G.C. ,

    I understand your point…there are times where many yearn for the good ole days of the Puritans, which is not what I am alluding to. The heart can be misled and deceitful above all things…the heart must be grounded in God’s word and not taking marching orders from growth experts.

  18. Agreed.

  19. Pastor Gonzales,

    I am not sure what exactly you mean by “contemporary.” When I embraced the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), contemporary worship has always meant to me as that kind of worhip normally found in the worship services of Pentecostal congregations where you will usually find much shouting, dancing, jumping, and loud music. I, in fact, was a musician for many years in a Pentecostal church. In many cases, the worship would almost look like a secular concert. Though I appreciate our Pentecostal brethren’s zeal, I would have to disagree with the way they do their Sunday worship. But since you believe in the RPW, I guess contemporary for you would mean something different from what I thought it was. Does acceptance of contemporary music mean the introduction of alternative rock, R&B, rap, etc. in the worship of Reformed churches? Would that entail the use of musical instruments like the bass guitar, the drums, and other percussion instruments? Please clarify. Thanks. 🙂

  20. Albert,

    This is a good question. I don’t think this is an easy issue where we can say that as long as our heart is in the right place we are okay. If it is an anything goes situation (R&B, rap, tambourines, snakes, spiritual dancingQ is unthinkable…but going from A -> B is fine…then maybe B -> C…then…wait a minute are we at Q already???

    Nadab and Abihu got hammered for their presumption. They thought they knew better…they probably felt they knew better. History records their demise for presuming too much. Their heads and hearts were wrong and God did not overlook their presumption. Worship is too important to the Christian to not be as precise as possible.

    If there is justification for the aforementioned ‘worship’ styles then it ‘can’ be a free for all. At least as far as I can see it. Then again I have been known to be myopic at times. 😉

  21. Albert,

    Sorry for the ambiguity. By “contemporary” I have in mind “current; modern; belonging to the same time” (American Heritage Dictionary, 2006). So when I speak of a good number of Reformed Christians who are edified by the combination of solid lyrics with “contemporary music,” I mean music that’s been written in the 20th/21st century and that’s usually distinguishable from the more traditional genre of music that characterizes many of the older hymns in our hymnbooks. To my understanding, Scripture does not identify a specific style of music that’s appropriate for corporate music. It does, however, provide general guidelines to regulate the style of music, viz., intelligibility, edification, suitable to the lyrics and occasion, orderliness, etc. (1 Cor. 14).

    You ask, “Does acceptance of contemporary music mean the introduction of alternative rock, R&B, rap, etc. in the worship of Reformed churches? Would that entail the use of musical instruments like the bass guitar, the drums, and other percussion instruments? Please clarify.”

    The Psalms allude to various kinds of music instruments, including string and percussion. I don’t believe the RPW would preclude the modern counterparts to the ancient instruments of the Psalter provided that the music played by a bass guitar or drums or other percussion instruments was intelligible, edifying, suitable to the lyrics and occasion, and orderly. Of course, there’s a degree of cultural relativity (i.e., the music of the Jews might be different than the music of the Greeks). So discerning whether such criteria are met requires much wisdom. So an “anything goes” mentality will not do. Pastors should know their people, and the community in which God has called them to minister. They should also pray for God’s guidance.

    I’m not sure if I know what you mean by “alternative rock,” but I am familiar with rhythm and blues as well as rap or hip-hop. These styles of music are usually associated with non-Christian or anti-Christian lyrics. But I’m not sure I could make a blanket statement that universally precludes these music styles as intrinsically evil or as always and in every place inappropriate for corporate worship. Recently, I watched a video of Curtis Allen (aka, “Voice”) singing “Unstoppable” (a song that depicts his personal testimony with a strongly Calvinistic and Christ-honoring message) in John Piper’s church, employing the genre of “rap” or “hip-hop.” The song edified me, and I had the general impression that the people of Bethlehem Baptist Church to whom he ministered felt the same way. But I wouldn’t insist that every local church in every place should employ this kind of music in worship. That is a decision for the leadership of each church to make in sensitivity to the general principles of God’s word, their cultural setting, and the general spiritual makeup and sanctified preferences of their own congregation.
    The RPW teaches us that corporate worship should consist of the preaching and teaching of God’s word, prayer, fellowship, the breaking of bread, giving, and praise. But it does not dictate a particular style of music in which our praise must be clothed. Such decisions involve “circumstances” of worship and are to be determined by “the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (LBC 1.6b).

    Thanks for the interaction, and I hope I’ve clarified the intention of my statements above.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

  22. For the record, just to be clear, I don’t believe that “anything goes” in worship or music. Nor do I care for drums/bass, rock, etc. in worship personally. My comments were more along the lines of current music genre, 20/21st century, current lyrics, etc. We should still be writing solid hymns. What I have come up against at times is those brethren who think the Trinity hymnal is “canon” and all modern music and hymns are watered down mush. Granted, some of it is, but not all of it. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but sift through modern hymnody for the good stuff…

  23. Brothers and Sisters,
    I have found this dialogue very edifying, thank you all. I pray my comments might do the same for you.
    The Levites, including Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), were given precise and detailed instructions with regard to the sacrificial system. The particulars of corporate church worship are not as clearly defined for us (i.e. musical instruments, rhythm, posture etc.). We are given clear principles upon which our worship should be based. One of the primary aspects of our worship is that it is to be toward God alone (1Chr. 16:29, Matt. 4:10, Rev. 4:10). Our worship should clearly proclaim the truth of God (Jn. 4:23-24). Our worship (for our discussion corporate worship through song) as with our life should be distinct from what is perceived as “the world” (2Cor.6:11-18).
    Over the recent years I have come to appreciate some of the contemporary Christian music. In fact, one of my favorite songs (along with Charles Wesley’s “Arise my soul arise”) is “I can only imagine” by Mercy Me. While I find Mr. Wesley’s hymn much more theologically rich, both move my inmost being to focus on Christ and His kingdom. I prefer the traditional hymns in worship but am not absolutely opposed to judicious use of what we have termed “contemporary” music. I am a little uneasy with the way some contemporary music portrays the Truth, especially when it resembles secular music both in the way it is sung/played/presented. (I am thinking about the testimony Pastor Gonzales alluded to in Piper’s church). This is further highlighted in corporate worship where saved and hopefully unsaved persons are present.
    Jesus sends His disciples into the world (Matt. 5:13-16) to proclaim the gospel yet we are also charged to remain distinctly different (Jn. 17:6-19). Isn’t it intriguing how many true servants of Jesus can hear the same biblical teaching and apply it differently in their lives? The issue at stake is whether our worship glorifies God or man. My concern is that contemporary music has a tendency to resemble current secular music and therefore is prone to distract from solely God-centered worship. Of course our remaining sin nature predisposes us to take any form of worship whether contemporary or traditional and distort it for our own gain. Amen, we should not hide behind tradition and we don’t want to be like those Pharisees, exchanging heart felt worship for our own vain traditions (Mark 7:6-8). Thank you for the interaction,

    Jeremy Martin

  24. Is this the Jeremy Martin I knew in Bossier City? Great comments.

    Bob G.

  25. Hello Pastor Bob, yes, this is that Jeremy Martin:)

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