Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Christian Music

I want to preface today's post by saying that much of what is said today will be personal opinion.  While music is mentioned a lot in the Bible, there is little mentioned on types of music. Being that music is something important to God, I want to take some time today to discuss types and applications of music with particular interest in what effects music has on us.  I do believe that music is being used to manipulate some Christians and that some very popular Christian music is not all that edifying to Christians (though I do believe is valuable as outreach). 

First of all, music is important to God.  We have the book of Psalms.  Psalms is a collection of songs to God and it is the largest book in the Bible.  One fruit of being filled in the spirit is speaking in spiritual songs and hymns (Ephesians 5:19).  Our wedding with the Lord will be heralded by a song (Revelation 5:13).  Jesus' birth was announced with a song (Luke 2:13-14).  God even ordained music as a ministry of the Levites in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 16:4-6).  It is easy to see that music is very important to God. 

Secondly, music should sound joyful or contemplative.  Some songs are meant to bring us into the presence of God where we stand at awe and amazed at just how wonderful He is.  Some songs are a joyful response to that God has done in our lives.  Some songs are meant to praise and some are meant as a prayer.  Songs unto the Lord should not be angry or bitter sounding.  When we sing to the Lord, we should be filled with the Spirit and the fruit of that filling is described as:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Ephesians 5:18-20 NKJV
and
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV
It is clear that under the influence of the Spirit, music should be joyful and contemplative, not angry or harsh. 

Music also has an effect on us.  It can lift us up, inspire us, bring us into the presence of God or it can bring us down, make us angry, and tempt us to sin.  Music, as instituted by God, should bring us closer to the Lord.  In fact, Elisha even asked for a musician when asked to prophesy:
Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother." But the king of Israel said to him, "No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab." And Elisha said, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. "But now bring me a musician." Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.  2 Kings 3:13-15 NKJV
Music does have an effect on us.  Not just spiritually but emotionally and physically.  How often do we tap our fingers or feet in response to music without even thinking about it?  How often do we dance to beats and rhythms reflexively.  Music is used to set moods and tones in movies and television.  Music is used at ballgames to rouse the crowd and team.  Music can make us sad, happy, inspired, depressed, angry, and in love.  Music has great power over our hearts and minds and that is why we need to be careful with it. 

So now that we have established that music was instituted by God for His praise and worship and that it has great effects on us, I want to turn our attention to specific kinds of music and how it is used.

Many believe that as long as the lyrics are Christian, the song is Christian.  And while that holds some validity, it is not entirely true.  The music itself matters just as much as the words.  For example, I think most of us are familiar with the song "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts.  It is a happy song celebrating the days of Summer.  Now another band by the name of Typo O Negative (A goth metal band) remade the song, but in their own goth metal style.  The words are identical and musically it is basically the same though the arrangement is completely different to give it its dark goth sound.  The same song where one version is a celebration, but the other is more of a plea, or a memory of a distant happy past now gone.  The song has a completely different meaning though the words are the same.  That is a more extreme example, but it sets the premise.  Christian music should not just be happy in lyrics but sound happy musically.  I do not believe you can angrily praise the Lord no matter how good the lyrics are. 

RevGen was just last weekend, which is a very large music festival here in NJ.  I did not attend this year, but I have attended the past 3 years and I have seen there that the fruit of angry music is angry dancing (no, I am not putting down RevGen as it is a great event overall I am just making an observation of one thing that goes on there).  Perhaps it is just "fun" and perhaps I am old-fashioned but I just can not see the Spirit of God causing angry growling singing and children slamming into each other to the point where there are several injuries each year.  It looks like like the heavy metal concerts I attended when I was younger, and from being part of that I can tell you that the "spirit" is not that of God at all.  Maybe God is copying slam dancing from the world to somehow redeem it for His glory?  I don't think so.  I just can not see that the same exact music with kids acting and dancing and dressing the same exact way but with just a band that is not Christian is considered ungodly but changing the band to one that calls themselves Christian changes everything. 

