Lenny Seidel is eminently qualified to write this book, and I rejoice that our Lord has enabled him to do it. He is a gifted Christian musician who knows the difference between “performance” and “ministry.” I sincerely believe that he ministers a David did, “by the integrity of his heart and…the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72).
He knows the Word of God and seeks to communicate its truths in his concerts and seminars. He impresses me as being a man who wants his life and ministry to be under the authority of God’s Word, even if this means coming into conflict with those who promote unbiblical forms of so-called “Christian music.” He is not unkind, but he is firm in his convictions. You may not agree with him, but you cannot safely ignore what he writes.
He believes in the church and loves God’s people. He knows that there is tremendous power in music, and that many people get their theology, not from Bible study, but from listening to Christian music, good and bad. He wants to improve what God’s people are hearing, and I agree with his cause.
Most Christians do not claim to be experts in the Bible (they leave that to their pastor), but they think they know something about Christian music. It is doubtful that they have ever considered what the Bible really says about music. This book will give them that opportunity. It calls for spiritual discernment and a return to spiritual values and spiritual worship.
“I place music next to theology,” wrote Martin Luther, “and give it the highest praise.” The Reformation and many evangelistic crusades and revivals have moved forward on the power of prayer, preaching and the singing of God’s Word. I pray that this book will result in that kind of blessing for our generation and the generations to come.
Warren W. Wiersbe
This essay, the result of years of research, is an attempt by this author to bring about a sensible, balanced view of contemporary church music. Fueled by the misguided belief in the neutrality of music, a firestorm of controversy has engulfed the twentieth century church. In an attempt to please and appeal to a group who could care less about true art, the Church has allowed itself to be set adrift in the shallow waters of musical expression. It is time to stop treading in the rut of mediocrity. The time has come to climb to a higher plane for a majestic view and defense of truly great gospel music. It is time to face the music.
We need a fresh perspective – it is imperative that we take a frank and sympathetic look at this controversy and honestly ask ourselves the question, “where are the church and its related educational institutions headed?” with the proliferation of religious recording facilities, cable television, national satellite radio broadcasting, and road show presentations, a style of music has taken command that reminds one more of Hollywood than of Heaven. The sense of a holy God has been replaced with hyped glamour. For the most part, the sincere worshipful church hymns and gospel songs have been replaced with unsettling, nerve-jarring music serving as a vehicle for shallow theology, performed by individuals whose credibility and motives must be called into question.
The title of this book and this preface may already have put the reader on the defensive, thus clouding communication. After all, it could be asked, “Who is this author that sets himself as judge and jury regarding contemporary church music in our day?” I understand the existence of alienation before a careful critical reading even begins. I accept this risk. The title simply reflects concerns that have been voiced in publications and personally observed by this author.
Having been in church music for twenty-six years as a pastor, concert musician, educator, I have developed a genuine concern regarding the direction of church music. This book is written in order to form a balanced approach to understand that which ha overwhelmed the church. I have no scores to settle, no ax to grind. I have read and researched the subject and categorized facts of prevalent thinking on both sides of the issue. It is not my intention for this essay to be a chronicle of personality-bashing. Musical groups, personalities, and particular events are mentioned in context of illustration and reference only. Careful documentation has been maintained and is in my files.
I am indebted to those who have gone before and written about this subject. Three men in particular need to be brought to your attention with great respect.
Richard S. Taylor delivered a series of lectures in 1972 at Bethany Nazarene College regarding the drift of culture within the Christian community. His thought and writings, published in 1973, explained what I had felt and observed for years.
The brilliant lectures and essays of the late Frank Gaebelein have recently been compiled and published. Long before I observed decay in the realm of the aesthetics, he had been teaching and writing about it. In 1953 my mother desired to send me as a fourteen-year-old to the Stoneybrook School on Long Island where he was Headmaster, but finances prohibited me from going. It wasn’t until 1977 that I finally met Dr. Gaebelein at a lecture series in Phoenix, Arizona. After playing for him the gospel song “Trust and Obey,” combined with a Chopin waltz, he correctly identified the style (Romantic), the composer and the opus. Needless to say, I was impressed and delighted to meet this giant of intellect and wisdom and champion of the arts. A detailed biography has been written by Bruce Lockerbie as a foreword to the book, The Christian, the Arts and Truth. Dr. Gaebelein went home to Glory in 1983 at the age of eighty-four.
The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer clearly documented the degeneration of the arts and culture in general. His works are numerous and certainly have molded my thinking.
I would in no way pretend to be in a class with the aforementioned. Their thinking and writings will be reflected in this book and footnoted where their contributions are used. My sole purpose is to reflect the Glory of God for which every good and perfect gift is given whether with pen in hand or hands on the keyboard. My desire is for this book to be a catalyst for a balanced understanding in the vital area of church music.
Leonard J. Seidel
Modern Culture and the Christian Message
In 1986, eight thousand 17 year-olds were tested for what they knew in the subjects of art, history and literature. The results were quite revealing.
A recent book, What Does Your 17-year-old Know, reveals the pathetic ignorance which characterizes the majority of today’s teenage society. Recently, numerous books and studies on this subject have emerged, and it is apparent that the Church has not escaped the scenario described above. Francis Schaeffer, whose books this author has studied and appreciated, describes this situation in his work, How Should We Then Live.
He described the eroding of culture over the pasta twenty years as a culmination of degeneration in the major areas of art, music, drama, theology and the mass media, resulting in a radically changed society. He lays partial blame on the diminished value of the work ethic resulting in an almost religious use of drugs. “For the majority of young people, after the passing of the New Lift, what remained? Only apathy.”
The Church and its message has undoubtedly been affected. It has and is now groping through a wilderness of cultural barbarism where a full blown assault is being leveled at standards of conduct long held sacred in the light of biblical teaching. Frequent has been the cry that the walls were crumbling: today those walls are being blown away! This is a jaded society in which we live and only a piercing light is going to illuminate the darkness.
Total apathy in the realm of the aesthetics is producing a generation of cultural wimps in the church whose light is like a flickering candle about to be blown out. There is no reason for believers, and the church leadership in particular, to tolerate or be content with culture within the church that creates a credibility gap regarding a clear witness to an unbelieving world.
In thirteen years of ministry I have had the opportunity to be in nearly one thousand churches. From my observations, I see the church in a state of innocency regarding right or wrong in the realm of the arts because of the failure of leadership. There needs to be clear teaching that a Christian can be inwardly sincere but outwardly cheap. In relation to an effective witness to a lost world, nothing could be more damaging than this needless credibility gap. Do we need to cheapen our message using vehicles that are barbaric in order for a lost society to listen? Would it not be better to present our message as a feast using the cleanest linens, the finest china, the freshest flowers, and platters of the most delectable food to please the most varied tastes? Yet, in some cases, we stoop to serving garbage.
Two Views of Culture
Definitions of “culture” come from many sources. The dictionary provides a classic view which is…”the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.” Still others such as Professor Allan Bloom in his 1987 bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, describe it this way: “Culture is almost identical to people or nation, as in French culture, German Culture, Iranian culture, etc. Second, culture refers to art, music, literature, educational television, certain kinds of movies – in short, everything that is uplifting and edifying…the link between the two is that culture is what makes possible, on a high level (italics ours) the rich social life that constitutes a people, their customs, styles, tastes, festivals, rituals, gods – all that binds individuals into a group with roots, a community in which they think and will generally, with the people a moral unity, and the individual united within himself.”
Definitions of culture are inexhaustible and for the most part written by those who do not profess a personal relationship with God. For the believer, true culture is found in one Person, the Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is He who binds together character and culture. It is His presence that shapes culture into true Christianity and this is something special – something sacred. There is no reason for taking the world’s culture and adopting it as our own, especially when that culture tolerates a message that is plainly anti-christ.
It is acknowledged that there are elements in any culture which are recognized as proper and useful. Richard Taylor spoke of a logical and concise approach to culture in his lectures at Bethany Nazarene College in the early seventies, as summarized below.
Basically, there are two sides or views of culture – one is a purely technical view, the other is a personal view. The technical view is that which establishes what man does with the raw materials available to him. Thus, depending on the locality, the culture will be called primitive, advanced, or highly technical. This includes every pattern of life, such as his language and literature, the invention of machines and products, the various arts and styles of dress, the government and the laws set down, and the family life with all its customs, from marriage to raising a family. From this viewpoint everyone is in a culture, and we call it Western or Eastern, European or American. It is wrong for anyone to fault a person for being born in a certain culture – that was not his choice.
