Music and Theology


The following devotional is from Tabletalk Magazine from Ligonier © 2017 for September 28, 2017.

1 I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O LORD, I will make music. Psalm 101:1 (ESV) 

Not only was Martin Luther an accomplished theologian and beloved pastor, but he also had some gifting for music. He wrote many hymns, many of which are sung to this day not only by those in the Lutheran tradition but by other Protestants as well. Perhaps the best known is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which is based on Psalm 46. Luther well understood the power and influence of music. His understanding is well captured in his statement that “music is the handmaiden of theology.”

Like a handmaiden who assists her master, music serves theology and the teaching of God’s Word. And like a handmaiden, music can be a good servant or a bad servant. When music is a good servant, it provides the right setting for the teaching of God’s truth and for helping the people of God grasp the deep things of the Lord. Quality hymns and songs enrich our hearts and minds, driving home what God has revealed to His people. On the other hand, when music is a bad servant, it gets in the way of good theology. Poorly crafted music and lyrics promote error. As an art form, music always communicates something, and it can communicate either truth or error.

So many of the fights over music that occur in the church have been over whether we should have contemporary hymns and songs or stick to the classic music of the church. That debate can obscure the real issues. After all, the classic hymns of the church were contemporary music when they were first sung, and some of the music written in our day will undoubtedly endure as classic music for the people of God. No, the real debate is between good music and mediocre or poor music. A beloved hymn is not necessarily a good hymn simply because it is old, for there are many old hymns that teach poor theology. And a current song is not necessarily a bad song, for many current songs teach good theology.

At issue is whether a particular hymn or piece of music, in both the arrangement of notes and its lyrics, is able to convey biblical truth. Good worship music is able to convey something of the complexity of our Lord’s character, and it invites us to increase our knowledge. Simplistic songs often do not do justice to the full biblical truth they seek to express, and they often do not invite us to move deeper into God’s Word to learn more and more about Him. Our goal should be to find the music that is best able to convey God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Law and Gospel


by Mike Ratliff

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6 ESV)

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:19 ESV)

God commanded Adam to eat from every tree of the Garden of Eden except from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He told Adam that if he did eat of it that he would surely die. In the next chapter we find Eve beguiled by the Serpent’s wiles to look upon that tree and desire it for food to become wise. She took of it and ate then gave some to Adam. God then encountered them as they hid from him since their eyes were now opened because they now knew good from evil. They had lost their innocence. Their vertical relationship with God was now broken. Their ability to commune with Him was no longer there. Why? Continue reading

Genuine Christianity is be based on a Biblical Christology


by Mike Ratliff

3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV)

Every professing Christian, whether he or she is trained theologian or not, has constructed some kind of Christology in their mind, in their heart. Sadly, with the dearth of clear and correct doctrine being taught in our churches, most seem to believe that whatever their own concept of Christ is it is okay. After all, to have correct doctrine isn’t that important…right? Some think that Jesus came to give His followers a “better life” here and now. This would include becoming prosperous and influential. Others see Jesus as mostly concerned about the environment and that He is the ultimate tree hugger. Still others see Jesus as primarily a teacher of ethics. This same Jesus is concerned with accepting all into His kingdom regardless of whether they have repented of their sins or not. Are any of these examples representative of the Jesus we meet in God’s Word?

Continue reading

Is it Orthopraxy or is it Legalism?


by Mike Ratliff

21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι· κύριε κύριε, εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 22 πολλοὶ ἐροῦσίν μοι ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ· κύριε κύριε, οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δαιμόνια ἐξεβάλομεν, καὶ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δυνάμεις πολλὰς ἐποιήσαμεν; 23 καὶ τότε ὁμολογήσω αὐτοῖς ὅτι οὐδέποτε ἔγνων ὑμᾶς· ἀποχωρεῖτε ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομίαν. 24 Πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ἀκούει μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ ποιεῖ αὐτούς, ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ φρονίμῳ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν· 25 καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέπεσαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἔπεσεν, τεθεμελίωτο γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν. 26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀκούων μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους καὶ μὴ ποιῶν αὐτοὺς ὁμοιωθήσεται ἀνδρὶ μωρῷ, ὅστις ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον· 27 καὶ κατέβη ἡ βροχὴ καὶ ἦλθον οἱ ποταμοὶ καὶ ἔπνευσαν οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ προσέκοψαν τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ ἔπεσεν καὶ ἦν ἡ πτῶσις αὐτῆς μεγάλη. (Matthew 7:21-27 NA27)

