Tag Archives: Ministry

#158: Show Me Religious Freedom

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #158, on the subject of Show Me Religious Freedom.

It appears that Missouri has become a battleground for issues of church-state relations.  During the election we noted in web log post #126:  Equity and Religion that there was a ballot issue related to a cigarette tax to fund childhood education which included controversial language permitting such funds to go to programs sponsored by religious institutions or groups.  The measure was soundly defeated, incidently (59% to 40%), but whether that was due to opposition to the almost unnoticed clause about funding religious groups or to the near one thousand percent increase in the cigarette tax can’t be known.  The state is back in the news on the religion subject, as a lawsuit between the state and a church school is going to be heard by the United States Supreme Court this year.

The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, and SCOTUSblog nicely summarizes the issue as

Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

But perhaps that will make more sense if we put some detail to it.


Missouri runs a program that collects used tires and recycles them into playground surfacing material, providing schools and other facilities with a durable but softer play surface.  The program is funded by a surcharge on new tires–technically tax money dedicated to the purpose of handling scrap tires.  Trinity Lutheran Church runs a school which has a playground used by the students but also by neighborhood children.  They applied to the program to resurface that playground with the safer materials, but were refused on the grounds of a church-state issue.

Some would argue that the “separation of church and state” is on the state’s side in this, but that is not in the Constitution.  The Establishment Clause means only that the government cannot show favoritism between various religious and non-religious organizations; it can’t promote any specific religion, nor can it oppose any specific religion.  It will be argued as to whether providing playground surfacing materials to a church-run school might be promoting that church, but that is not all that is at stake.  Missouri is one of thirty-eight states which have what is known as a “Blaine Amendment”, after Maine Senator James G. Blaine who in 1875 proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution along these lines.  The Constitutional amendment proposal failed, but the majority of states adapted the concept to a variety of state constitutional amendments which were adopted and are still the law in those states.

The mindset of the nineteenth century was so very different from ours today that it is difficult to grasp.  If ever the United States was a “Christian nation” (I do not believe such an entity ever has or even can exist), it was so then.  Protestant denominations were separated from each other in friendly competition, and often worked together in evangelistic outreach; we had come through two “Great Awakenings” from which the vast majority of Americans, and particularly those who were neither Jewish nor recent immigrants (such as the Chinese in California), were Christians in Protestant churches.  However, those new immigrants–particularly the Irish and the Italians–were predominantly Roman Catholic, and Protestants still feared Catholicism, and not entirely unreasonably.  The fear arose because in countries dominated by Catholicism governments were perceived as following the dictates of the church–a fear which remained in this country until then Presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy made his September 1960 speech on the subject.  As a result, Blaine was the tip of an iceberg of an effort to prevent Catholicism from conquering America through the democratic process, perceived as in effect making the Pope our de facto emperor.  (We see similar efforts today reacting to the fear that Islamic immigrants will conquer by democratic process and impose Sharia Law on America.)

The word used was “sectarian”, and we might find that word inappropriate for its meaning.  After all, even at the dawn of the 1960s public school classes were opened with prayer and a reading from the Bible.  However, these were Protestant prayers, prayers that would have been embraced by every denomination from Episcopalian to Lutheran to Presbyterian to Baptist to Pentecostal.  They were thus viewed as non-sectarian, not preferring any one Christian denomination over any other.  Up until Pope John XXIII, Catholicism regarded all Protestants as condemned heretics (and it was more recently than that that the church has reached the position that there might be salvation outside the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches).  That was seen as the divisive position; the Protestant’s rejection of that was not seen as divisive, because Protestants were otherwise united and respected each other’s beliefs, at least in this country.

Blaine’s effort was attempting to prevent state money from going to Catholic education (“sectarian schools”).  Missouri’s version is considerably more strict.  It reads:

That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.

Arguably, read strictly this would prevent underpaid teachers in private religious schools from receiving food stamps or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or prevent unemployed ordained ministers from getting welfare or social security.  No one has made that argument to this point; such programs were then not even imagined.

So this is what the First Amendment actually says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The sense is that the government will not interfere with the opinions of the people, or the expression thereof.  In a sense, the government has to be “opinion blind”–it can’t decline to give food stamps to a member of the Libertarian Party, or refuse to hire someone who previously worked for a Catholic charity, or decide whether someone can speak at a public meeting based on whether he was once Boy Scout or Mason or Gideon.

It would also seem to mean that the government cannot decide that an organization cannot receive public funds for a strictly secular purpose based on whether it is a religious organization.

Let us for the moment take the name out of this case.  Let us suppose that the plaintiff is the Columbia Community School.  It happens to be run by the Columbia Community Fellowship, but is incorporated separately as an educational institution.  Thus the application for materials from the program says that the applicant is “Columbia Community School”.  The question suddenly becomes whether the people who make the decision have the right to ask whether “Columbia Community School” is a religious organization–which under our hypothetical it is, but you would not know that from the name on the application.  Would it be a violation of the first amendment for the government to inquire whether the school is a religious organization?  Two points should by raised.  One is that it is established that the playground is used by children in the neighborhood who have no connection to the school; the other is that many public and private schools rent or even lend their facilities to groups for meetings some of which use these facilities for religious worship services–a use which the courts have agreed is legitimate, and indeed that it would be unconsitutional to forbid such use solely on the basis that publicly owned properties are being used by private individuals for religious purposes on the same terms that they are being used by other organizations for other purposes.  It thus seems that it would be illegal to ask the question, and the only reason the issue exists here is that we assume an organization with the words “Trinity”, “Lutheran”, and “Church” in the name is a religious organization.  While that seems a safe assumption, it is as prejudicial as assuming that someone with the given name “Ebony” or “Tyrone” must be black.

Let us also consider this aspect of the separation of the organization from the purpose.  Brigham Young University is clearly connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons).  It also receives government grants for scientific research.  Should the fact that the school was founded by a religious organization for religious purposes disqualify it from receiving such monies?  If so, should the same rule apply to schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame?  Patently it is legitimate use of government money to support academic research in secular fields, even if performed by religious persons at religious institutions.

It appears that the only sane conclusion here is that the government cannot discriminate against religious persons or institutions in the disbursement of aid for secular purposes.  We might argue that there is a fungible resources issue, that the money the church does not have to spend on playground resurfacing is money they can use for religious purposes, but ultimately the only use that this paving material has is to create safer play surfaces for children, and the only way the church can get that material is through the government program, so denying it would be making “a law respecting an establishment of religion”, clearly forbidden by the Bill of Rights.

The Blaine Amendment, at least in the form it has in Missouri, is unconstitutional.

We’ll see whether the Supreme Court agrees with that later this year.

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#151: A Musician’s Resume

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #151, on the subject of A Musician’s Resume.

