Friday, April 24, 2009

No Longer Agnostic

"If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?"
Psalm 11:3

I was wrong. I repent. And I'm truly sorry that I didn't see it before. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my agnosticism and fence-sitting when it comes to the issue of music and worship (here and here). No more. Since then, I have done a lot of reading, studying, listening, and thinking about the subject and come to the conclusion that there are clear biblical principles when it comes to this subject. And perhaps the conclusion that most people will be interested in is that drums have no place in worship. Let me explain.

In the wake of an unfortunate situation that I encountered a little while ago, I started once again studying this topic that, for so long, has had me baffled. Though I have been very uncomfortable with much of what takes place in the name of worship, I couldn't quite place my finger on how to justify such an attitude (and, just to let you know where I'm coming from: I am a person who likes my Casting Crowns and has written a Christian "rock" song or two in my life. I am not someone who had some life-altering "coming to the Lord" experience who is now bitter about my past life). But then a young lady at one of my churches - all of 14 years old - recommended that I read a book on drums, rock, and worship. Someone had sent me this book a little while back and I had never read it.

So I decided to pick it up and give it a read. Some of what the author said was interesting and I could agree with, but there was a lot of it that didn't seem to make sense to me. There were some missing pieces. So I decided to e-mail the author, who I went to Andrews University with, and asked him to clarify some things. In response, he referred me to some presentations he did last year that are a lot more developed than his book. The presentations were given in 2008, while the book was published back in 2002 or 2003.

To put it mildly, his presentations are extremely convincing. And what he shared in them is something that makes all the sense in the world. They totally bring all these things together and I'm not sure why I didn't see it before.

I will summarize what he said in his presentations, but let me just give you a little background - and shout out - to this gentleman. His name is Karl Tsatalbasidis and he is getting his PhD in systematic theology at Andrews University - specifically focusing on this whole issue of worship forms. He is no dummy. He used to be a very accomplished jazz drummer before he came a Seventh-day Adventist. His book, Drums, Rock, and Worship, is available here, and his audio presentations are available here. I would strongly recommend listening to his audio presentations because his ideas are a lot more developed there (though it is not "light listening" for most people). Please note that the first presentation on the web page is the presentation, "If the Foundations are Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do? Part I," and then it moves back from there. In other words, the presentations are listed backwards.

So here is a basic summary of his ideas on this subject, with a few extra insights from yours truly.

1. Worship is a theological issue. This idea is almost anathema to many people, of course. They would like to maintain that worship styles are merely subjective. But this is not the case. The style we use for worship is a reflection of our theology.

2. The way we worship should be informed by the sanctuary and its services. If we do not utilize this as our hermeneutic, then we will be adrift at sea. As Psalm 11:3 asks, "If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?" The Psalmist answers his own question in the very next verse when he says, "The Lord is in His holy temple."

The sanctuary must be foundational when we approach this subject, otherwise we are merely addressing symptoms. This is especially helpful for Seventh-day Adventists, who understand the sanctuary as, according to Ellen White, "a complete system of truth." Thus, the idea of the sanctuary informs all of our theology, how we dress, the attitude we have, how we eat, and, yes, the way we worship. The sanctuary, as I said above (and I will repeat many times more before I die), is foundational to any discussion we have.

And, as more and more people turn their backs on the sanctuary truth, there is less clarity on how we worship. This is not a coincidence. As the sanctuary concept continues to be diminished among our ranks, so, too, will there be a loss of the one thing that can anchor our judgment of what is, and what is not, proper worship styles.

3. When God instructed Moses to build the sanctuary, He showed him a pattern that he was to fashion it after. He showed him not only the dimensions of the sanctuary and its furniture, but also the services that were to be implemented. When David came along and made plans to build the Temple, God told him which instruments were to be utilized in the services. And, when King Hezekiah brought about reform in Israel years later, he reestablished the instruments that were to be used in the Temple service, in accordance with David's instructions. We are told that Hezekiah "set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets" (2 Chronicles 29:25).

In other words, Hezekiah used only those instruments that God instructed David to use in the sanctuary service, and they did not include drums (in those days, the only "drums" that were used at all were timbrels/tambourines). And we must remember that God never does anything arbitrarily. He always has a reason for doing what He does. And if He was very specific in which instruments were to be used in the sanctuary service, there must have been a very good reason behind that.

4. If the earthly sanctuary is merely a copy of the heavenly sanctuary (see Hebrews 8:1-5), we can therefore conclude that these instruments are the instruments that are utilized in the heavenly sanctuary. And no drums are involved. (The question will naturally come up: so are we to use only harps and psalteries, etc.? No, that is not what we are saying. We must search for the principle behind these instruments, and use those ones that stress the same things in our contemporary context. The instruments that God instructed Israel to use stressed melody and harmony, whereas drums stress rhythm - to the diminishing of melody and harmony.)

