Arminianism's Latest Installment

For your consideration, a compelling article suggesting Commercial Worship Music (CWM) is a manifestation of Arminianism.

I think this is good work--very thought-provoking. The essential "takeaway" here is that the CWM industry is powered by people who want to use the style to provide emotional experience and comfort to folks who believe they need to, by virtue of their own will, come to Christ.

Although the Arminian heresy is well-documented and refuted in Lutheranism (which makes it an easy target), I'd like to highlight another strand in this discussion.

What Is Being Taught?

Consider this:

"the appearance of contemporary worship in Lutheran churches means that what is believed, taught, and confessed in those places is not really Lutheran theology at all, but something else."

So far so good. This dovetails perfectly with my arguments that the generic-ification of CWM lyrics--the verbal expressions of what is believed, taught, and confessed--represents a sharp digression from the themes present in historic Christianity. That point seems obvious and beyond discussion. There's no doubt that the lyrics are sketchy at best (heretical at worst). "Something else" is indeed being taught. The "something else" is a direct appeal to the emotions. An Arminian musician will say the specific feeling they're trying to evoke is one of "feeling saved," (This helps fight the "monstrous uncertainty" of doubt).

Is it possible, though that a concurrent emotion is also being addressed--our need to identify with a particular socio-economic group? Something as basic as the need to "fit in" might be at work here. The music provides a safe way for people to exerperience or associate with the evils of the carnal world without getting too immersed. The "rough edges" of the secular pop/rock scene are smoothed down just enough to squeeze this entertainment into the church.

Describing the phenomenon in terms of doctrinal error is fine, but I think it gives the movement too much credit.

Arena rockers have known for decades that a slow rock love song will inspire the audience to raise their arms, sway gently, hoist the cigarette lighters, and (among the more affected members of the audience) bring the tears. There's no small coincidence that what's generally used in CWM are the styles employed in pre-teen love ballads, songs that make no apology for being emotionally manipulative and sappy.

The lyrics are a secondary concern, as we've all been culturally conditioned to understand what it means when the lights go down, the arpeggiated chords are heard, and the standard "love song chord progressions" are trotted out.

Above: The connection between the tears shed at an REO Speedwagon concert and those at a schlock-filled "worship experience" is too strong to ignore. Your weepy parishoners aren't crying out of their conviction of God's Truth, it's just what they've learned to do.

Of course the "Arminian angle" is at work here, that the "emotional appeal" in this case is an "appeal for making an emotional decision for Christ." Let us not ignore, however, the motives identified by the CWN proponents, whose literature is too superficial to present even an Arminian perspective; rather, they consciously mimick pop culture in order to "feel relevant." Sure, "feeling saved" might be important, but the false god of "relevancy" is invoked far more often than the Law and Gospel.

What Is Music Supposed to Do?

"Sacred music, whether it be Gregorian chant or a Bach chorale, is unanimous in seeking to quiet the natural will rather than to excite it. It desires to still the heart rather than accelerate its beating. Nor is it driven by the beating of drums but by the Gospel itself."

"Quieting the natural will," might be taking things a bit too far. Here we enter murky territory, for if one adopts this position too vigorously, the result is a harsh supression of art and music as viable adjuncts to worship. Conversely, if we actively court the approval of natural will in our music, we leave the drawbridge open for the invasion of all kinds of musical charlatans. There must be a middle ground.

Put another way, the historic use of Music in Worship has been as a servant to the text. The text, in turn, should be of the highest quality and reflect the best possible doctrine. The solemn and reserved characteristics of early Sacred Music were a result of the desire to focus one's attention on the truths being expressed in the lyrics, not in a desire to calm everyone down (though that might be a logical side effect). Any unique musical devices, modes, or distinctive melodic shapes were deliberately and carefully placed in such a way to heighten the interpretation of the text's meaning.

Today's CWM music has this precisely backwards; nobody quite cares what the lyrics are anymore, as long as the band is good.