Christians and Music

dillardsWhen I originally published those four posts recounting the development of my musical tastes, I had planned to publish a fifth post detailing how we as Christians are to evaluate music.  I’m not entirely sure what happened 5 years or so ago, but that fifth post never materialized and the series ended abruptly with my retelling how I was being kicked in the back by Stryper’s drummer at a Harvest Crusade.

Anyhow, seeing that I reposted those first four posts, I thought this is as good a time as any to add the fifth. I understand the discussion among Christians as to the use of CCM in worship can become involved and passionate so I’ll say up front that I don’t claim to be any final authority.  I’ll just share my opinion on the matter, though I am confident it’s a biblically informed opinion.  Those with additional thoughts, please add to the combox if you are so inclined.

I’ll organize my thoughts in a bullet style format.

The word “worldly” must first be defined accurately when we discuss music. Certainly the idea of “worldly” can mean “Godless” and “sinful,” but broadly it can simply mean “non-sacred” or not directly pertaining to God or Christ.  A lot of music we call “secular” falls into that second category of “worldly.”

The hearts of men have loved music and song from the time Jubal developed the harp and flute (Genesis 4:21). Hence, they will write songs around common, human  experiences.  The most enduring being the theme of love, romance, and heart-break. Those would be “worldly” songs in the second sense of the word as we defined above. They pertain to non-religious subjects; but songs about non-religious subjects do not make such songs “sinful” or “ungodly.”

Christians listening to secular music is not sinful.  I personally don’t think there is anything necessarily sinful about listening to and enjoying secular music.  I like Barry Manilow’s version of Jingle Bells and even though it is traditionally a Christmas song, it’s extremely non-religious in that it’s about riding in horse drawn sleighs while dashing through snow.  The baby Jesus isn’t even mentioned once.

Christians are human beings just like lost people and they experience many of the same soul-stirring events as presented in various secular songs. Granted, Christians have a divine perspective on such soul-stirring events, but they still experience those events and will enjoy songs singing about those events.

It is the lyric content that matters with music.  Christians who focus on condemning style and sound with music, as if the “contemporary-ness” or “rock-ness” of a song makes it bad should be dismissed. Drums, a bass guitar, and an off-beat don’t make a song sinful. It is the worldview presented in the lyrical subject matter that makes a song ungodly.

George Strait singing a song about the ups and downs of the rodeo circuit is definitely in a different class of song than a rapper singing graphically about the sexual exploitation of women.  Oppositely, a slow country song can be about a sordid affair, where as a rapper can have a song proclaiming the glories of Christ’s death.

Lyric content is just as important for Christian music as it is for secular. Just as Christians should be concerned about the lyrics being sung by secular artists, they should be equally concerned with those lyrics sung by an artist who is a professed Christian.  If the person is singing trite, theologically vapid songs about Jesus that portray our Lord as a glorified “boyfriend” it doesn’t matter how good the music sounds, the lyrics are dishonoring to God.

CCM shouldn’t be disqualified from use in a worship service just because it is CCM. What qualifies it for use in worship is whether the lyric content is theologically profound and focuses the worshiper’s thoughts upon the glories of our God.  I can probably add to that thought by saying the music should be preformed well and with excellence.

However, not all theologically sound CCM is appropriate for a worship service. It is here where disagreement among brethren takes shape around one’s preferences.  What one Christian thinks is hard music for worship, another may believe it is wonderful.  Discerning leadership will make every effort to recognize what is appropriate music for worship and what is not.

Even though a rapper captures the glories of the atonement in rhythm and rhyme, it may not be an appropriate choice for congregational worship.  The same could be said about a hard rock song performed by a gravelly voiced singer.  In those instances where a CCM song has good lyrical content, but the arrangement is too hard for a service, a thoughtful worship leader will perhaps create a different arrangement that maintains the lyrics, but appeases everyone’s sensibilities.

Leaders need to shepherd their people about the use of music in worship.  The leadership in church needs to wisely balance the tastes of the people. There will always be cranky older folks who may not like any CCM, yet they need to be shepherded as to why CCM is not inherently bad for worship.  Such a personal endeavor may take patience.  In like manner, younger folks who tend toward a CCM-only mentality need to be shepherded to respect the views of their chronological elders.  And, I should point out the obvious, that means the leaders need to have a sound, developed view about music and its use in worship in order to shepherd their people.

Classic hymns must not be ignored. God has blessed the Church with a wonderful storehouse of historic hymns. It is a travesty of epic proportions that trendy churches in our day never use those hymns because they are considered old fashioned and out-of-touch. Just because a song is 250 years old and wasn’t written with guitar and synthesizer in mind doesn’t make it out-of-touch.  Worship leaders do the people of God a massive disservice when they refuse to utilize these songs.

Granted, there are a number of musicians these days who are “modernizing” these songs and I am thankful for their efforts.  However, one does not need to modernize our classic hymns to make them “accessible” for modern audiences. Just play them on the piano and/or organ. The focus needs to be upon what the lyrics are saying about God. Those hipsters who crinkle their nose at piano only songs should be rebuked for their lack of spiritual sophistication.

