Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
In this episode Bob and David cover the controversial topic of whether churches can include non-Christians on their music teams.
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David Zimmer: Today on Sound Plus Doctrine, we’re gonna cover a controversial and long debated topic of whether or not a church can include non-Christians on their music team. Thanks for joining us.
Hi, my name is David Zimmer.
Bob Kauflin: My name is Bob Kauflin.
DZ: What’s so funny Bob? Oh, I didn’t even start the timer.
BK: I don’t know. I’m not even sure.
DZ: Okay, I started it.
BK: Start the timer.
DZ: We’re doing great. How are you doing?
BK: I’m doing fantastic. It’s a joy to be here with you.
DZ: It is. Hey, last episode, we explored the topic, “Should churches pay their musicians?”
DZ: And so I thought it would be appropriate since we touched on it last podcast but we didn’t really get to get into it, but it would be, should a church have non-Christians on your team? So I think it’s a little controversial, but I’m sure you have something to share on the topic.
BK: Well, I’m sure you do too.
DZ: Where do we start?
BK: Well, I think this is a conversation that I’ve been having with people for decades. I remember being… I don’t know, it was like a chat room or something, something before Facebook, it was a long time ago, of a bunch of worship leaders, music leaders, talking about, should we have unbelievers? Not should we, but is it okay to… Some people might phrase it, “should we,” but it’s been a question for a long time. And I remember on my blog, WorshipMatters.com, I wrote a post on this, I don’t know, 10 years ago or something, and it just doesn’t seem to go away. So I’m glad we’re talking about it.
BK: I think it’s good to start with why people think it’s a good idea, and just explore that from the Bible, responses to some of the reasons people think it’s a good idea. Obviously, we’re showing our cards a little bit, I’m showing my cards a little bit, thinking, no, unbelievers shouldn’t be on music teams. But I think the thing that people often say is, you want people belonging before they believe, and so there’s this community of people you wanna welcome unbelievers into, and they get to feel like what this is like and how this works, and then over time, they see people living their faith out and they begin to see, “Okay, this is different, and what is this,” and they come to know the Lord. It comes from an evangelistic passion, which is really good. And we wanna see people come to the Lord, and we don’t wanna be churches where we never have contact with unbelievers and unbelievers stay out. We want unbelievers in our meetings, and so there’s this desire, how do we get them to serve, where can we find a place for them?
BK: Sometimes it’s just wanting to see young people in the church, or maybe who are visiting the church, have a place to use their gifts, and which is great if we wanna see people involved. Or even older people, adults just, “Hey, why don’t you serve in this way? Hey, here’s a gifted musician.” Sometimes it’s more from the standpoint of, we want our music to be excellent, and we don’t have very good musicians in the church. So, and this could tie into should we pay our musicians, but we talked about that last podcast. So we think, “Well, this guy, we’re not sure he’s a believer. This girl, we’re not sure about her. But yeah, they’re really good, a really good vocalist, a really good drummer, a guitarist, whatever.” And so we’re thinking, that’s gonna be better for our people. People who are visiting the church, they’re our members, and we want the music to be good, we want it to be engaging and, doggone it if that unbeliever doesn’t lay down some great licks on the bass. We’re gonna use him, and who knows, over time the Lord might use that to bring them into faith in Jesus Christ.
DZ: Yeah, more often than not, I hear the quality debate happening, like, “Well, it just needs to be good quality, because it’ll immediately disengage people.” So even that, I’m really thankful that you even just mentioned that, of how do you think through quality among your team, and people are paying for that from professionals.
BK: Yes. Well, I think it comes down how we define excellence, or quality. A lot of people think the music has to be excellent. In fact, I know a very prominent pastor who has written about this and said, “As your church grows bigger, the quality of the music, the excellence of the musicians, needs to increase because people just expect that.” And while I respect this pastor in a lot of ways, I disagree with that. I don’t think that’s what scripture teaches. And I think if you’re gonna get down to it, well, what are the issues? I think there are two. One is what you just mentioned, how we define excellence. Is excellence being technically proficient? So I got a bachelor’s in music performance. I used to be able to do a lot of stuff on the piano, I can’t do now. But I still got some things I can do that I don’t do on a Sunday morning. Why? Well, because I think it would be distracting. I think it would be… It wouldn’t contribute to people seeing God’s glory in Christ through His word as we sing. Now, if excellence is serving that end, getting people to sing with faith-filled hearts, meditate, reflecting on the glory of Christ and what God has done for us, His word, His worthiness, His works, well, yeah, that’s excellence.
