On Music

The music you use ‘positions’ your church in your community. It defines who you are. Once you have decided on the style of music you’re going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose.” 1

This quote from popular author and one of America’s most celebrated mega church pastors, Rick Warren, of the Saddleback Community Church in California is, sadly, an accurate assessment of how things are in American church life today. It is a fact that music is a key factor, if not, the key factor in why people choose churches today and why people leave churches.

This has been increasingly the case over the last 25-30 years as the seeker sensitive / church growth movement has gained momentum. Music has been the primary method used in this movement to attract outsiders. Numbers minded pastors and laymen have implemented, among other things, pop music into the worship format. The result has been that multitudes of churches during the last two decades have divided over the music used in the services. Music is the bottom line in the so-called “worship wars” that simmer or rage in churches across the nation and around the world.

Many churches try to avoid the division and collisions by having two, three or more services catering to the tastes, especially the musical tastes, of the various generations. Some churches have separate services for the Builders (WW II generation) the Baby Boomers (post WW II generation) the Generation Xer’s, and the Net-gen’rs (The Internet Generation)- all of whom have unique musical tastes and cannot seem to relate to or worship to the music of the other generations. Churches that have not gone to separate services have tried to have “blended” services that incorporate something for everyone musically. However,  even in this blended worship atmosphere there is some sanctified “teeth grinding” going on.

Some have come to believe that the music used is key to real worship taking place. The seeker sensitive church philosophy is very dependent upon the music used to get those worship feelings up and running on Sunday morning. Many worship “experts” freely admit this. They will advise up and coming worship leaders to use certain upbeat numbers to kick start the service and get the energy up. Then, to maintain that mood they advise them to use certain other pieces that have a certain tempo, volume and key. “Instruments, arrangements, chords and beat should be woven into a pattern that will bend and sway the feelings of the people to maximize their feelings of worship.”2

In this writer’s opinion, no single issue has polarized, divided and sometimes destroyed congregations more than the music used during worship services.

We have determined that it will not happen here at Calvary Baptist for two reasons:

#1 We Will Maintain a Balanced Biblical Perspective in Relation to Music

While acknowledging that the Scripture has much to say about music and that it is a prominent part of the worship of our great God, we will not be driven by or subservient to the current cultural infatuation with musical expression. Though music is prominent in worship, it should not be dominant.  It is evident that the emphasis that many believers put upon it does not have a comparable emphasis in the Bible.  Music, even good music, can become an idol. Instead of ameans of worship, it can become an object of worship.

As noted, the Bible says a lot about music. Music is mentioned over 600 times in the Bible. There are numerous references to praising God in song. However, in comparison to the bulk of Scripture, especially what the Scripture says about proclamation and holy living, it is minimal. While not downplaying music’s significant role in worship, it is evident that there is today, an inordinate emphasis on music that does not reflect the emphasis that the Scripture places upon it. As one writer has observed, “Music has always been the handmaiden of the Word of Jehovah. Historically, it has been a helper and a means to an end – not the end.”3

Consider the following:

One does not see among the offices of the early church the position of “gospel musician” or “worship leader” listed along side pastor/teacher and evangelist. Someone making their living as a gospel singer was unheard of until the last part of the 20th century. There was no Contemporary Christian or gospel music industry making mega millions as there is now. The office of “worship leader” in churches today is little more than the master of ceremonies for a largely musical presentation.

One pastor has rightly pointed out that “this is the day of the Christian entertainer.”4 The church now has professional singers, clowns, comedians, actors and bands that make their living off the saints. Yet keep in mind that none of these even existed until the last five or six decades! Music and musicians used to be thought of as having a supplementary role in ministry. Now music and musicians have “stolen the show” so to speak. What used to be thought of as supplemental to worship is now central in the minds of people. The musical portion of many church worship services is often as long or longer than the preaching of God’s Word.

Moving music is now considered essential to “warm up the crowd”….. excuse me, “prepare the hearts of the worshipers to receive the Word.” Where did that talk come from? Let me give you a clue. It did not come from the Scripture. The idea that the music “prepares the hearts of the people to receive the Word” has no biblical foundation at all. Yet it is accepted as a fact among many musicians in ministry! The Bible is clear that faith comes by hearing the preached Word. It says nothing about music eliciting, promoting or encouraging faith or tenderizing the heart. Today, Christian musicians- pardon – “artists” are held in far higher esteem than Bible teachers and theologians. Their ideas and opinions often hold more weight and often find uncritical acceptance by their followers. What the musical artist says often has the credence of a papal pronouncement to the music fan.

This is true despite the fact that many of these professional musicians practice a cross denominational inclusivist ministry that ignores or downplays doctrinal truth. Many Christian musicians cross major doctrinal lines, are dismissive of biblical separation and even are inclusive of cults in violation of clear biblical warnings not to do so. (II John 1:9-11; Romans 16:17-18) They have to be this way. They make their living by attracting to their concerts a wide cross section of religious people regardless of faithfulness to God’s truth.

