Reflections, Part 4- The Matter of Music

by Greg Linscott

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

There are few topics potentially more divisive in Fundamental Baptist circles or even American Evangelicalism in general than the topic of music. I have been involved on conversations on the topic enough in the past to understand that I am unlikely to convince anyone of my specific conclusions in a single blog post, and such an attempt is not my purpose here.

Rather, it is my intent to examine it as a possible obstacle to cooperation and fellowship, such as we had when Phil Johnson addressed the Men’s Fellowship of the Minnesota Baptist Association.

“What?” you might ask. “Phil Johnson is a musician?”

Well, not that I know of, anyway.

The issue of music as a hindrance to fellowship, in this case, usually goes to a general principle of what is tolerated in the ministries of Grace Community Church and its related ministries. The most extreme example and often-cited objection typically is the music used in their Resolved conferences, targeted at college students and held from 2005-2012.

The sense that I get is that as is true in many churches, there is not one single school of thought on music shared throughout the congregation. John MacArthur himself has been both critical of the excesses of contemporary worship, and affirmed the historic Christian tradition of hymnody with a list that would pass about any conservative Christian’s immediate evaluation. This message is one that would have many traditional Fundamentalists consulting their chiropractors the next morning because of pain caused by repetitive, vigorous nodding.

I have a long-time friend who serves as the pastor of a small Regular Baptist church in Southern California. He is about as traditional in his music at his church as they come. His perspective on GCC is that for the environment in which they minister, the congregation has a perception of being a proponent and defender of conservative worship and traditional hymnody. He frequently  attends the annual Christmas concert held there, and his perspective is that virtually all of the music performed there would pass muster at most Fundamentalist congregations today (though he did admittedly cringe when he mentioned the rendition of “Little Drummer Boy”).

The question seems to me to be how much should music affect the boundaries of our fellowship and cooperation?

The answer is not as easy as it might strike some of us. I daresay that most of us with conservative music tendencies have active members whose listening habits, at the very least, do not match up neatly with our conclusions and established personal practices. In my own church, I am certain this is the case. This variety would also be true, I suspect, if your congregation’s supported missionaries were placed under scrutiny.

Many of us have, to this point, successfully avoided situations where we have had to actively partner with congregations who use the instrumentation and styles reminiscent of the rock culture on their platforms. But for those of you reading this who belong to the MBA, let me ask you: if one of our churches were to bring in a trapset, or employ a cajón in the course of their corporate worship music, would that in itself be sufficient grounds to expel them from the Association? Should it be?

The fact is, whether we like it or not, we live in a setting where we have been conditioned to accept many musical styles as normal, whether or not we personally would affirm everything about them. I have heard ringtones- ringtones- on the phones of some Christians that would have gotten me suspended from my Christian high school 25-30 years ago (and I’m not kidding about the suspension). You can hardly go into a store or restaurant these days where you don’t hear music that many Christians have found to be objectionable for various reasons (and more often than not, rightfully so). Just as vernacular speech of the day inevitably ends up in our personal conversations (I had to laugh at a dignified PhD friend of mine who employed the word “dude” in casual conversation), it is inevitable that some of these things will influence some Christians. The point is not whether or not this is a desirable or positive development. The point we must contend with is how do we respond when we encounter that influence?

As much as some might like to disfellowship over music at the Association level (something that has not actually happened, so far as I am aware), I have to this point never heard of a congregation placing a member under discipline because they “got their Getty on” (is that even a phrase?). Unless we are prepared to demand complete unanimity on music conclusions in our own congregations and throughout our Association (something I am absolutely certain is not the case in the MBA, anyway), I don’t think we can make the music issue a reason to divide with Phil and company, especially when they would share many of the same struggles and frustrations many of us might have in this matter.

Feel free to pursue this matter further in the comments. I’ll even turn moderation off, if you guys promise to behave… J

I hope to conclude this “Reflections” series next entry by considering why the Phil Johnson ended up being, from my perspective, a very good choice.