Louder Fenn

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Well, it looks like I am the point man in the war against guitar music in church. If I knew how to link to the post at junkyardblog, I would . . .

I would quibble with your quibbles, Bryan, except that I can't merely quibble: I think you have fundamentally misunderstood a lot of my statement.

First, my statement about "three thousand year old harp music" was not meant to mean only harp music. Obviously, the Psalm mentions a lot of other instruments -- it was a metaphor for everything mentioned in the Psalm. Let me put it this way: there have been a lot of changes in music in three thousand years, and I do not believe that the Psalm can be read to bless every single form of music as long as it is loud. Perhaps we can agree that there probably should not be death speed metal in church (even with Christian lyrics)? If so, then we are on the path to agreement that we must make some, even if just a teeny tiny bit, reasoned judgments about the music in church even when using the Psalms as a guide.

Second, I did not say that the Psalm was inappropriate to direct our choice. I said, perhaps in too opaque terms, that it was insufficient.

Two of the points that you make are actually mine, and I am not sure how you think that they support your case. Yes, guitars were not invented when the Psalm was written. Yes, church was different in Old Testament times. And this hurts my case how?

If guitars were not invented and church is different now than in OT times, doesn't it stand to reason that the Psalm does not directly or clearly or definitively answer the question of whether guitars should be played at modern church services? It seems only reasonable that David wrote and commented upon what he knew. We can try to extract universal principles from his writings, but we cannot directly apply his writings to our changed circumstances, at least not without a little thought and discernment.

Is it at least possible that David could both bless harp and timbrel music for OT worship, yet say, "But, you know, modern worship is slightly different. It calls for some different rules here and there, a tweak here, a twist there, and given all the changes in music and worship I think x,y, and z are appropriate, but e,f anf g are not." He didn't know about guitar music, he didn't know about hip hop, he didn't know about classical music, he didn't know about jazz. He was working with one genre. We have so many different forms of music, it seems only reasonable to me that we use some discernment and that David would not object.

And, frankly, you are making a bit of a leap (as I said before, there are many steps from the Psalms to modern guitar music). You assume that the music that David was talking about is the equivalent of today's rockabilly or maybe folk or whatever. Maybe it is the equivalent of jazz and only jazz should be played? Maybe it is the equivalent of classical and only classical should be played? I am not positing any of these as the true answer, all I am saying is that there are a lot of questions that call for lots of thought that cannot be answered with a simple citation to the Psalms and nothing more.

Indeed, you obviously are not taking the Psalm ultra-literally, or else you would stick with the harp and the timbrel. So what have you done? You have extracted a principle from the Psalm and applied it to modern times. I am saying that your extrapolation is erroneous.

Apparently the "clear-cut command" comment set off some sort of booby trap for unsuspecting Catholics. If you would like to discuss things like the saints, we can do that. (For the record, I make a special effort to clearly distinguish God from the saints: I keep my saint statutes well below my crucifix and just to the right of my Golden Calf and Neptune statues.) But otherwise, I do not understand your complaint. I was objecting to your argument, not the clarity of scriptures; you were relying on the Psalms as a more or less clear-cut authority, and I object to your use of the Psalms in that fashion because I do not think that they clearly settle the issue.

All I am saying is that if the Bible does not command X, then, well, it doesn't command X. I am not saying that the Psalms have nothing to say on the topic, but you threw them down and said, "There, my guitar stays!" And I said, well, wait a minute, I can discern some stuff from the psalms, but I cannot discern a carte blanche directive to play or even permit guitars in church.

Anyway, I have never had a problem with a lack of clear-cut commands in scripture on any given topic. As a Catholic, I have other, secret sources . . . (some say they are hidden -- sequestered, even! -- deep in a city in Italy, but I have it on good authority that at least one of these authorities breaks out every so often, spending significant time jetting about the world on a private, gold-plated jet).

I don't assume a Biblical mandate for anything I have said. On the contrary, as I said before, I am simply making an artistic judgment. I mean, boiled down, all I am really saying is (with nose in the air and without all the polite language that I used about the sewage), "You people have no taste." It's no different than someone trying to nurse someone back from an addiction to R&B -- I may fail, but I am not conflating this with a great doctrinal dispute.

Obviously, we disagree on what we have to offer God. But you missed the key word in my statement: universal (and, in addition, public). I am positing that in church we should offer him not the best that any given person has to offer, but the best that mankind has to offer as a whole, because church is a public prayer. To do that we must first figure out what the best stuff is.

-Jimmy Tomato

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