The Sabbath: A Witness for God
Lyndon Johnston Taylor
Seventh-day Adventist musicians have an important and unique role in fulfilling the mission and goal of their church. Music has been an integral part of church services in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and it continues to be a meaningful aspect of our Christian experience. As professional musicians in the community, we have the opportunity of spreading this spiritual experience to others who might not be reached and touched in other ways. Furthermore, because we often deal with some of the most influential people in our society and are often in the public eye, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to share God's love and proclaim the three angels' messages through our lives and actions.
As people who are wholly consecrated to God, we stand in sharp contrast to the self-seeking followers of worldly Babylon. Those who are receiving the seal of God worship the true God, putting Him first and last in all aspects of their lives.
Those receiving the mark of the beast are worshiping false gods either by adhering to false doctrines, thereby worshiping a god of their own making, or by worshiping the Creator's gifts instead of the Creator Himself. The Sabbath is a very powerful and visible sign of our conviction. It proclaims God as Creator and Ruler of the universe, sharply contrasting with the pagan sabbath, which was "Christianized" by ancient Rome.
Less than a year ago, I received a full tuition, room, and board scholarship to the Tangelwood Festival of Music. My friends rejoiced with me in receiving this coveted award, since none of those who had auditioned had been admitted to the program, as the details of the scholarship were spelled out, I realized that I would not be able to meet the required expectations and remain true to Sabbath. After much struggle and prayer, I turned own the offer - much to the consternation and amazement of friends.
But as they saw that was making a choice for religious conviction over and above the music - which we all love so much - they respected that conviction, especially when, through God's providence, an even better arrangement worked out for me at the Aspen Music Festival, which indeed had been my preferred choice. Because the vast majority of musicians put music and career first in life, it is startling for them to realize that they have colleagues with similar desires and drives for success in music who put the One whom the music points to - the Giver of music - above the music itself
In observing the Sabbath, we put ourselves up for criticism and misunderstanding by others. If we are inconsistent, our influence can be negative. Some may think we are being exclusive and hypocritical through Sabbath observance, especially if our personal and social lives don't also show the signs of allegiance to God. Others may feel that we are trying to shirk our responsibilities.
I have found that for those Adventist musicians who are diligent, cooperative, and honest in their dealings and are truly outstanding in their profession, a great amount of effort in understanding and concessions for the Sabbath will be made by others. Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we would like them to, so we must pray that the Lord will give us the strength to stick to our convictions, even if it means our jobs, our security, and our friends.
Let's also remember the benefits of keeping the Sabbath. Knowing the hectic pace of our lives, God gives us the Sabbath as a rest from the busy cares and worries of our work. He invites us to celebrate a holy day with Him, to renew our relationship, and to praise Him. We can tap a tremendous source of inner strength enabling us to cope with life and to gain hope for the future. The Sabbath is also for renewing family relationships and fellowshipping with other believers. Isn't it far better to seek after these non-material blessings than to pursue our professional goals on the Sabbath?
As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe that the Sabbath was made for us, and that it is one of the final tests of the last days. But yet, it is left to individual consciences to decide just how to keep the Sabbath. So let's not be hasty in judging one another. Far too many musicians have left the church over this very issue.
Although there are several factors involved in choosing appropriate musical activities, I believe that it's most important to consider what is in the heart of the musician. Is the real motive to praise God or to further one's own career? This is not to justify rationalizing that since God gives musical talent to certain individuals, they should do everything necessary to further their careers in order to be "bright lights" for Him. On the other hand, there is no reason for following a set of man-made rules for Sabbath keeping which God never intended for us.
There are two basic considerations in choosing appropriate musical activities for the Sabbath: the music itself and the setting. The music should be of a serious nature and not intended for mere show or amusement.
One should also consider the intention of the composer and the meaning of the message conveyed to the audience. Many feel that certain idioms, such as concertos, are suited for display and not for spiritual uplifting. One should ask: is it merely for self-advancement or for the benefit of others? Competitions and rehearsals (outside of necessary warm-up rehearsals) are not appropriate on Sabbath.
Many people place great emphasis on the audience, the place of performance, and the performers in determining appropriateness. They maintain. that if there are Christians performing in churches for other Christians (who don't clap or pay admission), that this somehow makes everything alright. In my way of thinking, these factors are of secondary importance to the music itself and the purpose for its performance.
May we hold fast to our faith and remain consistent in our Sabbath-keeping and in our lives. And may God help us to remain true to Him, to solve complex problems, and to be bright lights for our Saviour.
Summer 1986 Newsletters
Lyndon Johnston Taylor is principal Second Violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and professor in violin at La Sierra University. He completed a DMA in violin performance at the Juilliard School of Music.