Where are the masses of Christian young people that would come out for Bible teaching services as opposed to a Christian rock concert. Throngs of people will attend Gospel concerts who would find a Bible conference to be boring.  The fact is that a large part of Christian music fans will buy tickets and drive great distances to hear their favorite performer’s music.

They will loyally purchase recordings of their favorite Gospel or Contemporary Christian performers or bands. Yet many of these same folks are not faithful in attendance or their giving to their local church. This, in itself, is proof that something is amiss. Scripture just does not attach the importance to music that is being attached to it by multitudes of believers who claim they need their style of music to feel like they are worshiping.

The sad fact is that one believer’s music is often so offensive to another, that they cannot worship God in the same church auditorium. Many will become emotional if their music or favorite gospel performer is criticized. All of these factors prove that music has too prominent a role among believers today compared with the biblical emphasis. While agreeing that music is an important part of ministry and worship, we, at Calvary Baptist will try to maintain a balanced biblical perspective in regard to it.

#2 We Will Maintain a Biblical Philosophy  of Music

While maintaining that music’s importance is overemphasized in our day, that does not mean that music is not important. Music, from the beginning has been prominent in biblical worship. Obviously the Bible does not comment directly upon specific forms of music – Handel and Bach as opposed to jazz and rock.

However, the Bible gives us principles that can be applied to the musical aspect of worship. These are principles that we believe apply to both musical content, musical style and musical performance.  While these philosophical principles can be applied differently by sincere believers to the variety of musical styles, it is our contention that these principles are unknown or being outright ignored in our day. The only question today as to music used in worship seems to be what pleases and appeals to individual or generational tastes. The fundamental issue, however, is whether a style of music and its performance is pleasing to God.

We believe that there are Scriptural principles for ascertaining what is acceptable to Him. While not being able to detail extensively on this topic in this article, the reader will find at the end a suggested reading list of helpful materials dealing with this vital issue. These principles here stated in brief will guide the musical decisions of Calvary Baptist Church.

Biblical Distinctions in Christian Music in the Church

Old Testament-Distinctions Between National and Worship Music

Though there are similarities between Old Testament worship and New Testament worship, there are distinctive differences as well. In the Old Testament, music that was practiced in a national feast or celebration was much different than what was practiced in the temple during worship. Singing, dancing, playing timbrels and other instruments were a regular part of national life and celebrations in the theocracy that was Israel. Everyone could be involved as the nation celebrated its feasts or God’s deliverance through military victory.

However, the worship of God in the temple was another matter altogether. The music performed in temple worship, both instrumental and vocal, was limited to the Levites    (I Chronicles 15:16-24). The different kinds of instruments used in temple worship was limited to just a few kinds of instruments as opposed to many that were allowed to be used in national and civic celebrations.

New Testament – The Primacy of Congregational Singing 

The Scripture emphasizes, in the New Testament dispensation, congregational vocal music. The New Testament admonitions in the Scripture about singing have to do specifically with a local assembly of believers singing together rather than what is commonly thought of as “special” music or vocal or instrumental musical performances . Eph 5:19  Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 

Bible students will immediately recognize in the above passages the two primary references to singing in the New Testament. The ideas latent in these verses are that we teach and encourage one another in addition to worshiping the Lord when we sing together. The practice of the New Testament churches was that they sang collectively as assembled  believers when they gathered together for worship. This is not to say that it is wrong to have what is usually thought of as special music:  ie: solos, duets, quartets, ensembles, choirs, instrumental pieces etc. We want to be clear that the Bible does not forbid special music. However, the primary emphasis in the New Testament is on collective singing.

The practice of gathering to hear a gospel concert or Christian performing artist is a modern phenomenon that has come to be preferred in many circles over congregational singing. It has taken center stage. However, from a biblical standpoint of New Testament practice, it shouldn’t matter to  believers if a church has gospel concerts, singing groups or choirs. What should matter is whether there is Christ honoring congregational singing when the believers assemble for worship! That is the Bible’s emphasis. A church with weak congregational singing is a spiritually sick congregation.

The Purposes of Congregational Singing in the New Testament

The Education & Admonishment of Believers

Christian music is a vehicle for teaching believers God’s truth. In other words, it is to impart information that is conforming to and saturated with the word of Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another…..”(Col 3:16)The lyrical content should be accurate in its biblical content, rather than merely descriptive of the performer’s feelings or sentiments. It is also to admonish believers.-….”teaching and admonishing one another…..”(Col 3:16) The idea latent in admonishment is to correct deficient areas in our Christian lives and encourage believers to live holy and godly lives for the Savior.