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2 thoughts on “Christians and Music

  1. I apologize if this is long, but it something I put together for our own church:

    How to Evaluate Songs for Congregational Worship

    Objective Criteria: Lyrics – Where Biblical principles must control the content of the words (John 17:17):
    1) Are they Biblical and doctrinally sound? Do the lyrics distinctively and accurately reflect Biblical language or ideas? Does it contain Scripture and/ or scripturally inspired thoughts? Do the lyrics reflect sound theology and Christian practice? Is there continuity with the historic orthodox doctrines of the faith?
    2) Are they spiritual and God-centered? Do the lyrics stimulate spiritual reflection and contemplation of truth? Does it induce genuine praise, thanksgiving, contrition and joy that is God-directed? Does it leave one delighting in God’s character and deeds or upon ourselves and/ or worldly values? Worship must glorify God.
    3) Are they edifying and instructive? Do the lyrics enhance the understanding of truth? Does it bring words of encouragement, admonishment and exhortation to godly living? Worship must edify believers (Col. 3:16).
    4) Are they profound and substantial? Do the lyrics elevate or trivialize the message? Does it honor or dishonor God’s character and deeds? Is there a shallowness cast over truth and Christian experience or a thoughtful engagement with it?
    5) Are they clear and understandable? Do the lyrics clearly communicate the message in an understandable way? Is the message obscured by outdated language or overly popular language that will soon be outdated? Is there an enduring quality to the words chosen?
    6) Are they addressed to the heart and mind? Do the lyrics address the heart as well as the mind (i.e. songs that provoke proper affections of the heart as well as godly intellectual reflection)? Is there a balance between songs that are weighty and thought provoking (i.e. songs that focus on deep truths) as well as those that are simple (but not trivial), meditative, repetitive (e.g. note Psa. 136) and responsive in nature?
    7) Are they marked by variety? Do the lyrics reflect a balance in emphasis (cf. Eph. 5:19 & Col. 3:16 – psalms, hymns and spiritual songs)? Do they reflect songs addressing God directly (first & second person) as well as those which speak about God (third person)? Do they focus on God’s character as well as His deeds? Do they reflect doctrine and theology (what we believe) as well as experience and practice (what we do)? Do they emphasize a corporate dimension (the church) as well as a personal dimension? Do they reflect the wide variety of responses of worship (i.e. contrition, thankfulness, joy, praise, peace, celebration, reflection, exaltation, etc…)? Is the variety of songs primarily devoted to God as the subject (rather than ourselves)? God is the focus of our worship.

    Subjective Criteria: Music – Where personal preferences must be guided by Biblical principles (Phil. 4:8):
    1) Is it wholesome? Does the musical style reflect worldly values or that which can be distinctively identified with historic standards of artistic truth, dignity and beauty?
    2) Is it excellent and creative? Does the music meet standards of excellence? Does it have a well crafted form with good melody, harmony and rhythm? Is it original and artistic, rather than formulaic or trite? God is glorified by giving Him our best. However, our goal is not perfectionism but God’s honor. Furthermore, worship is not mere conformance to some external standard, but must come from the heart (Mark 7:6-7).
    3) Is it memorable and singable? Does the song have a memorable tune? Does the music help one to remember the lyrics lodging its truth in the heart and mind? Does the song lend itself to the average person to learn and sing? Does it have a reasonable melody and rhythm that allows for easy congregational singing or can be adapted for such? Is the vocal range within acceptable limits for most people to sing? Congregational singing should not require professional abilities.
    4) Is it compatible? Does the music fit the lyrics? Do the two go well together as an appropriate expression of the message or meaning of the song? Does the music lend itself to the spirit and content of lyrics for worshipping God that is distinct from music for mere enjoyment? Does the music hinder or enhance the message of the lyrics given the particular kind of emphasis (e.g. the mood – joyful, solemn, majestic, etc…)?
    5) Is it stylistically balanced? Does the music reflect a balance and variety of different styles (cf. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) and instruments (cf. Psa. 150) that communicate to a broad range of tastes and aesthetics (e.g. older as well as newer) while retaining wholesome and excellent values? Is there a balance between historic hymns and songs as well as contemporary choruses and musical styles? Is there an appreciation and utilization of the wide variety of aesthetic expressions and creative abilities God has endowed us with? Personal preference should not be elevated to the status of a Biblical principle, thus promoting legalism. Scripture nowhere commands a particular musical style (Mark 7:8-9, 13). Believers should respect and defer to the tastes and preferences of others and not seek merely their own (Phil. 2:3-4).

  2. The music in the Church I am a member of is the classic hymns in old torn and tattered hymnals. We are a small (+- 35 people) country Church. Independent Baptist and mostly KJV. I prefer the MacArthur NASB Study Bible but use the KJV on my Asus Android tablet at church because that is the bylaws decree. I say that to give you an idea of the church culture. We have one older man that sings some songs every Sunday morning and occasionally a lady or two will sing. His songs are more modern but conservative and the music and background vocals are played from the cd player that is part of the sound system the church has. The choir is made up from members of the congregation and we don’t have robes. If you want to sing in the choir just go up and set down at the appropriate time. We only have a piano for accompaniment for the choir and the ladies who sing solo. It would not fit our church culture to have rock n roll or rap type music if you can call rap music. Personally I can’t stand Quartets. I don’t feel it is a sin to no like certain types
    of music no matter how biblical the lyrics are.

    e of music no matter how biblical the lyrics are.

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