BK: But it’s what John Piper calls undistracting excellence. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. So from that perspective, having an unbelieving musician who can show us undistracting excellence, well that’s not the end of the story. If someone says, “Well, yeah, I got an unbeliever who they know how to play and they’re just serving the congregation, the singing and the music, and they don’t overplay, and all that kind of stuff.”
DZ: They really get the church culture.
BK: Yes, that’s right, that’s right. So then I think the second issue that is probably the most significant is I think we’re allowing our desire for evangelism and the Lord’s mandate for evangelism to trump our ecclesiology which is the definition and the nature of the church. So what is the church? Who is this group of people gathering together on typically, a Sunday morning? What are to be their characteristics? So musicians are a part of the congregation.
BK: It’s not like the congregation meets and the musicians are separate, they’re a part of the congregation, in the Old and the New Testaments, there’s no sense that the musicians are hired out to serve the church. They’re a part of the church. When spiritual gifts are mentioned in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 12, I’m sorry, 1 Corinthians, yeah, 12, Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, Ephesians 4. Everyone with a gift who’s mentioned is a part of the church. So let’s look at some scriptures, ’cause I think we have to rather than argue the practical pragmatic benefits of whether or not an unbeliever can be a musician on your team, we need to look into how God views his people gathering.
DZ: Right. Absolutely.
BK: ‘Cause he’s the one who calls us together. From Mount Sinai on, God has called his people together to rehearse his saving acts, to meditate on his commands, to reflect on his worthiness, and how is He is God, we are not and to give Him glory for that. So when the church gathers, it is the company of God’s redeemed. So I was thinking about this and thought of Psalm 95, where the psalmist says, “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us… ” Notice a pattern. “Come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.” Well, who’s he talking about? Who’s the us? Well, he goes down further, verses 3-5 he talks about how the Lord is the great king above all gods. He made everything, He created everything. Verse 6, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker. For He is our God.” He is our God. He’s not a god. He’s not even the God, he’s our God. We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. How did we become the sheep of His pasture? Well, He chose us, He called us out, He redeemed us. Psalm 90. Psalm 33, so we just read on Psalm 95. Psalm 33, “Shout for joy in the Lord, O, you righteous. Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the Lord,” now here you get to the instrumentalist, “With the lyre, make melody to Him with a harp of 10 strings.
BK: Sing to him a new song, play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.” So singers and players together. What are we doing? We’re saying, “God, you’re great, you’re glorious, you’re good, you’ve redeemed us, you’ve made us your own, we are your people.” So this is how we respond. Nowhere in that is the sense that, “Oh, yeah. And one of those people can be a Baal worshipper. One of those people can be just a pagan from the nations, just bring them in. It’s no problem. It’s okay with the Lord.” Well, actually, it’s not okay with the Lord. Because we’re changing then, the nature of that gathering. We’re saying, “God, we like the fact that you’ve called us together, we wanna invite some of our own guests to be the ones who lead the people in praise.” That just doesn’t make sense.
DZ: Yeah, right.
BK: So then when you get to the New Testament, it gets even clearer. So you have 1 Peter 2:4-5 that talk about… Again, who is it that God has called out? As you come to Him, Jesus, a living stone rejected by men, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious. You yourselves talking about all the people there, like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Now, who’s he talking about? It’s a holy priesthood. It’s… We’re offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Is that what the unbelieving base player is doing? I don’t think you can make a case for that. It’s someone who has said, I am a sinner, I’m condemned before God, I need mercy from God, that mercy has been provided for and paid for through Jesus Christ through His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, that’s where I receive mercy, that’s where I’ve been reconciled to God, that’s where I’ve been made a part of the people of God. I am a member of God’s household, I’m one of the sheep. So now I can praise Him for that, I can declare his name in the midst of the congregation, I can tell of his greatness and his goodness and his glory in the midst of his people.
BK: Now, of course, we’re supposed to do that beyond that group, but God calls his people together specifically for that. So Peter goes on later in that chapter, 1 Peter 2:9, to talk more specifically about what we’re to do. You’re a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession. Again, that idea of ownership, He owns us. Why? That you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
BK: Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. So it’s clear that everyone gathered there is there because they’ve received mercy, I mean that’s God’s intention, and then we’re to build one another up through spiritual gifts, we are being built. Ephesians 2 talks about how we’re being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. So again, when we’re gathering, we’re being built into a holy temple in the Lord, in which the Spirit dwells.