Perhaps it is fitting to point out here that nowhere in the Bible is music the means of evangelizing unbelievers. That comes by simple verbal proclamation – the simple declaration of God’s Word. (I Cor 1:21; Romans 10:14-17) God ordained that simple proclamation be the means of reaching the lost so that the power of the gospel could be demonstrated through a simple unremarkable way. He ordained it to be spoken so simply and frankly that the resulting decision would not be in influenced or corrupted by secondary or purely human influences. (I Cor 1:17-23; 2:1-5; Romans 10:14-17)

This understanding is important in considering the role that music will have in our attempts to lead the lost to the Savior.  Music can very well be a decision-corrupting influence.  No serious Christian musician could disagree that “Music has powers of its own, powers of persuasion and sentimentality that often counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit.”5  Even contemporary Christian music promoters admit that music could influence people to make a decision that, in their hearts, they were not cognitively and volitionally ready to make. J. Nathan Corbitt, a  Contemporary Christian Music promoter acknowledged:

“Because of its power to motivate, music has a tremendous appeal. For this reason, music is often used as an attractive part of proclamation events. Crusades, evangelistic rallies, and revivals often feature a soloist or music group who will appeal to the musical tastes of the audience. At the same time, music can also be manipulative. The power of music can create an atmosphere in which people respond solely out of emotion without cognitive understanding. Like people who may be motivated by advertising to change brands because the tune is catchy, people may be motivated to change religions because they like the music- and they never understand the meaning of their decision”6

Another Christian rock promoter, Al Menconi, observed, ”If the music, the environment, and the attitude all say, ‘Rock out,’ how can that encourage a deeper commitment to Jesus or a rational decision to repent?” Menconi recognized “where the sheer volume, penetrating rhythms, pyro-technics, frenzied gymnastics of the performer and the carnival atmosphere block out intellectual and rational faculties as the individual is swept away in a torrent of blistering sound to a decision that is contaminated with secondary influences.”7

Great care and discretion must be used in musical choices not only in relation to our efforts to evangelize but also in relation to its use in our assembly for worship. Music was never meant to be a means of winning the lost. It was, though, a means through which believers could be taught and reminded of their commitment to live consecrated, holy lives.

The Praise and Glory of the Lord

The other and most important objective in Christian music is to glorify the Lord. “…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” (Eph 5:19); “….  singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col 3:16) Nothing in the music ought to detract from the Lord. If special music is performed, nothing in the performance ought to rob the Lord of glory and give it to the performer. The Lord is primary; the talents and abilities of the performer are secondary at best.

This is not to say that there is not a case to be made for excellence in music for the Lord’s sake.  However, worship music should not be performed or chosen in order to showcase the musical talent of the performer. Too often among the current Christian culture, musical artists “are visited with unabashed adulation, idolization, and celebrity worship.”8  Christian music “should always function as a musical offering to God and not a musical entertainment for the people.”9

We must always remember that it is the Lord who is our primary audience in music. While one of the purposes of Christian music is ministry to the saints, its primary objective is to honor the Lord. This is not only in what is said in the lyrics but how the music is performed.  The manner of how it performed is important so that the attention and glory for the ministry of music is not stolen from the Lord. Glory can be stolen from the Lord in three ways:

  • When the music is geared to gratifying the audience either in lyrical content or in musical style, God is robbed of glory.

The character of the songs we sing is given to us as “…psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…,”(Col 3:16; Eph 5:19) The songs we are to sing are of a distinctive kind – psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. They are not simply random religious thoughts or someone articulating what they feel God is like. The content of the music is regulated, not by our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, but by the word of Christ.

The character of the music we are to sing can be determined by analyzing Biblical psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  What we are saying is that these words- psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are not defined by an individual musician’s perceptions and opinions. We have examples in the Scripture of what psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are. The definition of these words is given to us and their boundaries set in God’s word.

In short, there are both content and character ingredients in Christian music that take precedence over emotions. Sadly, for many professed Christians, the bottom line is not whether the music is doctrinally and biblically faithful and honoring to the Lord, but whether it moves them emotionally or makes them want to tap their foot, sway or even dance.

  • God is robbed of glory when the performer’s performance or expertise is showcased so that the congregations attention and admiration is to the performer.

One pastor told of a conflict that he had with an instrumental rendition of the classic hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. “Halfway through the song,” he said, “our saxophone improvisation “tore it up.” Even at the rehearsal the choir had begun cheering, captivated by the performance and oblivious to the song’s theme. I thought, They’re cheering the death of Jesus Christ! They’re not cherishing the old rugged cross. They’re cheering a guy having a fit on a horn! I was furious.”10  That pastor should have been furious. Regardless of the appropriateness of jazzing up that classic hymn and regardless of the musician’s intent, the glory due the Lord was stolen by the performer.

  • When the performance is provocative and worldly God is dishonored

There are sincere folks who believe that one should reach the world on the level of the world. In conjunction with that belief, some Christian musicians dress like, act like, and perform like the secular world’s counterpart. The dress may be immodest, their stage actions and vocalizations may imitate the sensual with breathy vocals and close mouth contact with the microphone. All one has to do to see the world’s influence on performance is watch many teenage singers.  One can readily see and hear the vestiges of some pop diva or pop idol they are trying to imitate. It is inappropriate and wrong to imitate the carnal techniques of the secular world

Biblical Principles for Music Appropriate for Worship

With the wide variety of music that is dubbed as “Christian music” it is often difficult to make musical choices. But there are guidelines that believers who desire to honor the Lord can use to help us make these choices.

  • The Principle of Distinctiveness 

The Bible is clear that the music and worship practices employed in the worship of God ought to be different in kind in two senses. First, it was to be distinct from what was commonly used in the unregenerate society around it. In the Old Testament, especially, there were stipulations that the worship practices of the Israelites be different from the heathen around them. There was to be no similarity to the worship practices of the heathen nations. They were not even to ask what these lost nations did in reference to their false worship (Deu 12:30) They were not to pattern their worship after the heathen around them.

There was also to be a distinction even from the ordinary practices of life in Israel. Certain practices were acceptable in daily life but were not acceptable in worship life.  Today, it is argued that anything we might listen to or sing in our private or social life is acceptable to use in our worship. Hence, it is argued that since there was a wide variety of instrumentation and even dancing in the Old Testament, this can and should be used today in the worship of the church today.

What is forgotten is that many practices that might be acceptable in daily living of the Israelites were not acceptable in worship. Peter Masters rightly observes that  “We should never forget that the Israelites were a nation state as well as a church. There were many things they could do as a state which had no place in their formal, direct worship. Special processions, victory parades, and Thanksgiving days were open air civic activities organized by God’s people in their capacity as a state. The little girls would lead these processions dancing and shaking their tambourines. But these tambourines were never allowed in the Tabernacle or the temple. A direct act of worship was quite different from a civic anniversary celebration.” 11

Actual worship was regulated in the Old Testament. Little girls did not play tambourines in the temple. Even flutes could not be played in the temple worship. It was not that flutes were wrong in and of themselves. However, God’s intent was that worship be distinct from everyday life. Other excluded instruments in temple worship were the timbrel or tambourine and the Hebrew equivalent of “pan pipes.” God only allowed certain instrumentation to be used in temple worship such as  cymbals, psalteries,  harps, and trumpets. (I Chronicles 15:16, 28; 16:5-6, 42; 25:1, 6) 12  Everyone could not participate. Only certain people, from among the Levites were authorized to do temple music.

The point that is often argued based upon Old Testament passages is that anything goes in worship. That idea is patently false. There was to be a distinction between sacred and secular in reference to worship.

It is often argued that many of the tunes in traditional hymns were once tavern songs that the church borrowed. It is maintained that reformer and hymn composer, Martin Luther, simply put Christian lyrics to barroom and popular tunes for use in worship. It is argued that the church has always incorporated secular tunes into Christian hymnnody. In point of fact, most of Luther’s melodies were his original compositions or existing church melodies that he put biblical words to for congregational singing. 13 From the very beginning there was a concern among Christian leadership about the use of heathen musical forms by believers, a concern that is noticeably absent today. 14

The goal today is to attract unbelievers and gratify the musical tastes of the culture through integration of every musical form, style and performance into modern worship. Whether that integration is appropriate is not factored in. In many respects, there is absolutely no distinctiveness in sound from what the secular world listens to. There should be. Just because one can sing the words of that wonderful hymn, Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island does not mean that we should. There would be loss of distinctiveness and an identification with the frivolous in doing so. That is unworthy of the reverence we are to display in our musical worship.

  • The Principle of Melodic Clarity

The Bible assumes that there were be an identifiable melody in any song and that this melody is what stands out as its dominant quality. That assumption is reflected in the example the Apostle Paul uses about the need for understanding in what is being communicated via language in a church service (I Cor 14). He uses the example of an identifiable melody. He argues that even the pattern of notes played on a musical instrument must convey meaning through the melody of what is being played. If the instrument does not play an identifiable melodic progression, the meaning and identity of a song cannot be communicated.

Here is how the text reads: 7  And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? :8  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?:9  So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. (1Co 14:7-9)

While acknowledging that this passage is not directly addressing the topic of music, it is addressing clarity of understanding. Music with an identifiable melody is used as an illustration of how imperative understanding is. One cannot tell what a song is or what  military directive is being given if there is not an identifiable melody being played. Indeed, the writer under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses the illustration of a military trumpet playing a specific note progression to give the soldiers direction. Barnes writes: “It  <the trumpet> was used for various purposes in war – to summon the soldiers; to animate them in their march; to call them forth to battle; to sound a retreat; and to signify to them what they were to do in battle, whether to charge, advance, or retreat, etc. It therefore employed a “language” which was intelligible to an army. An uncertain sound was one in which none of these things were indicated, or in which it could not be determined what was required.” 15

For those that would argue that there are no rules for worship, this is a foundational principle about music that is presumed as true in Scripture: Melody is essential for understanding in music. It can rightly be inferred that if we are to worship God by making melody in our hearts to the Lord, then there must be melody for there to be music. Melody is a means through which God carries His truth to the heart  and through which is carried praise from the heart to God. Melody must not be absent, obscured, competed with or dominated by other aspects of music.

The application of this regulative principle certainly would apply to a variety of musical contexts. It would apply to some classical composers who arrange such elaborate  counter melodies and harmonies that one cannot tell what the melody is or discern what the lyrics are saying. It would apply to rock styles that accent a driving beat, screaming vocals, blistering decibels, distorted sound and booming percussion. It would apply to rap and hip-hop which contains little or no melody and is almost exclusively defined and dominated by rhythm.

