Friday, January 8, 2010

Rocking the Boat - Part 3
Can’t We Redeem Rock Music?

One of the arguments I’ve heard for inviting rock music into church involves the supposition that believers have an obligation to reclaim the fallen parts of creation from Satan back to God.

Here are two variations on that theme:

  • “Since rock music is of the Devil, we need to sanctify it back to a purer state, like God’s original intention.” This statement freely acknowledges the original intent of and audience for rock-n-roll. Shouldn’t that be reason enough to treat this discussion soberly?
  • “Since rock music has become such an integral part of our society today, we can’t avoid it. Rather, we need to exploit it.” Do people who say this really know what they’re implying? This has to be one of the most deceitful concepts the Devil has perpetrated on mankind: the idea that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

I suspect people who use these arguments actually have no problem with most rock-n-roll at all, drawing their line at just the hard-core stuff.

Redeeming the Time

Believers are not redeemers. We are the redeemed, but we can’t save anything in and of ourselves. A well-known phrase from Ephesians 5 is “redeem the time”. However, that only means we need to make the most of opportunities we are given. I realize that believers can avail themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish all sorts of things for God's glory. But isn't there plenty the Bible already commands us to do, without adding stuff of our own to the list? Can we even do that?

I'm no Bible scholar, but I'm stumped for Biblical directives authorizing believers to recapture that which mankind uses for evil and re-purpose it for God’s glory – at least in the way some believers claim they’re trying to do with rock.

It’s a nice idea, and it works well with certain types of things. Reclaiming the arts, for example, has become a delightful exercise for many Christian painters, musicians, and even digital graphic designers. Plenty of scripture passages describe the purposes for which the visual and performance arts were created: to demonstrate God’s glory. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any legitimate, objective art critic who validates rock’s claims for “arts” status; and even if you did, the origins of the genre disqualify it from recognition as an art form that started well but has gone bad over time.

Rock music can be compared to pornography, in the sense that both are elements of the created world, but both are genres whose existence is based on perversion.

Pornography’s only role is to take the purity of monogamous sex within marriage – a gift from God - and degrade it to the point of utter blasphemy. Pornography exists as a genre of literature (both in written and visual form), but although magazines and videos can be produced on topics that glorify God, and we can participate in God-honoring measures to free ourselves from porn’s grip, there’s no way porn can ever be dressed up to please Him.

Can you see the same corollary with rock-n-roll? Rock exists as a musical genre, but as a perversion of the very building blocks upon which good music is judged. That’s not just me talking: that’s the boast from rock’s founding fathers themselves. Don’t take my word for it, take theirs!

Let’s look at that Ephesians passage a little more:

“Therefore be imitators of God… But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking… For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure... has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them... Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:1-21 (condensed)

Wow, huh? I could stop right there and let the Holy Spirit guide you through a slower, meditative re-reading of this passage. It says so much.

I can’t resist, however, drawing three simple and obvious applications from this passage in relation to our conversation about rock music in the church.

First, either I’m completely out of it, or this passage is saying that impurity of any kind is bad. Can anybody prove rock isn’t based on sexual titillation, irreverence, rebelliousness, idolatry, darkness, nihilism, and other perversions?

Second, we’re to sing and make melody (something rock isn’t known for) to the Lord using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I won’t make the common error of assuming the word translated “hymns” here means exactly the same stuff that’s in my Presbyterian hymnal, but it certainly doesn’t mean rock music, either. Some people try stretching “spiritual songs” to include the rock genre, but John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, in their book that I recommended two days ago, “Can We Rock the Gospel?” pretty much smash that attempt at justification.

Third, we are to incorporate reverence for Christ into our lives. Of all the terms that pop into your head at this moment to describe rock music, would you blame me for being incredulous if “reverence” was one of them?

Has Rock Made Any Difference?

Now that rock-n-roll has become so widely accepted in evangelical churches across the country, how much more effective have congregations become at being salt and light to the communities they serve?

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that the CGM’s goal of evangelizing the United States for the betterment of our society actually did serve as a legitimate excuse for the perpetration of rock-n-roll in churches across the country. It’s been about 20 years since this grand experiment took off, and to what extent has our country changed in response to the active faith of mega-church congregants? Have divorce and teenage pregnancy rates come down? How about rates of illegal drug use, extramarital affairs, alcohol abuse, and white-collar crime? To what can CGM advocates point and say, “See what a difference our reinvention of church has made!”

What about the debt load of churches that felt pressured to build huge new concrete boxes and turn their traditional sanctuaries into gymnasiums? Why has the pastor-to-congregant ratio plummeted here in North America (meaning we have more pastors serving fewer people than ever before), while churches across the globe clamor for trained pastors? Why do people like me still feel a certain obligation to pipe up and question rock’s continuing assault on the church? Is it because we’re angry traditionalists who hate change? Or is something bigger than change at stake?

In Closing

I can’t confirm that everybody at Park Cities Presbyterian worships in spirit and in truth. And I’ve tried hard not to claim that people in seeker, rock-oriented churches aren’t intending to worship in spirit and truth. My whole point in these three blogs has been to declare my increasingly entrenched conviction that the worship of our holy God needs to be free from the cultural baggage with which the rock music genre – and its associated trappings – drags it down.

Thank you for reading through all this material, and allowing yourself to be challenged by it. If I am wrong, may God forgive me for fomenting further dissension within the Body of Christ.

But if I am right…

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