When 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.