This principle would even apply to modern vocal performance styles that employ what is called  “flipping”- vocalizing over, under and around the melody so that the melody is obscured. If most vocalists that do this were honest, they would have to admit that this is not done to enhance the song or communicate meaning. It is done to demonstrate the vocalist’s ability.  In short, any styling that omits, obscures or overwhelms melody is not the communicative tool that should be used to convey God’s truth to the heart or relay praise from it.

  • The Principle of Proximity

The meaning of the word proximity refers to how near something is.  It refers to how close something is in space, time, or relationship. Proximity as a principle in the Christian life has a two-fold aspect. First, as believers we are to have close proximity to God. Salvation in Ephesians 2:12-19 is depicted as God bringing those who were far away from Him near to Him.  We have been made close to God positionally and relationally through the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work. That aspect of nearness has been accomplished for us.

We are also to be close to God experientially. That closeness is to be reflected both in our hearts devotion and in our lifestyle. Peter’s admonition is for us to “sanctify”- set God in a special place – in our hearts.  1Pe 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:….

Jesus talked about this kind of nearness when he spoke to someone about where the proper place to worship God was. He maintained that the location where worship takes place was not as crucial as worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24)  God’s people have always been commanded to set God in a special place and be close to and close like Him:Lev 20:7  Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. 1Pe 1:14  As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15  But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16  Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. There is a proximity that we are to maintain to God.

There is also a proximity that we are to have from the “world.” There is a “separateness” from the world in conjunction with our proximity to God that believers are to be characterized by.  Indeed, God commands that separateness. 2 Co 6: 17  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18  And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 1Jo 2:15  Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 

The “world” mentioned in the verse above can refer to a world system at odds with God – the world outside. It can also refer to that fleshly nature that desires to be gratified on the inside (Mark 7:15). The principle of proximity affects our relationship with the “world” in both the outside and inside senses.

There is a sense in which believers in maintaining their proximity to God must maintain a proximity from the ungodly. If that is what we really desire, proximity to Him, then that will mean a degree a separateness from unwholesome relationships with the ungodly.(I Cor 5:6-13)

II Corinthians  6:14-18 says   “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18  And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

Proximity also affects our actions and attitudes toward certain practices of life. Simply put, we are commanded in the Bible to follow after some things and run from other things. We are to be in close proximity to God and those qualities and attributes that are like Him. We are to be in far proximity to those qualities, characteristics and practices that are not like Him. (The principle really is not hard to understand.) The scriptural testimony is abundant:1Co 10:14 ….. flee from idolatry. Rom 14:19  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. 1Co 6:18  Flee fornication……1Co 14:1  Follow after charity,……2Ti 2:22  Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 1Th 5:15 ….. but ever follow that which is good,….1Ti 6:11  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

Follow, flee, follow, flee, follow, flee – Get the picture? We get as close to good stuff as we can and as far from bad stuff as we can. Separation from the ungodly and ungodliness, not integration with that which is against or unlike God is what God is telling us He wants from us as a people in close proximity with Him.

In all of this, the goal is to honor God with our lives. He and his purposes are what we have set our affections upon. Those who practice the principle of proximity….seek those things which are above, (Col 3:1) They have their coordinates set “….on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2) They value their relationship with God and they know that “…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. “(Mat 6:21) They know that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, it can all reflect upon God and His honor. (I Cor 10:31) Those in close proximity to God care.  This is the Principle of Proximity.

This challenge of applying this principle is ever before us and its application is not always that easy. As believers we are to be in the world but not of the world. We must minister to unbelievers without being contaminated by their values.  The question surrounding proximity issues has always surrounded the issue of how close is too close?

If you knew or suspected that someone had a contagious disease, how close to them do you want to be? The question is not as easy to answer as it may seem. There are factors that may cloud the issue. For example, many years ago the author had an illness that affected every major organ of his body and nearly killed him. The doctors did not know what it was and so did not know whether it could be communicated to others. I was put in isolation. Staff had to dress in gowns, masks and gloves. I could not see my children and my wife was not allowed to have any personal contact with me even though she wanted to comfort me. It was difficult for everyone but everyone knew that keeping at a safe distance was the best plan. But it was complicated by relationships. The doctors, on the other hand, had a responsibility to treat me as their patient. That meant that they had to have contact with me, thus endangering themselves and potentially their families.

The issues are similar for believers. We are in this world. We cannot avoid the lost nor should we. (I Cor 5:9 -10) We are not to hide our light (Mt 5:15) We cannot and must not avoid having relationships with unbelievers if we are to be a witness. But we must never forget that our primary concern is to honor the Lord. Our obligation to people is always offset by the principle of proximity to God. But the tension between the two will always be there.

There will always be a tension as well in making decisions as to what glorifies or does not glorify the Lord. Nowhere is that issue more intense in the Christian world then over the issue of the music used in worship. However, biblical principles mandate that we make decisions about this important arena of life. If the music we use to edify each other as believers and to honor God is indistinct from what the lost world listens to; if it has no clearly identifiable melody; if the melody is dominated or blurred by other musical factors; if it is noisy and chaotic; if it is associated with ungodliness and wickedness; then God’s people must not use it to communicate God’s truth or attempt to honor Him with it.