I am not picking on metal.  I think rock, even hard rock or metal, can be done in a way that does not sound dark or angry.  Coming from my own time on the 80's, the band Stryper while considered metal also had a bright sound.  Today bands like Third Day and to a large extent even Skillet keep their sound from becoming very dark sounding.  We need to look at the fruits of the behavior that music inspires.  Is that fruit in line with the fruits and influence of the Spirit of God or is it not?  We are to judge by fruit and so fruit is what we need to look at.  I also am not saying that those bands are somehow not Christian.  I believe that they have a great value in outreach, being able to get inside a culture that needs Jesus and plant seeds that we all pray the Spirit causes to grow to fruition. I also believe they have a valuable testimony to share, but they need to be careful as that testimony loses any validity if there is no outward change in their lives.  I just do not believe that the music they play is edifying to the body of Christ in terms of helping people grow in Christ or closer to the Lord. 

Music is also used within the church to manipulate people.  I touched on this on my post from a few days ago entitled "Crazy Worship."  Music has emotional effect and clever musicians will manipulate emotions with a planned progression of songs, usually ending in a high climax where someone will come out and ask for money.  People all worked up in what they perceive to the the spirit of God give plentifully.  I find manipulation of the praise and worship of particularly disgusting and they will be held accountable to God for the abuse and manipulation of His children. 

And now I want to address worship itself.  I realize that what I am about to say is all my opinion and involve pet peeves of mine. I think the biggest pet peeve of worship for me are songs about worship in a worship service.  I feel those songs are me-centered whereas worship songs should be God-centered.  If I am singing about how I will worship God then I am not worshiping God, I am patting myself on the back for the fact that I will worship God. Some songs are not even theologically accurate.  We should never sing songs like "I am just a sinner saved by grace." (this one was pointed out by a sister in the Lord across the pond).  We WERE sinners and we are saved by grace, but we are washed, cleansed, redeemed, and adopted children of the Living God!  I believe songs in a worship service should be to God, about God, or about God's work in our lives.  It should not be about us or our worship. But again, that is my opinion and I realize that many people have different opinions of that. 

I realize that many may disagree with what I said in this post and I understand that there are so many different views on music.  Some will say that I am too strict and some will say my opinions are too permissive.  All I am saying is to look at the fruit of the kinds of music we listen to.  Does our music make us dance violently or erotically?  Is its fruit in our loves that fruit of the Holy Spirit?   We need to make sure that our hearts and not being corrupted or led astray by our choices in song.  We are called to do all things as unto the Lord, and all things includes all, even our choice of what we listen to. 
Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and gladness are in His place.
Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Give to the LORD glory and strength.
Give to the LORD the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth. The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; And let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field rejoice, and all that is in it.
Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the LORD, For He is coming to judge the earth.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.  1 Chronicles 17:27-34 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. I attended RevGen for the first time this year with my oldest son, another dad, and three other teenage boys. Some of the music was indeed uplifting. The group Kutless, on the harder rock side of things, really worshiped the Lord, and gave a great testimony to Jesus.

    Two groups there, August Burns Red, and the Devil Wears Prada, were a different story. First off, I couldn't understand a word either group was screaming. (Yes, screaming, as they were not singing). The lyrics might have been Christian (my son tells me that is the case for August Burns Red at least), but the music was angry and full of fury. The whole 'mosh pit' and 'circle pit' phenomenon were the visible fruits of listening to that sort of music. I didn't see God being glorified.

    In my opinion for music to be Christian music, it must be about or at the very least lead people to Jesus Christ. That can be accomplished in a variety of styles from hymns to rock. But that is hard to accomplish if you can't even make out what the lyrics are. The violence of the music further compounds the problem. If this so-called Christian music is going to lead you to be filled anger and angst, why bother. Secular music offers that in spades.

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