5. Israel always slid into apostasy and Baal worship when they turned their back on God's sanctuary (see 1 Kings 12:26-28 as an example). Reform always came when they cleansed the sanctuary and re-introduced the worship of God the way He designed. The same holds true for us. When we turn our backs on the sanctuary - which is happening to a great degree today - then we lose our context for proper worship. It is only when we go with Christ into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary that we can find a foundation for our worship.

It is little wonder, then, that as many of our young people within Adventism have no idea what the sanctuary doctrine is all about, they are not able to determine - or even care about - an objective criteria by which to judge worship styles.

6. Platonic philosophy has us, whether we recognize it or not, buying into the idea that heaven is not a spaciotemporal place (meaning it is not comprised of time and space), and that God, Himself, is spaceless and timeless. Thus, any spaciotemporal representations on earth of heavenly realities are culturally conditioned. So there is no real sanctuary in heaven, and there was no real, literal pattern of worship that God has shown (and any talk of there being stringed instruments, etc., in the heavenly sanctuary is folly in their mind). Moses and David were merely expressing these timeless realities in the way that their culture could facilitate. (This idea that God is timeless will also creep into our views on the Sabbath, by the way. Because, if God and heaven are timeless, why is it important if we keep a specific day?)

So anything that they set up in the Old Testament as a representation of the way to worship is peculiar to their culture, and is not binding upon us. We are allowed to worship God in whatever way our culture allows, because this is how we express these spaceless and timeless realities.

7. The only occasions that timbrels were used in the Old Testament was when Israel was victorious in war (this is true about dancing as well). They were never used in worship or in the sanctuary service. And, though Christ has certainly paid the price for our victory and won the battle on the cross, the war is not over yet. The conflict between Christ and Satan still continues. And so why should we be celebrating as if God has beaten Satan?

I raised this point this past weekend when I was in Arkansas, and a lady responded by saying, "Yes, but Christ has won the victory for me. He won salvation for me on Calvary. The atonement is complete. And that makes me want to just raise my hands and my voice in gratitude and thanksgiving to Him." But I like to think of it this way: if you fell off a pier into some dangerous waters, and someone jumped in to save you, and he was able to help you out, but he was still in the water, would you go all out and hold a victory celebration, or take great concern for the fact that he was still endangered in the crashing waters? You would, no doubt, be grateful that you have been saved, but you would also be terribly concerned that he now needs to get out of the water.

And this is the reality of our current situation. Christ has saved us, yes, but the Great Controversy with Satan still continues. He still needs to get out of the "water," in some ways. And this concept, by the way, only really works for those who have an understanding of this Great Controversy, and an understanding that Christ could, in fact, lose. (In light of this, Tsatalbasidis asks if we are going to watch and pray, or dance and play. Most of us want to do the latter, ignoring the fact that God is "in the dock," as C. S. Lewis says.)

It also fits in with our understanding of the antitypical Day of Atonement, which finds its explanation in the truth of the sanctuary. We are living in that Day of Atonement, which was a time of incredible solemness, humility, and concern for the work of the High Priest. Christ is in the Most Holy Place right now, trying to finish His work of atonement. Only after it is over and we are in the Feast of Tabernacles (which followed the Day of Atonement in the yearly Hebrew calendar) can we celebrate.

8. God is not arbitrary when it comes to choosing the instruments for worshiping Him. It is in our best interest to follow His instructions. And God's last day people are identified as those who "keep the commandments of God" (see Revelation 14:12). This includes doing our best to follow natural law, and the drum set, for one, is a polyrhythmic instrument that contradicts the body's natural rhythms.

Now, unfortunately, most people will not understand all of these points, or agree with them. And this goes back, for the most part, to the fact that they do not understand the sanctuary and its implications. And they think that there is far too much thought and theology that has gone into this. Can't we just worship God in whatever way we want to, and not put so much thought into it? It is almost heretical to stand in judgment of someone's worship style.

But doesn't God ask us to come and reason with Him? And didn't He tell His people to worship Him in a very specific way (Cain and Abel comes to mind)? He wasn't being merely arbitrary when He did this, either. It was for our own good. He wants to protect us from spiritualism, emotionalism, and fanaticism.

Thus, shouldn't we have good, biblical reasons for doing what we do? Is the attitude that it "feels good" or "sounds nice" the best criteria for determining whether a particular type of music or worship is acceptable or not?

There are other ideas that Tsatalbasidis addressed in his presentations, but these are the main points, as I understand them. There are naturally questions about the details that come up, and he doesn't claim to have all the answers. But I think what he has shared is very foundational to any discussion on these issues and provides a very good framework for the topic.

For me, the bottom line is that confusion about worship has arisen because we have turned our backs on the sanctuary. And when that happens, anything and everything goes.


Chad Stuart said...

