Asking the question 'should I take this gig or not?' is not merely a question of pragmatics, concerning availability or remuneration. Sure, those things are important, but for the Christian, there are extra considerations to do with the gig's compatibility with your confession of Christ as Lord. What if it's on a Sunday? What if it involves performing something by someone known for their opposition to Christianity, or something involving content that appears to promote sexual immorality, or which revels in debauchery and licentiousness? What if it's in a venue, or for an occasion, that you feel is incompatible with your Christian faith?
This situation requires an understanding of what the Bible says about various things, including holiness, wisdom, and what constitutes a 'conscience issue', which is what this article is all about. Below we will explore what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 14 about 'conscience issues', and how the principles he draws there can help us come to a decision about whether to take a particular gig or not.
And make sure you also check out 'part 1' of this resource, which provides a framework for assessing these situations more holistically from a Christian worldview.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without passing judgment over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
‘“As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
“Every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.”’
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
The Cross. The Resurrection. Salvation by faith alone. Indisputable matters. These are truths upon which to take a stand, and around which to unite with all other true believers.
What 'keeping the Sabbath' entails exactly. Whether singing a 'non-Christian' song is okay to sing. Whether nightclubs are legitimate places for a Christian to perform. Disputable matters. These are truths that Christians can legitimately disagree about, and yet still maintain their unity.
And the likelihood is that when faced with a situation that prompts you, as a Christian, to ask seriously, 'should I take this gig or not?', the chances are that the particular factor that's provoking the question is amongst what Paul calls 'disputable matters' here in Romans 14:1. The one I come across most frequently concerns the Sabbath. You are offered a gig on a Sunday, or a project that has regular rehearsals on Sundays. It's work. You know that the whole point of Sabbath was that you should rest from work, so is it wrong to take it?
Or it could be that the venue or occasion for a gig you are offered makes you uneasy. Your band is offered the chance to play in a prestigious nightclub where debauchery is commonplace and encouraged. Your string quartet is solicited for a performance at a couple's civil partnership. These factors go against what you believe the Bible says. Your playing there is not a positive affirmation of those things (but you know it might be perceived as such by unbelievers) and you would simply be there to provide the service of musical entertainment, but in any case, you wonder whether it is hypocrisy to make money out of a situation if you believe such a situation is not pleasing in God's sight. Should you take the gig or not?
But even if the external factors are fine, it could be that the very content of the piece itself causes you quibbles. The words to the anthem your choir is performing is a hymn to the Virgin Mary. The opera you are playing in the pit for is filled with anachronistic misogyny. The symphony you are playing was conceived intentionally as an ode to atheistic humanism. Again, you know that your playing or singing it is not necessarily a positive affirmation, but it just feels wrong. Should you take the gig or not?
All of these examples constitute 'disputable matters' such that none yields a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. However, what I hope this all demonstrates so far is that for the Christian, it is necessary and good to be thoughtful and to consider carefully our musical activities in the light of Christ's Lordship over our lives, indeed over all things.
Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind
Paul specifically speaks, in verses 5 & 6, of believers differing in their views about whether one day were more sacred than another, no doubt referring to the Sabbath. Clearly some early Christian believers held that one day (it may have been Saturday or Sunday at that stage) was to be treated as more sacred than the rest, in continuation with the Jewish Sabbath, and in line with the principle of regular rest that God had instituted in the Old Testament law. Others held that since the finished work of Christ was the ultimate fulfilment of (and true substance of) the 'rest' of which the Jewish Sabbath was but a shadow, therefore there was no need to treat any day as more sacred than the rest. In practice, this meant that they would differ over what activities (or what work) could be engaged in on that day.
