A Critique of a Critique on Sensual Worship

Note: This was published on my other blog a month or so ago and I’m only now getting around to posting it here. I felt it appropriate to add here since both Paul Helm and Iain Murray were friends of Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

At the risk of getting in over my head, I would like to critique Paul Helm’s critique of Iain Murray’s article on sensuality in music. I would encourage you to read Mr. Murray’s article first and then Mr. Helm’s critique before you read my response.

I happen enjoy Mr. Helm’s writings and usually find him to be very helpful. I even have a link to him on my blogroll. However, on this issue, I must register my disagreement.

The main thrust of Mr. Helm’s argument seems to be that the senses are always engaged in whatever form worship takes. Even in a plain, Puritan-like worship, the flesh can still exalt itself. In this I agree.

But he goes one step further by stating that we can never really know how worship really should take place:

The New Testament is not much help over music and singing, is it? Psalms  and hymns and spiritual songs, decency and orderliness, making melody  in your hearts. Apart from that, nothing much.

Nothing much? Isn’t this the point that is being missed? According to the New Testament, there really isn’t that much said about music. Shouldn’t we therefore assume that music (or musical accompaniment) should be held to a minimum and downplayed? The fact that there are no musicians authorized, but pastors and teachers definitely are, should indicate the Scriptural position.

Another problem with Mr. Helm’s critique is that he somewhat misses Mr. Murray’s point. Mr. Murray isn’t arguing about whether activities should or shouldn’t be permitted based on whether or not we can turn them into a sinful sensual activity. No, the argument being made by Mr. Murray is that churches are now purposely using the innate sensuality present in music in the hopes of reaping spiritual benefits. The concern is about how easily music deceives us into thinking we are spiritual when we are not.

Quoting Jonathan Edwards on Religious Affections is no help here. If musical instrumentation had been present in the worship of the New England Congregationalists in the 1740’s, we might have had Edwards’ thoughts about it. But, like most of the Reformed churches of that day, they did not use musical instruments. Edwards is commenting on the reaction people had to the preaching of the gospel during a time of spiritual revival and awakening. And his purpose, much like that of Mr. Murray, was to keep people from deceiving themselves into thinking that they are spiritual when they are not.

If music is neutral, as Mr. Helm seems to imply, then why do so many in the churches seem intent on changing things? If it is truly neutral, then it doesn’t matter. And if it doesn’t matter, then why are so many itching to change it? The push to change is a tacit admission that music isn’t neutral, or else there would be no reason to change. And this is the very danger Mr. Murray is warning us about.

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