  • The Principle of Biblical Integrity

Integrity is soundness of character. If something disintegrates, it comes apart. Biblical integrity in reference to Christian music is how the lyrical content mirrors the biblical content.  This principle simply places the Scripture in its prominent place in biblical music.

Are the lyrics of the text faithful to the Scriptures? Since the stated biblical purpose of Christian music is to be a vehicle for teaching believers God’s truth. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in songs…..”(Col 3:16) the lyrical content should certainly be biblically accurate. It should not be merely descriptive of the performer’s feelings or sentiments. Songs about grandpa now singing in heaven’s choir or the little brown church in the wildwood may stir up precious memories, but they are not songs that teach biblical truth or focus on glorifying God.

“Sentimental Christian folk narratives that describe someone’s Sunday school teacher, old stringed instruments, or some other human-interest story should be kept out of worship services. Their place is elsewhere” (Singing and Making Music 278) Although one wonders if one song the author heard stating, “They Don’t Serve Cap’n Crunch in Hell” is worthy to be sung in any context.

Biblical faithfulness also comes into play when the lyrics of a song are not teaching sound doctrine. If music is for teaching believers, then what it is teaching is important. Songs that teach or imply, for example, that one earns one’s salvation by good works or human efforts should not be sung by any believer. One “Christian” song heard over the radio described a man who had lost a loved one in death and who went (presumably) to heaven. The vocalist sang that he was hanging on to Jesus with all his might so that he could see his departed loved one again! That may be heart wrenching, but it is not biblical.

Biblical faithfulness would apply to lyrics that are muddled, mumbled, muffled, or mangled. If instrumentation or percussion smothers the vocals so that the message is not communicated, that musical style should be avoided. The best and most biblical lyrics are useless if they cannot be understood. The author has sat in church cantatas that featured a choir with an orchestra. The orchestras drowned out the choirs every time! Not only did this cancel out any blessing to God’s people through the message of the music, it wasted the hours of rehearsal of those choir members.

A standard practice in many traditional churches is to play the organ and/or piano so loud that one cannot hear the voices of the other believers thus, effectively canceling out the  “teaching one another” through congregational singing.

  •  The Principle of Congruity

The principle of congruity, simply put, is that everything in a particular song agrees with itself, considering all the factors of Christian music. Does the music agree with the message?  Does it reflect biblical integrity and is it musically clear? Does it fit together?

The principle of congruity simply asks the question of whether the “musical text and the musical setting agree in tone, quality and character – ultimately, then,  in meaning.”16 Amazing Gracesung to the theme song of Gilligan’s Island is not congruent. This is not only because that theme song is identified with the zany antics of the crew and passengers of the S.S Minnow. The music simply does not “fit” with a self described wretch glorying in the saving grace of God! Certainly, the song’s association with a 1960’s comedy is a factor. But, musically, it does not fit. It lacks congruity in both its character and its association. The same could be said about applying Christian words to the song “The Stripper.”

A second aspect of the issue of congruity is whether music that is identified as Christian is congruent with something that is identified with God. This question is not purely subjective. For example, God is a God of order. He is not the…. the author of confusion, but of peace, (1Co 14:33) The phrase “the author” is not in the original text as the italics show. Literally, the verse says God is not “of confusion.” The word confusion is the Greek word that means commotion and tumult. It is a word that speaks of instability, unpredictability and disorder.

What the author, under inspiration, is saying is that God is a God of order, not chaos. On the basis of this characteristic of God, all the things we do as assembled believers including our worship is to be done “…decently and in order.” (1Co 14:40) The music we use is not exempt from this principle.

From a biblical standpoint, music is not whatever we say it is. The sound of a train wreck is not music. Screaming, yelling, raucousness or barking out words to a beat is not singing. Music that is melodic and orderly mirrors the character of God. Certainly music that is directed to God’s people and done to worship God ought not to contradict its message with its character. Music that’s design and effect is to cause emotional frenzy and disorder clearly violates this attribute of God. It is not congruent with God Himself!

Summary

Music’s biblical ministry is not for entertainment. It is for reinforcing in believers the teaching about God and His Word and expressing our worship to God. There are biblical principles that ought to regulate local churches in musical decisions:

  • The Principle of Distinctiveness
  • The Principle of Melodic Clarity
  • The Principle of Proximity
  • The Principle of Biblical Integrity
  • The Principle of Congruity

The music ministry of Calvary Baptist Church is regulated by the above principles. We will attempt to apply them consistently but we lay no claim to perfection in any arena of ministry. We acknowledge that there is a degree of subjectivity in the application of these principles that brethren from other churches could see differently. But we believe that the principles are present in Scripture and we determine by God’s grace to be faithful to what we believe He has expressed about this vital area.

Invariably, we are asked about the issue of rock music in its multitude of forms. Suffice to say that we do not incorporate rock music into our ministry. There are many good books listed in the bibliography that the reader is encouraged to read about this vital subject.  However, the following statement states in brief why Calvary does not use Christian rock or more popularly known as Contemporary Christian Music in our worship.

