(image courtesy ChristArt)
By Spencer D Gear
When I walk into the average, contemporary evangelical church and hear the “church music”, it reminds me of my DJ days as a rock radio announcer. The thumping beat of this church music and some of the light-hearted, flimsy words, remind me of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix that I played on-air and at Record Hops long ago at the Maryborough Rowers’ Hall as a 4MB DJ in Queensland, Australia, back in the 1960s and 70s.
Within the church, this is known as contemporary Christian music (CCM). I have an increasing discomfort over what is happening to music and preaching in the evangelical church. We can expect light-hearted stuff from the liberal church because it has assaulted biblical authority, but to see it happening in the evangelical church rings alarm bells for me. [See “How liberal churches undermine the Bible. Part 1; Part 2]
Infiltration of evangelical churches
What has become of the evangelical church that it seems not to be able to discern the world’s style of music from that which glorifies the Lord in songs, hymns & spiritual songs of praise and edification (Matt. 26:30; Acts 26:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) . Has worldliness engulfed the church? I considered writing an article on this theme because it is bothering me that the seeker-sensitive church seems to have swallowed worldly music styles as part of the seeker-sensitive package. Are attempts for the church to reach the secular community and not bore church people, reasons for engaging in compromise of the Christian standard through styles of music in the church? See the article, “Did Bill Hybels ‘repent’ of seeker-sensitive?”
However, others before me have addressed this topic. In what follows, I provide a few links to expand on the reasons for my discomfort with worldliness and CCM.
Worldliness and contemporary Christian music
What is worldliness? Here’s a solid outline of it, based on I John 2:14-17. I hope you took a read. Iain Murray has a helpful article on “Worldliness”. Dr. Jack Arnold asks, “What is worldliness?” in his article on Romans 12:2.
Dr Frank Garlock has taken the church to task over “pop goes the music”, starting back in the 1970s, and the worldliness of much of CCM.
“Dr. Garlock teaches that music is not neutral or amoral. It is a language; in fact, it is one of the most important languages on earth. He warns that the message of the music must match the message of the lyrics. He says, “The words only let you know what the music already says. … The music is its own message and it can completely change the message of the words”
(Garlock, The Big Beat: A Rock Blast).
Fanny Crosby, the renowned hymnist, had some pointed observations of the connection between music and worldliness. In “Bible guidelines for Christian music” it is stated:
Fanny Crosby is the greatest hymn writer that ever lived, writing over 9,000 songs! Before Fanny got saved, at 45 years old, she wrote many secular songs. But after she got saved — things were different. . . Here’s what Fanny said about mixing Christian and worldly music:
“Sometimes I need to reject the music proposed for my songs because the musicians misunderstand that the Fanny Crosby who once wrote for the people in the saloons has merely changed the lyrics. Oh my no. The church must never sing it’s songs to the melodies of the world.” (Danny Castle, video “What’s Wrong with Christian Rock”)
And do you know why Fanny Crosby said that — because Fanny got saved! And God “hath put a NEW SONG in my mouth, even PRAISE unto our God” inside the NEW Fanny Crosby! Fanny Crosby wrote over 9,000 songs to the Lord! Fanny used over 200 different pen names because she wanted to make sure God got the glory and not her.
Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
SING, O Earth, His wonderful love proclaim!
Hail Him! Hail Him! Highest archangels in Glory;
Strength and honor give to His holy name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children,
In His arms He carries them all day long;
Praise Him! Praise Him! Tell of His excellent greatness;
Praise Him! Praise Him! Ever in joyful SONG.
Pastor Phil Christensen challenges Frank Garlock in his “Response to Frank Garlock” and Garlock’s view of worldly church music.
Is the origin of rock music worldly?
By worldly, I mean a mind-set from this secular world and not from the Scriptures as proclaimed by the evangelical Christian church. What is the origin of rock music? Did it originate in the church or in the world? This is the Encyclopedia Britannica’s take on the origin of rock music.
