Pastor John MacArthur, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is a big name in Reformed Christianity in the USA and worldwide. So what he believes and teaches about Christian rap music, the latest fad to invade evangelical Christianity, has ramifications that go well beyond Grace Community Church. MacArthur is also president of the Master’s College and Seminary and a featured teacher for the Grace to You media ministry. His pulpit ministry has been extended around the globe through his media ministry, Grace to You, and its satellite offices in seven countries. He has also written several bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, Ashamed of the Gospel (1993), Charismatic Chaos (1993) The Gospel According to Jesus (2008), and The Truth War (2010).
Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World
The central point of MacArthur’s book is that the Gospel of Truth is being deeply compromised by introducing worldly ideas and practices into the Church. To illustrate his point MacArthur refers to the Downgrade controversy in the Baptist Union in England during the late 1800’s and the stand taken by Charles Spurgeon, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, against the down-graders. Spurgeon was concerned about ‘false doctrine and worldliness’ that he believed was spreading through the Baptist denomination in Britain. Just as Spurgeon saw the down-grade as moving away from the true gospel of grace, MacArthur sees the modern seeker sensitive churches moving away from a true biblical gospel toward a user-friendly, worldly, flesh based gospel that is pragmatic at best, and deeply compromised at worst.
MacArthur is troubled that the church no longer appears to be concerned about worldliness. He writes in the preface: “Worldliness is rarely mentioned today, much less indentified for what it is. The word itself is beginning to sound quaint. Worldliness is the sin of allowing one’s appetites, ambitions, or conduct to be fashioned according to earthly values. (I John 2:16, 17).
Yet today we have the extraordinary spectacle of church programs designed explicitly to cater to fleshly desire, sensual appetites, and human pride – ‘the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.’ To achieve this worldly appeal, church activities often go beyond the merely frivolous.” (preface, xvii)
MacArthur identifies what he calls a market driven philosophy among evangelicals that teaches churches ‘to couch the truth in ways that amuse and entertain’. His answer is for the church to move toward a biblical philosophy of ministry, as outlined in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Paul reminded Timothy to stand up for the faith with boldness, even if it meant suffering (2 Tim. 1.8)
MacArthur endorses Rap music
Having heard MacArthur’s explanation of worldliness, how do we make sense of Grace Community Church’s invitation to rap artist Lecrae to perform at the 2010 Regeneration Camp, as seen in the video. By this action MacArthur has climbed on board the Christian rap bandwagon, together with John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, and endorsed rap music in the eyes of young people around the world.
Yet perhaps MacArthur’s acceptance of holy hip-hop should not really surprise us, for many years his church has been part of the Christian contemporary music scene. Dr Peter Master’s pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, Spurgeon’s Church, in a review of Young, Restless, Reformed (2008), reminded us of MacArthur’s compromise with worldly, contemporary music that has been a regular feature of the Resolved Conference.
‘Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election.
Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, show business atmosphere created by the organizers.)’
A spirit of discernment
To help Christian believers test all things, God has given to believers the spiritual gift of discernment. Mature Christians, who study and seek to live by the Scriptures, ‘have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil’ (Hebrews 5.15). The apostle Paul prays for believers that their ‘love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God’ (Philippians 1.9-11). Discernment means doing the necessary investigation to distinguish between right and wrong. To be faithful to God, and to live a godly life, all true believers must use spiritual discernment, for to do so enables them to approve excellent things, to avoid sin and to bear the fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11).
The gift of discernment allows Christians to recognize the genuine from the fake, to understand what is of God and what is of the flesh, the world and the devil. We are to embrace wholeheartedly what is inherently genuine and true and to reject every appearance of evil. The Christian mind, transformed by the Holy Spirit, rejects the lusts and passions of the old sinful nature, for in Christ we have a new nature and all things all new.
The significance of Lecrae at Regeneration Conference
There are two plausible explanations for John MacArthur’s invitation to Lecrae to perform at the Regeneration Conference. The first explanation is that MacArthur actually believes that Lecrae’s performance is not of the world but edifying for the church. This would show a lack of spiritual discernment. The second explanation is that MacArthur has made a pragmatic decision to invite Lecrae, because he knows that Lecrae is popular among the young. By turning a blind eye to the quaint old fashion doctrine of worldliness (a doctrine that very few people acknowledge in the modern church) he has been able to increase the numbers of young people attending the Conference.
A double minded man
So while John MacArthur has in the past clearly warned of the danger of bringing the world into the church, he has invited the worldly hip-hop culture into the church. Apparently in an effort to boost youthful attendance at the Regeneration Camp, Pastor John MacArthur, and the leadership of Grace Community Church, have set aside the doctrine of worldliness and made the pragmatic decision to use worldly rap music to enliven the Regeneration Conference.
You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll’s and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing.