Today’s post will be a Discernment in Music (DiM) post from a Church History perspective. As my appreciation for Latin phrases grows, I feel it necessary to share what I’ve learned. Today’s Latin phrase comes from one of last week’s episodes of Fighting for the Faith (30SEP15).
lex orandi, lex credendi
(the law of prayer is the law of belief)
The idea being conveyed here is that what one confesses, prays, and sings becomes what one believes. This is why historically the church has followed liturgical practices of reciting creeds/confessions/prayers, sang liturgical hymns, and practiced expository preaching following a lectionary. Here in the West, we’ve become quite enamored with ourselves and our own opinions and “new ideas” to the point of near-total disdain for orthodoxy. Despite all of our so-called wisdom and creativity, and rejection of “religions of men”, we still follow man-made religion… only now we do so without the bible as the standard, but our emotions/feelings.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Despite our narcissistic clamoring for innovation, we still fall headlong into the rule of lex orandi, lex credendi. It is no accident that Hillsong and Bethel push their musical giants so hard to capture the hearts of our youth. While the technology employed is new, the strategy is ancient. Let’s take a walk into some church history, shall we?
Athanasius versus Arius
You may have heard of the Athanasian Creed. A while back we took a look at the 3 creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian). Today, we are going to take a look at Athanasius and his struggles against Arius and his followers, the Arians.
Athanasius (A.D. 295–373) lived in a time much closer to the Apostles than I realized before studying for this post. If you’ll remember yesterday’s post, we mentioned the Temple that Jesus and the Apostles knew was utterly destroyed in AD 70. So Athanasius lived within 300 years of this event. That might seem like quite a long time by our self aggrandizing modern culture, but when one considers that Christianity is alive and well today (AD 2015), Athanasius was there near the beginning. He suffered physical persecution (under Emperors Diocletian and Galerius) and political persecution (under Emperor Julian the Apostate). 1 Arius (AD 250 or 256–336) took objection to the doctrine of the trinity, particularly of the preaching of Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, on philosophical grounds. Arius contended that since Jesus was the only-begotten of God, there must have been a time when Jesus didn’t exist, thus Jesus was a created being not equal to God. Now Arius was gifted in persuasive speech and followed a lot of Origen’s philosophy. Arianism spread very quickly. Athanasius contended strongly against Arius in the city of Alexandria holding firmly the position that if Jesus was not God then the atonement was insufficient and Jesus could not be our Savior. A lesser being cannot bear the full brunt of God’s Wrath on our behalf. So the debates grew very heated. This lead to the first Council of the Bishop of Alexandria, where Arius was condemned. However, the Arian sect had grown in number and influence such that they were able to persist and challenge Athanasius, even falsely accusing him of murder. The Arians sent word to Emperor Constantine who then held the first Council of Nicaea. One of the major outcomes of this Council was the affirmation of the Person of the Son in the Trinity, and the first part of the Nicene Creed.
1 “I, Athanasius” by Rev. Gordon A. Beck. on September 7, 2008 in CLASSIC WITNESS, LUTHERAN WITNESS https://blogs.lcms.org/2008/i-athanasius-9-2008
Despite this defeat, Arianism persisted for some time and Athanasius dedicated most of his time and energy resisting this false teaching. But How did Arius manage to get so many followers in his false teaching? Well, for one, mankind is sinful and our flesh is constantly seeking to reject sound doctrine. But beyond this common ailment, Arius took advantage of another weakness of our flesh… music.
From the Epitome of Philostorgius regarding Arius:
CHAP. 2.—He says that Arius, after his secession from the church, composed several songs to be sung by sailors, and by millers, and by travellers along the high road, and others of the same kind, which he adapted to certain tunes, as he thought suitable in each separate case, and thus by degrees seduced the minds of the unlearned by the attractiveness of his songs to the adoption of his own impiety.
Now the compilations of Arius’ songs is known as Thalia. Nearly all of the writings of Arius was destroyed as a result of being declared heresy, but we do have a couple of summaries of his writings.
Thalia literally means “abundance,” “good cheer,” or “banquet”. It was written in verse, in order to aid memorization and popular distribution of Arius’s ideas. Fragments of this work survive in two writings of his opponent Athanasius. The first is in a report of Arius’ teaching in Orations Against the Arians, 1.5-6. This paraphrase has negative comments interspersed, so it is difficult to decide what are Arius’s words and what are comments of Athanasius (Williams 99). The second is a more direct quotation in On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, 15. [Read More]
Getting back to Athanasius’ writing against the Arian heresy, specifically focusing on the use of song, let us look to a portion from his Discourse 1:
How then can they be Christians, who for Christians are Ario-maniacs1833? or how are they of the Catholic Church, who have shaken off the Apostolical faith, and become authors of fresh evils? who, after abandoning the oracles of divine Scripture, call Arius’s Thaliæ a new wisdom? and with reason too, for they are announcing a new heresy. And hence a man may marvel, that, whereas many have written many treatises and abundant homilies upon the Old Testament and the New, yet in none of them is a Thalia found; nay nor among the more respectable of the Gentiles, but among those only who sing such strains over their cups, amid cheers and jokes, when men are merry, that the rest may laugh; till this marvellous Arius, taking no grave pattern, and ignorant even of what is respectable, while he stole largely from other heresies, would be original in the ludicrous, with none but Sotades for his rival. For what beseemed him more, when he would dance forth against the Saviour, than to throw his wretched words of irreligion into dissolute and loose metres? that, while ‘a man,’ as Wisdom says, ‘is known from the utterance of his word1834,’ so from those numbers should be seen the writer’s effeminate soul and corruption of thought1835. In truth, that crafty one did not escape detection; but, for all his many writhings to and fro, like the serpent, he did but fall into the error of the Pharisees. They, that they might transgress the Law, pretended to be anxious for the words of the Law, and that they might deny the expected and then present Lord, were hypocritical with God’s name, and were convicted of blaspheming when they said, ‘Why dost Thou, being a man, make Thyself God,’ and sayest, ‘I and the Father are one1836?’ And so too, this counterfeit and Sotadean Arius, feigns to speak of God, introducing Scripture language1837, but is on all sides recognised as godless1838 Arius, denying the Son, and reckoning Him among the creatures. [Christian Classics Ethereal Library]
So, we see here that Athanasius regarded Arianism as a full departure from scripture, maintained by seductive use of songs of merriment, amid cheers and jokes among merry men that the rest may laugh… entertainment. What we sing regularly will become what we believe.
Dear Christian… is this not precisely what we see with the intentional shift away from the view of Church as the gathering of the saints for preaching of the Word for the edification and equipping of the saints into a place where “unchurched” can be entertained, engaged, and feel welcomed? Where dangerous Hillsong and Bethel heresies are pumped into the arena (formerly known as Sanctuaries) by a rock show performed by a house band. We are here, again, and this is nothing new. This is why it is so important to do the work of a Berean… to take what we hear and search the Scriptures to make sure it is true. We hold to what is Truth, and we reject and abstain from all falsehood. It is important that we do this with our sermons, our prayers, and our music. It isn’t “just music”, nor can it be dismissed as “harmless entertainment”. You know, there is a speck of truth to the humanist philosophy of self-affirmation… that speck is that we will believe what we constantly affirm. That doesn’t make what we come to believe “true”, it merely means that we can beat ourselves into believing lies. That is why it is vitally important that we take every thought captive to obey Christ, the Word of God (2 Cor 10:4-6). In closing, we will look to how the Apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians and to Jude’s closing of his letter.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 (ESV) | Final Instructions and Benediction
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies,21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Jude 24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,