Friday, May 20, 2016

SPEAK UP: Applying truth directly to the conscience (for ministry-minded songwriters and musicians)

by Bill Brandenstein, Assistant Minister of Music

"Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God." - 2 Cor. 4:2 (NIV)

One of my least favorite things about contemporary Christian music, particularly of the sort that tends to dominate radio airplay over the past 3 decades, is how it is frequently difficult to discern anything particularly Christian in the lyrics. Some lack any direct reference to God or Jesus; if even then by only a pronoun. Are they afraid to be more overt than that? Why identify, then, as a Christian "artist?" If the idea is to reach as many people as possible while smoothing down the gospel message to make it as inoffensive as possible, then doesn’t the message become emasculated of anything worth hearing? It appears that these messengers are guilty of precisely what the Apostle Paul is railing against in the passage excerpted above. People are not brought to saving faith in Christ by persuasion, coercion, or cleverness, but by scriptural truth applied directly to the conscience. The messenger's responsibility is to scatter the seed of truth far and wide. I wonder who these musicians think is responsible for making the seed take root so that it grows? We would do well to pause, pondering the sufficiency of scripture and God’s omnipotent power that backs it. It's as though all of Nashville (etc.) has forgotten that the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, regenerates, and empowers for daily living, and that their efforts and strivings aren't necessarily a part of the equation.

This whole problem is related to the issue of for-profit business mixing with ministry. If the artists don't sell enough radio spots, tour tickets, t-shirts, and recordings, they cease producing anything, whether biblical or not. Instantly you have a blurring of lines between wholesome entertainment (or entertainers who happen to profess being Christian), and those who consider their platform a form of biblical ministry. I won't digress here concerning the place of entertainment in the Christian's life, but let's just say that the lines between entertainers and ministers of truth aren't drawn so very clearly in much of Christian music. So I would say this to the latter group: if your music is intended to truly minister to people on a spiritual level, then Col. 3:16 applies. You must, then, be richly indwelt with the Word of God, and your lyrics, to qualify as edifying to the church, must be rich enough to be considered a psalm, hymn, or a spiritual song. That is the biblical purpose for music: to accompany scripture, theology, and testimony into every corner of our lives. Don't mince words! The increase isn't up to you. It's God who ensures that His word won’t return void, and sees that it accomplishes the purposes for which He desires (Is. 55:11). Plus, you can't mitigate the conflict between biblical truth and hearts that are blinded and opposed to it - that's also above your pay grade. The gospel is inherently offensive, but it's not up to us to try to change that.

Again, Paul says:
"But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." - 1 Cor. 1:23-25 (NIV)

I’m raising these points to you right now due to our recent Shepherds’ Conference at which Phil Johnson challenged pastors to not give into the temptation to be clever, coy, or cool in an attempt to manipulate the message or to get more attention. He pointed out these Pauline passages about preaching which condemn such practices. Insofar as the message is a biblical and gospel one, why should Christian music be any different? Time has proven that the lyrics and music that matter over the long haul are consistently not the ones that rely predominantly on cleverness, being coy, or appeal to "street cred." So how is music ministry any different than preaching in this regard?

You can hear Phil's entire, very compelling message here:

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