A Bit to Read
At one of its meetings late last year, consistory had a discussion about the type of music several addresses in the congregation were listening to. Concern was expressed that members of Christ’s church were appreciating the sort of music that fills the airwaves today. At the time consistory suggested that I give the topic some consideration in this column.
I’ve found it hard to do. No, that’s not because I take a different stand on the topic than the elders expressed. On the contrary, I emphatically share their concern that a child of God can actually appreciate the music one hears on stations as 98.3 or 93.7 (to say nothing of 94.5, 95.3, 96.9). My difficulty lies instead in putting together an argument that will convince the reader. After all, one listens to the radio (in the car, on the bus, at home or at work), or plugs into an MP3 player to hear ones favorites, exactly because one appreciates this music – be it the lyrics or the style of music or both. And how do you convince someone that his sense of appreciation is wrong to begin with? It’s like trying to convince someone that he’s not allowed to enjoy ice cream.
Towards the end of February I was discussing with the Preconfession students a portion of the Canons of Dort, chapter V, about the Perseverance of the Saints. In Article 1 the church confesses that God “certainly sets free [His elect] from the dominion and slavery of sin, but not entirely in this life from the flesh and the body of sin.” As a result, the church continues in Article 2, “daily sins of weakness spring up and defects cling to even the best works of the saints.” It’s something we all experience: try though we might to do what is right before the Lord, we experience repeatedly that we think, say and do things not befitting persons redeemed from sin and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Then the Canons continue with this striking sentence: “These [daily sins of weakness] are for them [the saints] a constant reason to humble themselves before God, to flee to the crucified Christ, to put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness, and to long and strive for the goal of perfection….”
A question arose in that Preconfession class. How, concretely, does one “put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness”? That one should pray that the Lord keep us from temptation and falling into sin seems evident enough. But what are the “holy exercises of godliness”? How do they work?
Exercises of Godliness
“Holy exercises of godliness” is reference to being busy with the Scriptures. Yet it’s not just a reference to reading a portion of Scripture from time to time or listening to a sermon, but includes specifically digesting and internalizing the portion of Scripture one has read or heard expounded; it’s exercise, and that takes effort. The “holy exercises of godliness” include thought, meditation, reflection on the will and promises of God as they’ve come to us in Scripture.
Is reflecting on God’s Word, then, so necessary? Indeed it is. Recall: the Canons mention these “holy exercises of godliness” in the context to daily sins of weakness that continue to characterize and frustrate each child of God. In an effort to avoid slipping into those sins that cling to us (says that Article), the child of God fights – and part of the fight is “putting the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness”. No soldier worth his salt is going to put up a slaphappy fight against his enemy. Rather, he will exercise and exercise some more until he’s in top condition, able to put up a good fight. So too, in the fight against sin, the child of God will ensure that he’s in a position to fight well against the temptations around him. By “holy exercises of godliness” he’ll see to it that his thoughts are guided by, even preoccupied with, the will and promises of God. The Preconfession students could understand the argument readily.
Back to Music
Does listening to today’s music, now, help or hinder one in ensuring that your thoughts are preoccupied with the will and works of God? The Preconfession class considered the answer self-evident. Today’s music, they felt, does not direct thoughts to God and His service, but instead detracts thoughts away from God and His service. More, today’s music forms an obstacle to concentrating on “holy exercises of godliness”, reflecting on God’s Word. That’s no surprise, for today’s music, including both lyrics and melody1, is not for the Lord, and Jesus said emphatically that whoever is not for Him is against Him (Mt 12:30)
1 NOTE: that the lyrics of today’s music oppose the Lord is generally accepted as fact. That the way the music is put together (ie, the melody and structure of the music) also opposes God is not generally accepted as fact. The Lord willing, I will come back to this point in a future Bit to Read.
Parable of the Sower
Actually, Jesus’ parable about the sower makes the same point (Mt 13). The seed is the Word of God, sown in different locations, with different results. “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (vs 22). Jesus’ point: Satan uses distractions to prevent those who heard the word from being busy with it in their thinking. The “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” are effective distractions in Satan’s arsenal – but nowhere does the Scripture suggest that Satan limits his efforts-to-distract to these two! To the evil one anything is fair game to prevent the child of God from working with the Word and so arming himself to fight successfully against sin. If success in the fight occurs “by holy exercises of godliness”, then Satan will do what he can to hinder those exercises – and so make the Word we read or heard ineffective in our lives. Having today’s music persistently in the background (or perhaps in the foreground) of our hearing invariably affects what we think, or even whether we think about the will of God for us. The result is that the Word that was sown is choked…. The music is an obstacle.
Office Bearers Conference
All of that was in February. In March I attended an office bearers’ conference, and lo, the same topic came up again. As the brothers discussed the topic of God’s identity as God, holy and incomparable, the question arose as to why too many in our wards seem to be insufficiently aware of God’s holiness, and certainly don’t appear to spend much time reflecting on the will and works of God. The time we spend on the road, it was noted, tends to be time when the mind can coast, and we can review the day’s work and challenges in light of God’s will, or even plan tomorrow’s work in light of God’s will. The brothers agreed that the radio (including now also talk shows) does not promote “holy exercise of godliness” but distinctly hinders them – with sordid results in our fight against sin. There were brothers who testified of the change and growth they experienced as a result of deliberately leaving the car radio off – and so giving their minds the opportunity to meditate on God’s Word.
The more I think on the topic, the more it seems to me that we need to dare to remind ourselves and each other that today’s music is not helpful in letting our minds reflect quietly on the ways the Lord goes with us in our lives, and does not produce an atmosphere either where we are encouraged to meditate on God’s will for us. I grant that several of us enjoy what we hear on the radio. But the fact that I enjoy ice cream doesn’t necessarily make ice cream good for me. We are engaged in battle-to-the-death against an evil enemy who would tear us from the hands of our God. He has a ready supporter in our flesh, with its appetite for sin. That we appreciate today’s music is not in itself grounds to judge it acceptable.
Many in our midst keep the radio on as we travel the roads, do our work, and relax; we’re used to it, and comfortable with it. Do the thoughts and stimuli coming at us from this music help us to meditate on the will and promises of God? Let me put the question differently. Do the thoughts and stimuli coming at us from this music help us to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (as Paul wants us to do, Colossians 3:16)? I dare say the answer is self-evident.
The more we take seriously our inclination to sin, the less we’ll permit today’s music to float around our homes, our cars, our buses, our workplaces. The more we given ourselves to “holy exercises of godliness”, the more we’ll sing the songs of Scripture again – the psalms we learned at school, psalms David wrote as he struggled with God’s will for him in the cut and thrust of his daily living. In truth, those psalms are the ripe fruit of “holy exercises of godliness”!
30 March 2007