One could make the argument, of course, that some things are black/white. Those things that clearly go against Scripture and the teachings of Jesus. To kill someone is not only breaking the law, it is sin. But what about when I break the law by driving 70 mph in a 65 mph posted zone? I am clearly breaking the law, but is it a sin?
Years ago I was at a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary banquet. As a Church Music major, I happened to sit at the table with several professors from the music department. In the course of the meal, I casually asked if anyone knew where I might be able to BORROW a copy of a popular cantata soundtrack to use as accompaniment with our small Spanish church choir. You would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin by even thinking such a thing! Everyone became deathly silent, and then one of my profs explained to me that doing so would be illegal and anybody doing so would be "breaking copyright laws" and could be held liable. End of the discussion. I continued to eat my apple pie but wondered to myself what harm there would be in our tiny Hispanic Church borrowing for a few weeks an expensive and unafordable soundtrack from one of the larger more wealthier churches in town who would have it gathering dust on some shelf? But since I didn't want to "sin" by "breaking the law" I did nothing more to pursue the matter. We ended up finding someone who could play the piano and used them instead.
May I ask a personal question? How many of us have honestly NEVER made a song sheet for church, or made a copy of a song we liked and shared it with family or a friend? Have you ever reproduced copyrighted material in any form without the permission or license to do so? Have you ever projected on a wall, or even written out the words to a song without having permission? Yes, I know what the laws say--to do so is a no-no--but is it a sin? And yes, I recognize that to do so subjects me to getting into trouble. But again, is it a sin?
I know the host culture where we live and serve does not regard copying and reproducing copyrighted materials as something wrong. Everyone--and I mean everyone--does it all the time. There is little to no regard for all the strict laws that are so much a part of life in more developed parts of the world. Now I am NOT saying it is OK to do so. That is still a debatable issue in my own heart and mind. What I am asking is this a sin against God that needs to be repented of and confessed? Before you say yes, read on...
A wild guestimate would be that for every legitimate copy of Christian music (in all its forms) there are literally thousands of so called "illegitimate" copies. Nobody thinks twice about it. There are no guilty feelings. Are all these tens of thousands of Christians guilty of sin? One could argue ignorance of sin is no excuse. Yet, if those participating in it are totally unaware of any wrong-doing, are they sinning? My American brothers for the most part would say, yes. They are stealing that which does not belong to them.
I am fully aware that a post like this sounds very odd to most of us coming from a Western mindset. We have been told that these kinds of things are wrong. To do them is to sin. But who is it telling us these things are sin? Isn't it our money-making, consumerism culture? If things aren't sold then the "sin" is that money isn't made. If money isn't made, we can't make more stuff! It is our society that has declared these things to be so.
Isn't everything that God gives to his Body freely given? Matthew 10 quotes Jesus as saying, "Freely you have received, freely give..." If it is meant to bless and edify the Body of Christ, should one "own" and charge money to others so that another can be "blessed?" Do we actually think we own what God has freely given to us for the benefit of his Body? Where did the commercialization of Christianity come from anyway? I truly wonder if Jesus were walking the earth today, would He not be spending a lot of time cleaning out today's temples who have made an industry out of his Word.
Now, I know that to take the above argument to its extreme would mean any of us could simply walk into another's house and "freely take" whatever we like. But what I am talking about are matters that are directly related to the building up of the Body of Christ; things like teaching materials, music, messages, songs, books, articles, media presentations, etc. As things stand, there are laws protecting these things, but I continue to wonder if this is what God intended from the beginning when He freely gave us all the gifts he has given.
If I write a song, is it my song or God's gift to his Body through me? Is it really mine to do with what I like: make money, sell, distribute, etc. Granted there is nothing wrong with making money, but to think it is MINE and not God's gift is what I am trying to express. So what if everyone likes my song and uses it! It was a gift from God, I want it to be a blessing to all.
In Acts 8 Peter severely rebukes Simon the Magician because he wanted to "buy" the blessing Peter had. He rebukes Simon, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" What God gives is done so freely. To charge, or think money is involved in any way, seems to go against the original plan of blessing God has for His Church. I don't believe we are to make money out of the Gospel that has been freely purchased for us by the blood of Christ.
So to conclude: the law says these things are wrong. Fine. One who breaks the law must be ready to answer for his/her actions and pay accordingly. But, we are not always sinning when we break the law. Just my 2-cents on what is still to me a highly controversial issue.