ReFrame Adventist Worship pt. 1: Intro
In Genesis chapter 3, the story of Adam and Eve takes a dramatic and tragic turn for the worse. Faced with a sinister temptation to take of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve gave up on God's explicit definition of right and wrong, chose to figure it out on their own, and ended up creating a mess for the whole human family as a result.
Only one chapter later, in Genesis 4, we begin to see the haunting and deadly effects of that choice. A rivalry springs up between their two sons: Cain and Abel. The conflict is based on God's preference for the worship of one son over that of the other. It's not an arbitrary preference: Abel brings the sacrifice that God required: an animal sacrifice that adequately symbolizes the death that God himself, in Jesus, will one day suffer for the sake of humanity. Cain, by contrast, brings some of the fruit of his farming labors - a worthwhile thing, but not necessarily a symbol of the thing that God will do to save the world.
And in this chapter, we see the staggering results of only one generation of sin. Cain's jealousy and resentment boils up to an uncontrollable point. He lures his brother out away from the family, into a field, and murders him.
The Bible tells us this specific story: within one generation of the Fall, a son resorts to murdering the only brother he's ever known in cold blood. At this point in human history, there are no movies, comic books, professional sports, novels, or TV shows. There is no Rap music, no Heavy Metal, no Rock'n'Roll, and no Jazz. The blame cannot be deflected or cast anywhere besides Cain and his own heart. Sin has emerged from inside of his own heart, without the need for external "influences" or culture to sway or steer him.
For many Christians, the question of what kind of media to consume can itself become all-consuming. There are many fears associated with television, movies, and music. Some Christians believe that simply viewing or hearing the wrong thing that override and bypass their conscious decision making ability, their moral convictions, and so on, and simply turn them into blank slates for the devil to write upon. Perhaps a good many more Christians don't hold a view that is quite that extreme, but a concern about external influences remains.
There is some good grounds for a certain amount of caution. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:33, said "Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (ESV). Proverbs 13:20 advises, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm," and the same book also says "One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray" (Proverbs 12:26). Perhaps most famously, the very first Psalm says "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). And this is to say nothing of the many warnings the Bible gives about the terribly influence of Idols and a culture of Idolatry.
But it is worth noticing that the majority of these kinds of warnings presented in the Bible about negative influences refer mostly to the personal influence of people on each other. It may be the case that the inherent power of relationships is what can cause human beings to be such significant bad influences on each other. Meanwhile, the Bible warns very little about things we would consider "media," at least in as much as they had such a thing at the time. It never warns against things like reading the wrong books, hearing the wrong folk stories, or singing along to the wrong genre of music. Books, stories, songs, and other cultural forms seem to be disconnected from the Bible's concern about negative moral influence, which seems to be centered mostly on people.
This fact makes sense when you consider how the Bible routinely talks about sin. In James 1, it says, "When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15 NIV, emphasis added). The statement is clear: sin comes from within, when someone is dragged away by their own desires.
A more famous passage describes the predicament in more agonizing detail: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (Romans 7:14-20 NIV).
In Psalm 51, when David writes about repenting of his sins, he claims the sin as his own, as something that he himself did as a result of desires that came from inside of himself. That act of repentance wouldn't really be complete or genuine if David had blamed his sin on someone or something else. Full, genuine repentance involves acknowledging that "I did something wrong." This can be quite painful and difficult, but it is also the kind of humility that opens us up to God's grace and forgiveness. When we realize we cannot rely on our own self or our own goodness for salvation, we turn to God and, instead, receive his grace as a free gift that we haven't earned.
The unfortunate reality for many young (and old!) Seventh-day Adventists is that music has been turned into a scapegoat, a target to blame for our sins. Music, it is said, can override your judgment, open you up to the power of the devil, and make you a slave to evil, all without you realizing it. Perhaps, even while using "Christian" lyrics.