The Issue of Rock Music and Worship

A debate has raged for decades about the purity and appropriateness of certain kinds of music used for worship- specifically this debate rages about rock music in its various forms. Some are arguing that rock is simply a neutral cultural musical form. Others say that it is tainted.

There is no question that the issue is complicated by Rock music’s almost universal appeal in society. Those who like this music tend to love it. Rock, for most, is appealing because of its energy. In short, Rock music is exciting and its pulsating rhythm has a visceral appeal that any “headbanger” would attest to. A casual observer at any rock concert- Christian or otherwise- can tell by the body language that restraint and control are not what are being communicated musically.

Many testify that this music liberates them to express what is inside. Rock, especially in its more raucous forms, pumps up the adrenaline. Many rock musicians describe their music as rebellious, aggressive and projecting attitudes of “anger, defiance and aggression” A Christian rocker, Brian Duncan, said that performing rock was a positive way to express his anger.17 “If I was angry I could play rock n roll. That certainly expressed anger better than anything else.”18This begs the question of whether venting his anger is an appropriate biblical response.

“Harder” styles of rock certainly have an emotional and physical effect on its fans.  But rock, even in its softer forms, does not just make the foot tap. It makes the body want to move. This is consistent with what rock musicians say about their own music. They certainly are not shy about expressing themselves about what they see as their music’s appeal. Rock Manager, Malcolm McLaren described rock this way: “Rock ‘n roll is pagan and primitive, and very jungle, and that’s how it should be! The moment it stops being those things it’s dead…the true meaning of rock…is sex, subversion and style.”  19 Rock musician, Stuart Goldman, said “rock stands essentially for the liberation of emotion from the tyranny of reason.”20 If what Goldman says is even partially accurate concerning making emotion govern over reason, that in itself is a good reason why believers should not indulge in it, let alone use it for worship!

“One Contemporary Christian rock music sympathizer acknowledged that “some Christian bands are as grungy and loud as any of their secular counterparts… Their styles are almost indescribable, but all emphasize a driving drum beat, harmonic distortion, and very little melodic content. The vocal lines contain at least as much screaming as true singing…”21

This writer could cite literally dozens of quotes of this type by both Christian and secular rock performers and promoters in the music industry. They acknowledge the sub-Christian and often anti-Christian character of this music. Frank admissions as to the sensual character of rock could be cited from a wide cross-section of rock artists from country to rock artist,  Garth Brooks to rock icon Mick Jagger- all of them describing their music in words directly contradicting the holiness expressed in God’s Word, the Bible. There is absolutely no question in this writer’s mind that sexuality, sensuality, aggression and adrenalin are all part of the rock world. Good grief. One popular group is called “Smash Mouth.” Another is called “Bare Naked Ladies.” That ought to tell us something!

However, this writer has found that quoting a multitude of secular or even Christian rock artists does little to convince someone who is caught up in this music culture. Rock music, in its various forms and in varying degrees of intensity, saturates the culture at large. The bottom line is that people like it. Even many born again Christians like it and desire to use it in the worship of God.  Truly “modern worship is a total artistic identification with that culture” says one writer.22

But the fact that rock  has been assimilated into modern worship begs the question as to whether it should be this way. Have those who have incorporated rock into worship exercised biblical discernment when doing so? Did it ever occur to them before the fact whether it was good to do so? Does rock used in worship violate biblical principles on any level? This author believes that it does on a number of levels. Mentioned above were just a few principles that this form of music runs afoul of.  Remember what they were?

  • The Principle of Distinctiveness
  • The Principle of Melodic Clarity
  • The Principle of Proximity
  • The Principle of Biblical Integrity
  • The Principle of Congruity

Rock, especially in its harder forms, is defined by the dominance of rhythm over melody.  With the emphasis on heavy bass backgrounds, rhythm is further accented over melody. Much Rock uses musical distortion and decibels to pound home its impact. As someone said, “It ain’t good unless its loud.” But in all of this, melody is lost or greatly impeded.  When sound is distorted or overwhelmed by other factors, biblical principles are being violated.

A multitude of rock performers today scream out lyrics rather than sing them to the point that there is, at best,  impaired communication of a message. The methodology of the performance dominates and overwhelms the message. In the secular world that is of little concern. However, in a Christian context, it means much.

The primary question that we are left with in reference to Rock and Roll’s use in our churches is also one of proximity. Our culture is permeated with a musical form that this writer believes, to varying degrees, is corrupt. Its leading practitioners admit this. Rock icon Little Richard, said “I believe this kind of music is demonic.”23   Yet, many believers have uncritically embraced this musical form and incorporated it into the worship of God. In this writer’s opinion it is neither glorifying to God nor ultimately edifying to the body of Christ.

Does rock affect some listeners negatively more than others? Probably. Some people are more musically inclined and affected than others. There are always the people upon whom it seems to have little effect. One wonders, in the end if that is relevant. It is pretty much a given that the use of tobacco is not healthy. The smoker who says as he puffs away, “My grandpa smoked all his life and he lived to be 98,” is fooling himself if he thinks that this means that tobacco is harmless. There are too many studies, too much research and too many gravestones to the contrary proving that it is not good for most people. In reality, even grandpa would probably have admitted that it was not “good” for him. His leather lungs could just tolerate it better than most. To be sure, grandpa probably was not going to be the champion sprinter he would have been if he had not started puffing! We believe that the same holds true for the deleterious spiritual affects of the “ingestion” of rock.

