I was writing about my love for secular rock and roll and pop-music and how that love came into conflict with attending a fundamental Baptist style church. Because dislike for secular music ran high where I attended, I kept my secular music interests pretty much between myself and my bedside alarm clock radio that was set to the local radio station.
One summer during my junior high years, I attended a Methodist youth camp in Missouri. There I was introduced for the first time to Contemporary Christian Music. It wasn’t much; just Amy Grant’s album, Age to Age, that contained the El Shaddai song everyone who was into sappy sounding mellow music really liked. The female youth/choir director at our Methodist church thought Amy was “the bomb” and everyone who loved Jesus should love her equally as well. The feeling was never mutual with me. I still preferred my Duran Duran and Police over Amy “Grunt.”
Then, in the summer before my 10th grade year, my family moved from Missouri to Arkansas. This is when we started attending the fundamentalist church that didn’t care for secular music. Interestingly, they didn’t care for CCM either. I don’t know if that was a matter of preference or the fact CCM was still gaining popularity among Christians and they weren’t familiar with it.
When my family moved to Arkansas, I left behind a really good friend in Missouri. This friend also shared my taste in rock and roll. I kept in marginal contact with him during the first 6 months or so in my new home.
One weekend, my family and I returned to my former hometown to visit my grandmother. When I arrived, I called on my old friend and discovered he had become a “Christian” and attended a Pentecostal holiness church with several of my other previous friends. I also was stunned to see he had grown his hair out really long and listened exclusively to CCM. He gave me a major lecture on the wickedness of secular music and that as a Christian he only wanted to listen to rock and roll music that praised Jesus.
Being an impressionable young man, I took his anti-rock preaching to heart and thought I would give this CCM alternative a listen. In fact, I took his preaching so much to heart that I even “rededicated” my life to Christ at my new church and had myself baptized.
One of the bands he suggested I should listen to was Petra. I gave my mother a “wish list” of CCM albums I wanted and I received three for Christmas: Petra’s Beat the System, Michael W. Smith’s 2 and Bryan Duncan’s Have Yourself Committed.
As time went on, I accumulated several others, like Mylon Le Fevre, Carmen, and Whiteheart. Eventually, I picked up the Christian metal bands like Guardian, Whitecross, and Stryper (which I will go into more detail with a later post). Yet, all the while I was collecting this Christian music, I was thinking I was being spiritual because I listened to it over the secular stuff.
There is one amusing side note to my new found CCM interest. My old friend told me during a phone conversation that when he graduated high school he was moving to Nashville, becoming a roadie for Petra, would learn the CCM business, and then form his own Christian rock band. He invited me to join him. At the time I thought that sounded awesome.
In order to completely accomplish this venture, my friend had started learning to play the guitar. I in turn began taking piano lessons from the church organist, because I wanted to play one of those really cool Yamaha keyboard sets I saw in all the videos. I even stopped cutting my hair so I could get it that “rock and roll” performance length.
My parents were extremely supportive of my new found cultural interest in learning piano until I told them I was planning on using my piano playing to start a Christian rock band after I graduated high school rather than attending college. They quickly crushed my Christian band plans with my buddy. I kept growing my hair out long, however.
At any rate, even though I liked CCM, I always felt as though it was a step or so below secular music in quality and performance. I would even say that some of it was just outright lame. The music was poorly performed by the bands and the albums were terribly produced. Men wearing Argyle sweaters and matching socks typically don’t make good rock and roll.
CCM fans always suggested that these albums could be used as witnessing tools, like an audio tract that shared the gospel. A troubled youth who would otherwise not attend a church or read a Bible would at least listen to a rock album, even if it were a Christian rock band. Hence, this philosophy began laying the seeds for our current day seeker-sensitive movement. But I was embarrassed by the quality of some of the music that I didn’t want my lost friends to necessarily know I listened to it. So, even though I purchased CCM, I still had a stash of my favorite secular stuff I also listened to.
When I left for college, one of my first objectives I had was to find a group of Christians who also shared my enthusiasm for CCM. I found them at the Baptist Student Union at Arkansas State. God, however, in His irony, used my BSU experience to bring me to Christ and genuine salvation. The final week of my freshman year, God was pleased to save me, and then my perspective on music entirely changed.
But, a few months or so after I started my sophomore year of college as a brand new Christian, a couple of my friends challenged me about my CCM. They gave me a book by a guy named Jeff Godwin called Dancing with Demons: The music’s real master. In this book, the author, a Jack Chick taught disciple, argues that all rock music, regardless if it is sung by secular pagans or zealous Christians, is Satanic in origins and is designed to only enslave those who willing listened to it.
He cataloged many CCM groups of that time (late 70 thru 80s) and wrote anecdotal, hearsay-style stories about how they really lived corrupted lives and lied about the true intentions of their so-called music “ministries.” He even alleged that Petra’s lead singer often gave Satanic signals to the audience when they performed.