Love most your stuff, and I love that you are willing to confront tough issues! There seem to be large gaps though...from some of those points to no drums, seems like an illogical leap, that you usually don't make. My personal preference in worship is Hymns with Piano and strong voices, so I am not disagreeing on preference. Just I see absolutely no clear, "thus saith the Lord" on drums. Also your point on "keep the commandments of God" if we stretch this to the "natural order of things" as you say then how far can a person take that? Seems to again be a leap that the text does not support, nor does the context or sub context support. Also if we are going to copy the stamp of the sanctuary so much and point out that drums were never in the sanctuary and deduce this is because God is against them, what do we do with women who were not allowed in the sanctuary ceremony. What about the role of women in ministry? Just some thoughts. Continue to challenge us and have a great Sabbath!

Shawn Brace said...


Just a quick thought before I head to bed:

Thanks for your reflections. I agree that there are some questions that do come up in this discussion. I actually had a whole long list of questions that I e-mailed Tsatalbasidis, but I have not yet heard back from him (I was, for the most part, summarizing what he shares in those presentations, though I do agree with him on much of it. I do think there needs to be some fine-tuning - no pun intended - to the points, though).

I think, overall, the last point about God's last-day people keeping the commandments of God was the weakest point for me as well. I understand where he is coming from, but I think it is a BIT of a stretch. But that's one of the things I asked him to clarify.

Your point about women in ministry opens up a whole other can of worms, of course, but this is another topic I am agnostic about for the time being! But you raise a good point that I never considered before!

Shawn Brace said...

One more thing on the "thus saith the Lord" and drums: I think it would be good to compare the stories in 2 Samuel 6 (noticing especially verse 5) and 1 Chronicles 15 (noticing especially verses 13 & 16). These are the stories of when David brought the Ark to Jerusalem.

In story one, David is careless and uses "timbrels" as a part of the processional. For whatever reason, Uzza reaches out and touches the ark and he is zapped.

In story two, we are told that David, in his previous attempt, did not "consult God" about the "proper order" of handling the ark. This time, the same instruments are used, with the exception of timbrels. They are not utilized this time, and everything goes fine.

Obviously, God did not want the timbrels to be used while they were handling the ark (did it influence Uzza's decision-making?).

This is, at best, an inference, but I think that it is more than a coincidence that timbrels were used in the first story, and bad things happened, and they were not used in the second story after David decided to follow the Lord's instructions.

Anyway, just a thought (and one that has been pointed out to me in the past, though I was not "buying" it then, but I now think is a valid conclusion).

derrick said...


While I remain an agnostic about music, I tend to share your basic concerns and conclusions. I do have a few concerns about the sanctuary angle.

First, if God has revealed his preference in worship through the sanctuary then it does not seem to me that we are free to alter the musical instruments that He commanded. It will not do to stress God's revealed will in a matter and then appeal to a man-discovered "principle" to avoid an inconvenient specific. (Isn't the piano a percussion instrument, no different in principle from a drum?)

Second, the attempt to pattern our worship on the sanctuary will lead us into a place that we do not wish to go. Rome has already been down that path many long centuries before us. Sanctuary worship is built upon the concepts of priesthood and sacrifice. Related is the idea of a strictly controlled liturgy with minimal participant involvement. Rome offers these things, are we ready to as well? After all, didn't Ellen White say, "Consistency, thou art a jewel"?

Third, the New Testament model for worship appears to be the synagogue, not the sanctuary. Paul's mention of hymns and spiritual songs alongside of psalms suggests that he did not have the sanctuary in mind as only psalms were used in the sanctuary liturgy. The New Testament is God's word to us as well.

I share your appreciation of the sanctuary and your concern to worship God in His way instead of ours, but I think we hurt our cause by inconsistently applying Biblical principles and arguments. So until I see consistency in a position I will remain cheerfully agnostic.

Yours in Christ,

Thomas Luttrell said...

Hi Shawn,
How are you? I'm so glad that you are continuously being active in ministry. I'm sure God is blessing your work. Keep it up.

Thanks for your efforts in bridging the divide on the music wars. I agree with most of your principles, and I appreciate you focusing on the underlying principles behind the arguments. I just have some thoughts I wanted to share.

My first question is based on epistemology, as you have suggested. You said that worship songs should have theological and doctrinal depth, but isn't this also an assumption? On what basis do you make this statement? Couldn't it be argued that music is music, not necessary for communication theology? Otherwise, are we saying that non-lyrical music is not allowed in worship because it is not communicating doctrinal or theological truths?

I also question the belief that the sanctuary service is the FOUNDATION of worship. I thought it was the sacrifice that was symbolic of Jesus' death that was the foundation of worship (essentially remembering his death for our salvation). First, the sanctuary service existed for a limited timeframe: not until the Exodus and not since the time of Christ. Also, the synogogue services which our church services are patterned after and which Jesus himself attended, are nothing like the sanctuary services. There was no preaching at the sanctuary. Similarly, we don't sacrifice lambs today at church.