The personal view goes beyond the technical and acknowledges that everyone has a culture. This refers to man’s lifestyle and accomplishments, and it depends on his personal level of attainment and achievement. If he has learned his culture well, he finds it easy to fit into the society around him and to identify and relate to those he lives with. One who has not learned is looked upon as irregular and finds it difficult to be accepted. In short, a misfit. Therefore, it is only when a person acquires traits and lifestyles acceptable in his society that we can say that a person is “cultured.” The implications regarding the church are enormous, for the personal view demands two avenues of analysis – the descriptive and the prescriptive.
Two Avenues of Analysis
The descriptive is what we have just done – historical fact, etc.; the prescriptive is viewing culture as something that needs to change. It is precisely at this second analysis that the Christian, the Church, becomes seriously involved, for “Becoming personally cultured is a Christian obligation.” God cares about the total person, not just the state of the soul. Francis Schaeffer in his excellent book, Death in the City, writes, “God is interested in the whole man and also in the culture which flows from men’s relationships with each other.”
The Bible gives us many examples of the prescriptive view, as well. I am especially fond of the description of David given in I Samuel 16:18 and have used it many times to help teens focus on the qualities of a culturally balanced life. In that passage, David is seen as a cultured young man: “I have seen a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing (musician), and a mighty, valiant man (courageous), and a man of war (powerful), and prudent in matters (honest), and an agreeable person (pleasing personality) and the Lord is with him.” It reminds us of the description given of Jesus Christ in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom (the mental), and stature (the physical), in favor with God (the spiritual) and man (the social).” Christ’s personal life was above reproach. This carried through in his instructions to those who followed Him, especially the disciples, some of whom were quite coarse in their culture. In Luke 10:3-8, Christ instructed them to become refined and to change their behavior as they moved through society.
Another example is the Apostle Paul who, as a scholar and gentleman, moved with ease and grace through society. When teaching the young men who were about to enter the ministry, he demanded a certain level of acceptable culture. (See I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9). He wanted the people in the church at Colossae to be kind and tender, humble and gentle, with patient endurance (Colossians 3:12). Again he said to them, “Be wise in your behavior toward non-Christians, and make the best use of your time. Speak pleasantly to them, but never sentimentally, and learn how to give a proper answer to every questioner.” (Colossians 4:5-6, Phillips).
There can be no doubt that the church is functioning in a day when there is much confusion concerning culture, especially in the field of music. In many ways it is difficult to deal with because of its subjective nature: “I like it, so it must be good” or “I don’t like it, so it must be bad.” Add to this an unbelievable decadence engulfing society and the difficulty becomes magnified.
The Wall Street Journal reported the following: “Mr. Skip LaPlante, a 35-year-old graduate of Princeton University, is a musician who hoists himself inside trash dumpsters to sift through garbage looking for articles to make into musical instruments. His ‘music’ is made by pounding these various articles together. He lives in New York City where his search is rewarded, seeing that city spews out 26,000 tons of garbage daily. Edward Rothstein, a music critic for the New Republic calls it “a return to nature” and said that it appears society will “accept anything as music.” In another article in this same newspaper concerning the German rock group Einsturende Neubauten, it was reported that they make their music by pounding scrap metal, car parts and air-conditioning ducts” (which would remind one of the garbage men out front on any particular morning at 6 a.m.).
These are of course two extreme illustrations and certainly are not the norm. However, they do point out the fact that we live in a society that will tolerate anything – especially teenagers who are impoverished when it comes to the arts, history and literature.
A 3-D Advance
How then does the church combat this engulfing tide of cheap culture? First, denounce culture that is obviously anti-christ. Clearly, the rock culture of this day goes against that which is taught in the Word. We need more church leadership to reflect the truth of Daniel 3:18 where the young men denounced the culture in which they found themselves. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego took a stand: “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:18, King James).
Second, demand excellence. In the final section of this book this will be discussed at length. Third, develop a fine arts program to cultivate tastes in music, arts and literature. This, too, will be dealt with at length in the practical helps section.
Sam Rotman, writing in the Christian Arts newsletter, quotes J. Gresham Machen in his article “Christianity and Culture” which sums up the Christian’s response to all aspects of culture as we have dealt with it here: “Instead of destroying the arts or sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time, consecrate them to the service of our God! Instead of stifling the pleasure afforded by the acquisition of knowledge, or by the appreciation of what is beautiful, let us accept these pleasures as a gift of a heavenly Father.”
The Controversy over Music’s Neutrality
The issue of music’s neutrality is the question about which most of the church is untaught. Belief in neutrality is the key that has opened the door to every style of music being fused with biblical thoughts and themes. In other words, music that is characteristic of a lifestyle outside the realm of salvation has been fused with biblical words, but not necessarily with biblical truth.
The justification among a host of composers and publishing companies is a common belief that music is in itself neither spiritual or sensual. Therefore, the conclusion is that it is proper to use any style of music as long as the words are in harmony with the teachings of the Word of God. The promoters of “Sacred Pop” and “Christian Rock” have sold the church this line of reasoning with a total preoccupation with a “new sound,” resulting in confusion about right or wrong. The argument of neutrality has been used to justify some elements of the CCM movement.
We submit that it is unthinkable that any honest student of music theory or history would believe that music in itself is neutral – that it does not have the power to move the passions to evil or lift the spirit to the praise and worship of God. Music is a powerful language that communicates as effectively as any poetical phrase or painted picture in stirring the human emotions.
Some have labeled music as moral or immoral but I think neutrality is a more honest label. Morality dwells in human being not in black ink on white paper; however, music does have moral values. It serves as an emotional trigger that can be used for good or evil. Certain lifestyles which are contrary to Christian principles can be characterized by a definite style of music. Both the lifestyle and the music style will be inconsistent with the teachings of New Testament biblical Christianity. To restate the problem, the “neutrality of music” has opened the floodgates to a torrent of so-called “sacred music” in which sometimes biblically correct doctrine is fused with music that by its own nature tells a different story. We need to look carefully at this controversy engulfing the Christian assembly – from an historical, a theoretical and a biblical perspective.
This controversy regarding proper music is not new. In the early Greek civilization, Plato and Aristotle were dealing with the same problems. Plato understood the power that music had in affecting the lives and nation of the Greek people. He wrote in his Republic: “The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state: since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.”
Aristotle also spoke of music’s power: “Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul – gentleness, anger, courage, temperance…if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music he will tend to become the right kind of person.” This is especially interesting for this same pattern is given coverage in the works and writings of great men who followed. Writing in the 17th century Claudio Monteverdi said, “the end of all music is to affect the soul.” J.S. Bach wrote in the 18th century that “the aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.” In the 19th century Robert Schumann believed that “music is the perfect expression of the soul.” The common denominator here is that music is a spiritual thermometer – it affects man’s thinking and actions; his present relationship to a holy God can sometimes be detected in his music.
Paul Hindemith, in his book, A Composer’s World, explores the thoughts of Augustine and Boethius. Augustine’s thoughts regarding the connection between music and the spirit were, “like religious belief, music creates in us most easily a state of willingness towards this betterment.” Likewise, Boethius believed that “music is part of our human nature, it has the power either to improve or debase our character.” Commenting on these two views, frank Gaebelein said, “these two views both draw the same conclusion – music cannot be morally neutral.”
Not only is man’s spirit affected, his physical being is as well. The ancient Greeks who believed in Apollo, god of healing and of music, found that music had a powerful influence over emotions and actions. Every mode, rhythm, and instrument had a particular effect. For instance, the Phrygian mode called forth courage and ferocity; the Dorian mode induced noble, uplifting feelings. In the temples of Aesculapius, music was used to restore health when mental or physical harmony was disturbed.
A 16th century composer, Gioseffo Zarlino, experimented with what he called the four humors of the body and the four modes of music. Athanasius Kircher demonstrated in the 17th century how musical tones could move each of the four humors, building upon what Zarlino had discovered. Kircher used several glasses, each filled with a different liquid which corresponded to each of the four humors. As a moistened finger was rubbed around the rim of the glasses, producing a musical tone, each fluid was set in a different frequency of motion which resulted in each humor being moved by a particular tone.