21 “Not all the ones saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and perform many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me you who work lawlessness.”  24 “Therefore, everyone who hears my words and does them will be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock. 25 And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it did not fall for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 And everyone hearing these my words and does not do them will be compared to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. 27 And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell and the fall of it was great.” (Matthew 7:21-27 a personal translation from the NA27 Greek text)

What is Christian Orthodoxy? There really isn’t enough space here to succinctly define that for you. However this section from the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms does quite a good job.

  • The Bible, having been inspired by God, is entirely trustworthy and without error. Therefore, we are to believe and obey its teachings. The Bible is the only source of special revelation for the church today.
  • The one true God is personal, yet beyond our comprehension. He is an invisible spirit, completely self-sufficient and unbounded by space or time, perfectly holy and just, and loving and merciful. In the unity of the Godhead there are three “persons”: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • God created the heavens and the earth, and all they contain. He upholds and governs them in accordance with his eternal will. God is sovereign—in complete control—yet this does not diminish human responsibility.
  • Because of the sin of the first man, Adam, all mankind is corrupt by nature, dead in sin, and subject to the wrath of God. But God determined, by a covenant of grace, that sinners may receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ has always been the only way of salvation, in both Old Testament and New Testament times.
  • The Son of God took upon himself a human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, so that in her son Jesus the divine and human natures were united in one person. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on a cross, bearing the sins of, and receiving God’s wrath for, all those who trust in him for salvation (his chosen ones). He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he sits as Lord and rules over his kingdom (the church). He will return to judge the living and the dead, bringing his people (with glorious, resurrected bodies) into eternal life, and consigning the wicked to eternal punishment.
  • Those whom God has predestined unto life are effectually drawn to Christ by the inner working of the Spirit as they hear the gospel. When they believe in Christ, God declares them righteous (justifies them), pardoning their sins and accepting them as righteous, not because of any righteousness of their own, but by imputing Christ’s merits to them. They are adopted as the children of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them, enabling them increasingly to stop sinning and act righteously. They repent of their sins (both at their conversion and thereafter), produce good works as the fruit of their faith, and persevere to the end in communion with Christ, with assurance of their salvation.
  • Believers strive to keep God’s moral law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. God is the Lord of the conscience, so that men are not required to believe or do anything contrary to, or in addition to, the Word of God in matters of faith or worship.
  • Christ has established his church, and particular churches, to gather and perfect his people, by means of the ministry of the Word, the sacraments of baptism (which is to be administered to the children of believers, as well as believers) and the Lord’s Supper (in which the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of believers), and the disciplining of members found delinquent in doctrine or life. Christians assemble on the Lord’s Day to worship God by praying, hearing the Word of God read and preached, singing psalms and hymns, and receiving the sacraments.

We Reformed folks say that if one’s theology is “right” because it is according to what I just listed above then he or she is our brother or sister in Christ. Look at the next to last bullet point. It speaks of true believers striving to keep God’s moral law, not to earn salvation, but because they love their Savior and want to obey him. What is described here is what I would call Christian Orthodoxy according to Reformed Theology, which is what I hold to. What then is Orthopraxy?  Continue reading