I agree that the sanctuary doctrine is critical to the SDA belief system and is very important, but I don't buy the argument that it is the foundation of our worship. I believe the death of Jesus and his grace is.

You said, "We must search for the principle behind these instruments, and use those ones that stress the same things in our contemporary context. The instruments that God instructed Israel to use stressed melody and harmony, whereas drums stress rhythm--to the diminishing of melody and harmony.

Unfortunately, this principle does not line up as nicely as you would like because Hezekiah includes cymbals which actually do stress rhythm since they are percussion instruments.

About Hezekiah's command, there's 2 problems with this argument. First, 2 Chronicles 29 includes cymbals to be included in the worship of the Lord. Cymbals are one of the few percussion instruments known in the Bible. If we are to go by the literal application of the passage, then we can only use harps and trumpets at church. If we are to go on the "principle" of this passage as you suggest, then we should allow drums in the sanctuary worship. Either way, we fail to rule out drums.

The second problem with using the passage in 2 Chronicles 29 is that Hezekiah does NOT say to use "only" these instruments. Instead, these instruments might have been what was available. It just says that he commanded them to use the "instruments of David" which could have included just about anything, particularly since David himself used loud clashing cymbals and timbrels, also percussion instruments, along with dance in the praise of God (Psalm 150:3-6).

I think the ultimate irony is that this issue was raised at an evangelistic convention. For me, as I'm sure you can relate, is that oftentimes we get sidetracked on these debates when our first and foremost priority should be reaching the lost. All of these trivial matters fall aside when we realize that there are people who are starving to hear about Jesus.

For me, I do feel that if people are coming to Jesus through contemporary music, then let's judge it by the fruit as Jesus says. You imply an assumption that only lifelong Adventists listen to contemporary Christian music, and yet I hear almost every week about people who come to Jesus through this music. If people's lives are being changed, then how can I pass judgment against it?

I do agree with many of the points you make, particularly about how we shouldn't let these kinds of issues divide us and that we shouldn't be stumbling blocks. Even though I love this kind of music, I'm not going to push it on people who object, and I do get upset when I hear loud banging drums that will make my heart explode at church, or when the guitars are so loud that I can't hear myself sing. What's the point of all that except to glorify the singers?

I appreciate the effort to focus on principles and try to get both sides of the debate to sit down and listen to each other. Let's continue that effort!

Thomas Luttrell said...

Another thought...

Speaking of evangelism, I think its sad whenever church people think that the solution to evangelism is to change our worship styles! Actually, I once thought that too when I was a teenager and the sad thing is that I still hear it from time to time. But I'm shocked that an evangelism conference seems to put so much emphasis on music. How can we be so foolish?!? I love Christian rock and all, but I've learned that non-Christians are not that shallow to decide to come to church because of music. While I do believe a lot of Christian contemporary music has led people to Christ, being led to organized religion is another matter. According to Thom Rainer's research on "Surprising Insights from the Unchurched" the deciding factors for a growing church has more to do with Bible teaching and preaching and the genuineness of people's love demonstrated through changed lifestyles and service, rather than worship style! When I was in Mongolia, we were amazed that people had never heard of Jesus. It put our trivial debates over music in perspective. Why should we let controversy over music styles stop us from reaching the lost? While I love Christian rock and think it is Biblically acceptable form of worship, I don't think it does me or the church any good to push a particular style of worship on people, especially when the research shows that it doesn't matter to the unchurched. Getting bogged down in trivial debates only shows that we've lost sight of our mission. The best way to move beyond what divides us is to focus on what unites us: fulfilling our great commission, sharing God's love and grace and the message of the three angels of Revelation 14. It only pleases the devil whenever the church loses sight of its mission.

gail said...

Hi Shawn: I enjoy reading your posts. Do you know Pastor Ivor Myers? He has an interesting background in music. Part of a rock group, on a record label, etc. He will be presenting a workshop at the Glad Tidings national conference this summer at AU. It is titled, The Sonic Warfare. Hopefully, it will bring more enlightenment for those of us who wish to understand the Lord's will in this area. I encourage you!

Vasthi said...


Thank you again for the great discussion. I cannot comment on the fine points of the Sanctuary discussion as my knowledge in the theological field is very limited and would never even attempt it. However, I want to make a couple of observations about some of the comments posted (in no particular order)

1) Piano is (and I will quote)a "hybrid"--a combination of two types. It's a string instrument because the musical tones originate in the strings; and it's also a percussion instrument, because the strings are set into vibration by being struck with hammers. To be historically correct, it's classified as a "keyed zither".

2) A drummer is a percussionist, but a percussionist is not necessarily a drummer. Percussion instruments also include xylophones, bells, etc. So we should not assume that because drums or tambourines were not prescribed as sanctuary instruments, all percussion instruments are not accepted.

3) The Cymbals of the Bible were small copper plates struck together during temple worship to mark the chapters when the Psalms were sung. Nothing like our Cymbals or hi-hats and by no means, instruments used for the expression of melody/music during worship.