Even more interesting are the two following observations:
- Paul is quite clear that both are legitimate positions to hold (whilst making it fairly clear which one he holds). This is remarkably more 'relativist'/'liberal' than many of us who like things to be black and white, in neat and tidy boxes! We think it would be much simpler if Paul could have simply laid down the law and told them what was right and what was not. But Paul does not do that. Without in any way compromising on truth, Paul ensures that grace and generosity and a desire for peace and unity amongst the believers predominates his thinking such that he can declare that both are legitimate positions to hold.
- Paul is also very clear that we each have the responsibility to think through these issues carefully and to come to a conclusion. He will not allow us to be lazy thinkers, to be those who abdicate our responsibility to do the hard work of weighing up the options and coming to a thought-through conclusion:
Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
So, when it comes to these sorts of contentious situations, we must avoid the temptation to just to do what we have always done, or to just say 'oh, it doesn't really matter', or even simply to ask someone else - perhaps a friend, or a small group leader, or pastor - to just tell us what to do. It is our responsibility to seek God's Word for God's guidance and to reach a conclusion. when it comes to the Sabbath, have you done your research? Have you read what the Law says about rest in Exodus, and what Jesus says about Sabbath? Have you studied Hebrews 4? Have you read a book on it, or listened to a talk on it? If not, then make sure you do before the question is a live issue for you.
And when it comes to providing musical entertainment in a culture that rejects Christ, have you studied Daniel and how he served a culture that rejected the LORD? Have you come to any decisions about what you would be happy to play for and what you would not?
And similarly when it comes to the content of piece, have you come to any decisions about what you are happy to play/sing or not? Have you thought about the context in which the performance occurs?
Whatever happens, make sure you have thought it through. You 'should be fully convinced in [your] own mind' (v.5)
Be Christ-centred in your conclusion
The next point Paul makes is that the Lord Jesus Christ should be at the centre of your thinking and thus your doing, such that whatever you conclude, your acting upon it is done 'to the Lord' (v.6,8). In other words, Christ, and the fact that you 'belong to [Him]' (v.8), and thus your desire to honour Him, should be the central factor in your thinking about one of these issues or situations, such that you can with confidence go through with whatever you have concluded, as an act of service rendered to Him.
So, having done your research into Sabbath, you might feel that, because ultimately the true substance of biblical 'rest' is found in one's union with Christ, both now and in the future new creation, no day is actually more sacred than any other, but that to honour Christ in terms of Sabbath means intentionally taking one day a week to rest by being reminded of this union, and to celebrate it. You conclude, therefore, that that day of rest will usually be a Sunday, because church is the obvious place to do this, but not necessarily so. You feel that as long as you don't miss church more than once every six weeks, it's all good. In that case, when offered a gig on a Sunday that wouldn't contravene that, you would accept that offer 'to the Lord', with no lingering doubts, and indeed perform at the gig 'to the Lord' seeking to honour Him in your very playing.
Or, having done your research into Sabbath, you might feel that the Lord's institution of Sabbath in the Old Testament is a law (it's in the Ten Commandments after all!) and that a day of rest, even if fulfilled ultimately in Jesus, is nevertheless a pattern for living that is still good for humans, and that the New Testament's switching from Saturday to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Christ with others of God's people was a deliberate reconstitution of the Old Testament pattern of worshipping at the Jewish temple. You conclude, therefore, that to honour Christ in terms of Sabbath means making meeting with His people to worship Him (i.e. going to church) a binding commitment which only the most exceptional of circumstances will force you to break. In that case, when offered a gig on a Sunday, you would decline that offer 'to the Lord', have no regrets about doing so, and instead spend your Sunday 'to the Lord' in corporate worship and fellowship with other believers.
So, whatever conclusion you come to, you should be so 'fully convinced in your own mind' that you can confidently and assuredly do what you do 'to the Lord.'
Don't judge others
All that said, your confidence in your conclusion must never be allowed to become arrogant self-righteousness. Really Paul's chief point throughout the entire chapter is that we are not to judge other brothers and sisters who come to a different conclusion to us.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without passing judgment over disputable matters.