In the 18th century, E.A. Nicolai described muscles, nerves, and arteries as fibers that were either dissonant or consonant. He demonstrated that music could alter the condition of those fibers. H.W. Albrecht, professor of anatomy at Gotingen wrote that the fibers, when they were too loose or tight, could be retuned by music. No wonder some music gives a person headaches while another kind relaxes and soothes! Franz Anton Mesmer, a close friend of Mozart, treated several patients with music played on the piano or a glass harmonica fashioned of rotating glass cylinders which produced tones when rubbed by wet fingers. He related how a change of key or meter could cause spasms.
The first accurate measurements of the physical effects of music were recorded in the 19th century by German scientist, Hermann von Helmholtz. In his work, Die Lebre von den Tonempfindungen, published in 1863, he described the components of a musical tone and the physical basis of our perception of consonance and dissonance. Many others built upon his findings, discovering that pulse, blood pressure, and breathing were measurably affected by the various musical elements of rhythm, dissonance and consonance, and pitch and loudness.
It is remarkable to find that not one of these musicians, philosophers, or scientists ever hinted at the possibility that music could be neutral. It wasn’t then – and it isn’t now! Yet the Church of Jesus Christ is being asked, and in many cases being forced, to accept a mode of music that the world system uses to promote its philosophy. It is music that is speaking the same message which a degenerate world wants to convey.
History also reveals to us the mental effect of music. Here too, the music is not neutral. During the 17th and 18th centuries, music was used for the treatment of mental illness. Common experience showed the powerful effect music had on the emotions. Military music, lullabies and love songs all aroused feelings and action. Alexander the Great had a minstrel, Timotheus, who led him through the gamut of human emotions. In the 18th century, King Phillip of Spain, who suffered from mental depression, was sung to sleep nightly by the famous castrato, Farinelli.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that mental institutions began using music in the treatment of the mentally ill. A witness to a violin recital held in the courtyard of an English hospital in 1823 reported that most of the patients were more lively and cheerful than usual. That same treatment goes on today under the name of psychotherapy. Physiotherapists have recognized the increased muscle strength and improved dexterity that results from playing an instruments, and lessons are sometimes recommended on a particular instrument as a form of exercise.
The Musak corporation has cashed in on the mind-controlling aspects of music. You can’t miss it in your doctor’s office, the mall, or in an elevator. They know that music is not neutral, for they have declared that “unlike drugs, music affects us psychologically and physiologically without invading the bloodstream. The subtle influence of music has been harnessed in program providing controlled stimulus progression for people at work and play.” No wonder Musak can claim that your department store sales will be considerably higher if you are using the right music!
Intelligent composers and arrangers of music believe that your emotions and thought patterns can be triggered and manipulated by music alone. The effectiveness of those who write music is directly related to an understanding of music theory. Serious, eternal music is written by those who have done their homework in the area of music theory. If music is neutral, then there is no reason for a music student to study long hours analyzing the works of the masters to see what and how they were communicating through their craft and skills.
In his book, The Interpretation of Bach’s Keyboard Works, Edwin Bodky lists the various emotions which can be used as a guide when interpreting Bach’s music. Over 60 various emotions are found in Bach’s manuscripts – sadness, gladness, contentment, repentance, hope, confidence, fright, anxiety, sympathy, indifference, favor and guilt. Every composer who followed has attempted to do the same thing – imitating the master, the father of music, who set the words of Christ in the . Matthew Passion to a soft string section and portrayed the incarnation of God in the flesh by a slow descending chromatic passage in the B Minor Mass.
One of my favorite pieces of musical literature is the symphonic poem, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life, 1898) by Richard Strauss in which he describes his own life, “a mocking and defiant challenge to his critics whom he caricatures in cacophonous passages while glorifying his own deeds and triumphs. I weep every time I hear the solo violin pat describing his loss of love. It is a deeply moving moment that wrenches the emotion out of any hearer. There is no way that this can be neutral – except to someone totally deaf!
Several years ago, Major Records was a recording firm in Hollywood, California, that specialized in providing background music for motion pictures, television shows, commercials and documentaries. They made a fortune supplying “mood” or “background” music. The owners found that producers require a certain type of music for a particular scene. In looking through a catalog they provided, one would find musical settings recommended for use in setting a scene and triggering the emotional feelings desired. In today’s age of computer graphics, music producers crank out music videos for MTV using the same technique and creating the same effects. Certainly to them, music is not neutral. Today’s musicians have not stumbled onto a new revelation. Every successful composer recognizes the potential and has been able to communicate emotional feeling through creative writing. It works for good and for bad.
Dr. Howard Hanson, late famed American composer formerly with the Eastman School of Music, made an interesting statement in Volume 99 of The American Journal of Psychiatry: “Music is a curiously subtle art…it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has powers for evil as well as good.” The disco, punk, heavy metal, and funk rock and rollers of the 20th century know exactly what they are communicating, and they have connected their verbal language to a musical language that communicates the same message – chaos and rebellion. They wouldn’t dare touch well-ordered, uniquely crafted music as their vehicle of expression, for it doesn’t communicate the chaotic, sensual nature of their message. The rock music industry knows that music is not neutral. Some in the pipeline of contemporary church music have either not learned the truth or have purposely mislead the church for financial gain or to pander to the spiritually shallow. God’s Word addressed the concept of a close link between a shallow lifestyle and shallow music versus a godly life and characteristically strong, uplifting music.
Among the more than 600 Scripture passages referring to music are several which teach that the victorious people of God had an identifiable kind of music that accompanied their walk with God. The spiritual life of an individual and the corporate life of a church is bound to be reflected in their music.
The Christian life is not one of neutrality, of standing still. The book of the Revelation deals with a church whose stature was in neutral gear, and it is described as lukewarm water spit out of the mouth of God. Some theologians describe the Christian life as either moving forward or falling backward – no neutral ground. I am not going to argue these positions, but simply state that music connected with either condition is going to be reflective. You can tell the scene by the song!
Debra and Barak sang a song of victory in Judges chapter five. God gave David a “new song” after bringing him up out of the “horrible pit” (Ps. 40:1-3). The peace of God produced praise in God’s people when they were saved from the viper’s bite in Numbers 21:16-17. The Spirit of God empowers praise in Ephesians 5:18 and 19 where psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are a normal, natural result of the confession of sin and a constant filling of the Spirit.
The Word of God promotes praise in Colossians 3:16 as we are told to saturate our entire being, with the natural result of this rich indwelling being godly music as expressed in “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The presence of God perfects praise in James 5:13 where we read that the joyous, happy believer will sing psalms. The knowledge that He is with us at all times evokes musical conversation with our constant companion. Psalm 89 offers beautiful insight into this relationship: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.”
What a joy to practice the presence of the Lord! His love demonstrated, His promises fulfilled, His care minutely defined, His strength generously bestowed, His total reservoir of resources to the believer… why would these not result in a joyful sound? In communion with Him, circumstances are incidental. David wasn’t the only one to sing songs in dark days. Nor were Paul and Silas unique when God gave them songs in the night. For the faithful child of God in any age, no matter how lonely the situation, no matter how dark the night, there is a joyful sound.
Compare this with the sound of a degenerate society in biblical days or the rock culture of 20th century America. In Exodus 32, Moses and Joshua came upon the darkest of situations concerning the children of Israel. Worshipping a golden calf, they danced naked to music described as “noise” in verse 17. The two leaders discerned something was wrong before they came upon the camp because the music indicated such. God’s people were corrupted, and it was their music that alerted Joshua to that fact.
Spiritually debased individuals have adhered to music which fostered their immorality. The false worship of Nebuchadnessar’s five-story-tall image in the plain of Dura was triggered by music (Daniel 3:5,7,10,15). Mark chapter 6 records Herod’s birthday party which included a wicked dance by Herodius’ daughter and precipitated the murder of John the Baptist. The children of Israel of the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century B.C. were rich and spoiled, pretending to be right with God but spiritually bankrupt and far from Him. God said, “Take away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy harps” (Amos 5:23). Music was not neutral then, and it is not now!
On December 10th, 1987, Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss was asked on Entertainment Tonight if parents should be concerned about teens listening to their music and why parents were protesting their appearance. Mr. Simmons said, “they should be concerned because we’re into girls – that’s what rock is all about – sex with 100 megaton bomb, the beat!” He has spoken for 95% of the rock music of our day. Rock and roll’s corrupt degenerate lifestyle is fueled by the language of a certain kind of music. There is absolutely no way to justify fusing this kind of music with godly words. The lack of knowledge and instruction in this vital area have caused some churches to approach the condition of ancient Israel, who “hung up their harps” because it became increasingly difficult to “sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land.” (Psalm 137:1-4). As long as the church stays in its pathetic ignorance it will be far easier to “sit by the waters of Babylon and weep.”