As a result, many hours and days and weeks and years have been spent by Seventh-day Adventists to "uncover" or "expose" or "reveal" the deceptive, hidden, "true" nature of certain styles of music, both religious and otherwise. These people have seen CDs thrown into fire pits, posters torn down, musical instruments quit, careers cast aside, and musicians stifled and censored, all in the name of saving some from the terrible influence of "the wrong kind of music." All of it is done to prevent someone from giving another testimony saying, "I was a drug addict; rock music made me do it. Hip-Hop made me do it."
In Matthew 15, we see this interesting interaction between Jesus, his disciples, and the Pharisees:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? [...] You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
[...] Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:1-3, 7-10, 15-20, NIV)
Perhaps today Jesus might need to say something to us about what goes into our ears and eyes rather than what goes into our mouths. (Even Jesus' statement about eyes, light, and darkness in Matthew 6:22-23 is primarily about that darkness that is found inside of people.) What does seem to be clear is that the current debate within Seventh-day Adventism about music is out of step with Scripture on at least this issue.
But as we will see, there is more to be dealt with here than simply one issue. That is why we will be putting out a 10-part series of blogs and videos dealing specifically with the music and worship debate in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Our goal will be to examine history, philosophy, music theory, Adventist theology, and, above all else, Scripture, to determine what we can and cannot safely conclude about the role of music in the Christian life. Each blog post will be matched with an approximately 15-20 minute video, give or take. This is a contentious issue, but I believe that the Bible can be clearly understood and applied by those who are willing to take the time to study it carefully and in context.
The Christian Power Metal band Theocracy once sang these interesting words about the nature of indwelling sin, and the unnecessary nature of external influences. May we reflect carefully on the meaning of these words as we begin to think about the nature of music, influences, and our own humanity:
A child in sweet duplicity
For innocence? Or slavery to nature
and the bents that haunt him straight out of the womb?
He doesn't have to learn the things unseemly that his instinct brings
To carry like a burden from the cradle to the tomb
You'll never have to teach him how to lie
If we are born in innocence, well, don't you wonder why?
For selfishness already dwells inside
The birthright of Adam, the curse of the old man
Day and night
Jekyll and Hyde in the fairytale
This is much more frightening
Darkness and light
Feed the new man and tear the veil
See the old man dying
Soul-sickness nailed to a cross
- Read Genesis 4:1-16. What insights do you gain from this passage about the nature of sin?
- While the passage may not be completely clear on this, what do you think is the reason why Cain's offering was not acceptable to God, while his brother's was?
- If Cain needed to offer a sheep in order to give an acceptable sacrifice, and if his own work did not involve sheep, it would make sense that Cain would have needed to ask his brother, a shepherd, to provide him with something that he could not provide for himself. Given that Cain chose not to do that, what does this say about things like jealousy and pride?
- How might this concept apply to people who judge others for the way they worship? Is it possible to resent someone for being accepted by God?
- Read James 1:13-15. What does this passage say about the source of temptation? Where does temptation come from?
- Read Romans 7:14-20. Based on this, would you say it is appropriate to blame our sins primarily on external influences, or not?
- Read the rest of Romans 7.
- What role does the law play in making sin worse? Is knowing the right thing to do enough to guarantee that we'll always do the right thing?
- What unexpected result does Paul say the law has?
- Have you ever struggled with this kind of moral conflict within yourself? How have you fought through it? What has been helpful to you?
- Read Matthew 15:1-20 and answer the following questions:
- What distinction does Jesus draw between the commandments of God and the traditions of men? Which commandment does Jesus have in mind, and how have the Pharisees twisted it?
- Jesus quotes from Isaiah in verses 7-9. What does this quotation from Isaiah say about human-invented rules? Are they useful for determining how people worship?
- If someone claims that a certain behavior (or lack of behavior) is a moral requirement from God, and there is no proof in the scriptures that God ever required such a thing, should you feel obligated to follow that person's instructions?
- What does Jesus say about blind guides and leadership that has not been planted by his Father?
- What is Jesus' main point about the importance of "what goes in" versus "what comes out?" How might this principle apply in the context of worship? Does it apply at all? Why or why not?