In verses 2 and 3, Paul outlines what this is likely to look like - the one whose conclusions on these matters allow them greater freedom may feel contempt towards the one whose conclusions appear to restrict them more - 'if only they understood the freedom that Christ has won for us, they'd realise they needn't be so bound by law and tradition!' - whilst the latter may feel tempted to condemn the former for what they perceive to be wanton self-indulgence - 'if only they knew how mighty and holy God is, they'd never dare be so lax with what His Word says!'
In the case of the Sabbath, then, this might look like musician 'x' feeling contempt towards musician 'y' who passes up fantastic offers of gigs that are on Sundays, thinking them pharisaically legalistic, and/or musician 'y' who condemns musician 'x' for taking up such offers, thinking them complacent about church or God's Word.
Paul's extended argument against such judgmentalism essentially hinges round two things:
- 1. Only God is our judge, and Christ died and rose again to save them too.
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
- 2. We will all be judged.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
Need any more be said? In short, be very careful not to judge your fellow musician brothers and sisters in Christ. Best take Paul's advice from near the end of the chapter:
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
Esteem another's conscience more than your freedom
Yes, don't judge, but love for one's sisters and brothers goes even further. In verse 13, Paul explains:
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
And in verse 15, he gives an example of what this might look like in the disputable matter over what foods may or may not be eaten:
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
So, if, for example, you were living with a bunch of mates from your music college CU, and one of them was so strictly Sabbatarian - i.e. for them Sundays are absolutely sacred - that you taking a gig on a Sunday (which in this hypothetical scenario causes you no conscience issues whatsoever) did not make them feel merely uncomfortable, but genuinely distressed them, causing them either to question their own faith ('Is what I've always believed actually true?') and/or to question your faith ('Are they really saved if they happily take a gig on a Sunday? Can I really treat them as a brother/sister?) such that your fellowship became compromised, then the loving thing to do is for their sake to decline all Sunday gig offers. Even though your conscience allows it. Even though you truly believe and have thoughtfully concluded in good conscience that you are free to do so. And even though you'll lose money and career advancement opportunities from doing so. In fact, it is not merely the loving thing to do, it is the right thing to do. In fact, to insist on your freedom in such a situation is, says Paul in verse 20, 'wrong'.
He summarises very clearly:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
It is better not to do... anything... that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
Don't go against your conscience
Paul has one final point - and this is of great importance - which is that one thing you should never do is go against your own conscience:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
If you don't do the hard work of weighing up what you think is permissible on the Sabbath, or what boundaries you will set in terms of what it will take for a piece or a composer or a director or a venue to become off-limits to you as a Christian, then at some point, as a musician who follows Jesus, you will be faced with a decision which you will be ill-equipped to handle 'Christianly'. And at that point, you may find yourself in a quandary, undergoing 'conscience issues', wanting to say 'yes' to some offer, but having serious doubts about whether it's right or not.
Well, in that situation, the right thing to do is decline. Not just the wise thing, the right thing. For Paul baldly states in the verse above that if anyone has doubts in such a situation, then ploughing on regardless and doing whatever it is 'is sin.' Why? Because it 'does not come from faith'. In other words, it is an action taken not in reference to Christ, taken without regard for truth and holiness and honouring the Lord, taken without planting the decision deep in the soil of one's saving faith in Christ Jesus who died and rose for you 'that he might be [your] Lord' (v.9)
As the great Reformer Martin Luther said when tried for heresy at the Roman Catholic Diet of Worms:
My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. Amen.
It should hopefully be obvious by now that the main upshot of Paul's teaching in Romans 14 concerning 'conscience issues' is that you need to do the work! There is no shortcut. Do some reading, do some listening, chat with your pastor, your CU staff worker, your CU friends, and come to some definite conclusions, that you may freely 'live to the Lord' (v.8), with no doubts or quibbles. Might you too be able to declare, with Paul:
So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.