The evidence is clear from history, the music theory and biblical examples – music is not neutral. Cynthia Maus has said it so eloquently: “Music soothes us, stirs us up; it puts noble feelings into us; it melts us to tears, we know not how. It is a language by itself just a perfect in its way of speech, as words; just as divine, just as blessed.”
What is Good Music
Another area of critical concern to the church is its ability to recognize what is right and what is wrong in the realm of music. In the more than two hundred music seminars which I have conducted, the most frequently asked question is, “How do I know what is good music?” This is an important question, for music is a primary force in today’s society. Research has revealed that literature is full of opinions on this subject, especially in the area of its social importance in regard to raising children.
In 300 B.C. Aristotle said, “Since music has so much to do with molding character, it is necessary that we teach it to our children.” Bovee said, “Music is the fourth material want of our natures – first food, then raiment, then shelter, then music.” From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow we have these words: “Show me a home wherein music dwells and I will show you a happy, peaceful, contented home.”
John Ruskin emphasized the spiritual power in music when he said: “Music is the first, the most effective of all instruments of moral instruction.” James Francis Cook, prominent musician and music educator of this generation said: “Music unifies and inspires. It is the spiritual, patriotic bulwark of our land.”
As with these testimonials, so parents and educators of our day recognize the dramatic influence that music has in molding the lives of our young people. They echo Cynthia Maus when she wrote that “Music for young people should always be of the very best, because it is during the adolescent years that it has its greatest natural appeal.
Our concern is the use of “rock music” fused with biblical words in the worship of God. It has been aimed at the young amidst cries of consternation from an older generation. Concerned, confused parents ask serious questions about ways of determining what is right in contemporary church music and how to determine that which is eroding the noble standards of godly living. Just because church music is “contemporary” doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. I would be the first to acknowledge there is great music being written today for the church, but I would also warn that a good deal of what is being passed off as “sacred music” is insipid. Criticism and concern regarding church music has been voiced every time a new style has appeared, and rightly so – for it appears that with the introduction of a new “style,” much of what is historically enduring in music is compromised.
“There is a great deal of music in favor among evangelicals that justly falls under condemnation; cheap, vulgar, and aesthetically false, its use for good ends does not alter its character. The fact is that American evangelicalism urgently needs to progress to a higher level of music.” So wrote Dr. Frank Gaebelein in 1954. Others have voiced similar concerns.
Archibald T. Davison says that “we face the phenomenon of a church music that is utterly static. Our churches are literally asylums for the harboring of the great army of apostles of musical mediocrity…The present state of church music is one to call forth neither pride nor optimism.”
Paul Henry Lang levels an even stronger condemnation: “most of the output of the last three or four generations is watery, inept, saccharine and devoid of artistic integrity…Similarly the scores, whether a cappella or not, are lifeless, trite, if they are not downright blasphemous with their cheap, tinsel-studded harmonies and melodies.”
It is interesting to note these three quotes were made over 30 years ago! Imagine their condemnation if they heard some of today’s outrageous music – especially some that is called “sacred.”
Music can run the gamut from that which is sinful to that which can be used to the glory and worship of God. Many times it is difficult to judge. How do we judge if there are no words? How do we judge when the words are sinful, but the music is beautiful? How do we judge if the music and the words are correct, but the musicians are corrupt and sinful?
God has given us His Word to guide us into all wisdom. He has given us emotions to feel the music. He has given us intellect to comprehend the music. He has given us a will to make decisions about music and He has given us His Holy Spirit to discern the music.
We must remember that art in itself embodies a message apart from its human creator – if it will not stand apart from its artist, then it is exploitative. Through the beautiful, God-given tools of wisdom, intellect, will, and discernment, the contemporary church musician can move boldly forward to create that which will stand the test of time.
David Appleby has given to the church one of the finest statements I have ever read concerning this: “The twentieth century church musician should neither be the slave of past musical traditions nor work in arrogant ignorance of the great spiritual and musical heritage bequeathed to him by his predecessors. He must be the inspired follower of the Craftsman of Nazareth, working in living sound with the same pride of workmanship with which his Master worked with primitive tools as a carpenter. He must ever be conscious that music as a living art can speak personally and profoundly to men concerning their personal relationship to their creator…The church musician needs a profound personal faith in his Lord and faith in the art of music as the beautiful gift of a loving Father to His children.”
An Evaluation Pattern
During the past thirteen years I have attempted to answer the question on the mind of so many: “How do we evaluate music intended for Christian worship and enjoyment?” My endeavors have met with a measure of success and I share these insights in order to establish a pattern of teaching in the church, and to assist individuals in their evaluation of good music.
Some people eliminate music on the basis of its author or the date of composition. While this view represents an extreme opposite from those who make claims for the neutrality of music, the presentation which follows claims middle ground between these two wide-ranging views, remaining biblically sound and logically consistent with the history and theory of music.
What is it that makes a piece of music enduring? Why is the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and the rest of the masters still beloved today? Or the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and a host of other great popular writers? All good music, That is – music that has stood the test of time and will endure forever, is characterized by five things: a beautiful melody supported by rich harmony, carried along by rhythm, that comes to a resolution, and has meaningful communication.
The melody is the most important part of music, for it is the personality by which the piece is identified. The melody is synonymous with the title, for they are essentially one and the same. If you were to hear ten measures of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” you would respond in one of two ways: “Oh, I love that melody!” or “that’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.’ ” Both express the recognition of a particular creation in the same way that you might say: “I know that man,” or “that’s George Washington.”
It is interesting to observe that a melody may move in three directions: up, down or in repetition. Each produces a different effect, and a beautiful melody makes use of all three!
Psychologists tell us that if a melody follows a repetitive pattern of starting low and traveling high it can create tensions and confusion. Some music is purposely written this way to produce those results.
If the melody starts high and reaches low depths and repeats that pattern, depression and heavy thoughts pervade.
A repeating melody, one that covers only three or four notes over several measures, will create a lethargic mood or a hypnotic atmosphere. A good example would be Gregorian chants or music from some Masses. It is also characteristic of rock music – one or two oft-repeated phrases.
A second characteristic of good music is harmonic structure that is rich in color. A truly perfect harmonic structure is one that is totally supportive of a beautiful melody.
The word harmony comes from the Greek word “armos” (pronounced “harmos”), the definition of which is “joint” or the “joining place.” It is found in Ephesians 2:21, where it refers to parts of a building framed or joined together; in Ephesians 4:16, where it refers to the whole body fitly joined together (sun-armo-logeo); and in Hebrews 4:12, where it speaks of the “joints” and marrow.
This is exactly what harmony is – the joining place for the melody, supporting what is happening in the melodic progression. An excellent example of this is found in the collection of the Bach chorales. Herzlich Thut Mich Verlangen, a hymn written by Paul Gerhardt in 1656, is commonly known today as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Bach harmonized this beautiful melody nine times, and each is completely different. He used a variety of key signatures, suspensions, open and closed structure, and rich, altered harmonies. However, in the midst of all this variety, he never allows the listener to lose the melody.
The third characteristic of well-written music is a rhythm that is subservient to the beautiful melody and the rich harmony. We derive our word “rhythm” from the Greek word “reo” which means “to flow.” An expansion of that root word “rhythmos,” from which we get our word “rhythm.” The function of rhythm in any musical composition is precisely what the definition declares: to move the piece along, to help it flow, to pulsate from measure to measure. I believe that, with few exceptions, all great, enduring music is characterized by rhythm that is subservient to the melody and harmony. We can syncopate the rhythm with an irregular movement from barline to barline to be creative. However, a repetitive, unnatural rhythmic beat, functioning near the surface over a long score of music will create tension.
Famed American composer Dr. Howard Hanson addressed this subject when he said, “The further the tempo is accelerated from the pulse rate toward the upper limit of practical tempo, the greater becomes the emotional tension. As long as the subdivisions of the music units are regular and the accents remain strictly in conformity with the basic pattern, the effect may be exhilarating but will not be disturbing.”