I am a musician–always have been, a music major in high school, my kindergarten teacher dubbed me her “little songbird”, and I tell people that English is my second language.  I am good at it (I do not believe God intends for us to denigrate our abilities by lying)–but I don’t get as many opportunities to do something with it as I would like.


I belong to several online Christian musician groups, and periodically I see notices seeking someone for a band.  I am always a bit hesitant as to how to respond to these.  For one thing, I am particularly bad at self-promotion and do not like to do it; for another, I have sometimes been rejected without explanation or, worse, completely ignored, and that hurts.  (Rejected with an explanation is always better, even if the explanation is offensive.)  Beyond that, well, when you have as much experience in the Christian music field as I have, you also have a lot of questions going into just about any opportunity.  Sometimes I think that the people trying to form bands haven’t really thought through any of it, and the questions confuse them.  So to resolve all of these matters, I decided I would put details about my experience, abilities, and hopes here, and in future refer people here who want to know more about me.

This is something of a confusing and oversized page, because it really is attempting to accomplish three different goals:

  1. Convey something of who I am to to anyone seeking musicians for solo appearances;
  2. Open the door to musicians who might be interested in becoming part of a reformed Collision;
  3. Communicate my availability to any band looking for someone with one or more of my talents.

While those goals are not completely compatible, they overlap sufficiently that three separate pages would be highly redundant.  Thus there is much here that is of no interest to persons in connection with any one of those, but hopefully everything that any of them would want to know is here.

It seemed best to begin with a list of bands in which I have been a member, and what my part in it was.  I am undoubtedly omitting a number of them, but the list is extensive even so.  I fronted[1] for all of these, but always shared the position with other members of the band.

Band Experience

  • The Last Psalm, evangelism pop-rock band; founder, director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and second lead guitars, keyboards.
  • The Agape Singers, Luther College official ministry and promotional ensemble; student director, soloist and supporting vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, contributing composer/arranger.
  • Jacob’s Well, pop-rock band with unfocused ministry for playing local coffeehouses; contributing composer/arranger, lead and supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • Aurora, formed to support evangelistic outreach meetings; contributing composer/arranger, supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • Topsfield Fair Evangelism Band, semi-official Gordon College ministry band formed for evangelistic support; contributing composer/arranger, lead and supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • TerraNova, evangelism pop/rock band; director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and second lead guitars, second bass guitar, saxophone.
  • Cardiac Output, teaching ministry band; founder, director, arranger, composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and lead guitar.
  • 7dB, unofficial worship band at the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh which was exploring other ministry directions; co-founder, co-director, arranger, contributing composer, supporting vocals, third guitar (rhythm, lead, and impact), second bass guitar, keyboards, flute.
  • Collision, evangelism rock band arising from 7dB dissolution; co-founder, director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, instruments as 7dB but eventually moving to bass guitar only.
  • Silver Lake Community Church Worship Band, not ever really given a name, I was asked to help the worship leader organize musicians for leading music in services; directed as a vehicle of teaching him to direct, supporting vocals, bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitars, piano.

I have also done a substantial amount of solo work[2], and filled in as requested in other bands, most recently on lead/rhythm guitar or bass guitar for several of the monthly Relentless worship services at the Bridgeton Assembly of God church.

Notes on Musical Abilities

  • As a composer, I have written hundreds of songs in many styles, from choral to rock to country to jazz.  Dozens of these are still in my repertoire.  I tend to write when I have the opportunity to perform, crafting songs to fit the available ensemble.
  • I generally have avoided doing covers without a good reason (I consider audience participation a valid reason), and so as an arranger I have always found a way to make any song significantly different from the original.  I am particularly good with vocals, having worked with as many as six parts or as few as two.
  • My vocals are tenor–I was first tenor in New Jersey All-state Chorus twice, and have had voice classes and lessons including a session with one of the top voice teachers in the country; I have coached voice.  My comfortable range runs from low C (middle of bass clef) to high A (middle of treble clef); my effectively useful range extends maybe a minor third above that, a fifth below it.  I am very good on pitch and blend, and can keep a part well enough that if someone else loses theirs I can jump to it to put them right and then return to mine.
  • Some people rave about my bass guitar playing; it seems easy to me, except when I have to play a complicated part and sing a different complicated part at the same time.  I manage.  I have played several different kinds of bass guitars over the decades, but currently own a Carlo Robelli six-string which I tune to B Standard; I probably have access to a four-string acoustic bass guitar if needed.
  • I am an excellent rhythm guitarist who can name any chord you can play and probably play any chord you can name.  I finger pick and chord frill easily and understand how the position of the chord can impact the flavor of the music.  I am a passable lead guitarist who prefers to let someone else do the lead work and coach them if they need it, providing second lead support for double leads, back-and-forths, and similar passages.  I have never been able to find (or afford) effects boxes that I liked/could use, but I have done some cry off the guitar itself, and designed and built a channel changer box I use to switch to a louder channel on the amplifier as needed.  I have or have access to several electric guitars, none of them noteworthy, and one non-electrified acoustic guitar.
  • I consider my keyboards playing passable, useful for a band that doesn’t need a full-on keyboard player but wants keyboards for occasional use.  I’ve taught beginner piano and coached more experienced players in understanding different keyboarding styles; I write keyboard parts when necessary for a particular player to capture a particular sound.  Some of my songs were written on and for the piano as the primary instrument.
  • As to other instruments, flute and saxophone have been mentioned, and there are a score of others I have played and could play again.  My saxophone is badly in need of repair, but I have access to flute, violin, viola, ocarina, dulcimer, and probably other instruments I’m not remembering.

If you hand me an instrument I’ve never seen before, within an hour I will play you a song I wrote for it.  I’ve done it with the fife, tin whistle, recorder, dulcimer, and several other instruments.  I am no longer very good at tuba and don’t have one, and my trumpet playing has never been good and the trumpet needs repair, but if you’re looking for someone who can fill in with odd instruments, I probably fit the bill.


As mentioned, I have or have access to a six-string bass, a couple of six-string guitars, a flute, and several other miscellaneous instruments; I also have access to a midi keyboard (seventy-six keys).  I have several amplifiers and quite a few speakers, a few low-end microphones, a sixteen channel mixing board, and miscellaneous equipment such as cables and mic stands.

I also have a sound guy who will probably come with me (Hi, Mike) who has a fair amount of equipment as well, and knows people from whom he can borrow more.

Minstry Considerations

I have written extensively about the relationship between music and ministry in previous entries on this web log; I have included a list of relevant articles at the end.  My own ministry is specifically that of teacher.  Although I would hope that would be integrated into whatever is ahead, I have long considered evangelistic bands very important and have worked with many, and I have also worked with pastoral/worship ministry bands.  If I’m joining your band, I’m supporting your ministry.

