Tuesday, 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.


Anonymous said...

"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."

Please elaborate on this. What do you mean?

Jody Killingsworth said...

"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."

This is not a good argument, dear brother. Too much equivocation. I applaud you for wanting to prove that the contemporary problem is not inherent in the instruments. But when you say, "Drums? I have nothing against kettle drums!", and when you argue that the forms we choose are an indication of our impoverished condition, you really are begging the question. Seems to me you do disapprove of the instruments when it comes right down to it.

That contemporary rock instruments/forms are used unimaginatively, sentimentally, safely, shallowly, etc. by most Christians I do not deny. But this is not of the essence of those instruments/forms. At least that's what we're working to prove here in Bloomington.

R.C. said...

Jody, thanks for coming by. Did I, though, argue that the forms are an indication of our impoverished condition? I'm pretty sure that's something you brought to this table. I'm not sure how I could have been more clear that I don't disapprove of the instruments. (Santana is playing on my computer as I type). I'm pretty sure I was saying first that we lost the war because of bad arguments and second, that the sign of the lost war isn't drums and guitars, but Christian banality, shallowness, etc. That is, the war wasn't to keep out drums and guitars and keep in organs, but the war was against sentimentality, etc. I'd much enjoy hearing how you all do things at Clearnote.

Jody Killingsworth said...

Thanks, R.C.

Hoping I'm wrong, but that is how I read you, yes.

Let me ask a couple clarifying questions: Do you believe that had we fought the real enemy (banality, sentimentality) and won, that we'd still have organs leading us in worship today? If so, how do hold that belief without it being a comment on the relative banality inherent in certain instruments?

P.S. We'd love to have you visit sometime. Doug Wilson was with us this last week and voiced his support of our musical reforms from the pulpit.

R.C. said...

...That is, the war wasn't to keep out drums and guitars and keep in organs, but the war was against sentimentality, etc...

Doesn't that answer your question brother? No, I am not saying organs would have necessarily stayed had my side (which I think is actually our side) won the war.

Jody Killingsworth said...

Thanks for the clarification. I'm with you now. Sorry for misreading you.

Anonymous said...

A war? Really? Is that how we relate ones own personal opinions vs another, by calling what one church does vs. what you want in YOUR church, a war?

What I see here is plain old idolatry. One side, judging another based on musical style and then placing themselves above the other. Therefore making their own personal, non-biblical belief, a higher self exalted attitude, making yourself an idol because your flawed belief system on congregational music is purely your own Judgement. I remember Christ saying, consider the plank, in your own eye before you consider the speck in someone else's. How dare we call a "War" on something when we are all fighting for the same cause. Lives are being changed for the cause of Christ. If someone comes into my church and doesn't like the music. I don't make apologies, rather I thank them for their thoughts, and advise them of where they may fit in better. It's not about me. And the mentality I read here says one thing, Idolatry, my personal judgment is better than what the church is doing down the street, despite the fact that they are probably exploding at the seems. We should be wise to make sure that our thoughts and opinions do not become unwarranted and unbiblical judgements. When we judge we partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When we love, we partake of the Tree of Life and then give that life freely. Something to think about.

Yes, years ago, the "Bad" people as you call them played "Rock and Roll". And we cast all kinds of judgments on these people. And they used tools of satan (Drums and electric guitars... yet a harp is kind of the same thing, just not plugged in to an amp). Yet, we have some amazing guitar players and instrumentalists that are playing for God and the cause of Christ, yet I read a influential speaker calling it a "war", shameful. I don't care that Santana is playing on your PC. Why is that right and guitars and drums not ok in a church. If you want to hear someone play guitar and play for Christ, listen to Lincoln Brewster's last two albums. He has a great testimony as well and leads worship at his church and tours all over the world. Is that a "War" among friends? We should give God praise that Praise and Worship has taken off like it has. And now kids want to play the guitar because they hear great worship music and are making a connection with God via these instruments.

The war only resides within your own opinion. We have no Biblical mandate as to how we worship. Paul told us that our services must be orderly. That's it. Most churches, are in order, regardless of their musical style.

Now if we want to get down to it, is your church busting out the harp and the lyre and playing some good old Jewish traditional's? Probably not. The piano and "organ" are as foreign to scripture as the electric guitar.. funny thing is, you mention drums, yet that was included in scripture. Just because now we have musicians with God given talents that can play multiple drums at one time, and it's not what your Daddy and his Daddy and his Daddy listened to then it can't be for God and used in a "Church" setting. Obsurd.

I just stumbled upon this and, right now not sure why. However, I am disappointed that thoughts such as these go out.

Brian said...

As a church drummer off-and-on for the past 20 years, I'd find this post funny if it weren't so sad. A war? Really? Additionally, as a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that regarding the debate about musical styles, "war" is certainly an overstatement.