BK: So there’s more we could talk about…
DZ: Yeah, but Bob, I think there’s a real seriousness to these scriptures you’re reading, and even just the idea that this is a royal priesthood, a called out family, that is… We are building one another up and strengthening one another.
DZ: This isn’t just a random collection.
DZ: That we get to pick and choose who enters and who stands on stage and who leaves, and I just think there’s just a sobriety to this topic.
BK: It is… And I think that we can easily fall into the trap of… We’re going to figure out a way to help God get the message out. And it’s well-intentioned. There are a lot of churches that build their entire meetings around, what does the unbeliever want, what’s the unbeliever comfortable with?
DZ: For sure.
BK: That’s just not the picture that we get in scripture of what God’s people gathering together is supposed to be. It’s meant to build up the body, so in 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul talks about the gathering of the saints five times, maybe even six, he talks about how whatever we do there we’re to do for the building up of the body, and it’s the different gifts being used to build up the body.
DZ: Collectively. Yeah.
BK: Well, if a non-Christian can be there, and we certainly would expect that, and we hope that, that unbelievers come in, but they are unbelievers, they’re non-Christians, they are not… They’re outsiders. Paul calls them outsiders in 1 Corinthians 14, he talks about in verse 23, 1 Corinthians 14, “If therefore the whole Church comes together and all speak in tongues and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you’re out of your minds?” That’s the discussion for another podcast, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters,” so he reverses the order there.
BK: “He is convicted by all, he is called to account by all the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so falling on his face, he will worship God and then declare that God is really among you.” Well, at that point, he’s believed in Jesus Christ, he’s saying, my sins have been exposed. Yes, God’s really among you. But he’s not up there playing guitar, he’s not up there playing violin or cello, he’s not up there playing the drums.
DZ: Because he’s more integrated, you’re saying in the service as a musician, or even as a lot of churches will have a guest artist lead the worship.
DZ: So you’re saying an outsider coming in is very different and being a part of the service and feeling convicted and potentially getting saved is so different than a guitar player that you’re paying, he comes in, he’s not at all connected to your church, like you’re saying that there is a big difference between this outsider and someone who’s integrated in your Sunday services.
BK: Yeah, because I think Paul combines outsider and an unbeliever, so it’s not just… You couldn’t have someone who’s an outsider come in and participate in your music, which again, I don’t think that’s the best… I’m not sure that’s the best practice, but certainly you can do it, and I’ve been a guest at another Sovereign Grace Church, or another Church where I’ve helped lead the music, but normally, it’s gonna be the people in your Church. And so I think what happens more often, maybe not more often, I mean what I’ve seen happen more often is people invite friends.
BK: I met someone, you know, they’re a great musician and I just wanna help him kinda… I love to see him coming to the Lord, so hey, why don’t you play in our band?
BK: And I think unintentionally, that undercuts what God’s purposes are for His Church. Now He’s wanting the Church to be a place where the members of the body of Christ gather together to build up one another. To serve one another. To encourage one another. Hebrews 10 talks about, “Therefore encourage one another as long as you see… ” Getting the Scriptures confused in my mind right now. Hebrews 10:22. Let me see, 10. I’m gonna look it up right now. Hebrews 10, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” That’s what we’re meant to do as we get together. So how can I encourage an unbeliever, stir up an unbeliever to love and good works when he doesn’t even know the Lord?
BK: Now, certainly he can hear the gospel, and I hope he does, but I wanna, him or her, to hear that gospel as a part of the people who have come to the meeting. Now they’re an outsider, they’re an unbeliever, but they’re certainly welcome to come. We have unbelievers in our meeting every week at Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, and we’re glad they’re there, but we don’t invite them to participate in the Lord’s Supper. In fact, we say, we’d ask that you not participate. Why? Well, because you don’t know what this represents. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27, starting verse 27, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
BK: So there, Paul is talking about the discernment of who’s in the body of Christ, what is the body of Christ. And by inviting unbelieving musicians to actually participate in front, serving the church, just distorts so many things, it confuses so many things. What is the church? Is it just whoever is gathered there? No, it’s those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. They’ve trusted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to redeem them for the forgiveness of their sins, and they’ve joined themselves to this local church where they have elders, pastors who are watching over them, caring for them, preaching the word of God to them. They’re being knit together as a body. An unbeliever is not a part of that body. Now, it’d be helpful, I think, to talk about, so then what do you do? You got an unbelieving friend who’s a great musician. You can have jam sessions. You can say, “Hey, let’s play together.” Get some of your friends who are in the band to just get together and jam to play some songs. You can befriend them apart from music, ’cause music is not the only way we win musicians. And one of the things we can do is just to love them not for the fact that they’re a musician, but just because they’re lost and they need the Gospel. They don’t know Jesus has come to save them from their sins. And it may be even that music is an idol for them.
