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Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Prov 26:4
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. I Cor. 13:1-3
I want to share a few things that happened to me last week. First, I engaged in a conversation I should not have. I saw that someone had posted a foolish statement about church music (not on this blog) and I reacted by writing a quick response that pointed out a reason why he was wrong. As always happens in those situations, I quickly regretted getting involved.
In the area of church music, fools abound. Fools are dogmatic even when they don’t know what they are talking about, and they usually over-simplify the debate down to a few nice sounding cliches. They think they have everything figured out while in fact, they have nothing figured out. Unfortunately, I stumble across the artifacts of fools all the time when I read about church music.
There is little chance of a positive outcome when arguing with fools. And that is why I rarely do. But to my shame, sometimes I can’t resist. Like I said, this week, I ran across a foolish statement (about syncopation) that was made by an older person who should know better. I responded (kindly) but it still did not go well.
Ironically, later that day, I got an email from a young person who said some things that were not foolish at all. I doubt he saw my exchange with the other person, but he might as well have. Here is a quote:
I understand the frustration of feeling artistically stifled, but if music is the horse, then love is the bridle that keeps us useful in the King’s field. And remember, the issue of church music is an animal that bites no matter how well you feed it. So let’s be honest. Our music is only as truly effective as our love for God and his family.
That stopped me short. Fools argue about stylistic elements like syncopation while ignoring what this young person knows. And if I waste time arguing with fools, what does Prov 26:4 say about me?
I Corinthians 13 is an interesting chapter. It shatters the illusion that we can feel good about ourselves just because we do good things. Are you a full time minister? If you are not motivated by love, you are wasting your time. Are you smart? If you are not motivated by love, so what? Are you generous with the poor? If you don’t have love, you might as well keep the money in your pocket.
Are you a good church musician? If you aren’t motivated by love, I Cor. 13 says your music is like a clanging cymbal. I love percussion and I certainly know the difference between a clanging cymbal and a crashing cymbal. One is just noise while the other is glorious.
Church musicians are motivated by many different things and I am afraid that too often, love is not the primary motivation. The same can be said for many who lecture about music. And unfortunately, the same can often be said of me.
As this young person said, love is the bridle that makes a church musician useful. Without bridles of love, church musicians are like wild horses racing around in different directions fighting over patches of withered grass. With bridles, horses of different stripes, strengths, and weaknesses can actually work together.
There is nothing easy about church music. Even if everyone was motivated by love for God and the church, there would still be disagreements about what good music is. God did not make us robots. We have different tastes and there is every reason to believe that God values diversity in music.
And by the way, there is certainly nothing wrong with good debate as long as fools are not involved. I am thankful that fools do not post on this blog (except for occasional drive-by posters whom I ignore). You guys present thoughtful arguments (even when you disagree with me). In fact, many of you have influenced the way I think about music.
So I am not saying that love would make the debate cease. But if we were motivated by love, the ongoing church music wars would certainly have a different feel to them.
So, my goal this year is to keep the above two passages in mind, governing my discussions of music as well as the music I play.