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe my CCM heroes were really deceptive liars. Thankfully, I took his claims with the proverbial grain of salt. I also came in contact with hyper-fundamentalist, David Cloud, who wrote exposes’ and taught about the evils of CCM. His website to this day still has many of his articles and essays condemning all CCM as detrimental to the Christian faith. In a similar fashion that Godwin does, Cloud will list anecdotal stories about how these performers really live double lives or are involved with false teaching or some supposed Christian compromise that only leads young minds away from the Lord.
Jeff Godwin and David Cloud are not alone in their criticism of CCM. There are several, mainly from the fever swamps of the independent, fundamental camp, who act as theological mullahs warning of the dangerous CCM poses to Christian youth.
Three things always troubled me about these CCM critics:
First is the second and third hand testimony about what a certain CCM performer did or said. Anecdotal and hearsay stories is exactly the best way to describe what really amounts to gossip on the part of these critics. Rarely is there any firsthand accounts substantiated by genuine facts.
David Cloud, for example, will publish an occasional article that criticizes various CCM artists, but they will be 10-15 years out-of-date. He may complain about something the lead singer from the CCM group Audio Adrenaline said in an interview in 1998. Cloud then infers what he thinks is compromise on the part of the person’s statement and proclaims him and his CCM group as apostate in this present day.
The problem with this approach is not only is such citations out-of-date, but often they are out-of-context and may be woefully misinformed as to the current day status of the person under review. What a person said (if it was what he really said) 10 years ago may not reflect what that same person, after 10 years of spiritual maturity, says or does now.
Second is how these CCM artists are judged and condemned according to fundamentalist preference standards, not biblical truth. Independent fundamentalists have a ridiculous understanding as to what constitutes compromise and who is allegedly involved in compromise. Generally it stems from their inadequate beliefs about a contrived doctrine called “the doctrine of separation.”
If a person’s actions or affiliations are considered “worldly” according to independent fundamentalist’s spiritual preferences, anyone who is a sober-minded and seriously spiritual Christian will recognize the person’s worldliness and thus separate from him. The separation is practiced by not having any personal affiliations with the “worldly” individual, and is extended to not having any affiliations with other Christians who may have affiliations with the “worldly” individual. See how that works?
Independent fundamentalists apply this unbiblically inept view of “separation” to CCM artists and any contemporary music that may be used as worship in a local Church. Hence, if Chris Tomlin performs at a conference venue where a Catholic activist may have given a lecture on abortion the day before, Chris Tomlin is to be separated from because he compromised the gospel by participating and performing at the same venue. If at a later time, he ministers at a local church, then that local church is to be separated from because they had a spiritually compromised CCM performer play for them.
Additionally, independent fundamentalists equate contemporary music with worldly music and if a church uses contemporary music in a worship service, then the church is compromising with the world according to “the doctrine of separation.” It doesn’t matter if the church is solid doctrinally and theologically and proclaims high the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the fact that contemporary music is considered “worldly” and the church uses it on occasion in the worship service places them in the position of compromise.
But this reaction to CCM is not only unsupported by scripture, but is based solely upon what has become the accepted preference on the part of fundamentalists critical of current day events. A contemporary music style, in and of itself, is not grounds to condemn music at church. It certainly is grounds to teach degrees of separation among Christian fellowships.
And third, rarely do these CCM critics provide examples of the kind of music a Christian should listen to and enjoy. Some critics are so harsh that a reader is left with the impression a Christian should never listen to any music whatsoever. It is almost like an Islamic view of musical arts. For instance, I am yet to read from David Cloud what he believes is a positive example of good, God honoring music.
Again, those CCM critics who will suggest the kind of music Christians can listen to without sliding down into apostasy will only offer their preferences as to what THEY believe is good music. Because of their misguided view of what constitutes “worldly” and “compromise,” they by default believe anything performed in a contemporary style is “worldly.”
As a substitute, they will suggest gospel quartet performers who happen to come from fundamentalist backgrounds. But, as I noted above, the style of music performed does not necessarily equate with “good” and “God-honoring.” In fact, much of it is, at least in my opinion, just as lame, if not worse in performance quality than some of those CCM bands I listened to back when I was in high school. Moreover, the lyrics have deplorable theological content and only make me angry when I hear them sung.
Are CCM artists above criticism? Of course not. I believe CCM artists have done and do plenty to raise concerns for Christians. However, we must have a proper, scripturally informed criticism of CCM, not one born out of personal preferences that have been shaped by a phony fundamentalist spirituality. Judging CCM according to this false standard only serves to damaged the credibility of the one leveling criticisms, and if those criticisms are ever legitimate, no one will take them seriously.