John 15 the Vine and the Branches


1 Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν. 2 πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπὸν αἴρει αὐτό, καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον καθαίρει αὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ. 3 ἤδη ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστε διὰ τὸν λόγον ὃν λελάληκα ὑμῖν· 4 μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν. καθὼς τὸ κλῆμα οὐ δύναται καρπὸν φέρειν ἀφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ ἐὰν μὴ μένῃ ἐν τῇ ἀμπέλῳ, οὕτως οὐδὲ ὑμεῖς ἐὰν μὴ ἐν ἐμοὶ μένητε. 5 ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος, ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα. ὁ μένων ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρει καρπὸν πολύν, ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν. 6 ἐὰν μή τις μένῃ ἐν ἐμοί, ἐβλήθη ἔξω ὡς τὸ κλῆμα καὶ ἐξηράνθη καὶ συνάγουσιν αὐτὰ καὶ εἰς τὸ πῦρ βάλλουσιν καὶ καίεται. 7 ἐὰν μείνητε ἐν ἐμοὶ καὶ τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ, ὃ ἐὰν θέλητε αἰτήσασθε, καὶ γενήσεται ὑμῖν. 8 ἐν τούτῳ ἐδοξάσθη ὁ πατήρ μου, ἵνα καρπὸν πολὺν φέρητε καὶ γένησθε ἐμοὶ μαθηταί.(John 15:1-8 NA27)

1 I am the True Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me not bearing fruit he take away and every branch bearing fruit he prunes it that it may bear much fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me and I in you as the branch is not able to bear fruit from itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the Vine you are the branches. The on abiding in me and I in him, this one bears much fruit because apart from me you are not able to do anything. 6 Unless one abides in me, he is cast as branch that dries up and they are gathered and thrown into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in me and my words abide in you, whatever you want, ask, and it will be done for you. 8 By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and you be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 Possessing the Treasure New Testament V1)

This last Sunday my Pastor, Rick Holland, preached through these very verses. I find it interesting how often I have been pulled back into theological discussions or research that has taken me right back here many times since. With the “deeds not creeds” group ignoring the truth as their groups seemingly continue to swell each and every day, we must not become discouraged, but remain fixed never wavering as we abide in Christ as his words abide in us. These people who decry the need for sound doctrine are open to deception from every source and there are plenty of wolves out there ready to lead them right down the center of the broad way to hell. The following post by Dr. James White is lengthy and technical, but I pray that you take the time to work your way through it. – Enjoy and be blessed – Mike Ratliff Continue reading

Fool


by Mike Ratliff

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 ESV)

Over this last week I have been battling some sort of stomach ailment and right now I don’t feel so hot, but at least I can sit up and type now. Also during this time I have listened to Dr. James White do a short analysis of Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. Dr. White did his analysis from the perspective of an interview done by someone else and then analyzed how Rob Bell responded to those direct questions. He promised to do a full review after reading the book. In any case, one of the comments he made about Bell that, I believe, is definitive of the man and his ministry is that he is very smart and well educated, but those things do not make one a true Biblical scholar nor do they even make one a Christian. No, no matter how much knowledge one has of Hebrew and Greek and Theology, if there is no true knowledge of Christ via the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ then all you have is what Dr. White refers to a just another Mainline Protestant Liberal.  Continue reading

The Proper Focus: Christ and the Life Above


by Mike Ratliff

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV)

I am sure many of you reading this can identify with what I am about to say. The more we attempt to point the visible church away from the time wasting, world-focused, nonsense of this present evil-age, the more popular it seems to become in its hearts, minds, and eyes. I have seen some behind the scene plans by many so-called pastors to even bring their ministries into tighter focus with the secular to be even more involved with every aspect of government, entertainment, you name it, in the world. Of course, Emergence Christianity, which is simply a cult that is just another form of Christian Liberalism from the 19th Century, has no issues with this since it sees the ekklisia as containing the entire world anyway as per Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola in their new book Jesus Manifesto due to hit the stands June 1st of this year. Their publisher gave me an advanced copy of Jesus Manifesto last month in order to prepare a review for Possessing the Treasure. Continue reading

Another Jesus


by Mike Ratliff

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV)

Every professing Christian, whether he or she is trained theologian or not, has constructed some kind of Christology in their mind, in their heart. Sadly, with the dearth of clear and correct doctrine being taught in our churches, most seem to believe that whatever their own concept of Christ is it is okay. After all, to have correct doctrine isn’t that important…right? Some think that Jesus came to give His followers a “better life” here and now. This would include becoming prosperous and influential. Others see Jesus as mostly concerned about the environment and that He is the ultimate tree hugger. Still others see Jesus as primarily a teacher of ethics. This same Jesus is concerned with accepting all into His kingdom regardless of whether they have repented of their sins or not. Are any of these examples representative of the Jesus we meet in God’s Word? Continue reading