I realize that in the big picture these things are insignificant, however, getting the definitions correct may may aid in the discussion.

Happy Sabbath!


Mark K said...

Although I'm leaving a url to my church, I make no representation to speak for it... Just me.

As I read through part of the presentation, I was struck by the truth of the importance of the Sanctuary services and the doctrines of it. But the Sanctuary services were all about education. They prototyped the plan of Salvation to an illiterate nation. I believe the instruments chosen, not chosen, and many other things had cultural implications we're not aware of today. And now, having lived in a time when the full Sanctuary message has been portrayed in real life, I ponder if modelling worship after its form, but not its function makes any sense. We now have Christ's death as a historical fact, not as a future event. We have literate members who can and do understand the relationships portrayed in the Sanctuary services concerning sin, guilt, Christ, death, and so on. It seems we're missing the point if we assume that the musical instruments matter, but that the songs chosen don't, nor the shape of the building, nor its constructed materials. Either the prototype is to be followed... Or it isn't.

This, then, is not to argue drums vs no drums - or anything else. But to respond that I fail to find your position consistent. If we need to make our worship follow one aspect of Israel's Sanctuary service, how, exactly, are we able to choose which aspect, and only that aspect?

What, precisely, makes the Sanctuary services of OT the model, and not the Upper Room fellowship? Or even the Road to Emmaus?

Lest you think I am being overly critical, I'm not. I read much of your commentary about music, and have passed on your blog's entries to relevant people who are engaged in our worship services's music choices and implementation because I think it is incredibly important. I deeply appreciate your thoughts and dedication on the issues you write about.

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you all for your thoughts! I have been mulling them over for the last few days but am now just getting a chance to respond. And I'm glad I waited. I just happened to be reading from the book of Psalms this morning for my devotional time, and I came across this wonderful tidbit from the pen of Asaph – a worship leader in David's day whose music Hezekiah restored when he reformed Israel (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). Notice what Asaph says, “Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary” (Psalm 77:13). Could it be any plainer? If we want to know God's ways and what He desires, it would be well for us to look at the sanctuary.

This is why Ellen White tells us, as I quoted in the post, that the sanctuary is a “complete system of truth.” Until we recognize this, we will not have a proper hermeneutic to address these “worship wars.”

Now, let me try to address some other specific issues you all raised.

1.The overwhelming sense I got from a few of the responses is that it is problematic to appeal to the instruments used in the sanctuary and translate that into our current context, but ignore the other components of the sanctuary and its services. Derrick said that we cannot simply utilize “man-made principles” when it is convenient for us to do so.

While I agree that we cannot pick-and-choose which aspects of the sanctuary we will follow, and which ones we will not, I am not sure that what I am saying implies this. Obviously, the earthly sanctuary is obsolete, and to model our worship after it in detail is not what we're calling for (besides, there were differences in the details between the mosaic sanctuary and the Solomonic temple, anyway, so it is obvious that we cannot make an apples-to-apples determination about which specifics we are to follow). However, there is a heavenly sanctuary, which the earthly ones were a copy of, and we must look to it to figure out how we are to worship.

Someone rightly mentioned that the earthly sanctuary pointed forward to a future event. But this does not preclude it from still informing us today. For example, we can look at the various pieces of furniture in the sanctuary and glean insights from those items that are still relevant for us today. Does this mean that we should set up a table of shewbread today? Of course not! But we can gain valuable insights from pondering these items (I would recommend reading The Cross and Its Shadow by S.N. Haskell for some valuable insights into these object lessons, if anyone is interested).

At the same time, we can look at the Day of Atonement experience of the Israelites and determine how this is to be fulfilled in us today - as we live in the grand antitypical Day of Atonement.

The same is true when it comes to doxology. Many of these other things in the sanctuary relate to soteriology – those things dealing with salvation. However, the truth of the sanctuary teaches us about doxology as well – how we are to worship. And if Asaph, that great Davidic musician, tells us that God's ways are “in the sanctuary,” do you not think that we should look at the sanctuary to find what God's way is to worship and do music? Though methods of soteriology might change between the Old Testament and the New Testament, does this necessarily imply that doxology (the way we worship) changes?

And the question becomes: if God's “way” of worship is presented in the sanctuary, what is He trying to teach us about the way He designed music in the Old Testament? In other words, what is He trying to tell us by the instruments that were used in the sanctuary service? Wouldn't you agree that this is, at least, a fair question to ask?

As I mentioned in the post, I am of the opinion that God never does anything arbitrarily. He always has a reason for doing what He does. So if I come to the instruments that were used in the sanctuary/temple in the Old Testament, I should be asking why He instructed, “by His prophets” (2 Chronicles 29:25) certain instruments to be used. You and I may disagree on the conclusion of such a study, but shouldn't we at least be asking the question – what is God trying to teach us?