All well-written music communicates great thoughts and ties them together in a fitting ending. In theory we call this resolution. The gifted composer with a variety of musical tools can bring his creation to an end. This doesn’t mean that you will hear a crescendo of crashing chords which certainly indicates the end is near. It can be a simple chord progression with a ritard. In either case, it is apparent to the listener that the composition has concluded.
One of the critical observations that can be made of musical trends is the use of repetitive phrases that never resolve. You will hear this device constantly used in the “pop” music of our day. Usually, the sound fades away in order for the composition to end. Music that is well-written never does!
Our fifth characteristic of well-written, eternal music is the use of a wide variety of interpretive tools. An artist who begins a painting has at his disposal many tools to create his masterpiece. When he is finished, we admire his creation with words of adulation.
This is also true of great music. A music dictionary will contain hundreds of possibilities for describing tempo of the musical composition. There are also numerous words to describe the degree of loudness or softness. A manuscript is usually filled with symbols indicating how the piece should be played. Any great score of original material or arrangement of existing materials is going to take full advantage of these interpretive tools.
Music that lasts for a season has the prominent characteristic of being performed or recorded at one dynamic level or locked into one tempo. The rock culture and contemporary church music is full of examples; there is no need to explore this obvious point.
All great music of any century or of any style – “classical,” “popular,” “sacred,” or “contemporary” – is well-written. Its ability to stand the test of time is based upon a number of factors working in complementary fashion. These factors should be our consideration when evaluating a piece of music whether intended for use in the church or for our listening pleasure.
THE EFFECT: COMPLACENCE
THE RELIGION OF ROCK MUSIC
A spiritual convoy of satisfaction and complacence naturally follows where innocence and ignorance have paved the way. Society will accept anything as music if it has not been properly taught, and this fact remains true for every facet of culture. The church has welcomed the rock culture into its midst, embracing the music of a rebellious generation under the mistaken belief that it can reach a lost world. That, we believe, is questionable.
Richard Quebedeaux, in his book, The Worldly Evangelicals, says it best when he states: “It is profoundly significant that evangelicals, even the more conservative among them, have accepted the rock mode. This acceptance obviously indicates a further chapter in the death of self-denial and world rejection among them.”
In this second section we will explore exactly what the rock culture identifies with and promotes. Because it has found a significant place in the mainstream of Christianity, we need to understand the circumstances and consequences of such an acceptance.
MUSIC AS RELIGION
Sociologist Raymond Williams asserts that music is “a way of transmitting a description of experience,” and certainly the most significant and enduring experience man has is a religious one. Historians have traced the connection of religion and music back to primitive man, and they have found that he too had the same fears of the unknown and stood in awe of his surroundings. “If the rain god or fire spirit of death demon needed summoning, flutes and finger pianos and drums called them forth. Music existed not to describe the fear and wonder of the invisible realms, it actually reached out and touched them: a sensual, tactile, and finally, inexpressible religious encounter.”
Isn’t it amazing that even in the time of primitive man, the idea of the neutrality of music was non-existent. After all of the historical data and the facts of theory have been stacked up, the final conclusion is that which is firmly ingrained in man – an uncontrollable desire to worship something. Through the ages, music has fulfilled that desire on many occasions. From the rain forest of Africa to pre-Christian Europe, “religious belief continued to express itself through musically enhanced ritual and tradition…the modern notion that the medium of music can be separated from its message, like salt leached from sea water, would have been incomprehensible to those for whom song was the spiritual substance of their lives.”
Music and religion are inseparable; music is the spiritual thermometer of man. The masters knew this well, and they sought to convey a great religious experience through their compositions. We have already mentioned J.S. Bach and his St. Matthew Passion and B. Minor Mass. He dealt with the subject of death in his cantatas as a “porthole through which we pass.” Even his secular works seem to evoke spiritual qualities, such as the Air For The D. String or the Violin Concerto in E Minor. Haydn, whose music was dedicated to God, wrote Seven Words on the Cross, which ends in an earthquake. Handel wrote what is probably the greatest choral work ever composed, The Messiah. Mozart used various keys to portray the various spiritual decisions of life. Beethoven, whose life was mixed up in mysticism, gave us the Ninth Symphony which portrays faith overcoming grief and anxiety. Mendelssohn’s music pours forth praise to God. The Reformation Symphony has a glorious Dresden Amen and a theme from “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He wrote the magnificent oratorio Elijah – probably his greatest achievement.
Brahms, who had deep knowledge of the Word of God, wrote the Requiem using scriptural texts which speak of the Christian’s hope in Christ, not normally found in the Mass. His last work, Four Serious Songs, had to do with death and the triumph of faith, hope and love. The music certainly reflected that view.
EXPRESSIONS OF THE HEART
These great men and those which followed realized that deep within man is a desire to worship something. Music has always had the power to communicate that longing. Its roots go back to the beginning of time. Cynthia Maus has expressed it this way: “Before men developed the art of either oral or written language by which to communicate with one another, it is probable that they sang imitatively. The first articulate sounds by which mind communicated with mind were, in all probability, musical echoes or imitations of melodious sounds heard in nature – language and the art of music grew from the same common stem; and, as with all other arts, music was born out of the perhaps unconscious attempt to express what was strongly felt.”
Today, music is also a conscious attempt to express what is strongly felt, for at no time in the history of man have we witnessed a chaotic breakdown of morals and ethics such as we are presently experiencing. Rock music, with its thunderous sensual beat is a refuge to which young people can run and have their conscience obliterated.
We are living in a day in which many believe death can be defied. Hans Moravec is the senior research scientist at Carnegie-Mellon which is one of many research centers throughout the world for robotic and artificial intelligence. Research is presently being done to extend life by creating computer copies of our minds and transferring (called downloading) this program into robotic bodies that need never die.
Jay Suss man is one of the scientists researching downloading. He has stated that “if such a machine can be produced, it can last forever; even if it doesn’t last forever you can always dump it out onto a tape and make backups…everyone would like to be immortal – the time is close, I may be the last generation to die!”
Scientist Danny Hillis, probably best described the thinking of modern youth and the yuppie syndrome with the following: “I’ve added up the things in life I want to do and I’ve come up with about 1500 years of stuff – I consider it a raw deal that I’m going to have to die before I get to do much of that.”
ISSUED FROM THE HEART
The philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” has probably never been a more true slogan of the times than it is today. Man in his rebellion seeks to be his own god. Yet, this is not a unique fact about this age. What is unique is that for years man has had his own music to feed that rebellion – the religion of rock music. Rock music has always stood for rebellion and those activities which portray rebellion at its worst: free sex, drugs, occult worship. It is generally acknowledged that the term “rock ‘n’ roll” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse but as Davin Seay has written, “…etymology aside, it’s the sound and the effect of rock ‘n’ roll – those thrilling, dangerous crescendos of release, rebellion, and all-night ecstasy that are as old as the first time the first man pounded out a syncopated riff on a hollow log. Therein lies the key to rock’s origins and its unique relationship to religion.”
There is a need to be free and powerful and rock music delivers the goods. Patrick Anderson, writing for the Milwaukee Journal magazine, says this concerning the huge success of the rock concert: “The real reason for a rock concert is that they are religious ceremonies of a non-religious age.” The worship of an Almighty God has been replaced with the worship of rock musicians and their music.
David Bowie, famed rock musician, is quoted as saying, “Rock music has always been the devil’s music, (and) you can’t convince me that it isn’t.” Davin Seay offers this insight and opinion: “To say that religion – and the quest for cosmic revelation – is an integral part of rock ‘n’ roll may seem to some to be widely missing the point. To millions of devoted fans, rock doesn’t simply deal with religion, rock is religion. The freedom, the power, the rebel thrills, and the fierce hopes that rock music promises (but does not always deliver) comprise a lifestyle that, for many, will always be more real than any truth revealed in a cathedral or ashram. A single note strummed from the Boss’s guitar speaks more eloquently to them of life’s joy and sorrows than all the parables of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha combined.”
Today’s youth crave rock music. Who can explain the absorption in this music except to say it has become a form of religion, it is a way of life, it is “addictive.” The late columnist Sydney J. Harris had this to say about it: “You may not care to call it music, but however it is designated, the new (rock) music is undoubtedly a prime element in the emotional lives of the young. Far more so than in my generation or any previous one recorded in history. Today it is more like a way of life, a statement, or a stimulant or a narcotic. It is more than a fad or passing infatuation…there is a deeper psychological craving that this music caters to, some appetite that can hardly be satiated in any other way.”