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia states:
Musical style that arose in the U.S. in the mid-1950s and became the dominant form of popular music in the world. Though rock has used a wide variety of instruments, its basic elements are one or several vocalists, heavily amplified electric guitars (including bass, rhythm, and lead), and drums. It began as a simple style, relying on heavy, dance-oriented rhythms, uncomplicated melodies and harmonies, and lyrics sympathetic to its teenage audience’s concerns — young love, the stresses of adolescence, and automobiles. Its roots lay principally in rhythm and blues (R&B) and country music. Both R&B and country existed outside the mainstream of popular music in the early 1950s, when the Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (1921 – 65) and others began programming R&B, which until then had been played only to black audiences. Freed’s success gave currency to the term rock and roll. The highly rhythmic, sensual music of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, and particularly Elvis Presley in 1955 – 56 struck a responsive chord in the newly affluent postwar teenagers. In the 1960s several influences combined to lift rock out of what had already declined into a bland and mechanical format. In England, where rock’s development had been slow, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were found to have retained the freshness of its very early years and achieved enormous success in the U.S., where a new generation had grown up unaware of the musical influences of the new stars. At the same time, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Byrds, and others were blending the traditional ballads and verse forms of folk music with rock, and musicians began to explore social and political themes. Performers such as the Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison of the Doors, and Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention combined imaginative lyrics with instrumental virtuosity, typically featuring lengthy solo improvisation. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix won large followings with their exotic elaborations on R&B. The 1970s saw the rise of singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon, Neil Young, Elton John, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen, and rock assimilated other forms to produce jazz-rock, heavy metal, and punk rock. In the 1980s the disco-influenced rock of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince was balanced by the post-punk “new wave” music of performers such as Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads (led by David Byrne), and the Eurythmics — all of whom illustrated their songs with music videos. By the 1990s rock music had incorporated grunge, rap, techno, and other forms.
Please don’t say that there are lots of things from worldly inventors that Christians use such as the motor car, refrigerator, microwave and DVD player. But these are not used for Christian worship.
I’ll let you be the judge, but it seems to me that in the contemporary, evangelical church, the world’s system of music has infiltrated the church in association with light-hearted, seeker-sensitive “preaching” (talks on the faith). Is this worldly preaching? See John MacArthur on “Charles Spurgeon and worldly preaching”. This is what C. H. Spurgeon had to say about “worldliness”.
Vance Havner lived from 1901-1986. During that time he wrote the following:
“Once we stood amazed at worship in the presence of the Lord. Now a generation bred on entertainment wants to sit amused. What was once an experience has become a performance and the church must put on a show. The idea of entertainment in things spiritual is nowhere in the New Testament. Nothing was further from the minds of the early saints than the idea that “we must make it interesting.” It was interesting but it was the mighty power of God that drew amazed throngs to ask, “What meaneth this?”
“It is a decadent generation in the last days that cannot endure sound doctrine and heaps to itself teachers to tickle its itching ears. Much of the professing church works itself into a fever trying to entertain as though taking a cue from Hollywood. We pattern after the age in a futile effort to reach these jaded mortals with a religious version of the thing they are surfeited with already. We go far afield and spend millions providing recreation and sport for a jittery generation that cannot rest or meditate but must be ‘doing something’ all the time. Someone has said that we do not need bowling rooms in our churches half as much as we need ‘bawling rooms,’ where parents and children need to weep their way back to God in confession of sin.
“There will be no revival until we return from amusement to amazement. Men must first ask in wonder, “’What meaneth this?’ before they will inquire, ‘What shall we do?’” (A Treasury of Vance Havner: Twentieth-Century Prophet, Preacher, Pilgrim, compiled by Betsy D. Scanlan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, pp 238-9)
What would Vance Havner think today?
Contemporary Christian rock music is worldly
I see much of modern church music as worldly because
- It has one dimension, a worldly way, to speak in a manner to move human beings and not in a God-focussed, transcendent way. This happens through the light-hearted music style of rock music, some country and jazz styles. This sound is pleasing to the ears of many. However, postmodernist, classical forms of music also can be used one-dimensionally to move the emotions of the heart and soul.
- The worldliness is accentuated by the light content of the lyrics.