To survive, and therefore continue to fulfill its mission, the church must be sensitive to what's relevant to its culture. And let me be clear: "relevance" does not equal "sinful."

I don't discount the use of hymns in worship. In fact, most "traditional" hymns would be considered new in light of the fact that worship music has been around for thousands of years.

The Psalmist reveals a variety of instruments and worship styles that are not only valid, but encouraged. If anything, the Psalms implore us to worship with energy, enthusiasm, excitement. Although the piano, the organ, the guitar, and the drum are never specifically mentioned in the Psalms, we are left to seek out our culture's equivalents to things like the harp, lyre, timbrel, and (gasp!) the cymbal.

Therefore, how can it be assumed that the modern equivalents of the Psalms' instruments, and their use, are automatically indicative of banality and shallowness? If that's the case, it's the wrong church you're dealing with, not the wrong music.

R.C. said...

Brian and Anonymous,

I am neither the first nor the last to call the debates/struggles the evangelical church is having over the issue of music "the worship wars." It is, of course, a metaphor. That it is a good metaphor is illustrated by what I perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be rather hostile responses to my thoughts on the matter. Indeed that you both fired at straw men doesn't change the fact that you fired. If you would read the piece again you would see that a. I did not anywhere condemn the use of drums of guitars. Not once. And b. neither did I argue against songs that have been written more recently. Not once.
That said, what you both affirm, rather than argue for is the issue at hand- are the means of our worship a matter of mere taste? You then turn and judge me for making a judgment I didn't make. Media do indeed matter. Remember God killed Nadab and Abihu for bringing strange fire into His presence. That does not mean that I am saying drums and guitars are strange fire. I neither made nor make any such argument. It does mean sincerity, relevance and creativity do not trump obedience. Hope that helps brothers

Brian said...

You seem to be dancing around what you feel like you did and didn't say. Let's just call it like it is, using plain language this time, so everyone can understand. Simply put, you're disappointed that traditional styles of worship music are fading away. You made that clear in your blog post. That's what they are, after all: styles, or as you call them "forms."

How does the story of Nadab and Abihu apply here? I understand that "obedience trumps sincerity, relevance and creativity." If we are being relevant, sincere, and creative, that doesn't automatically make us disobedient. What specifically are we commanded to do - and commanded NOT to do - when it comes to the use of music in worship? The Psalmist tells us to "shout for joy" and "play skillfully with a loud noise." If I'm reading this literally, I could come to the conclusion that the use of organs and hymns in church is, in fact, disobedient.

I think if you're truly honest with yourself, you'll find that you're as guilty anyone for preferring a particular musical style in church. You may listen to Santana during the week, but you've made it clear that you prefer organs and hymnals on Sunday. That is a matter of taste, even if your holier-than-thou attitude tells you otherwise. Sorry to be so harsh, but that's the vibe I'm getting from you.

You mentioned that musical styles and instruments themselves are not to blame for losing the "war." But rather, the "sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental."

If it all boils down to our hearts, then why even bring up musical styles and instruments in the first place? The use of pianos and organs can be just as shallow, insipid, boring, and sentimental. In fact, most would argue that they accomplish boredom and shallowness even more effectively than other instruments.

R.C. said...

You are responding to what you heard, not what I said. What you call "dancing around" I call speaking with precision. For the third time, I did not condemn drums, guitars, loud noises or joy. What I spoke against was shallowness, insipidness, etc. Nor do I condemn music based on its birthdate. But you wanted to yell at someone who takes the position that hymnals and organs are all God allows. Sorry, but I'm not that guy. I certainly may be guilty of having a holier-than-thou attitude, though I'm not sure where or how that sin showed up in this piece. The only one casting judgments against other people is you brother.

As for why I brought up musical instruments at all the answer is very simple-someone wrote and asked. I thought it would be helpful to point out that instruments are not the issue. That, however, wasn't good enough for you. You decided that I thought the instruments were the issue, and that I thought myself better than those who prefer one set of instruments over another. But I never said that, or anything like that. I'm sure if you look hard enough you can find someone on the internet that takes that position that you can yell at. As for this little corner of the internet you may feel free to have the last word in this conversation.

Brian said...

RC, thanks for your recent comment. I apologize if my tone was a bit harsh. I get a bit impassioned when discussing this.

I am still wondering about one word you used: Obedience.

Maybe you can help me out. I still fail to see (re. the story of Nadab and Abihu) how obedience comes into play regarding music in the church. What exactly constitutes obedience in this area, according to Scripture?


R.C. said...

Happy to be of help. I would say obedience is precisely where you said it was, playing skillfully, joyfully, loudly, etc. The analogy wasn't to suggest that x instrument is the same as strange fire, but was simply to remind us that sincerity is no excuse for disobedience. So, if say I am lame, and I am, at guitar, or drums or organ or whatever, and I played poorly, without skill, I can't say, "Well, I was sincere." So it looks, happily like we're not so far apart. God bless.

