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Mark Dever recently interviewed D. G. Hart, a notable historian of American Christianity and confessional Presbyterian. It is worth hearing. Here’s a selection:

MD: How is the church compromising today the average pastor should be on the alert to avoid?

DGH: I guess I’m still very much concerned about worship and the nature of it, and what worship does. And I’m concerned especially that people will not go to certain churches because of the kind of music that is sung.

MD: But you wouldn’t.

DGH: Right . . . it’s only because it’s thirty minutes of praise songs I would have to endure. If it was only a praise song for every hymn was sung, and you had the same order of service, it wouldn’t work as well, but it still would be bareable.

MD: It works pretty well.

DGH: … It’s increasingly difficult then, for people who go to these other churches, to come to my own congregation, which is a very vanilla sort of Protestant service–a lot of Scripture, four or five–well, four hymns maybe—tops, monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper, but they would be put off by this because it’s too stuffy somehow. And I don’t understand why people don’t feel like they have more to do as far as they have an obligation to worship God, and I need to do that wherever I can do it.

I tend to agree with Hart that the choruses-mixed-with-hymns approach does not work very well. At very least, it’s like blue-jeans at a funeral–there is something unfitting about it. But let’s leave that point alone for a moment.

I think D. G. Hart is on to something here. The progressives out there like to argue that music is “tertiary,” or that it does not matter. They argue that it is not a matter to divide over. But I ask them: if music is not a matter to divide over, if it is tertiary, then why not give it up completely? Why not go to a “stuffy” church that simply sings hymns?*

If music is truly “tertiary” or “not worth dividing over” for the progressives, then hymns, theoretically at least, is an acceptable medium to the progressives for congregational singing in public worship, as are choruses and praise-and-worship (P&W) songs. Now imagine with me two circles, one (circle C) representing the music acceptable to conservatives. The other circle (circle P) represents the music acceptable to the progressives. Theoretically, again, circle C would nearly all fit within circle P. That is, nearly all the hymn tunes and other traditional music acceptable to conservatives is acceptable to progressives, since music, to the progressives, is a “tertiary” or “secondary” issue. Conservatives, however, in no way find the music of the progressives to be acceptable. In fact, they find it irreverent. In theory, the progressives should have absolutely no problem attending congregations whose worship is conservative or traditional, especially if that music deeply offends other believers. In theory, the progressives should not desire in the slightest to move a congregation among whom one finds conservatives toward more progressive forms of worship, especially if that music deeply offends other believers and music is so-called “tertiary.” The fact is that neither of this theories are usually seen in practice.

My point is that the music issue is not tertiary for either conservatives or progressives. When the progressives say music is a tertiary issue, a matter of no importance, what they actually mean is that the conservatives should not declare the music of progressives unfit for public worship or immoral. They do not want to be judged. That’s what they mean. If it were truly “tertiary,” then they would capitulate on this point, especially since the music of progressives is so morally repulsive to conservatives.

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*Here I mean hymns, not pseudo-hymns, such as gospel songs or camp-ish fare.
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