Compromising, Legalism, and Modernizing
In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul says “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” But I am afraid that if the Lord returned today, He would find many of our churches struggling with two equally dangerous extremes: compromise and legalism.
In this article, I want to explain the important distinction between compromising and modernizing, while also addressing the dangers of legalism.
First, we will address compromising. According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, to compromise means “to adjust and settle a difference by mutual agreement, with concessions of claims by the parties; to compound.” I want to draw your attention to the terms being used to describe this word: adjust, mutual agreement, concessions, compound. These words refer to a changing of original conditions to suit all sides. Many churches today have given up strong standards in the area of music because it does not appeal to the congregation the way that contemporary worship music (CWM) does. And why is that?
Take a good look at the majority of CWM, and you will see a progressive resemblance to pop music and rock culture, which is designed to appeal to our flesh and sin natures.
For a start, read the words of rock songs and you will see that they are not written with messages that are even close to agreeing with the Bible. In fact, most times those words directly contradict what God Almighty has clearly stated is acceptable. Let us look a few verses down from the last reference to Philippians 4:8. It says: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Can truth be found in the lies of the world, that tell us that happiness and real love can be found outside God’s design? How can words that contradict Jesus Christ, who is the truth (John 14:6), be honest? Can music that emboldens and encourages sinful passions be just and pure? How lovely is sin, that is the reason that the world is destined for hell? Is there any good report in evil messages? And are virtue and praise found in falsehood and emptiness? What is the danger of compromise? It means that we as Christians are mixing what is true, honest, just, pure, and lovely, with that which is false, unjust, impure, and unchristian.
Did Jesus ever water down or blend His message with feel-good thoughts to keep the crowds? Never. Instead, He spoke to whomever would hear the truth, saying "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15). When we compromise with the world’s music, we cheapen the message of God’s Word.
Compromise cheapens our message.
Furthermore, we ignore God’s command for us as Christians to be “holy in all manner of conversation.”
The other extreme is legalism (which is not in Webster’s, so I looked it up in Apple dictionary, which defines it as “excessive adherence to law or formula.”) What is wrong with legalism? The Bible says that God “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Simply put, legalism kills music.
This is dangerous as well; because, as with compromise, we are cheapening the message- not allowing the full power of God’s creation of music to shine through. We are not supporting our message with our music.
Finally, we have modernizing. What is wrong with this? Intrinsically, nothing! There is nothing wrong with writing new music in more modern styles if (and this is a BIG if!) it still supports holiness and the truth of God’s Word. Our music should always support our message! Let me expound on what I mean by modernization. Modern Christian music often employs a full orchestra, while church music in the nineteenth century was played often by only a piano or an organ. Also, modern Christian music arrangements are sometimes written for a vocal solo with choral accompaniment, while older arrangements were mainly for congregations or choirs. Modern arrangements make more use of intrinsically energetic time signatures (e.g. 6/8). These are only a few examples of many ways we can safely modernize music without compromising on holiness.
So the basic difference between Compromising and Modernizing is that compromise means that we are giving up ground- we are cheapening our message, and not supporting it like we should; whereas in safely modernising, we can improve our methods of communication without losing that biblical quality. Also, be careful not to fall into legalism. It will crush the life out of your music.
Always offer the Lord a sacrifice of praise that will not compromise the quality of our message.