All of the previously mentioned bands were ministry bands.  I have undergraduate degrees in Biblical Studies from Luther College of the Bible and Liberal Arts (formerly) in Teaneck, NJ, and Gordon College in Wenham, MA (plus a Juris Doctore from Widener University School of Law, and a lapsed membership in Mensa).  For about the past two decades I have been the Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, an international interdenominational Christian organization; I have published several books on Christian life, most famously Faith and Gaming about integrating our leisure activities with our Christianity.  I taught Biblical Studies at a fledgeling Bible College in Pitman[3], and continue to do so online through the auspices of the Christian Gamers Guild.

I was an on-air personality on one of the nation’s leading Contemporary Christian Radio stations[4] for half a decade, where I interviewed many artists and others in the Christian music industry, taught Bible online, and otherwise ministered to the listeners.

My Hopes and Expectations

I have done a lot of solo work, and am certainly willing to sing and play solo anywhere that wants me.  It is not what I prefer for two primary reasons.  The more important is that it is so limiting, because there is only so much one person who is not able to use computer-generated musical accompaniment can do alone on stage.  The lesser is that I don’t like to feel like I’m putting myself forward, so I insist on sharing the stage and the spotlight with others.  I have long told my band members that everyone in the band is there to make everyone else in the band look good, not to worry about how they themselves look because that’s the responsibility of everyone else in the band.  It’s easier to do that if there’s actually a band, and I’m not alone in the spotlight.  When I do solo appearances, I try to include some time teaching, because that is ultimately my ministry.[5]

If I “had my druthers, I’druther” reform Collision.  For one thing, the band has a name and a following including an extant album.  For another, I like the concept, the minstry purposes, the goals.  But I’m not wedded to this, and if someone is interested in including me in whatever ministry they are doing, that’s something I will seriously consider.

The vision for Collision is to be the band people tell other people they need to hear, to do music that is on the rock side of contemporary, and to use it to proclaim the gospel as an evangelistic outreach.  My expectations are that everyone plays an instrument; I’d like several vocalists, but understand that not everyone can sing.  The ideal instrumentation was conceived as lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drums, and a “fifth instrument” that floats between keyboards and other instruments as needed; at our height we replaced the rhythm guitar with keyboards quite well, and lost the fifth instrument, but ran two voices (we were adding a rhythm guitar/vocalist just before we started losing people).  Again, though, it’s flexible:  if the Lord provides a different collection of musicians, that’s what we will use.

I expect that any Christian band will have some ministry purpose, and will have some understanding of what that purpose is, sufficient to articulate it to me.

My Limitations

  • I am getting old and have had two hernia operations; I can’t easily roadie the heavy equipment anymore, although I do have a hand truck to help with that.  I also struggle with asthma, and so have to avoid smoke, dust, and pollen as much as possible so I can keep breathing.  It also limits my physical exertions somewhat, but not as much as it might.
  • I am terrible at self-promotion.  I am not a salesman.
  • I do not have a space for a band to practice.  Collision practiced in my living room when we did not have a drummer, but with the drummer we had to set up on the front deck, which is very much weather-sensitive.  Whatever we do, we will have to practice somewhere else.
  • I am located just outside Bridgeton, New Jersey (Hopewell Township), a stone’s throw from the Delaware Bay if you’re Sandy Kofax.  I can get transportation, but probably can’t travel much farther than an hour for weekly rehearsals, less for more frequent ones.  Otherwise, my schedule can be kept fairly open, and I can almost always be where I promise to be (e.g., barring medical emergencies and transportation failures).  I expect that I would be able to arrange to tour, if the tour was going to pay for itself.

I have worked with seasoned professionals, and have trained rank amateurs, and am open to discussing options with anyone who thinks I might be good for whatever they are doing, or that they might like to work with me.

My Questions

  • Where and when do you expect to practice?
  • What kind of music are you doing, and are you open to including compositions by the members?
  • What is your sense of your ministry, your ministry goals?
  • What are your hopes for the band’s future–are you wanting to stay local, hoping to go national, or what?
  • How is the band organized–is there one person who makes all the decisions, or two or three people who are in charge jointly, or is it the theory that all the members participate in all the decisions?  Or indeed, are different aspects overseen by different members–one musical director, one financial manager, one booking agent, and so forth?

So if you think I’m your guy, be ready to answer those questions and get in touch with me.


Here are those hopefully helpful articles about Christian music and ministry:



  • 1  I use the word “fronted” to mean that I would speak to the audience, such as introducing songs and band members; it also usually included sharing some teaching or testimony.

  • 2  When I perform solo I usually play an acoustic guitar and/or an acoustic piano if one is available on site; I sometimes play an electric guitar and/or electric piano.

  • 3  The school was named The Institute of the Great Commission, and was started by a local church named The Rock; I taught one term, but then a church split undercut the funding and the school laid off half of the four-member faculty.

  • 4  WNNN-FM, licensed to Canton, NJ, with studios in Salem.  Sometime in the late 1970s it was reportedly number twelve on a list of such stations, and when I was program director I was informed by one of the major label radio relations people that we were one of the fifty stations she contacted every week.  It was sold and pirated for parts a few years after my departure.

  • 5  My teaching is readily available on many posts on this web log, but #121:  The Christian and the Law is particularly significant as an example of a teaching from a concert, and #88:  Sheep and Goats as something I taught at a service which was not a concert.

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#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.


Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

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#114: Saint Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #114, on the subject of Saint Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles.

You probably have already heard that the woman known to most of us as Mother Teresa is now officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

The first I saw it was in an article critical of the Roman Catholic Church, in the Salt Lake Tribune.  My initial glance at the piece noted that it somehow connected the canonization of this world-respected woman to the issue of pedophilia among the priesthood, and I thought it was going to say that an organization which so poorly handled that situation had no business making people saints.  I was musing on that, but I hate it when people criticize my articles without having read them, so I went back to read it completely and discovered that his complaint, while I think just as wrong-headed, was much more subtle.


It is of course rather easy to criticize the church for its handling of these pedophile cases, but difficult to see from their perspective.  After all, they’re older and larger than most countries, consider their priests something like diplomatic envoys to everywhere in the world, and have a long history of handling their own problems internally.  Add to that the necessity of balancing justice with mercy, the concerns for the sinners as much as for the victims, and the awareness that the quickest way for an ordinary parishoner to remove an unwanted priest is to make sexual allegations against him, and you’ve got a very difficult situation.  It is thus easy to say that they handled it poorly–but not so simple to be certain that any of us would have handled it better.  That, though, was not what the article was addressing.

It is also a mistake to think that the Roman Catholic Church “makes” people Saints.  Canonization is rather more a process of identifying those who are.  There are few people in the world, perhaps of any faith, who would say that Teresa was not a saint.  She certainly fit the standards most Protestants hold:  she loved Jesus so much that she abandoned all possibility for a “normal” comfortable western life in order to bring the love of God to some of the most impoverished and spiritually needy people on earth.  Many ordinary Catholics were pressing for the Vatican to say officially what they believed unofficially.  The problem was that the Roman Catholic canonization process has a requirement that to be recognized officially as a Capital-S Saint an individual must have performed miracles.  At least two must be certified by Vatican investigators.

