What Happened To Church Music?

by Kenneth F. Pierpont, D.Min.

Introduction

The subject of this paper will not be a happy one to a number of church people. It is regrettable that the subject has to be addressed at all. The problem is a blight sweeping over the land. The mission and programs of God’s churches are being heavily impacted. The blight is that of Rock Music!

Many who consider themselves Christian leaders are lining up to tell us: “Music is just a means of communication.” They try to convince us “Music is a neutral art form.” “Good music,” they say, “should speak to every human emotion and yearning.’  We are cautioned that we must exercise “Christian grace and tolerance.”

Meanwhile, a kind of influence is entering our churches, meetings and camps which is lowering standards quickly, and, I am afraid, permanently.  I refer to perhaps the most sinister influence to impact churches of which I have known since God saved me nearly fifty years ago. I refer to what is called, “Rock Music.”

Is it exercising Christian grace to be silent in the face of terrible danger? Is it desperation in clinging to the past to cry out against something bad?  Is it unchristian scrutiny to question the matter of music among professed Bible-believing people?  If any book in the world encourages us to examine and discriminate between right and wrong, it is the Bible, the Word of God.  If Biblical examination is out of place, then we must be in the wrong place!

MUSICAL BOLOGNA

“Music is amoral (morally neutral)! This lie is the cornerstone of the evil of acceptance of rock music into churches, schools, homes, camps and other Christian meetings.

“God made music, therefore rock must be good.” This so-called justification made years ago is bearing its evil fruit in the entire Christian world today.

The truth is that music is a means of expression. Many other things God made are also means of expression.  Those who have chosen to adopt rock music and to use “Christian” rock in our music services, tell us that it is a neutral means of expression.  Of course, the word “music” is, in and of itself, neutral.  So is the word “dance”.  So is the Word “sex”.  However, it is the expression of these ideas that brings to them the quality of right or wrong.

David rightly danced before the Lord.  He offered worship. Herodius’ daughter wrongly danced before Herod.  She offered herself as an object of lust before a group of men. Dance was neutral – until it was expressed.

Sexuality expressed in marriage is a beautiful thing. Expressed outside of marriage it is a corrupting thing. While the idea of sex is neutral, its expression is anything but neutral.

Is music amoral, that is, morally neutral, giving neither a positive nor a negative message in itself?   Bear in mind, at this point that by music we mean the musical score, the sounds, if you will.  The lyrics must be judged like any other combinations of words.

If music is amoral, why do modern sinners never use harmonious classical style? If music is amoral, is it not a most unlikely coincidence that the morally bankrupt in the music world seldom if ever choose melodic, predictable styles to further their debauchery, but rather the non-melodic and violent ones? If so, why do centers of sin universally avoid certain kinds of music to cling to sensual and discordant sounding music?

Could anyone deny that the sound of rock music generates a propensity to gyrate?  I think not.  That is why they called Elvis “The Pelvis!”  Suppose two people met on the street, but rather than shaking hands they faced each other and began to gyrate their bodies.  Would not an average observer attach moral significance to such an act?  No, music is not morally neutral.  Its expression is subject to the same scrutiny that thinking people attach to spoken language, body language and written language.

Rock music is being adopted into our church programs for a variety of reasons: “But people like it.  Without it they won’t come to church.” It is used as a means of drawing young people, so “ we can tell them about the Lord.”  Tell them what about the Lord? “Without a contemporary service. The younger people will not attend.” Why is that?

The trouble is that after having planted the seeds of worldly music in our church programs, we are harvesting a crop of “converts’ who have little or no discernment between the holy and the profane, who have no stomach for a life of separation and sacrifice. The theme of many conversations between pastors, missionaries and other Christian workers these days may be summed up in a single question: “What happened to Christian commitment?“ Unsanctified music is not the whole problem, but it is a part.

Some who use rock music in their churches and meetings tell us it is a means of getting people. Saved. Really? Saved from what? The crude sound of rock music is now being played in church.  We’re not saved from that. The suggestive and sensual application of the voice is being used “for God’s glory.” But it hasn’t raised the moral standards of our young people. The deafening sounds of a nightclub’s music and those of the contemporary music church service are about the same.  How can we say with David, then, “he put a new song in my mouth.” Sounds like the same old conformity to the world that Paul condemned (Romans 12:2).

