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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

01 October, 2010

Music in the SDA Church: My observations

This article is going to be a bit different than my articles have been in the past. I will simply discuss my personal observations about music in the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, correlating them with advice from Ellen White and the Scriptures, and presenting my own philosophy related to the two.

I have been to my share of SDA churches. And in attending these churches, be they for a choral performance or by membership, I have noticed that, while the music culture is gradually aligning with contemporary Christian music, traditional sacred music is still king. This comes to light in discussions on music in which I have participated on the internet, including arguments that contemporary Christian Music, even that which takes its lyrics directly from the Bible, is of the Devil. They cite inconclusive studies, misquote Ellen White, and formulate their own dogmas based on their personal taste.

One of the biggest arguments I have ever had was on the Real Time Faith forum, which shut down in 2007. This discussion, however, spilled over into Real Time Faith's privately run successor, Real Time Believers. The now dead discussion has a total of 163 posts, spanning almost two years. Many users argued for the integrity of CCM, mostly the percussion element, while others demonized it as a feeble attempt to corrupt Godly music with demonic influences. A second topic links to an article which decries the frequently used fallacies such as the basic rock beat pattern throwing off brain wave patterns or imitating sexual intercourse.

This debate laid bare the opinions of several young people (the average age of the participants was somewhere around 15), but most of it was based on opinion in addressing the debate's sole question: "Which is more important: the music or the lyrics." I will go more into the ins and outs of music in #4 two weeks from now, but I will say that if a hymn had objectionable lyrics it would be shot down just as modern hymns with "disagreeable" music.

 The Role of Music
The role of music in the SDA church is similar to other Protestant churches in that its primary purpose is the worship of God in song. This can come about through either vocal or instrumental songs, often using instruments of the classical music world. Ellen White clarifies the role of music in worship as "one of the most effective ways of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (Education, pp. 167, 168). It is a weapon against discouragement, a way to ward off the advances of the Enemy.

It does seem, however that we, as this advice seems to, place so much stress on praising God that songs of uncertainty and turmoil get completely thrown out. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 42 are prayers for help in times of peril. Psalm 59 is a call for God to "Awake to punish all the nations; [to] not be merciful to any wicked transgressors" (v. 5).

Ecclesiastes 3:1 states plainly that "to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Yes, there is a time for praising in God, but there is also a time to be angry because of sin. There is a time to cry out to God to lift us out of this pit of despair. Many of the Psalms do this. And many of the heavier CCM songs do this as well; one of my favorite songs, Disciple's Scars Remain is like this. It would be banned from many Protestant congregations because of its musical idiom. But when you feel the emotions conveyed in the song's lyrics and music, you realize it is a song about being discouraged and then seeing that Jesus shares our suffering (cf. Gal 6:2).

The Usage of Music
This is where things become a little less of a grey area, and more black-and-white in the SDA Church. I grew up in a fairly conservative church, hearing hymns I didn't know. I always thought that choir was part of church, and I had no idea what it takes to make one sound good. In my eight year old mind, the organ was a massively complex instrument that only old people played. Guitars were never on stage, and drama of any kind was only permitted on Youth Sabbath. I just thought it was the way Christian music was until I listened to K-LOVE for the first time. But even then, I'd never imagine that kind of music in church.

But I know of one fairly small church whose musical tastes are evolving quickly. Not ten years ago they had a resident organist who played every Sabbath. Piano was the primary means of accompanying the small choir they call the Praise Team. One Sabbath, they added a bass guitar. Then, after a while, a friend of mine started playing bass on the Praise Team. One morning, while he was tuning up his bass, the organist got up, walked all the way across the stage, and accosted him. To this organist, the prelude and postlude were performances, special musics of sorts!

This young man was being as unobtrusive as he could. It was before the start of the service, and if he'd been a member of the sound crew adjusting a microphone while everybody was talking and listening to the background music, I'd bet this organist would have accosted him as well. It seemed to my friend like a set of priorities in the wrong place.

Music should be entered into with humility when praising the Lord, be it in a choir, in prayer, on a penny whistle, or singing in the shower. Ellen White says that we should conduct our services "with solemnity {not somberness} and awe, as if in the visible presence of the Master of assemblies." If this organist's heart had been on God and not on the performance as if it was a concert, he wouldn't have cared that I crept up on stage to do something that he, as a cellist in addition to an organist, should know is paramount. Wait, did I just reveal my friend's identity? Oh well.

My point is that music in the SDA denomination, in my observations, has been fairly controlled. Dissent has been quashed, be it from youth (usually youth) or other sources. The organist that yelled at me transferred to a different church, but that still doesn't change the fact that something happened that probably shouldn't have. The fact of the matter is that that while the musical attitude of the SDA denomination is evolving, there are still some issues that boil down to one thing: human nature. It is our natural inclination to want something to be orderly, and since our musical traditions are one of the only things we still seem to have from the "olden days", it is probably the hardest thing of all for us to give up.

Your Brother in Christ,

*This is the second of a series of articles about music in the SDA Church and other denominations. Next Friday: Music in other Protestant denominations*
Ellen White references taken from a compilation page on music: 
All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version, © Thomas Nelson, Inc. 

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