That appetite or craving is the inner desire to worship. Bowing at the shrine of rock music has replaced bowing at the feet of God. Terry Law, writing in an issue of New Wine states that the warfare of the eighties is going to be in the area of music as a battle rages for the souls of young people. He relates an incident a friend of his had on a plane trip. He sat next to the manager of the biggest rock-and-roll band in the world. His friend asked the man what he thought was the future of rock and roll. After a discussion on the phases of rock’s history he claimed that we are entering the fourth phase: “We have discovered the best motivation that there is to buy a product – the best motivation in the world – is religious commitment. No human being ever makes a deeper commitment than a religious commitment, so we have decided that in the 80’s we are going to have religious services in our concerts. We are going to pronounce ourselves a messiahs. We are going to make intimate as cquaintances and covenants with Satan – to pray for the sick and pull people out of wheelchairs during our concerts. We will be worshipped.” There is no doubt about where they are headed!
The unbelievable rationale though, among the movers and shakers in evangelical circles, is that by combining lyrics about the God of Heaven with music of the god of this world, the church of Jesus Christ could have the best of both – but what they did was throw the church into a confusing and dangerous era that has proven divisive. A gullible segment of the church that knows no better has thrown its arms wide open to embrace “sacred rock music” while a wiser, discerning segment has rejected it as having no place in the church, and for good reason. Cynthia Maus addressed this delicate subject back in 1938: “Music is religious or irreligious according to the set of emotions it stirs. Therefore jazz, music with syncopated time, music that makes its chief appeal to the heels instead of the head and heart, has no place in building artistic worship services.”
MESSIAH METAL – CHURCH MUSIC GOES PUNK
In Section I, we examined the characteristics of well-written music – those unique areas of musical construction that make a piece last. It is acknowledged that some rock music can have elements of well-written music, and it is for this reason that some music of the rock culture will be around for ages to come. However, most of what is written, performed and heard in the rock culture is music that is here today and gone tomorrow. The basic characteristics of this music are as follows:
A WORLDLY CONNECTION
Dr. Joseph Crow of the University of Seattle did an interesting study of the rock culture and its music: “Rock is a use of music based on mathematical formulae to condition the mind through calculated frequencies (vibrations), and it is used to modify the body chemistry to make the mind susceptible to modification and indoctrination. Rock music can (and is) employed for mind-bending, re-education and re-organization.”
In addition to rebellion, Fletcher Brothers revealed in his book, Rock Report, that other themes include “homosexuality, satanism, the occult, drugs, murder, suicide, incest, vulgarity, sadomasochism, anti-patriotism and above all, free sex.” There is no need to document in this book the views of dozens of rock stars concerning these basic philosophies of rock music. To get an accurate view of this, I refer you to what John Blanchard calls the “filth connection” in his book Pop Goes the Gospel.
I have made it clear that I believe music is a language, and for music and lyrics to be compatible, both must be communicating the same thing. The rock musician knows this – he chooses a certain kind of music that fits his lyrics, like a hand in a glove. If you are communicating chaos or rebellion, you fuse words together with music that is saying the same thing. It is almost totally impossible to use rock music to promote the peace or grace of God. Songs about the cross and the blood of Christ do not fit with the buzz and careening sounds of electric guitars and percussive reverberations. Yet, publication companies, recording stars, charismatic leaders, cable television, and various books insist that the church must communicate in the music language of the day in order to reach our youth and young adults.
Dr. Frank Gaebelein, referring to a discussion he once had regarding this subject, asked this question: “Is the use of third-tunes and worse harmony in our churches, youth meetings, evangelistic campaigns, and education, simply on the grounds of results, really so wrong? Is this kind of music unworthy to be associated with the Gospel?” My answer is yes, there is a danger in believing anything else.
The danger lies in the fact that we have a tendency to give people what they want, not what they need. Proponents of the “sacred rock” insist that we must find the wave-length to which today’s youth is tuned and then transmit along those communication lines. Giving teenagers what they think they want and need is a fallacious practice! If you follow this through to a logical conclusion, we (as an older, wiser, mature generation) must then start using teenage language, adopt teenage dress styles, and alter our appearance in order to identify with them and hopefully help them. Observation reveals that some have adopted this approach to the fullest.
Dr. Fred Hechinger, education editor the of the New York Times says the following in his book, Teen-Age Tyranny: “American civilization tends to stand in such awe of its teenage segment that it is in danger of becoming a teenage society, with permanently teenage standards of thought, culture and goals. As a result, American society is growing down rather than growing up. This is a creeping disease, not unlike hardening of the arteries. It is a softening of adulthood. It leads to immature goals in music, art and literature.”
The sacred music entertainment syndrome has emerged from this mind-set. Weakened by the trends of the day, the spiritual leadership in America has begun to try anything to hold its younger generation, when all the time that segment of society has been crying out for authoritative instruction, loving assurance, and mature leadership. Music publishing companies, recording executives, and radio station owners have all capitalized on the flaw. Practically every school, musical ensemble, and gifted sacred artist has rushed into the “new sound” rather than stay with the “new song.” The result is a sameness rather than individuality, weakening of a strong conservative stance, and confusion as to what is really right. The most obvious conclusion is that the evangelical community is in the process of abandoning the standards of worldly rejection.
ADOPT A THEME?
The process of abandonment is akin to the proverbial “nose of the camel in the tent.” When you give in just the slightest to something that obviously has no business intruding, where do you draw the line? Certainly the limit of what is acceptable music for the church is being stretched beyond reasonable bounds. Only the most liberal of the movers and shakers within the Christian recording industry could have imagined the depths into which some church music has fallen. Contemporary Christian Music declares: “White Metal is the new grassroots movement – it’s loud, it’s radical, and it’s growing.” It is the movement of heavy metal into church life. The world is lost in the wilderness, and the church music leadership is following the trail believing at every turn that using the music style of a degenerate society is perfectly proper in attempting to win the lost. These pied pipers believe that music is neutral and contains no thoughts or emotions and is devoid of any capabilities to convey qualities that can build up or tear down. They feel totally justified in using heavy metal rock music to convey the story of Christ – which is absolutely absurd!
In every secular article on this segment of our culture the authors are in agreement that this music is chaotic, rebellious, and offensive. The Washington Post did an extensive article on the subject and concluded that it links three areas – Satanism, rebellion and the weird. It described heavy metal as follows: “Metal obliterates everything, including the obvious. It’s a dare to the sensibilities, pushing back the limits of the parental envelope at 173 watts. It is aural incarnation of adolescence. It is aural sex.” Here are some of the quotes from the teens they interviewed who are into this music:
“It’s about death and killing and blood – I couldn’t listen to heavy metal if they sang about love – the music is too hard for love.”
“It takes a special kind of woman to be into heavy metal – you have to like rude, raw things cause that’s what metal is – it’s rebellion.”
The Washington Post Magazine reported in the article “Metal Urges: “It’s no accident that metal is big in a decade that supports ‘Chainsaw Massacre’- most album covers are heavy on skulls, snakes, insects, and mythic allusions to dungeons, dragons, and warlocks – solid death-to-conformity, loud and ugly – some bands spit blood at their audiences: a Christian band (Stryper) hurls Bibles – it’s occasional melodic music sung by pretty boys in spandex.”
The New York Magazine ran an article entitled “Hard Core Kids,” which in eight pages described events at a nightclub which features punk metal rock and declared that “the kids have in common a sense of anger – hard core metal music is meant to offend.” You have no doubt read the liberal press blast Tipper Gore, wife of the Tennessee senator, for wanting labels on offensive recordings and someone to control what is available to youth. What you won’t read though, are the examples Mrs. Gore is talking about. Here’s a sample from four of the top metal bands in 1988:
Shocking? You bet! And that is just the beginning. Some of the material I have come across is so offensive, it cannot be printed in this book. The number two teenage killer is suicide, and educators and politicians wring their hands and wonder where we have all gone wrong. Listen to Hannalore Wass, editor and founder of Death Studies at the University of Florida: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that violent themes on television and in lyrics of certain hard rock music, especially heavy metal and hard core punk, adversely affect young people. Adolescents who are already troubled, who have difficulties with parents, and who don’t have firm foundations in their values systems will be reinforced in their depression by this material…It might even tip the scale.”