BUT WE USE DIFFERENT WORDS!

We must here distinguish between the language of words and the language of music. They are not the same . The words written to music have a name: “lyric” or, more often, “lyrics.” The lyrics form the language of the words. The “score” is the musical composition itself, which may be shown on paper in the form of musical notation or expressed in sounds. Each speaks its own language.

If the bump and grind of the nightclub is being expressed in the musical sounds but the words are smooth and “Christian,” we will have an uncertain sound, confusion. We have seen it before: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” (Genesis 27:22). If there were ever an example of the trumpet giving an uncertain sound, it is demonstrated by the effort to set “Christian” words to rock music.  In such a case Paul asked “who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). We have our answer in this matter – very few!

Dr. Richard Taylor, in his work, The Disciplined Lifestyle, contrasts words and sounds: “Words are timid things. Decibels and beat are bold things, which can easily bury words under an avalanche of sound. The bit of religion tagged on will only lend to the whole performance a fake aura of sanctity, but it will not be an instrument which the Holy Spirit can use to bring awakening and conviction.”

WHAT ABOUT THE WORDS?

Yes, modern “Christian” rock songs contain words that are different from the music itself. But, in many cases, the sentimentality and self-centeredness of modern thought comes through anyway.  How about the ”Christian” song, “There will never be another who will love me like you, there will never be another who could hold me.”  What is that supposed to mean? Certainly an inappropriate intimacy is projected into this song by such suggestive words. Add to that the matter of questionable dress on the church platform which is commonplace today and you have a scenario for inappropriate thought on the part of some listeners, or worse!

Great fun is often poked at the old hymns of the faith today.  It is alleged that some came from the beer halls of Germany. The clear implication is that a modern age demands more meaningful music and that newer means better.  I wish that were the case.  Tell me, please, what modern songwriter could do better at exalting Christ than the gorgeous sounds of the hymn, “Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded.”? Who, today, could write more poignant words than these in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ:

O sacred Head, now wounded,

With grief and shame weighed down.

Now scornfully surrounded

With thorns, Thine only crown:

O sacred Head, what glory,

What bliss till now was Thine:

Yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call thee mine.

Those words are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux from the eleventh century.       

Does anyone think of any words set to a modern “rock hymn” that will last a thousand years?

Not only is much of the writing of modern song for the church deficient in musical quality; it is lacking in word quality as well.  When one adds to that the fact of the lack of adequate practice and preparation so common in our churches, it is little wonder that the anemia of our song services often makes us look like musical pygmies.

“PROFANE MUSIC”

An article by the above title appeared in the April 2001 “Witness”. The “Official Magazine of the Christian Union Churches.” This longest article I have personally ever known to appear in the “Witness” appears to be from the pen of a pop “Christian “ musician but that is not entirely clear.

The writer stated that the only criterion the Bible uses for music is that we are to “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”  This has reference to Psalm 150:6, though that is not stated.  The various instruments used in Old Testament music, the writer says, were “to get the body to move and feel alive.”  Numerous statements are made throughout the article which portray an attitude disdainful of traditional Christian values in music. The arrogant manner in which the writer makes his points serves to betray his indifference to the godly attempts of Christians through the years to honor the Lord Jesus Christ with their music.  Worst of all, the writer makes no attempt whatsoever to deal in any meaningful way with the approximate five hundred references to music, voice, singing, et cetera, in Scripture.  Three verses are cited in all, two from the New Testament and one from the Old.  Two of these have nothing to do with music.

This “Christian” pop artist says, “If music is truly sacred . . . it should speak to every human emotion and yearning.  If it doesn’t do that then it isn’t very Christian.”  Further, he says, “God isn’t narcissistic.” This latter word is filled with overtones of sexual deviance, but, at best, means “occupied with self.”  The writer says that Jesus came to serve.  He did not, however, come to abandon His holiness. If subtle suggestion is being made at this point by this rock music spokesperson that Christ would sanction music featuring human emotion and yearning because He came to serve, such an idea is the poorest of guesswork. What the writer had in mind is hard to tell.  Confusion and categorical statements abound throughout the article, which seems intended to challenge the traditional view of sacred music.  Conservative Christian musicians today contradict this writer in the arena of the sound of the music as well  as the lyrics which accompany it. Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative impact upon humans, animals, even plants, from a steady diet of modern rock music.  But now we are told to open the doors to any and all music.  Baptize it and call it Christ’s’. I think not!