Brian said...

That made me smile. In my years of doing this, I've definitely heard both guitarists and organists without skill. :)

I would hope, of course, that admittedly unskilled congregants in pews would be exempt? I still love hearing my beautiful wife sing even if she, uh... can't carry a tune. (I'm not being mean. She would tell you the same thing!)

Josiah Dunham said...

R.c, this post was very interesting as the church I attend is going through the "worship war" (kind of a harsh term for what we are experiencing though) right now. I'm still kind of confused by your post and comments though. So what are you saying the problem with contemporary Christian music is? The words and the lack of reverence? Thanks for writing this post :)

R.C. said...

The words, the music, the lack of reverence. That I deny the problem is in the instrument is not to deny the problem is in the music. Hope that helps

Dartme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dartme said...

"My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars."

What is your objection to drums and guitars then?

You have said that you have no argument against them ("I did not anywhere condemn the use of drums of guitars. Not once."), but the quote above suggests the opposite.

R.C. said...

The problem sister is that we equivocate on "drums and guitars." Insofar as drums and guitars is short hand for that style of music we also call praise choruses my concern is that such music is inane, insipid, safe, simplistic, lame. The problem then isn't actually the drums or the guitars. Some of those like me who don't think praise choruses are fitting for worship instead grumble about the drums and guitars. That's an argument they will always lose. Some, in defending praise choruses defend the instruments. My point is that that's not the point. Hope that helps.

Dartme said...

Sorry, OpenID sucked up my name.

"... worship bands have left the Psalms, organ, and our father's hymnal decimated."

So the problem here is not that the organ and our father's hymnal are decimated, but that they were decimated by "shallow, insipid, easily played, safe,...", right?

So, the band that is not prey of these things (they sing about judgment as much or more than about God's love) and also sings psalms among other things have approval?

Thank for your time and responses, they are valuable to me!

Aaron Laws

R.C. said...

Well, I would suggest there is rather much more to avoiding being shallow, insipid and easily played than singing the Psalms and singing judgment. There are important musical elements as well. Not which instruments per se, of course, but musical issues nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

The Bible tells us that when we are saved we are to be separate from this world.
Before I was saved I was a huge fan of Britney Spears and paid a lot of money to see her gigs and used to go to a whole host of rock festivals. What sort of culture was I embracing? At the gigs people were drunk, smoking, using foul language, girls dressed immodestly and the such like. Why would we want any resemblence of this music in our churches?

With CCM there is a lot of talk about people's 'tastes'. Well, when the Lord in His mercy saved me he did a mighty work in my life so that my tastes DID change. Our tastes should change when we are saved and we shouldn't crave after what this world enjoys so much. It's not about the style of music, it's looking at the way the world uses it and asking if it's reverent and edifying for use in church worship.

The problem today in the church is that man takes his ideas and makes scripture fit around them, rather than looking to scripture first and seeing what is holy and pleasing to the Lord. Another problem is that churches lack faith. They don't believe that the gospel is enough and that simply preaching the word faithfully each week won't bring the numbers in. And so they employ worldly methods of entertainment to bring people in. Look at Christian bands, they look no different than worldly bands despite maybe having more reverent lyrics! Someone commented earlier about Lincoln Brewster so i took time to check out his website and this is what I found..

There's no separation from the world here in the way he dresses or in the way the website is made to look. This is so sad. The same person who commented also said about idolatry...well on Lincoln's website there are pictures of him performing on stage with people going crazy for his music in the audience. He is tempting people to make an idol of him by putting himself at the center of the stage and by doing so he is pushing Christ to the wings. Surely in church Christ should be the very center of our worship.

The Bible (including Paul) do give a standard on how to conduct biblical worship and all churches fall short whatever method of worship they adopt because we live in a world that is polluted by sin.

These are just my small thoughts, Dr Peter Masters has a much clearer argument that is well worth a listen to. Two address from Metropolitan Tabernacle's School of Theology conference in London..

Dartme said...

"asking if it's reverent and edifying for use in church worship"

Is 2 Samuel 6:14 an example of reverent and edifying? Is it appropriate activity when worshiping God? (We remember verse 20 - 22 as well!)


Anonymous said...

Aaron from what I understand about this passage is that it was part of a civic ceremony not a religious worship service and this didn't actually happen in the Temple itself. If we compare scripture with scripture we see that David certainly didn't lack any reverence to God (I'm comparing this with the Pslams!) and so I'd feel uncomfortable plucking 2 Samuel 6 our of thin air to try and argue anything about reverence and what is edifying in worship, especially as this particular event didn't happen in the house of God.

Like I said Dr Peter Masters is well worth a listen to on this subject and has also wrote a book Worship in the Melting Pot which has very clear arguments in - much MUCH better than anything you read from me!