As one of my Protestant friends said, she should be credited with the miracle of getting funding for so unglamorous a work, and probably also for doing so much with what she had.  Those, though, are not the types of miracles considered; there has to be an undeniable supernatural element involved.  The author of the critical article is unimpressed with the two that they certified, but his argument is rather that miracles do not happen, and the events cited in support of her canonization were not miracles.  He then argues, seemingly, that if miracles really did happen, if God really did intervene in the world, then certainly God Himself would have acted to prevent those priests from abusing those children.  No loving father could have permitted that kind of treatment of his own children; how can the Church assert that God is a loving Father, if that God did not intervene on behalf of these victims?

We could get into a very involved conversation about why the writer supposes the conduct of these priests to have been “wrong”.  Certainly it was wrong by the standards of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the Marquis de Sade wrote some very compelling arguments in moral philosophy in which he asserted that whatever exists is right.  On that basis he claimed that because men were stronger than women, whatever a man chose to do to a woman was morally right simply because nature made the man capable of doing it.  The same argument would apply to this situation, that because the priests were able by whatever means to rape these children, their ability to do so is sufficient justification for their actions.  I certainly disagree because, like the Roman Catholic Church, I believe that God has called us to a different moral philosophy.  The question is, on what basis does our anti-God critic disagree?  If he asserts, as he does, that there is no God, why does he suppose that it is wrong for adults to engage in sexual acts with children?  It seems to be his personal preference; the Marquis de Sade would have disagreed, as would at least some of the men who do this.  To say that something is morally wrong presupposes that that statement has meaning.  We fall back on “human rights”, but the only reason Jefferson and the founders of America could speak of such rights is that they believed such rights were conferred (endowed) upon every individual by the God who made us.  No, they did not all believe in the Christian God (many were Deists), but they did found their moral philosophy on a divine origin.

However, let us agree that the conduct of those priests was heinous.  We have a solid foundation for holding that position, even if the writer who raises it does not.  The question is, why did God not stop them?

It is said that during the American Civil War someone from Europe visited President Lincoln at the White House.  During his visit, he asked whether it were really true that the American press was completely free of government control–something unimaginable in Europe at that time.  In answer, Lincoln handed his guest that day’s newspaper, whose lead story was denigrating the way the President was handling the war.  It was obvious that such an article could not have been written if the publisher had any thought of the government taking action against his paper for it.

If God is able to work miracles, why does He not miraculously silence critics like the op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune?

Perhaps the writer thinks that even God would not interfere with the freedom of the press in America.  Why not?  There is nothing particular about the choice to write something which is offensive to God that would make it less objectionable than the choice to do something which is offensive to God.  God could perhaps have prevented many atrocities–the development of the atomic bombs that devastated two Japanese cities, the rise of the regime which exterminated nearly six million Jews and even more Poles plus many other peoples, and we could fill the rest of this article with such acts.  Yet these are all choices made by men, and just as God chooses not to prevent one writer from criticizing Him in the Salt Lake Tribune, so too He has not prevented billions of other hurtful actions by everyone in the world.  He allows us to make our own choices, and to hurt and be hurt by those choices.  If he prevented all of them, there would be no freedoms whatsoever.

Two footnotes should be put to this.

The first is that we do not know and indeed cannot know whether God has limited human wickedness and disaster.  We can imagine horrors that never happened.  The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union never “went hot” into a nuclear battle despite the many fictional scenarios describing how it might have happened.  We do not know whether God prevented nuclear war, or indeed whether He will do so in the future; we only know that it did not happen.  Our perspective of the “bad” that happens in this world lacks perspective because, apart from horror stories, we measure it against itself.  Be assured, though, that if the worst thing that ever happened in the world was the occasional hangnail, someone would be asking how God could possibly allow the suffering that is the hangnail.  We complain of the worst wickedness in the world, but do not know what might have been or whether God saved us from something worse than that.

The second is that God, Who is the only possible foundation for any supposed moral law to which we could hold anyone accountable, promises that He is ultimately fair and will judge everyone.  He has made it His responsibility to see to it that everyone who has caused any harm will be recompensed an equal amount of harm, and anyone who has been harmed will be compensated an appropriate amount in reparations, so that all wrongs ultimately are put right.  The writer of the article does not want there to be ultimate justice, but present intervention.  However, I expect were we to ask if what He wants is for God to remove from the world the power to choose what we do and have our choices affect each other, he would object to that as well.  There will be ultimate justice, and may God have mercy on us all.  Meanwhile, we are given freedom to act in ways that are either beneficial (as Saint Teresa) or baneful (as the priests), so that we may then be judged.

How there can be mercy and justice at the same time is something I have addressed elsewhere, and is much more than this article can include.  It is perhaps the problem that the Catholic Church has in handling its errant priests.  The bishops are not God, and neither are we, and we all do the best we can, which often is not as good as we might hope.  We all also fail, hurt others, and need forgiveness and correction.  God offers that, and that is the true miracle.

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#109: Simple Songs

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #109, on the subject of Simple Songs.

I find myself in the awkward position of defending a practice I don’t particularly like.  Someone criticized Christian record companies.  I think that there are serious problems with Christian record companies, but I don’t think that the particular problems suggested in the supposedly satirical video were the real problems.  I will probably write more on this subject, but first I want to talk about the problem of simple, that is, simplistic, music.  The video (undoubtedly facetiously) suggested that record companies demand that all Christian songs use the same three chords.  That’s not something record companies ask or expect.  What they expect is that songs be marketable to the people who are expected to want them, and for a certain kind of Christian song that inherently means simple.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not impressed by simple songs and I do my best not to write them.  I had an argument with a piano player who insisted that the B# I wanted him to play (in a G# major chord with a minor sixth added–I know, ugly chord, but the song needed it) did not exist.  I cringe sometimes at the fact that so many of the songs I wrote on the piano when I was in high school and college are so similar, and eventually made a point of not writing songs on the piano unless I could do something really different.  I could probably be a lot more prolific if I weren’t so insistent that every song had to be distinct.

Worship band Hillsong United
Worship band Hillsong United

I also remember being horrified when I was in high school when someone I knew casually told me that he had been baptized in the Spirit on Friday night and over the weekend God had given him five hundred songs.  I approached skeptically, and discovered that he knew three chords, stopped the music to change between them, and sang very nearly monotone.  There is nothing wrong with the miraculous happening in connection with the Holy Spirit; this I don’t think was that.

The temptation is to think that all the musicians who write such “simple” three-chord songs with simplistic melodic lines are like my high school friend, unable to do better or even to know they are doing poorly.  The fact is they are not doing poorly; they are writing the kind of songs needed for their ministry.  One thing that helps me not judge other ministries is understanding what they are actually trying to do and why, and how that is different from what I am doing, and why that different objective requires different methods.

