John MacArthur's ministry in California has been a blessing to tens of thousands of people across the world, over more than forty years now.
Recordings of his ministry are available through Grace to You, which operates worldwide, and in the UK here. In addition, they give away a phenomenal amount of stuff - almost as if they really believe that getting the gospel out matters much more than profit!
The latest free gift they sent me is a book, 'Truth Endures' - a book presented to MacArthur in February of this year to mark forty years of ministry at Grace Church. It is a collection of his sermons from 40 years, gathered together in one book made to look already old (even down to unevenly cut pages). And among the most fascinating parts of the book is a brief (62 pages) biographical sketch by none other than Iain Murray.
It is, of course, an admiring study - and rightly so. But it isn't hagiographical, and in particular Murray chooses to criticise - critique? comment on? - the music at Grace Church. After showing how MacArthur has stood firm against the charismatic movement, in the Lordship debate and in 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together', he says 'I want to add a measure of regret that MacArthur does not seem to have given fuller attention to an issue connected with all these controversies... The place of music has been central in this change... Has the entire absence of 'anointed musicians' and music directors in the New Testament no relevance?' And he quotes Owen: 'Dislike of the purity and simplicity of the gospel worship is that which was the rise of, and gave increase or progress unto the whole Roman apostasy... Men do not like the plain, unspotted institutions of Christ.' Further, in a footnote, Murray argues that an argument from the richness of worship in the Old Testament 'misses the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit.'
Hmm. Two things. By 'the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit' Murray means, I'm sure, the ushering in of the new dispensation. The old covenant tended, so the argument goes, to focus on the outward: a temple, an ark, priestly garments and the like. And elaborate music goes well with those things. As temple and ark and priestly garments are dispensed with now that the reality has come (see the letter to the Hebrews), so elaborate music is dispensed with, too.
But it's not an argument that holds water, as far as I can see. I understand how Christ fulfilled the priesthood; how he is the perfect sacrifice once for all. I understand that his people are the new temple, and no physical temple is needed. But I cannot for the life of me see how any of Christ's offices - prophet, priest and king - fulfil (and therefore dispense with) Old Testament music.
And the second thing. While I understand it is true that the Reformers (at least on Calvin's side) reacted against the musical pomp of Rome, isn't it possible that they over-reacted? To talk about 'reformed principles of worship' is fine. But if such reformed stalwarts as MacArthur and Piper and Begg and Dever and Keller and Carson are ALL against you - it's likely that the 'reformed principles' are not quite as clear as you think they are - isn't it?For myself, I was taught early in my Christian life that a concentration on music would drive out truth. It was a visit to the Shepherds' Conference in 1994 that changed that. The standard and variety of their music was amazing; but MacArthur still preached for nearly an hour. No way - no way - could you say 'No place for truth' about Grace Church. And Iain Murray, of course, gladly acknowledges it.