Factions, Worship Music and the Lord's Opinion

Thinking more about church discipline and elders removing a person who's causing divisions, or factions, within the congregation. Elders can warn a factious person once, and then twice, and then remove him from the church. Titus 3:10. Nice and simple, but also dangerous and hurtful if applied thoughtlessly and carelessly.

There’s a caveat in the application of Titus 3:10 . . . Be sure that the person actually is causing divisions in the church. Sometimes a person who’s exasperated about worship music simply needs to be heard and edified about the issue and the church’s worship culture. The elders wouldn’t simply warn that person a couple of times and then throw him out of the church. They must discern, they must control their power, and they must not  react out of impatience and expedience. They may be dealing with a weaker brother or sister who simply needs skilled shepherding, as in 1 Corinthians 8:9.

A truly divisive person separates the church according to music preferences and insists on the falsehood that music style is a matter of doctrinal purity rather than personal preference. That person often insists that new music forms inherently are inferior to older music forms. But we know that the Lord likes new music (Psalm 33:3; Psalm 40:3; Psalm 144:9; Revelation 5:9). Conversely, it may be that a person locks onto contemporary music and may scorn old hymns that greatly honor the Lord. A person stuck in either entrenched position often creates factions that split the church.

Before leaping to apply Titus 3:10, elders should ask whether the person who’s fussing about worship music needs to be edified before being warned.

What would elders discuss with that person to discern the crux of the issues? Try these:

• True or False: Music is a language . . . and the Lord speaks a lot of languages, i.e. congas in Africa or Cuba, drums in the U.S.

• OK, you didn’t like that particular song. What if the Lord liked that song? What then?

• Is the complaint rooted in honoring Christ and fulfilling the purpose of the church? Or is there a personal agenda that demonstrates that the complaint is rooted in something else?

• Is this about a biblical conviction or a personal preference? (Help the person see the difference.)

• Maybe that song wasn’t meant to bless you in particular. What if the Lord wanted to use that song to bless the person two rows away from where you sit?

• Hymns written maybe 250 years ago were at that time considered contemporary. If we’re truly going to be traditional in our worship music, should we sing only the psalms of the Old Testament?

The answers to those questions will reveal much about the heart of the complaint. But there are many times when it’s not so-called weaker brothers or sisters who have hurtful convictions about worship music. Elders also are in that mix. I recently talked about worship music with three long-term elders of a local church.

Here’s the gist of the three conversations:

1. Contemporary music is 7-11 music—seven words repeated 11 times over and over again. Yes, sometimes that’s true. But it’s not true about all contemporary music. And besides, there were some very bad hymns written about 250 years ago. We just don’t sing them anymore. And rightly so, because they feature lousy theology or awful artistry. Maybe both.

2. I don’t like contemporary music. I don’t want it. I want music that ministers to me and to people like me. Romans 16:17 warns about those who create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine. The standard of measure should be decipherable lyrics, biblically based lyrics that honor the Lord and competent musicianship (the best the church can offer). If those are present, then the Lord likes it. End of argument.

3. We use traditional music to reach older people and more conservative people. Really? Are you sure you’re reaching people through traditional music, or are you only appeasing people who refuse to embrace other styles of music? If the church is reaching them, that's excellent. But it's more likely the church is appeasing them, which is far from excellent. The church's leaders should focus on offering excellence to the Lord, regardless of music style. Badly handled traditional music is not better than badly handled contemporary music. Both are just bad, and not worthy of our Lord.

Elders arguing about worship music need to ask a simple question: What does the Lord think? God has an opinion. Figure out whether He likes what you're offering Him.

Elders must remember the purpose of worship music and the purpose of the church. They must shrink their personal preferences.

Elders must rightly handle those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine (Romans 16:17). Why? Because such people are serving themselves—their own appetites—and not the cause of Christ. (Romans 16:18). Even people who love Christ, elders too, get stuck in that.

Worship music is about honoring the Lord. It’s about bringing people before the Lord to proclaim His worth. It’s about fulfilling the purpose of the church to make, baptize and teach disciples. It’s about a new song well done. It’s about an old song well done.

Pass the song through the grid of the Scriptures and look at it in the freedom of Christ. He likes that.