BK: And by loving them, by getting into their lives, by talking to them about their struggles or challenges, about your struggles, your challenges, and how Jesus has made a difference, that, I think that speaks so much more to them than saying, “Hey, let’s use your musical gifts here in the church, and maybe by hearing the sermon every week and being here, maybe you’ll become a Christian.” I have known people who that’s happened to. I’ve known one guy, thinking of him in particular, he came to church for like two years, not our church, came to the church, and he eventually came to the Lord. That’s wonderful. But my friend, Matt Westerholm, has used the illustration of, just the fact that some people aren’t wearing their seat belts and are in an automobile wreck and they survive, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t wear your seat belt. That’s an exception, and we don’t wanna use the exception as the rule.
BK: And the rule would be, how does God think about his church? This is his church, Jesus’ church. He’s building it, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. So if you’re in a church and the musicians just aren’t that great and you meet this great drummer, you think, “Oh, man, he’d be so good.” Well, reach out to them, befriend them, pray for them. Make it clear to them, “Man, it’d be so cool if you could be playing for the Lord one day.” But don’t confuse them by saying, “Hey, come and be a part of the church’s service, and play for these people who are worshipping the Lord.” ‘Cause that’s confusing. Oh, I’ll do my good work. How many people are thinking, “Yeah, if I just use my gifts, like in a church context, religious context, I’ll be good.”
BK: “I’m putting in my time. Surely, at the end of my life, God’s gonna say, “Well, what did you do?” “Well, I played for the church, Lord. What do you think about that?” And the Lord’s gonna say, “It’s not enough,” like He’s gonna say to everyone who hasn’t trusted in Christ. So I don’t want my unbelieving friends who are musicians thinking that music is somehow a part of their salvation. It’s not. Music is great, but Jesus is greater. And I think as we have non-Christians side by side with believers playing on a team, it’s just confusing. And one other thing I didn’t mention that I think is important, you’re inviting someone who doesn’t know Jesus Christ, who doesn’t follow Him as Lord to infiltrate your team, to be a part of your team. And you might say, “Well, they’re really nice, they’re really… They’re really good. They’re better than some Christians I know.” Yes, maybe so. But they’re living for a false god. They’re worshipping a false god. And so Paul says, 1 Corinthians 7, “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” So that would certainly fall into that category of yoking unbelievers and believers together.
BK: God’s ways are better than ours. His thoughts are higher than ours. And I think when we start to think we have a better idea, a better plan of what should the make up of our musicians be, non-Christian, Christian, we’re confusing what God has said, we’re confusing what the church is, and we’re actually working against the gospel that we claim to preach.
BK: And we don’t wanna do that. There are better ways God has given to us, and I pray that this is helping… If someone’s listening that do have unbelievers on their team, that is helping them think through that more carefully. And if you do have someone on your team who’s an unbeliever, and you’re convicted, I would just sit down with them and say, “Hey, you know what, I’ve been thinking about this wrong way. We are a group of people who are… We’ve been redeemed, we’ve been saved. We’ve been forgiven. And I think it’s wrong to put you in that position of acting like you know someone who’s forgiven, someone who claims the name of Jesus Christ, who has trusted in His finished work. So I don’t wanna put you in that position anymore, and… ” It might be losing your drummer, it might mean losing your guitar player, it might mean losing a vocalist, I don’t know. But I can tell you this, when we are in God’s will, when we are obeying his Word, we are in the best place we can possibly be.
BK: So you can trust that the Lord’s gonna take care of you.
DZ: Yeah, amen. Thank you so much just for your care and clarity on that. I think we’re so tempted in our churches to pursue professionalism, when you just clearly laid out just the sobriety of the reason why we gather in our churches. So I’m so thankful for that. And if you listen to this podcast and you’re encouraged by this episode, God gets the glory.
BK: Well, just try and go back to his word and say, “Lord, what have you said about who we are, what we’re supposed to be doing?” And that always brings clarity.
DZ: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Bob, and thank you for listening and for joining us and…
BK: Yes. Hope to see you again?
DZ: Yeah, have a good day.