We talked extensively about Christian ministries.  Of particular relevance here, the 1960s and 70s were dominated by evangelist music ministry, which meant music that would catch attention of unbelievers and cause them to listen to the message.  It was frequently interesting, often intricate, always performance-oriented material.  Today, we noted, the dominant stream in music ministry is pastoral, music that benefits the sheep, with participatory worship music at the top of the list.

Don’t misunderstand.  Many great professional composers from Michael Praetorius and J. S. Bach through Charles Ives and Randall Thompson have written some great worship music to be presented by professional musicians, and there is a worship experience in which the worshipper listens and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and the presence of God.  However, that is not participatory worship.  When men like Luther and Wesley wanted to get people involved in worship, they took simple songs that their audience knew–usually from singing in taverns–and wrote Christian words to them, because the majority in the congregation are not musically literate and can only sing simple songs that they know or can quickly learn.  The typical congregant can’t handle complex melodic lines, intricate syncopation and time signature changes, modal and key transitions; those are for professional musicians.  Thus songs for participatory worship are best if they are simple.

Further, when someone records a song intended for worship, the expectation is less that you will listen to the recording–which is certainly part of the intention–but more that churches throughout the world will learn to play it and use it in their worship.  Johnny Smith who got a guitar for Christmas and has been trying to teach himself to play has to be able to stand in front of Little Country Church and lead half a dozen worshippers in a song they might never have heard.  If it isn’t simple, it isn’t going to succeed.

There is complex and interesting Christian music out there, because there are still musicians doing non-pastoral ministry, and pastors using music for aspects of their ministry that go beyond corporate participatory worship.  The primary forms on Christian radio though are songs of worship which ordinary people can learn easily and sing along while driving; the primary songs that get played in churches are the simple songs of worship which the congregation can embrace quickly.  They are the kind of music most Christians are buying; they are important in the scheme of music ministry; they are not the totality of it.

Returning to record companies–well, I probably have more to say about the recording industry, but for the moment to give them their due, they have to be interested in the bottom line, in producing recordings that people will buy.  That means songs that will be played on the radio and sung in churches.  That means, primarily, simple worship songs.  Sure, they produce more than that, but since songs for participatory worship are the most popular in the Christian market, they dominate product.

If you want to do something different with your music, that’s a good thing; just understand that you are not looking to reach the present core Christian market if you aren’t doing simple worship songs, not because of the record companies but because of the audience.

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#107: Miscellaneous Music Ministries

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #107, on the subject of Miscellaneous Music Ministries.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and addressed each of these individually in its own article.

Someone is undoubtedly saying that I missed something, because he knows that he is called to music ministry but does not fit into any of those.

It is certainly plausible that there are ministries Paul did not happen to mention in that passage; he does not specify that it is an exhaustive list of possible ministries.  On the other hand, they do provide comprehensive coverage of most of what we can identify as the spiritual needs within a congregation.  If you have a spiritual ministry, what does it do?  Does it bring the gospel to people who have never heard it and launch churches, as the Music Ministry of an Apostle?  Is it focused on bringing God’s specific direction, timing, and confirmation to His people when they need it, and thus a Prophetic Music Ministry?  Is it about bringing unbelievers to faith, an Evangelist Ministry?  Are you drawing believers closer to God and each other, the Music Ministry of the Pastor?  Are you enabling believers to understand the truths they have embraced, as a Teacher?  If you are not doing one of these five things, what are you doing that constitutes spiritual ministry?


On the other hand, there are other positions in the church, and we speak of other kinds of ministry today.  The Ephesians list gives us a rather sweeping collection of spiritual servants, but as we previously noted there are other kinds of service within the church, and our use of the word “ministry” has been in a sense selective for our purpose.  You might serve by playing the organ, conducting the choir, singing the liturgy, and be quite correct that God has put you in a place where you are using your gifts for His service.  Some of those ministries have names; the degree to which music can be involved depends very much on how the position is understood.

In some ways the simplest of those named positions is the previously mentioned diakonos or “deacon”.  In Acts 6 there was a problem concerning the distribution of food–members contributed food to the church which was delivered to widows, among the poorest with the worst prospects at that time.  The Apostles decided to have the church choose seven people to become “servers”, to deliver the food fairly to the women.  Paul later discusses in letters to Timothy and Titus how to select such “servers” for the local church, and we assume that they have much the same function, of overseeing the in-house charitable assistance.  We have expanded on that, but our expansions have gone in two distinct directions.  In one direction, deacons have become the business managers of the church, because they handle the assets and spending; in the other direction, deacons (and particularly deaconesses) have become the charitable arm of the church, because their original assignment was to attend to the poor.  Because of the tension between these two in some ways disparate objectives, the office has tended to become whatever the particular denomination or congregation wanted it to be, or even what the appointed individual made of it.

It should be noted that being a server does not preclude being some other kind of minister.  The Philip named among the seven servers is the one we discussed as Philip the Evangelist.  It is also certainly possible that music can be incorporated into service as a deacon, as for example entertaining in a mission or soup kitchen, or at a concert to raise money for and awareness of the homeless or otherwise impoverished.

The “presbuteros” or “elder” is more difficult.  We know that there were elders in synagogues, and they were quite simply the old men who had been in attendance for many years.  They had learned much and accumulated some wisdom, and so were sought to provide insight and direction.  Nowhere are we told how they are selected or identified, but in I Timothy Paul suggests that they are in charge of “ruling” the church, and that they get paid for this (“double honor” refers to what we would call an honorarium, money given as thanks, and that it is “double” for those laboring in preaching and teaching suggests that those “elders” who are not preaching and teaching are still paid for “ruling” the church).  He also suggests that some of them are involved in preaching and teaching–but that some are not, and thus again we have the suggestion that some elders also have other kinds of ministries, and also that some who do not have ministries of the sort we equate with standing in the pulpit are still very much involved in serving the church as leaders.  That might sometimes include using musical gifts at church gatherings of one sort or another.

Also unclear is the office of “episkopos”, a word compounded of “atop sight” giving us the concept of “overseer”.  It is often rendered “bishop”, derived indirectly from the Greek (Greek “episkopos” becomes Latin “ebiscopus” becomes English “bisceop” and eventually “bishop”).  We know that there is a selection process and qualifications; we don’t know what these people did.  The title has become part of the hierarchy in many denominations, ranging from the head of a local church to the head of a denomination.  It has something to do with ruling and caring for the house of God, but whether that means financial management or spiritual oversight is pretty much a guess.  It thus also makes it difficult to suggest how music might fit into service in so uncertain a job.