Hope that makes sense, sorry if it's jumbled!

Scott said...

Regarding, "Some of those like me who don't think praise choruses are fitting for worship instead grumble about the drums and guitars. That's an argument they will always lose. Some, in defending praise choruses defend the instruments. My point is that that's not the point."

R.C. ... If you we're at the beginning of the "war" and new what you know now... What would your strategy be to make your case for your beliefs? And, do you think it would have made any difference had you presented your arguments more effectively? Thanks. And I appreciate the posts.

Paul said...

I found this somewhat by accident.

With respect, I would argue that there is a straw man of contemporary worship being set up. That is, that contemporary music necessitates shallow lyrics. That is simply not true.

There's another straw man implied - that traditional hymns are, by nature, deep or less shallow. That is also simply not true. Regardless of style, the lyrics must be looked at and evaluated; just because it's 100-500 years old or 2 years old is, frankly, not important with respect to the worth of the lyrics. I can find a shallow song (or theologically incorrect, for that matter!) from 150 years ago, too.

So, we're left with what? That we have to evaluate the lyrics regardless of age or style.

As to the music itself, I'm interested in knowing, from a *biblical* perspective, what in contemporary music are issues.

I would also welcome an explanation as to what, exactly, style "traditional" music is? I have found there to be two distinct influences; classical (the older "German chorale" type) and folk (more 19th century and 20th century songs; for example, Fanny Crosby's era). Contemporary music, largely, is influenced by folk music of various forms.

Arguing biblically about music styles (which boils down to music theory, mostly) is difficult. We can argue about the *performance* and the non-participatory stuff, but there again, we're not arguing about style as a whole but how those styles work. For every person one may find that says "I just can't sing the contemporary melodies, they are too syncopated" I could probably find someone who says "I just can't sing the old melodies, they don't make sense and seem so boring!" In other words ... familiarity is a *big* issue. But that's not, to my knowledge, a biblical reason for rejecting a music style... :)

R.C. said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments. That said, am unsure where you read me saying anything at all about lyrics in this piece. And it is certainly true that the born on date isn't the issue. By "contemporary" I did not mean "written within these years..." but a particular style of music, which is granted hard to define. But we know it when we hear it, don't we? In the same way that I know what I call a "prairie hymn" when I hear it, even if I've never heard the song before. There is a sound. In fact I have argued that prairie hymns are the praise choruses of the mid 1800's.

Anonymous said...

When it sounds like a downtown nightclub, but with Christian lyrics, seriously, the message can get lost in the beat and the music carries a different meaning thatn the words. Try singing lyrics of another song to happy birthday tune or some other annoying childhood favorite like the farmer in the dell, and you quickly see what I mean. I enjoy alternative music but to sound right often requires it be played loud, and inexperienced sound crew blast much louder than needed. Why do i need to lose my hearing from weekly church services? (I'm still young, but i don't go to rock concert weekly). And why is there no diversity in style, and so much inane repetition? Anyway, play the music alone without the people singing...that is another way to recognize the message in the music. It's the typical pop themes alternative hit night club dance tune.

Anonymous said...

RC, I have trouble finding a church because the sound systems are painfully loud such that my ears ring for days after. Lyrics are often inan, "there is a fountain who is our God" is my all time favorite bad lyrics next to "breath, breath, breath, breath, breath, breath, breath, breath, breeeeeeeeeeeeeeaath." I don't understand the lack of talent and diversity in the Christian church's music publication. Me-centered songs drive me nuts. I like electric guitar but it has become "the new organ," mandetory generic and loud sound in ever church I set foot in. I no longer feel my spirit lift in praise by these services. Sometimes bored and yawning, other annoyed, the best lyrics were played to nightclub venue beat and at the tinninitus volume. I don't want to lose my hearing because i regularly on a weekly basis attend a rock and roll concert. Rock isn't even my favorite venue and I listen to it occasionally but weekly, blah. I don't know what will happen... It may never change. But i will attend a Sunday School or small group for now and listen to a sermon online because even though I was a teen in the 80's, I'm not into monotinous boring often either poorly written or poorly composed tunes. I wish and pray for change. If you listen to any secular music in various venues, there is new amazing talent and songs you want to hear again. Oatmeal without sweetener or cream is how i feel about this mostly garbage loud rock they're blasting now, put a real rocker to shame with it. :-(

I'm not saying you said what I said so hope no one gets mad at you that i posted that.

Dennis Baldridge said...

Dr. Sproul, Is it possible to contact you offline? Off Blog? If so, How? Dennis

C. Michael Shuman said...

Dennis, My name is Michael Shuman and I am Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr.'s assistant. I am writing in reference to the email you sent recently to him.

Please email me at cmshuman@reformationbiblecollege.org in order for your request to be properly considered.