NEWSWEEK’S EVALUATION

The July 16, 2001 issue of Newsweek magazine is consumed with the subject of “Christian Rock Music.”  From the disgraceful cover picturing a multitude of teens caught up in “Christian” rock music frenzy on through many pages, every aspect of the subject is addressed. Observe this analysis of a  “Christian” music performance in the words of the reporter who saw it: ”He gestures like a member of some vicious street gang as he screams and roars into the mike, his arms swinging low as if on the way to the requisite crotch grab.   This crude move is as integral to rap-rock as the blown kiss is to a lounge act, and is usually accompanied by a testosteroid  [sic] explosion of expletives.”

I ask decent Christian people,  where will this shameless conformity to the world and its filth find an end? It is absolutely sinful and without excuse that we should be led to think that “Christian “ rock music is a natural progression from other forms of music over the centuries and that, therefore, it is inevitable that we will eventually accept it.  Personally, I’d rather die first!

How do we explain that suddenly the whole entertainment world has been caught up with this “Christian” rock music? Newsweek cuts through it all – money!  This godless brand of “Christian” music brings in three billion dollars annually. Its performance by popular “stars” makes it almost irresistible for children and teens caught in its crushing demand for conformity, thrills and acceptance.  We can’t match the millions of dollars spent by the world to capture the hearts of our youth, but we can still point them to the truth of the Word of God.  The truly saved person must  avoid even the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Even the liberal secular Newsweek magazine article comments after an extensive investigation into “Christian” rock: “The values of Christianity and the anti-values of rock seem morally incompatible.” If professed skeptics such as these can see the danger, why cannot Bible-taught Christians?

MAN-CENTERED MUSIC IS NOT A BIBLE NOTION

Should Christian music cover every “human emotion and yearning?”

That such a statement should even be made shows how far the Church has gone from being God-centered to being man-centered.

Many modern musicians have become what is referred to as “crossover musicians.”  That is, they cross back and forth from Christian to secular music.  Some have gone so far as to drop the word “Christian” so as to be a better witness to the world (?)!  If one reads carefully the words of the Witness article, it becomes apparent that the writer finds little or no difference between secular and sacred music.  This may be good self-justification, but it is very poor Bible theology.

“Extol him with music and song . . .Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth . . .shout for the joy of the Lord . . . burst into jubilant song with music.”   See Psalms 95, 96, 100, 101, et cetera. Focusing upon the Lord and giving Him glory are the endlessly recurring themes of many Scriptures.

The writer of the Witness article tries to suggest that the love expressed in the Song of Solomon qualifies as sacred music, but alas, not a single reference to music is ever made in the whole book: except the singing of birds and the voice of the turtle (2:12). At least the song of birds is melodic! Most careful Bible students believe the Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon to be pure allegory, a description of the intimate relationship between Christ and His Church, a description of human love being the vehicle.

The Bible makes plain that the use of music is to glorify God.  The themes of man-centered emotions are absent from Scripture with respect to music.

MUSIC AND DANCE IN SCRIPTURE

Music and dance are closely related in Scripture.  Here dance does not run the gamut of “human emotion and yearning.”  Bible dancing, done today, would not be considered dancing at all by modern definition.  Coupling off, human interchange and sexuality was no part of Bible dancing.  Although many Old Testament references link music and dancing it is never for the purpose of gratifying human beings. It is to God’s glory and praise.  Modern rock dancing is, by contrast, disgusting and shameful, totally unworthy of even the invocation of God’s name.

A natural consequence of addiction to rock music is the modern school dance.  World magazine reported recently: “This year’s prom season has caused unusually high turmoil at schools across the country.  Some dancing has become so sexually explicit that some officials call it sex with clothes on – and many want it stopped.”

By contrast, all dancing identified in the Bible is clearly shown to be done to the glory of God, is no part of coupling off and is associated with praise to God- all sensual satisfaction of man aside; the only exceptions being those clearly marked out in Scripture as performed by unbelievers. The Baal prophets on Mt. Carmel and Herodias’ daughter are prime examples of sinful dancing.  Bible students are pretty well agreed that music would have accompanied such sinful conduct.  This must surely have been the case with Herodias’ daughter and possibly with the Baal prophets.  In any case, the ecstatic frenzy with which they danced, including self-mutilation, is a clear warning against mass hysteria so prevalent in modern rock music (including “Christian” rock, according to Newsweek).