Some speak of a “healing ministry” and identify some persons as “healers”.  The nearest word for that in the New Testament is “iatros”, which properly means “healer” but is almost always rendered “physician”.  In most occasions it is used rather generally or often metaphorically about medical doctors.  (The familiar metaphor is “Physician, heal thyself,” which is more poignant when we replace “physician” with “healer”.) The only specific individual ever said to be “iatros” is Luke (in Colossians 4:14, in passing as a way of identifying him).  It is not impossible that Luke was a “healer” in the sense intended by those who use the term, but tradition has always maintained he was a medical doctor, and his writing supports this contention in several ways.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting exegetical issue in I Corinthians 12:9.  It is in the middle of a list of gifts the Spirit gives, immediately after “faith” and before “effecting of miracles”.  We are very uncertain what many of these gifts are, but the quirk with healing is that it doesn’t say “healing” as a gift, but lists the gift as “gifts of healings”, as if perhaps this person received a package from God that contained healings he was to distribute to those who needed them.  This person is not really exercising a gift of being able to heal people; he is working as a deliveryman who has been given these healings to give to others.  That does not make it not a position of serving God and the church; it does significantly alter our perception of it.  Yet as important as such physical healing is, our perception is that healings in the New Testament were always connected to bringing people to God.  Thus those who have gifts of healing are probably also exercising one of the Ephesian ministries, enabled by these gifts, whether apostolic, evangelistic, pastoral, or one of the others.  If music fits the “healing” ministry, it will be because it fits in the way that is appropriate to the ministry which the healing is supporting.

Music is part of life, and has been from the early chapters of Genesis.  It has been used in worship and in ministry, but was not invented originally for that purpose.  We can have Christian entertainment, which is good, and we can use music in many ways within the church.

I hope this series has been helpful to your understanding of ministry and the place of music within it.

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#106: The Teacher Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #106, on the subject of The Teacher Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  Last time we considered #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor, including worship leading.  We previously established that pastor and teacher are not the same ministry, but jointly important in the local church.

The fact that I am a teacher both simplifies and complicates the effort to explain the ministry–simplifies because I know it intimately, complicates it because first it is always difficult to see what makes yourself different from others, and second because it is easy to confuse personal experience with that which is generally true of a group.  I was a Boy Scout, but I did many things as a Boy Scout that probably most other Scouts did not do, and there are many things that were done by many Scouts which I never did.  My experience as a teacher is in some ways unique, and in some ways general, and so the difficulty arises in identifying that which characterizes all teachers, as distinct from that which is specific to me.


Where the pastor is most concerned with people and relationships, the teacher is most concerned with knowledge and understanding.  Our theology and doctrine is laced with the concerns of teachers, and contains a lot of trivial minutiae that is, in ultimate terms, inconsequential.  To pick on one of the biggest issues, questions of the nature of God as three persons but one God, the doctrine of the Trinity, are not essential to salvation:  even most seminary graduates have trouble with the concepts, and one of the details is one of the major points of disagreement between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations.  People are saved and go to heaven every day with no clue as to how there can be only one God but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all that one God and are in some sense also distinct persons.  It is better to understand aright than to misunderstand, but what we call the Apostles Creed is not found in the writings of the Apostles.  It is an effort by teachers to make sense of what we know, which is valuable but not essential.  Understanding what you do not believe is worthless; believing what you do not fully understand is sufficient, although understanding helps undergird belief.  Developmentally handicapped and autisic persons who understand almost nothing but trust God through Jesus Christ go to heaven; seminary graduates who do not believe the God about whom they learned exists do not.

Yet the teacher explains things.  It was probably Paul’s calling as a teacher that was behind much that was in his letters.  We see how he takes the facts he knows–that Jesus has come to save not the people who were working hardest at keeping the law as perfectly as possible, but ordinary sinful commoners, and recognizes from this that keeping the law has nothing to do with pleasing God, but trusting God is what really matters.  His application of reason to build significant explanations of soteriology, ecclesiology, sanctification, eschatology, and more, are all efforts to enable us to understand–because understanding is the foundation for both believing and acting.

A teacher is thus someone who is always explaining, always instructing, always trying to help others understand what it is that he has learned.  It is most valuable when he is explaining scripture, doctrine, Christian life and conduct; it expresses itself through his character in that he is always explaining everything.  Just as we cited Tom Skinner’s comment that he would have been a great used car salesman had he not been an evangelist because he is that kind of person, so, too, the teacher is marked by a seemingly irresistible urge to teach, to explain and clarify and help others understand.  Others often find this annoying because they don’t really want to understand, certainly not at the depth and level that the teacher does–because the teacher is driven to learn, to study, to contemplate, to grasp everything as completely, thoroughly, and deeply as possible, and (because we all suppose that everyone is more like us than otherwise) assumes that the student has the same hunger.  Teachers thus want to know, and try to explain, everything in much greater depth and detail than anyone really “needs” to know.

Yet that depth and breadth of knowledge is important within the church.  It is easy for congregations to wander into error simply from failure to understand simple truths–the basic understanding of how the gospel frees us from the law without making us immoral scoflaws; the importance of the concepts of tithing and Sabbath-keeping as they point us to God’s total ownership of all our money and time; the types of ministry within the church, what each accomplishes and how they work together.  What teachers bring to the church is essential.

As mentioned, teachers are focused on truths and facts and explanations, not on people.  We can seem a very uncaring bunch, not because we don’t care but because our concerns are more about whether you understand than anything else.  A teacher presented with someone with a problem will answer with teaching, answers to theological questions, expositions of scripture.  If he remembers to pray with the person, his prayer will probably reflect a belief that understanding these truths will solve the problem.  That is sometimes the case–the prayers in Paul’s letters are nearly always on the order of “God, may my readers understand the truths I am about to explain to them”–and there is a degree to which God brings people to that minister best able to help them.  Such explanations are often the answer to difficult problems, particularly when someone is hearing questionable claims or struggling with challenging issues.  At the same time, such teaching does not replace pastoral ministry:  learning about God and the message is important, but learning to live in relationship with God is not gained by absorbing facts and doctrines, even when such teaching is pointing in the right direction.  One of the truths I had to learn very early in my ministry was that the closeness to God and divine warmth I observed in some of my fellow students was not the result of some truth they had learned, but of time spent in prayer and meditation, communing with God.  Teaching is of great value to the students, but we confuse knowledge with relationship, and we teachers are partly to blame for that.

I observe with my own music that I am often incorporating lessons into the songs, from apologetics to instruction in Christian life and truth.  Songs which answer the questions about being Christian are the heart of the teaching music ministry.  They can be used as introductions to spoken lessons, but can also take advantage of that aspect of music we noted for both the evangelist and the pastor, that people will learn the songs and sing them, reinforcing the lesson long after the concert has ended.  If you leave one of my concerts singing “Lord, you’ve got me convinced”, or “Passing through the portal to the new world”, or “And I’ll trust Him again”, or “How can they hear if we don’t tell them?”, you’ve carried the lesson with you.  That’s the objective.