Now, when it is all said and done with, I am still comfortable with the conclusion that God was trying to share with Israel the type of worship and music He desired (and still desires). It appears as though He selected instruments that brought out melody and harmony, rather than rhythm – as drums do. And if this seems to be the case, what does that tell me about the way I should worship today?

2.Derrick, I also agree that the New Testament should contribute to our understanding of worship as well. I have no problem with that. But where does it say that only “psalms” were used in the sanctuary liturgy? In fact, the Greek words that Paul employs in Colossians for “hymns” and “spiritual songs” are used in the Septuagint numerous times, including the book of Psalms, itself. For example, the word “song” (ode) is used 44x in Psalms (see Psalm 18:1; 30:1, etc.), while the word for “hymn” (humnos) is used 13x in the the book. So I'm not sure what you were getting at there. And, even if they never had “hymns” or “songs” in the Old Testament, I am not sure how Paul would be contradicting what I have said.

And I also appreciate Vashti already clarifying your point about the relation between drums and piano. I was going to essentially bring up the same point, but she has made it better than I can. To propose that a drum and piano are “no different” is a little puzzling in my mind. The piano is a relative of the harpsichord, which is a relative of the harp. Thus, you can clearly see its relation to sanctuary use. (Interestingly, when John sees the heavenly sanctuary in Revelation 4, the only instrument he does identify is the harp – see v. 8. I suppose there could have been a trap set there, but he, for some reason, doesn't mention it.)

And thank you, also, Vashti for sharing your insight about the cymbals. This is an important distinction that often needs to be made.

3.Thomas, thank you also for your thoughts. You, first of all, question my epistemology as to why songs should have theological depth. I will appeal to the passage in Colossians that Derrick did for my epistemological basis: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). Paul says that we are to “teach and admonish” with our songs.

Now, obviously, there are many people who can learn from singing all levels of songs. I am not saying that certain songs should not be sung. I am simply saying that I have exhausted the meaning of “Lord, I Life Your Name on High” after I have sung it a few times. We should then seek to infuse more depth into our songs after we have exhausted certain songs of their theological insight. But, unfortunately, most of us are stuck on these elementary concepts, thinking that our songs should only be about making us feel good, rather than actually learning from them.

And this is why the Bible tells us to sing a “new song” unto the Lord. We should ever be growing in our theological depth, and thus growing in our lyrical depth.

You also question the idea of the sanctuary being our foundation to worship. I think I addressed this in my opening statement. Both Asaph and Ellen White seem to agree that the sanctuary is where we learn the ways of the Lord, and bring all these ideas together. And, while I definitely recognize the foundational importance of the cross – believe me – even the cross finds its explanation in the sanctuary. Without the sanctuary, the cross would not make sense.

It seems to me that you are also questioning the sanctuary in general because it was “after the Exodus” and “before the cross.” However, I think we are all pretty well agreed – I hope – that the heavenly sanctuary has always existed, and will always exist, and the earthly sanctuary was merely pointing to that greater reality. And, at the same time, I do question your point about the sanctuary not existing before the exodus. Many astute scholars recognize the Garden of Eden as a model of the sanctuary as well. And, as I already mentioned, after the cross we are told that our soteriological and doxological attention is turned towards the heavenly sanctuary.

I will say that I agree with you about the unfortunate circumstances that surrounded this discussion. I was disheartened by the fact that “worship” became a distraction from our real purpose there: seeking the lost.

You also want to point to the fruit of Christian contemporary music, and I applaud you in this desire. However, I would see the fruit as being mostly negative, where you would see it as positive. To simply come to church, waive your hands, and sing loudly, does not a Christian make. Does the person bear the fruit of a changed life and heart? Of course, we cannot truly judge this, but neither can we judge it the other way, either.

In fact, I was talking with someone recently about this subject, and she was saying, “If someone is praising the Lord in worship, who am I to judge that they are not truly worshiping God?” I didn't say it, but I wanted to respond, “And who are you to judge whether they are truly worshiping God?” In other words, if we are not free to look at someone and say “They are not worshiping,” we do not have the right to say, “They are worshiping.” It goes both ways.

Thus, merely looking at a person's outward actions in “worship” is not enough to judge the merits of that particular style or type of worship. As Jesus was all too quick to say, “You honor Me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me.”

This is why I think, when it boils right down to it, this whole discussion about worship is silly. Worship is not solely what happens on Sabbath or Sunday morning. Whether we are worshiping Christ is more revealed by whether I am being obedient to Him. This is the true fruit of true worship. That is why I love this quote by Ellen White: “Faithful work is more acceptable to God than the most zealous and thought-to-be-holiest worship. It is working together with Christ that is true worship” (2T, p. 24).

The devil wants nothing more than to fool us into thinking that we must get our way in worship or we are not worshiping God. Our worship is more revealed in what we are doing the other 167 hours of the week than the 1 hour in church – which is why I was greatly amused, and saddened, when I noticed a church in my community recently change its name from having the name “church” in it, to the name “worship center,” as if this is where worship takes place, and nowhere else (of course, the word “church” has its problems as well; but that's a discussion for another day). We have such a narrow definition of worship!