- Some of the light stuff of lyrics could have a proper spiritual use in some places, but mostly it does not. Most of it is human pleasing.
What do the Scriptures say?
In the Scriptures we are exhorted to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), but this is in the context (v. 16) of, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom”. Honestly, can this be done to the driving beat of drums and guitars of rock music that tends to dull and overpower the words? We do need a spiritual diet of all three types of songs when we come to worship – psalms, hymns and spiritual songs so that we are edified and uplifted in music of praise to our God, the holy Trinity. Our music is not to be an experience generator but to contain content that will glorify God when we hear and sing it. Rock music tends to cloud the lyrics of worship. These psalms, hymn and spiritual songs need to be melodious and singable for the average congregation. Of course, some heart response music has its place in invitational situations, but it can tend to be human focussed too much.
Is there a way back to worshipful music for singing in the church gathering? Singing the words of the Bible, including the metrical psalms, could create more songs of praise to God and less human–focussed mood music that is designed to titillate the emotions. Many old hymns are God-focussed. I’m thinking of hymns such as “To God be the Glory”, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty”, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “O Worship the King, all-glorious above”, and “Great is thy Faithfulness”.
The Evangelical Movement of Wales has produced a God-centred hymnal in Christian Hymns (1977, Byrntirion, Bridgend). However, does this comply with my musical tastes and rock music doesn’t? The more recent music of Bill & Gloria Gather, including, “Because He lives”, also is Christ-exalting music.
I am convinced that worship of God needs to move human beings to Godward thinking rather than towards human mood music. While individual tastes can be considered, Christian music will involve moving away from sensual, rebellious styles of music to focus on God and all of his attributes. The ideal combination for the church gathering would be God-centred music that draws one to the transcendent Lord of the universe and combine it with expository preaching that focuses on the content of Scripture and not the preacher’s opinion.
Appendix 1: Comments from a CCM promoter
I asked for his comments on the article above. He wrote:
I may surprise you when I say, in the most part, that I wholeheartedly agree with you. My greater concern is not so much the style (although that can be a worry too) but rather lyrics (content, Biblical correctness and subject) and attitude of the worship leaders and singers (performance vs leading the congregation to the throne of the King). I believe that music style doesn’t have to be ancient to be classed as worship or worshipful and some old hymns drive me nuts with their awful musicality!
One of my favourite singers of Christian music is Aled Jones. A few years ago he penned a worship song called “Vespera”. It was truly what we might call worshipful Church Music – organ as core instrument and with a boys’ choir with two boy soprano soloists. Each time I hear it – and often play it in my quiet time – I am transported through the heavenly vastness and find myself in the throne room of Our Father. It makes me wonder and hope that (when we reach glory) we might hear such voices worshipping God and stirring our hearts. Praise God!
Whilst I do like modern music there are limits. My short time at [a stated church] allowed me to see such extreme rubbish as – “Let the Holy Ghost Fall”. This gave me the impression that the Holy Ghost was like a sack of potatoes falling out of heaven and hitting people, knocking them to the floor! Anyway it was “performed” by a gyrating young guy who would be better placed in a club room at a hotel under spot lights and also the night where [the pastor’s wife] ended her “worship” song, laying on her back on the “stage” kicking her legs to the sky! I have both these on video too! Whilst a couple of songs that night were true worship songs (even though in a modern framework) but most of the service was performance and self promotion, obviously designed to entertain the patrons and evoke emotional responses rather than reverently offering praise and worship to Almighty God – who is worthy to be praised!
There are so many issues where the church today is out of step and I think this is increasingly becoming one of those areas. I remember an article way back by Christian artist – Steven Curtis Chapman on the same subject – its a very sobering look at the same issue!
I see music as a gift from God, but so many have hijacked its beauty and purpose to create noise. I suppose I am with Larry Norman here -“Why should the Devil have all the Good music?”
We need apologists like you to keep these issues before the Christian Church, even if it causes us to do no more than talk and pontificate on the issue. Hopefully people will heed the call to truly worship God rather than entertain the sheep!
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.