MUSIC IN SCRIPTURE DEALT WITH GOD

Music was associated with worship by the Levites, the priestly tribe (II Chronicles 7:6).  Singing of the Lord’s mercy (Psalm 101:1); His provision (Psalm 89:1); thanksgiving to Him (Psalm 92:1), on and on, the theme of praise to God is recited in Scripture.  Where in Scripture are the themes of “human emotion and yearning” so emblazoned in the minds of modern man-centered musicians? It is imagined that the Israelites got their music from their pagan neighbors.  Such an assumption has no basis, whatsoever, in fact.  “Get the body to move,” is the supposed goal of music- yet no such suggestion can be unearthed from holy Writ to substantiate this self-serving claim of the modern “rockers.”

NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN MUSIC

The funeral mourners in the house of Jairus’ daughter might be cited as an example of man-centered rather than God-centered music in Scripture.  Mourners were employed at such occasions but grief directed to God is a real probability. In this instance, however, no defense of this music is necessary inasmuch as Christ dispatched the mourners at once to resurrect the child to life. (Matthew 9:25).

Music and dancing were reported to be coming from the home of the returned prodigal son (Luke 15:25). This is a parable, so either way a great deal should not be made of it.  The truth is however, there is every reason to believe the celebration could have focused upon thanksgiving to God.  Nothing in the story suggests otherwise.

Two important New Testament references command the use of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” by which to glorify God (Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19). It is vital to our understanding of music in the New Testament church to accept these at face value.  “Making melody in your hearts to the Lord” is crucial to worship of God in a biblical way.

By contrast the Newsweek article examining modern “Christian” rock concerts again and again refers to such as “entertainment.”  It is virtually impossible to rationalize away this fact.  The moderns are talking about entertainment.  The Bible talks about worship and glory to God.  It is a matter of fun and frenzy versus ministry and joy “in the service of the King.” This is an eternal and vital difference.

The idea of  “Christian” rock music as a natural development of church music from older forms is a serious error. By the toleration, even encouragement of this form of music, the Church of Jesus Christ is taking a weasel to its breast-a deadly compromise with the devil and his ilk. God never intended His music to resemble the wicked means of expression employed by the world. The reason it is popular is that its devotees may be at once friends of the world and, they presume, friends of Christ.

Matthew 26:30 states that at the establishment of the Lords Supper, “an hymn“ ended the gathering.  Without doubt God was its object. The hymn would have been chanted in a minor key. No one is suggesting that proper modern God-glorifying music must be chanted, or old sounding or in a minor key, but it ought, at least, to be set apart from voluptuous sounds and world-compromised lyrics.

“Let everything be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40). Paul admonished the believers in Corinth, “God is not the author of confusion”  

(I Corinthians 14:33), he said.  He was specifically talking about the use of language and the tongue.  Much of modern rock music would be ruled out of use by the church on this ground alone, let alone the non-biblical man-centered showmanship employed so often these days to convey it.

Conclusion

Some may ask, “But isn’t there a place for music in our churches other than ancient hymns and gospel songs?”  Of course there is.  The words  “modern” and  “contemporary” are not evil.  Some modern Christian music is lovely;  Scriptural and glorifying to Christ.   Praise God for it!

What is needed is the rise of a cadre of modern-day prophets of God in the form of saved and dedicated musicians whose lives are wholly consumed by a passion to share Christ-honoring music which takes the moral and musical high road.

In our churches we need a godly discernment to rule out the use of the rock beat, the dance hall lyrics, the selfish themes of man-centeredness and to return to music which places Christ rightfully upon the throne of the heart.  This writer is not a musician, but like the enjoyment of a good meal is the fulfillment that comes in knowing the soul has been fed with heavenly manna. May God give us the courage to stand and be counted against the forces of worldly and evil music whose moral and spiritual compromise is infecting our youth and ourselves with a malaise that reeks of paralysis and death.

Mick Jagger, a rock music darling, may have best described this “art”: “It’s a noise we make, that’s all. You could be kind and call it music.”  Perhaps, but let’s not drag the world’s trash into God’s church!


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Kenneth F. Pierpont
431 Adrian Street
Jonesville, Michigan 49250