You do not have to be a music critic or cultural expert to know that the music fused together with thoughts such as the foregoing is going to be rebellious and violent. The reason is that the medium fits the message. Heavy metal rockers wouldn’t touch well-ordered, creatively written music. John Leo in Time Magazine, January 25, 1988, reports that the heavy metal rock idiom is being used to spread Nazi hatred in America in 1988: “Skinhead culture seems to spread through racist rock music – white-power rock groups (that) feature songs such as Nigger, Nigger and Prisoner of Peace, the musical saga of Rudolf Hess. One group is called the Final Solution.”
What is absolutely revolting, and frightening, is the idea that this same kind of music can be taken out of its context and mixed with words about God and His redemptive plan for man. According to a recent issue of Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, over one hundred heavy metal rock bands are moving into the church music scene. Stryper has received most of the attention but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Most have not heard of Saint, whose sound comes close to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath and totally lacks in content – or Leviticus, powered by a precise and flashy drummer – or Bloodgood, who sing a song ‘Eat the Flesh,’ which is about the sacrament of communion – or Barnabus, which uses punk and hard rock and the voice of Adolph Hitler – or Messiah Prophet, who refer to Jesus Christ as ‘the Master of metal.'”
This cannot work and the reason it will not, irregardless of the cacophony of protest from all sides, is, that the medium does not fit the message. In responsible publications all over this country you can read every conceivable reason why the public should accept this music into the church. For example, Steve Taylor said in USA Today: “My Generation doesn’t listen to evangelists or politicians and athletes, this (Christian Rock) is what reaches them.” Chuck Darrow in the Courier-Post quotes Oz Fox of Stryper: “If a kid turns on the television and sees Jimmy Swaggart, he’s going to change the channel – if he happens to go to church, chances are he’ll start to get bored and want to leave – a lot of Christians are stuck in traditional ways.” Mike Joyce in the Washington Post quotes Michael W. Smith as believing that “rock can work wonders among teenagers.” James D. Davis in the Arizona Republic quotes a Petra spokesman: “Rock is very conducive to the excitement of being a Christian, the joy of knowing the Lord. But not all Christian music is for worship.” The Intelligencer Journal from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ran articles on Christian rock as an alternative.
We need to be reminded that the simple plan of salvation as taught in the Word of God has always been, and will always be, relevant for every age and every generation. It does not need to be watered down or garbled in the language and music of an unregenerate society. Packaging it in the similitude of a stage show of worldly entertainment only confuses the performer and spectator alike. We are in the midst of a society fragmented into sub-cultures and a decadence in the realm of the fine arts. No one in the midst of the soft rock of the 60’s would have guessed that it would be the norm in the church music of the 80’s. Unless responsible church leadership fights this intrusion of heavy metal rock now, it too will become the norm twenty years from now.
CONSEQUENCES OF COMPLACENCY
In his book, Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkein describes a conflict between Iluvatar and the Ainor and one called Melkor, who rose up from within the fellowship to challenge. One of the results of the conflict was a clash of musical styles. The music of the Ainor was beautiful music with character – interchanging melodies woven in rich harmony which reached great heights and depths. Melkor, out of rebellion, began his own music based on his own thoughts and desires. The result was discordant music: melodies floundering in a sea of turbulent sound.
The two styles of music fought for supremacy: “The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own – but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated – and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice…”
This scenario has a familiar ring to it. As the church has moved towards a greater participation with contemporary Christian music, a number of conflicts have risen up with several resulting consequences which have in many cases tended to drown out the glorious sound of great music. Like the Ainor that Tolkein fantasized, great music has become almost silent – it is a reflection of the attitude of ancient Israel, which found it increasingly difficult to “sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land.” It was easier to sit by the waters of Babylon and weep, as the Scripture declares: “For there they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the song of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).
Discerning the right and wrong in church life is a growing challenge, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the music department. An erosion of standards in the areas of morality, homelife and social mores has effectively moved into the life of the church; “We are living in a day of blurred lines and nondescript grays. In the popular mind almost nothing is wrong, and almost anything can find its defenders, from pornography to homosexuality, from nudity to ‘rock’ in the house of God! We are shocked by the far-out immorality outside of the church, but let us not forget that much of that is the result of a gradual erosion of ideals and standards inside the church. If we do not want the fruit, we had better not feed the root.”
Thirty years of rock music have permeated the church and its para-organizations, specifically our Christian schools. The rock movement is a rebellious movement, and it feeds off of youth who are indifferent and intolerant of an older generation. The “do my own thing” philosophy has slowly crept into the church with our colleges reaping the results. Richard Quebedeaux makes this point clear when he writes” “Rock music is inherently a form of music that made its way by outrage against taboo, and there are no taboos left.” Simply, rock music destroys convictions! If you doubt that statement, I invite you to chat with any president of one of our Christian colleges or a pastor of one of our churches. The general opinion is that it is becoming more difficult to monitor the social habits which reflect the changing attitudes among evangelical teenagers. Finding a Christian teenager who does not have a liberal view of dancing, social drinking, the movie industry and, most of all, rock music, is like searching for the proverbial “needle in a haystack.”
The question is, how did this happen? It has been a slow erosion, festering beneath the surface, like termites chewing from the inside out! Regarding rock music, evangelical teenagers have listened to it, much to the chagrin of their pastors and parents, since the days of Elvis Presley. Somehow, during the 50’s and 60’s and a portion of the 70’s, church leadership managed to hold the line; however, that is not the case today.
The “Jesus Movement” of the 60’s introduced the counterculture to the church, and those early performers (Pat Boone, Cliff Richards, B.J. Thomas, Johnny Cash) kept right in step with the trends and performers of secular rock – they discarded neither the erotic themes nor the rhythm of secular rock. The ball has been rolling downhill ever since! We should be careful to note that at any given time there have been worthy compositions of words and music that are truly great additions to church music literature. However, they are few and far between. The ultimate consequence has been an almost total satisfaction with anything on the part of today’s church youth, whether it be dress codes, social activities, or musical styles. Quebedeaux calls it “the death of self-denial and world rejection.” Once the rock mode is firmly entrenched, it seems other convictions start to erode.
Pressure is being exerted to conform to the new sound. Magazines such as Contemporary Christian Music and Cornerstone are devoted to promoting it. The new “white metal” movement in the church is being promoted by at least twenty “Fanzines” (newsletters and magazines), and some fellowships have sprung up in California with names like “The Rock and Roll Refuge.” With this sort of change taking place, you can imagine the pressure being exerted on pastors and youth directors to capitulate to this tide of irresponsible musical expression. As an example, my good friend, opera tenor Dana Talley, was preparing for a church concert in Seattle when he noticed there were no young people present. When he inquired about their absence, he was informed that they were off in another section of the church watching a Petra concert on video tape and that this was provided because none of the young people were interested in serious music. Conformity such as this is common throughout the church, by leaders and members alike.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF CAPITULATION
It is becoming more evident that those who once resisted using the rock music element in Christian music circles are now finding it convenient to use it. This would include music directors of churches and chairmen of music departments in our schools. Often these men and women follow the lead of national figures who know better but do it anyway, or who once took a stand and now do not. The examples we cite are not intended as personality bashing, but rather as unique examples of what has happened in the field.
Webster defines “to capitulate” as to cease resisting.” Indeed, this seems to be the case today as a result of pressure to conform to the new pop rock sound in church music. I should make it clear once more that as a trained musician, I am not against contemporary church music, as long as that music is written properly and the message is clear and consistent with biblical content. What I am against is the use of music that is characterized by a hypnotic, repetitive, unnatural rhythm – a sensual beat that has been the centerpiece of sex-oriented music for the last thirty years. That is not my opinion alone – the rock stars and the pied pipers of rock music have said that for years! Here are a few examples:
Newsweek Magazine in an article on “Prince and the Revolution,” said, “His is an X-rated act that has made him a new-wave cult hero.” Dr. Alin Poussaint, Professor of Psychiatry has said of Prince, “He is no Peter Pan or Superman, yet he appears to have become the pied piper for a sexually obsessed, sentimental, and perhaps classic generation of young Americans who can relate to the beat of his histrionic musical configurations.” Rolling Stone Magazine described the rock group Kiss as “symbols of unfettered sensuality.” Rock star John Oates was quoted in Circus Magazine as saying that “rock and roll is 99% sex.” Jane Pauley of the NBC Today Show interviewed Annie Lennox and David Stewart and when asked what they were trying to do with their music (not their words) they replied, “We are committed to sex in our music – we are becoming like gods.”