Are there degrees of egregiousness in regard to this music? Clearly. Obviously, some is borderline and other musical pieces are clearly over the line and over the top.  However, our stance on the issue is not to see how close we can come to this musical genre especially in our worship of our holy God. We believe that we need to limit our proximity to it. While acknowledging that some forms of Christian rock music are milder than others, the safe course of action is to keep our distance from it. Certainly, that is consistent with the Scriptural warnings that we have looked at already. (2 Co 6: 17-18; 1Jo 2:15-16 )

We will not take the course of one gospel preaching church which had to inform some ladies in the choir to quit moving their hips to the rock choir specials. It just did not look godly to the leadership. It was interesting to this writer, that the church leadership was telling these ladies not to do what the music was prompting them to do. It would have been better not to use that musical medium in the first place rather than issue conflicting directives.

For our part we have decided here at Calvary that we will not use rock music in any of its varied manifestations in either hard or soft forms. We believe that there is acceptable music that is a blessing to all and glorifying to God without getting close to that which is wicked at worst and questionable at best.

Footnotes:
1. Warren, Rick The Purpose Driven Church  Zondervan Publishing pp 280-81

2. Masters, Peter Worship in the Melting Pot The Wakeman Trust, London p 24-25

3. Wolf, Garen L. Church Music Matters p. 30

4.Manley, Gerald Pensacola, Florida – Church periodical published by his local church

5. Makujina, John Measuring the Music Schmul Publishing Salem, Ohio p 25

6. Ibid. p. 25-26

7. Ibid. p. 26

8. Ibid. p. 51

9. Ibid. Wolf p. 31

10.  Anderson, Leith ;  Hayford, Jack W. ;   Patterson, Ben: Who’s in Charge? : Standing Up to Leadership Pressures. Sisters, OR : Multnomah Books, 1993 (Mastering Ministry’s Pressure Points), p. 131

11. Ibid. Masters, p. 61

12. Ibid. Masters pp 55-60

13. Ibid. Wolf, pp. 188-189

14. Ibid. Makujina, pp. 182-187

15. Barnes, Albert Barnes Notes on the New Testament (in one volume) Kregel Publications p. 777

16. Jones, Paul S., Singing and Making Music P&R Publishing Phillipsburg, NJ p 290

17. Ibid. Makujina p. 92

18. Ibid.

19. Fisher, Tim Harmony at Home Sacred Music Services Greenville, SC p. 85

20. Fisher,Tim  The Battle for Christian Music Sacred Music Services Greenville, SC p 104

21. Ibid. Makajina  p. 95

22. Ibid. Masters p. 34

23. Ibid. Fisher,Tim The Battle for Christian Music Sacred Music Services Greenville SC p. 81

Bibliography

Anderson, Leith ;  Hayford, Jack W. ;   Patterson, Ben: Who’s in Charge? : Standing Up to Leadership Pressures, Sisters, OR : Multnomah Books, 1993

Barnes, Albert Barnes Notes on the New Testament (in one volume) Kregel Publications (electronic library)

Fisher,Tim  The Battle for Christian Music, Sacred Music Services Greenville SC c. 1992

Fisher,Tim Harmony at Home, Sacred Music Services P.O. Box 17072  Greenville, SC 29606 c.1999

Jones, Paul S., Singing and Making Music, P&R Publishing Phillipsburg, NJ c. 2006

Makujina, John Measuring the Music, Schmul Publishing P.O. Box 716 Salem, Ohio c. 2000

Masters, Peter Worship in the Melting Pot, The Wakeman Trust, London c. 2002

Warren, Rick The Purpose Driven Church , Zondervan Publishing Grand Rapids, Michigan c 1995

Wolf, Garen L. Church Music Matters, Schmul Publishing Co. P.O. Box 716 Salem, Ohio c. 2005

Recommended Reading:

Singing and Making Music by Paul S. Jones P&R Publishing, P.O. Box 817  Phillipsburg, NJ c 2006

Worship in the Melting Pot by Peter Masters The Wakeman Trust 38 Walcot SquareLondon SE11 4TZ

Measuring the Music by John Makujina Schmul Publishing Co.P.O. Box 716 Salem, Ohio

The Battle for Christian Music by Tim Fisher Sacred Music Services P.O. Box 17072Greenville, SC 29606

Harmony at Home by Tim Fisher Sacred Music Services P.O. Box 17072Greenville, SC 29606

Church Music Matters by Garen L. Wolf Schmul Publishing Co. P.O. Box 716 Salem, Ohio

Music in the Balance by Frank Garlock and Kurt Woetzel Majesty MusicP.O. Box 6524 Greenville SC c 1992

Why I Left the Contemporary Music Movement by Dan Lucarini Evangelical Press P.O. Box 84 Auburn, MA 01501

Can We Rock the Church? By John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini Evangelical Press P.O. Box 84 Auburn, MA 01501