That completes our consideration of the five ministries identified in Ephesians 4.  The series will continue with some consideration of other ways of serving God that may use music but do not seem to fit these categories.


Last entry in the series: Miscellaneous Music Ministries

#103: Music Ministry of the Pastor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #103, on the subject of Music Ministry of the Pastor.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  We now come to the pastor, fourth on the list.  We previously addressed the question of why pastor and teacher are linked as they are in the text, and suggested that it is not because they are the same ministry but because they ascend to importance in the local church together.

The word pastor is problematic.  It appears to have been imported from the French directly, and given a meaning drawn from its Latin roots, although there is some indication that it once meant shepherd in English (as it originally did in Latin and French).  We use the word because we have imbued the office with theological significance which is not captured by the literal translation:  the Greek word for which it stands is the ordinary word for a shepherd, and any theological meaning it has comes from its metaphoric attachment to this ministry.  Unfortunately, there are reasons why we cannot easily replace pastor with the literal word shepherd.  First, it has become in some sense the title for a particular category of ministry (although it is abused, covering some persons who are not and not covering some who are spiritual shepherds).  Second, the concept of “shepherding” fell into disrepute in the last third of the previous century from its use in some rather authoritarian hierarchical church structures.  Third, the Middle Eastern method of shepherding is very different from the European approach which dominates our understanding.  We thus have to understand the image to understand the metaphor.


Shepherds in Europe, the Americas, and Australia tend to drive sheep.  This is relatively easy, and you can hire anyone to do it.  The trick is to get behind the sheep and frighten them into fleeing in the direction you want them to go.  Dogs are easily trained to assist this, because sheep are terrified of dogs, and while the dogs can be trained to protect the sheep, the job of herding sheep involves making them frightened enough to move away from the dogs.  The Bible, however, speaks of shepherds leading sheep, and explains that the shepherd has a relationship with his sheep:  he calls, and they follow him.  This is not some fantasy Jesus created; this is the way shepherds manage their sheep in the Middle East.  I am told that they will gather around watering holes such that hundreds or even thousands of sheep are mingling, trying to get water, and then one of the shepherds will start to walk away and will give his call, and all of his sheep will separate themselves from the mass and follow him.  It is his job to lead them to food and water, and to the shelter which protects against predators.  He does this by making them feel safe and secure, and because they know that he will care for them, they follow him.

Peter, as we mentioned, is the only person in the New Testament connected by name to the office of shepherd or pastor.  He uses it of himself in his first letter.  More significantly, in John 21, Jesus charges him with commands that are very much those given to a shepherd:  “Tend my lambs….Shepherd my sheep….Tend my sheep.” (Updated New American Standard Bible).  This is what a shepherd–a pastor–does.

Peter is unfortunately not a very clear example, because he is also an apostle, and much of what we see him do is based on that ministry.  Yet what we see in his letters and in the directives Jesus gave him seems reasonably clear:  pastors care for people; this means they care about people.  People matter to them, and they are nurturers.

I use to have a lot of trouble listening to pastors preach, because their exegesis was often shoddy and their statements often questionable.  It wasn’t until I came to understand that pastors are not teachers that I recognized why the standards I applied to teaching the Word were not appropriate for pastors.  When a pastor preaches, it is not his primary job to convey understanding or information, to deliver doctrine or explain mysteries.  Peter does none of that in his letters.  The pastor is there to make sure that the sheep are safe and growing.  It is about their lives, the love they have for each other, the way they live and interact, the choices they make.  Pastors are there to lead believers closer to God.  We make the mistake of thinking that feeding the sheep is about teaching truths, but that is a very small part of it.  It is truth, not truths, that sheep most need.  They need direction, someone to show them how to get closer to God and to each other.

With this understanding of the pastoral ministry, it becomes obvious that those musicians we call “worship leaders” are actually exercising pastoral ministry:  in leading people in worship, they are drawing us closer to God.  Again, as with the evangelist, part of the value of music in this is that aspect that we easily learn and often repeat songs that are simple enough for us to handle.  Thus in teaching us worship songs and leading us in worship, these pastors are also teaching us to worship, and how to worship, when we are away from the group.

Pastoral ministry also involves bringing us together in love, getting us to embrace each other and live and work together and build each other in faith and love; and it involves encouraging us to reach beyond ourselves, both individually and collectively, that is, that I would reach out to those around me but also that we would reach out to those outside the faith.  These are the ministry objectives of pastors, to show us how to live Christian lives and enable us to do this.  For the pastor, people are the most important thing, and pastors are driven to work with people individually and collectively to profit and edify through relationships with God, each other, and those beyond.

That leaves us with the teacher.


Next in the series: The Teacher Music Ministry

#102: Music and the Evangelist Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #102, on the subject of Music and the Evangelist Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry.  That brings us to the third ministry on the list, the evangelist.

In one sense we significantly covered the evangelist when we examined the ministry of the apostle, as we needed to distinguish the two ministries.  We looked at Philip the Evangelist, the only person in the New Testament to be identified specifically as an evangelist, and recognized that wherever he went he preached or explained the gospel message and brought people to faith in Christ (but did not, we noted, found any churches).  Yet we also commented that in the nineteen seventies nearly all Christian music was connected to evangelism, to the degree that it was generally assumed that if you were a Christian and a musician you were an evangelist.  That is not so, as this series has already observed, but it is at least interesting that it was then thought to be so.

The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham
The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham

It is interesting because that was a time of revival–we called it “The Jesus Movement”, and the many converts became known as “Jesus People”.  Concerts grew into festivals–the first Woodstock-like Christian gatherings occurred at that time and are still held today largely because they have become a tradition (they did not exist before that).  The ministry of the evangelist is closely tied to revivals.  George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards are all remembered as evangelists in the First Great Awakening; Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher are leading names from the Second Great Awakening; D. L. Moody is connected to a time of revival some call the Third Great Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was marked by a huge number of evangelists preaching on streets, in coffeehouses, at outdoor concerts, and elsewhere.

We do not have that today.

Some would say that we do not have revival at present because we do not have enough evangelists, or enough people doing evangelism.  There are groups trying to train believers to be evangelists.  This is wonderful, of course, as everyone needs to be able to share the faith with others; but you can no more be taught to be an evangelist than you can be taught to be female.  As we noted, Christ gives to the church people who are the gifts, the ministers, among whom are evangelists, evangelists since before they were born given as gifts to the church.  Thus arguably it is not that we do not have revival because of a lack of evangelists, but that we do not have evangelists because this is not a time of revival.

That does not mean there are no evangelists.  God always has people calling others to salvation, some of whom are specially given for that purpose.  However, revivals are special times–Dr. J. Edwin Orr has identified them as “God’s periods of recruitment”, and a significant number of those who are in church ministry today accepted Christ in that revival.  Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Dick Halverson, and a host of others who were leaders in the church then became believers in the previous revival.