4.Before I close (which is long overdue), let me just respond to Gail and Mark: Gail, yes I have heard of Ivor Myors, but I do not know him personally. I am glad he will be presenting on this topic this summer. I pray that it goes well.

Thank you also, Mark, for sharing your thoughts. I believe that I have answered your questions in my previous responses!

Lastly, I would just encourage everyone to actually listen to those presentations by Karl Tsatalbasidis. I think he, too, would put a lot of these things together as well. Please, please, please listen to them.

Thank you all!

Mark K said...

This is why Ellen White tells us, as I quoted in the post, that the sanctuary is a “complete system of truth.” Until we recognize this, we will not have a proper hermeneutic to address these “worship wars.”
As best I can tell, the temple and its services were the single best description of both the theology and the process of salvation. EVERY aspect of it was designed to teach about the Plan of Salvation, and to remind the observant, that he was in the presence of God. There wasn't a single item, movement, operation, or action that did not contain powerful images that directly portrayed essential truths of the plan of Salvation. There were no idle motions, words, or pointless actions. It was writ large and in stone, as a unified teaching lesson.

While I agree that this definitely contains lessons about worship, it should also contain lessons about the best use of the TIME we use in our "rituals" and celebrations.

I'm not a theologian, nor an academic, and your quoted author quickly raced over my level of theological education. I understand and appreciate that theology should guide our worship. There wasn't any "wasted" items, symolism, or actions in the Sanctuary.

But where I got lost, is when the conclusion that the specific instruments were chosen to please God. No, they were chosen to have specific impact and to make the educational aspects of the Sanctuary more effective. Nothing there was designed to please God's taste in art, it was all designed to improve understanding of the essence of Theology.

We do a great disservice, when we forget to teach the Sanctuary, and continue re-emphasizing it. But I'm totally not understanding how it should should be directly construed to choose our instruments, hymns, music style, or even worship style.

I have worshipped with cultures utterly different from my native culture and found that the form of worship was so alien I hardly recognized it, except for the place, hour, and name of God being used.

Yet, I am absolutely certain that God was worshipped and joined His people as enthusiastically and wholly as would be the case in our most sincere efforts.

Yet, NONE of the instruments used in the Sanctuary services were used. The people would not have known what they were, even.

So, this boils down to: I am simply NOT understanding in the slightest, when we use the Sanctuary services to guide our worship, but we say that the instrument choice must be literal, but the hymn and song choice doesn't need to be, and that the form and function of the meeting does not need to be followed, either. That might make me a bit simple, or unsophisticated, but I simply don't grasp it.

I am simply saying that I have exhausted the meaning of “Lord, I Life Your Name on High” after I have sung it a few times.
Similar in thought to how you've exhausted the meaning of "I love you" to your wife, and after a specific number of renditions, there's no need to ever say it again. Ok, slightly sarcastic answer, but I wanted to make a point that the WHOLE of the Sanctuary services were repeated, in varying intervals, without change. The repetition was for effect, with some of the most solemn being the least repeated.

Of course, I'm not construing any of this to say that I think we should have a rock band on stage in church each Sabbath, and that we should have a carefully theologically chosen small set of songs we repeat for effect.

Rather, that when the discussion about the Piano vs drums vs harp topic came up, we had utterly lost sight of anything relevant to WORSHIP and we're discussing the etymology of musical instruments, as if that conveyed virtue or evil. And I think that is an utterly counterproductive exercise. Not for a student of music, but for a theological truth.

We, in our church, started the discussion, with a leadership Sabbath, where we asked ourselves the question, "What is Worship?" and have proceeded down that road, making both successes and errors.


The most uncomfortable I have ever been listening to music in church, was when our Academy orchestra played classical music during church service. Oh, my, it's a time honored institution - especially at the Walla Walla University Church, but I believe it is completely wrong, as it isn't about God, but about skill, performance, and manipulating the listener. It unnerved me. And I LIKE classical music. Well, some of it.

greenchickadee said...

appreciate your post here Shawn. interesting stuff. i'm an agnostic in many ways to music, but Mark K summed it up well in his bold words above. The sanctuary was never about glorifying it's "parishioners" but about worshipping and giving glory and honor to God. Another key element of the sanctuary was asking forgiveness of sins. This portion seems so easily overlooked in our worship system today. How about post about how you would "redesign" our current way of doing church and create something more akin to the sanctuary service. It's a topic I've been pondering for awhile and I'd love to see others thoughts a nd ideas.

Renee Hernandez said...