It also does not mean that there are not evangelists growing up among us right now.  After all, those of us who were in our teens and twenties in the seventies are in our fifties and sixties now, and God is going to need a new crop of leaders and believers.  It will be in His timing, and He has been known to skip a generation or two, but He will not allow faith to vanish from the world.  Revival will come, and the number of evangelists will explode anew as the message is brought to the lost once again.

To the evangelist, Jesus is the answer to every problem.  It is a simple gospel, a simple message, that whatever the problem is, Jesus is the answer–absolutely true, but often overly simplistic when dealing with human problems.  That is why there are other ministries besides the evangelist, because believers need the nurturing of pastors and teachers to help unravel how Jesus is the answer to all the problems.  The focus for the evangelist, though, is always on Jesus, pointing people to Him as the solution.

The Booths used music in their evangelism, having brass bands and singers attract crowds on the streets by singing revival hymns, creating a “Salvation Army”.  Music was used much that way in the Jesus Movement, as something of a billboard to attract the attention of people who needed to hear the message–and the message was preached, but it was also sung.  In the preface to his book Inventing Champagne:  The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, music historian Gene Lees comments that music is an incredibly effective form of advertising because people voluntarily memorize the words and repeat them.  Getting the gospel message into music that people will want to hear and sing is a significant part of the evangelist’s music ministry–and many of the musicians and bands of the early Jesus Movement did that extremely well.  The modern musical evangelist has a solid collection of examples from that era, some of whom continued ministering for decades thereafter.  Learn from them.

Which brings us next to the pastor.


Next in the series: Music Ministry of the Pastor

#101: Prophetic Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #101, on the subject of Prophetic Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries last time with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle.

The ministry of the prophet in the New Testament church is much more difficult to assess, for several reasons.

  1. There are Old Testament prophets under the Old Covenant, and we do not know to what degree New Testament prophets under the New Covenant are distinct from them;
  2. There are at least two persons in the Gospels identified as prophets–John the Baptist and Anna–and because their ministries are entirely prior to the resurrection and ascension we do not know whether they are Old Covenant prophets or New Covenant prophets;
  3. There is also a “gift of prophecy” identified in the New Testament, and we do not know whether having that gift and being a prophet are the same thing or different things;
  4. On at least one occasion in the New Testament we are told that someone who was definitely not a believer in Christ prophesied, when the High Priest Caiaphas said that it was best for one man to die for the nation.

All of this adds up to a complicated collection of information about prophets.

On the other hand, there are more than half a dozen prophets identified within the New Testament church, including several leaders of the church at Antioch, the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist, and a pair named Silas and Judas.  Of these last two, we are told that because they were prophets they encouraged the believers in the gentile churches they were visiting, but little more.  There is only one person in the New Testament identified for us as a prophet about whom we are told anything significant concerning his ministry.  He appears twice in the Book of Acts, and his name is Agabus.

The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron
The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron

The very word prophet means “foreteller” that is, “saying in advance”, the English being drawn directly from the Greek.  For a lot of reasons, we don’t like the idea that God lets some of us know the future, particularly as that seems so useful and most of us are unable to do it.  Thus some argue that there are no longer prophets in the church because they are no longer needed, and some argue that it is not foretelling but “forthtelling” that matters, that every preacher declaring the message of God from the Bible is acting in the role of a prophet.  These, though, do not fit with the ministry we see of Agabus.

We might describe Agabus’ first appearance as a minor mention of a major role:  he warns the church of an impending famine in Acts 11:28.  It was because of this warning that the Christians in Antioch (where Agabus was at that time) started collecting resources for the Christians in Judea, ultimately delivered by Barnabas and Paul.  Thus it appears that in this specific instance, the ministry of the prophet involved announcing a future event for which the hearers would want to prepare themselves.

His second appearance is sort of the reverse, a major part in a minor role.  In Acts 21:10ff he visits Caesarea to see Paul, and rather dramatically (literally dramatically:  he takes Paul’s belt and uses it as a prop in a show) announces that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem is going to result in his arrest.  Once again it appears that the prophet is telling someone what is going to happen.

This, though, proves to be rather intriguing.  All of Paul’s companions in Caesarea immediately start begging him not to go, but he responds that he was quite prepared for this, seemingly already knowing what was going to happen.  In any case, he is not in the least surprised.  It seems that the message was news for Paul’s companions, but it was only confirmation for him:  he knew he was headed into trouble.

The chapter on Guidance in What Does God Expect? and my web page on Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance go into some detail explaining why Paul needed that confirmation.  The point for us is that the ministry of the prophet, as we see it in action in the New Testament, appears to be that of alerting believers to trouble on the road ahead so that we can prepare, or be prepared, for what is coming.

There is one other aspect that might be part of the prophetic ministry.  In Acts 13:1ff we are told that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch, among whom were Barnabas, Saul, and three others.  We are told that this group heard the Holy Spirit tell them that it was time to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they had already been called, which was the beginning of their apostolic ministry.  It seems likely that it is part of the prophetic ministry to provide guidance to other ministries, concerning when to take significant steps, possibly what steps to take next.  I have heard enough stories and had enough personal experience to believe that this happens, that God has some in the church who are given messages helping others be certain of God’s direction for them, often without themselves understanding the meaning of the message.  This prophetic ministry keeps us moving in the right direction.

It is also significant that it is second on the list, because it contributes greatly to enabling the congregation to identify the ministers among them, as well as preparing us for struggles ahead.

How does a prophet integrate music into his ministry?  I face this question with some reservations.  I have only twice knowingly spoken with prophets, and they were not musicians and we did not discuss their ministries.  A prophet with musical gifts might well align himself with another minister with musical gifts–it seems likely that Barnabas was a prophet and Paul a teacher (both were apostles), and that Paul did most of the talking because he was in some sense the frontman of the ministry.  That is admittedly guesswork based on the facts that both appear on that list of “prophets and teachers” and Paul is known to be a teacher but not a prophet which increases the probability that Barnabas was one of the prophets in the group; and when they were in Lystra together the locals observed that Paul was the speaker and Barnabas the leader.  There are those who only speak when they have something to say, and one might expect prophets to be of that sort.

At the same time, there is a phenomenon which might be part of the music ministry of a prophet.  I have only once spontaneously sung an entirely new song at a gathering.  I do not mean improvised something on the spot, but realized that there was a song I needed to sing that neither I nor anyone else had ever sung before, and did so.  I might expect that to be part of a prophet’s music ministry, as the Lord gives him a word couched in a melody with an accompanyment.  On the other hand, I don’t know that this would necessarily be part of such a ministry, or necessarily mark such a ministry as prophetic.  I am not a prophet and the song was not prophetic; yet I can see how God would use such songs to deliver unique messages to specific persons or groups.

The third ministry is the evangelist, which we will tackle next.


Next in series: Music and the Evangelist Ministry