I believe music is wonderful!A way for people to creatively express their love and devotion to God with joy. So many emotions can be expressed through music & like anything else in this world music can be used for wrong. But i find such freedom and joyousness & creativity in contemporary worship but then I am a "free spirit" of the flower child generation. Your point of view of standing on the sanctuary as looking to it for music guidelines just doesn't theologically cut it for me Jesus Christ rent the curtain that sanctuary is over. I choose to live by "Whatever is good" what is uplifting... I have been in churches that are so afraid of music and people are so inhibited & uptight they can't loosen up & find the joy in praising God with raised hands & a smile on your face actually I have found in my 25 years of being an SDA that SDA's are a very uptight group of people in general my preference is to err on the side of love always. there are some glimmer of light though in various places it looks like a new church in Atlanta has started up a worship conference this month. So Pastor Brace I would suggest don't be afraid of change embrace what is good you may be surprised at what it does for your own worship & your church.

Shawn Brace said...

Mark: Thanks for your follow up response. Much of what you said I feel like I addressed in my last comments. I would encourage you to go over those again and hopefully they will clarify some of your questions.

In short, I think that when we look at the sanctuary we try to "mine" it for its principles on how to worship. That is what we are getting at. What are the principles that we can glean from the service and how does that inform our worship? The principle that Tsatalbasidis takes out of it - and I would agree - is that the instruments used in the sanctuary emphasize melody and harmony, whereas drums can only emphasize rhythm.

Thus, no one is saying that our worship cannot be varied based on culture! But each culture must work within the boundaries of those principles.

Your point is also well taken about saying "I love you" to your wife. On the other hand, I am also reminded that Jesus warned against using "vain repetitions" when we pray (which is really what worship is - prayer) in Matthew 6.

Greenchickadee: your challenge is very appropriate. Maybe I will some day come up with a positive model of what worship looks like, instead of speaking against the negative! Stay tuned.

I would also just respond to this comment: "The sanctuary was never about glorifying it's 'parishioners' but about worshipping and giving glory and honor to God." That has exactly been my point all along! We get so caught up in how we want to worship, that we forget that it's about God and how He feels honored, praised, and blessed.

Finally, Renee: I am not afraid of change whatsoever! I am not sure how you have come away with that idea. Change is not bad, in and of itself. But even change needs to be pursued within the context of proper boundaries. Thus, not all "progress" is inherently acceptable. If it is divorced from the foundations, then it is not good.

Lastly, let me just, once again, respond to this idea that Renee has mentioned, and has also been prevalent throughout all the comments. That is, the idea that the "veil of the temple" has been torn, and therefore this somehow implies that the sanctuary has no relevance for us today.

Not only does it have relevance, but it is imperative for us today! No, we don't have an earthly sanctuary, but we understand that there is a heavenly sanctuary. This is - and should be - the center of our worship today. It is the reason there is an Seventh-day Adventist Church at all (interestingly, when the early Advent believers were first forming, they were known as the "Sanctuary and Sabbath Adventists"). And if we want to understand how we are to live, worship, and do anything, we need to examine the earthly shadow of the heavenly realm and allow that to inform our behavior.

Not to beat a dead horse, but we must contemplate and seek to understand the sanctuary and all of its implications. If we refuse to do this, then we have no reason to be Seventh-day Adventists.

Phil said...

This post has sparked a discussion between my wife and I and made me realize that I know very little about the sanctuary. Can you suggest any resources for learning more about it? (Online preferably, as we are in Taiwan at the moment.) Thanks!

Shawn Brace said...


Good question! Great question, in fact. Let me offer you a couple of suggestions of where you can go to find out more on the subject. I would say, far and away, the most thorough and yet readable treatment of this subject is a book by Roy Gane entitled Altar Call. It is a lengthier book, but it is fairly readable. It is a very good overview of the sanctuary theme.

Fortunately, the entire book is available online here. (Roy Gane, by the way, teaches Old Testament at the seminary.)

I might also suggest reading some of Richard Davidson's material. Some of it is scholarly, while some of it is for the lay reader. Click here and scroll down to the section on the sanctuary.

Finally, if you are interested, I have also written about this subject in my book, Waiting at the Altar. For the most part, the book is based on the sanctuary motif, and even explicitly explains the idea in a couple of the chapters. You can find the book on or, since you're over seas, I could send you a copy myself (for free, of course). The other option is that I would be happy to e-mail you a pdf version of the book for free as well. Just e-mail me your e-mail address, and I will get it to you! Or, if you want a hard copy of the book, e-mail me your mailing address and hopefully it could get to you in a timely manner!

Blessings to your guy's ministry over there!

Janoto said...

Hi Shawn. If we become Seventh Day Adventist we have to accept one of the 28 doctrines and that is the spirit of prophecy. The spirit of prophecy is very clear in it's book "Final Events" in which it says that the sounds of loud noise and drums in the church at the final days would be confused with the poring of the holy spirit. Also I watched Pr. Ivor Myers presentation and it is clear in the explanation of how the devil has bridged the church with the world through the music. I'm glad to see you stand for God's principles. May God keep blessing your ministry.