It is preposterous to assume that the culture which these sex-rockers promote, the lifestyle which they live and the message which they hope to convey to a warped generation could be communicated with a style of music used solely for the worship of God in our churches and synagogues. If music is neutral, as is believed by many of the new-wave gospel music entrepreneurs, then that neutrality must work in both directions. However, the sex-god-rockers would not dare use traditional, well-written music, such as has been the standard in church music, to communicate their message. The reason is simple; the medium does not fit the message. Conversely, neither does their demonic, voodoo beat fit ours. Yet we find responsible leadership conforming to the neutrality position in order to justify the use of any kind of music with which to worship God and to promote His message.
The writers of an article “The Beat Debate,” wrote in Moody Monthly, “Music is neutral, like language, mathematics, or painting, and if (that) music is neutral with the morality rooted in the message the artiest intends to convey rather than the form itself, (then) there is no such thing as a particular satanic sound.” Now I suggest you try convincing the Haitian missionary that statement is true! Perhaps we should try to convince witch doctors to use the music of Bach to accompany their demonic incantations.
Packaging our message with music of the rock culture certainly raises some questions in the minds of critics. New York writer Gail Pellert recently explored this unholy link in an article simply called Christian Rock. She described an incident where she was driving on the turnpike in Northern New Jersey, listening to what she thought was a top-40 rock station, only to find out she was listening to a Christian rock station in Hackensack. She asks, “What happened to all those fundamentalists who used to burn rock ‘n’ roll records – are they now eating their placards that once read ‘Rock is the Devil’s Music?'”
She examined the current situation and interviewed one of rock’s toughest critics, Bob Larson. To her amazement, and ours, Larson has changed his tune. Once critical of the immature rockers, he now feels that “they have developed their talents to such a degree that their poetic seriousness is more profound than anything you’ll find in the old hymn books.” He stated further that “the typical Christian rock concert is entertainment, not worship, but that doesn’t invalidate it. There’s nothing wrong with Christian entertainment – any effective religion has always been entertaining.” This is a strange mixture, for it is impossible to present the Gospel as entertainment. According to Mark 1:1, the Gospel is the story of a person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is absolutely nothing entertaining about the events in His life!
There was a time when Bob Larson believed differently. In a book he authored in 1967, he spoke boldly against cheap gospel music: “In considering the wholesomeness of music, many Christians are being deceived by much of the so-called gospel music. Unfortunately, there are many gospel singers who perform what is nothing more than rock music with religious words and sung in a religious frame of reference. In reality, there is nothing truly ‘gospel’ or ‘Christian’ about such music.” He was right on target. When Kurt Koch was writing his book, Satan’s Devices, he interviewed Mr. Larson in order to understand how an evil influence might be exerted on the church through music. He relates how people argued with Mr. Larson, saying that rock music could be used in the church. “No,” said Bob, “this music has a spirit which comes from dark and muddy waters. It cannot be cleansed and used for the Holy Spirit.” Mr. Larson’s capitulation is certainly unfortunate, because it causes the world to wonder what we are trying to do and quite easily detects hypocrisy. The world sees through this type of charade so quickly.
Gail Pellert drew this conclusion: “At base and at its best, rock ‘n’ roll is a celebration of human sensuality. This quality seems to trap fundamentalist rockers in a form-function dilemma. It is the music more often than the lyrics that makes our juices flow on turnpikes; it is the music that defines what we mean by rock ‘n’ roll.” The argument that we “must use this music to reach the world” just doesn’t hold water. A watching and listening world has discovered the leaks.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF SHALLOW THEOLOGY
Russ Taft, a contemporary Christian rock musician, says that he foresees a day when videos by Christian rockers will alternate on MTV with those of Motley Crue and Madonna. “Our music can be enjoyed by everyone.” I wonder why? There was a time not too long ago when “gospel music” was shunned, looked down upon by the recording industry. At the yearly grammy awards, gospel music awards were given backstage, along with the awards for best classical recording and engineering. Around 1983 that attitude changed, and we began to see not only gospel awards on live television, but a host of performers singing the new contemporary gospel hits. It is a yearly affair now, a regular part of the national program.
The world now feels comfortable with gospel music because there is nothing there to convict them! When was the last time you heard a gospel song on national television with words such as “cross,” “blood,” “redemption,” or “sin?” The truth is, the vast majority of gospel music being written is laced with pathetic theology, or no theology at all. Christian Advertising Forum made the following observation in an article about the dramatic drop in advertising revenue among the Christian journals: “It’s frankly eerie to read of the secularization of Amy Grant in His Magazine and elsewhere, and then to read in Newsweek of pop singer Al Green newly limiting himself to Christian lyrics. There is no attempt to edit out Green’s testimony (from Newsweek) to a work of God in his life, while His and the others were hard pressed to garner similar words from Miss Grant. Finding Christians artistically performing Christian music for Christian reasons becomes more of a challenge each year.”
At times, it seems like the critics of Christian pop rock really want to find something of worth in the movement but their investigations have turned up inconsistencies, such as the interview Amy Grant gave to the Philadelphia Inquirer in October, 1984. Concerning her decision to sing religious music, she stated that “it came about from years of study of the Bible, not a sudden born-again experience. That’s one reason I started writing songs, because I didn’t want to impose my religion on anyone. This way the audience can sit back and draw its own conclusions.” As to what she was promoting, she stated that “my art and the feeling I am trying to communicate through the songs, it would be silly for me to say, this is who God is; I don’t have any answers.” Again, it is not my intention to rake any one particular contemporary composer or artist over the coals – the fore-going are given as illustrations of shallow theology and confusing testimony through what is being offered today as church music. The consequence, of course, is that a lost society is not exposed to life-changing truth as has been the case in much of church music history. This will be considered further in a later chapter.
CONSEQUENCE OF A DIVIDED CHURCH
From its inception in the early 1950’s, rock music was aimed at a specific segment of society, the first time that this had happened in music history. Up to that period of time, pop music was enjoyed and appreciated by all the members of the family. Popular melodies were sung and appreciated by young and old alike; however, such was not the case with rock ‘n’ roll. According to the New York Times, rock ‘n’ roll was more than just music – it was and is the energy center of a new culture and youth revolution.” John Blanchard, in his fine book, Pop Goes the Gospel, quoted Bob Dawbarn of Melody Maker as saying that “Rock and Roll split the top followers into the under 20’s and the rest.”
It is a striking coincidence to note that almost at the exact incident of rock’s beginning, the para-church organizations dedicated to youth were also forming. In the forties, Youth for Christ and Young Life were formed to reach youth. Word of Life was broadcasting from Times Square in New York City, and its first youth camp opened in the Adirondack Mountains. It was as if the leaders of the church foresaw the attack coming upon the church in the form of division, brought about by this new philosophy of a youth culture. If the world was going to go after them, then the church should head them off by providing an alternative. The position of a church “youth director” was hardly heard of before 1950. For the last 40 years, this has been the number one need in our churches – someone to guide our youth!
The proliferation continued with programs such as Success With Youth, and Lance Latham’s Awana program. Probably every major publishing house in America had some sort of program to offer to the church. In the 1960’s, a young youth director named William Gothard was preparing some very effective material at a church in Chicago which mushroomed into an enormous program called The Institute In Basic Youth Conflicts. Today we have Joy Clubs, Five-Day Clubs, and Word of Life Clubs. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but there is an inherent danger here: and over-emphasis on youth as a separate entity in society has spilled over into the church life to the point where serious division has taken place.
When, for instance, is the last time any of the youth of your church prayed with the older saints in the church? A typical Wednesday night meeting is made up of the adults in one building and the youth running around a circle in the gym. In place of family-oriented programs, we now have youth camps, youth rallies, youth retreats, and youth evangelism. With so many rallies, seminars, retreats…the typical family has no time to be together. Church-oriented programs such as missions falls by the wayside. There was a time when missions conferences were conducted for an entire week. Now you are fortunate to find one on the weekend.
The ultimate wedge into the Body of Christ is Contemporary Christian Rock. It eliminates most of the fellowship from participation. The movers behind CCM can really put on a show. A missions conference, prayer meeting, or Sunday School class pales in comparison. Compared to a “sacred, pop-rock concert,” what the church offers looks stale! There is no competition. The sacred, pop-rock music says nothing to the spiritually mature man or woman nor to the elderly saints. It is totally out of place at a funeral or in a hospital room. The cry has been that we must set our message to this style of music or the youth will not listen. If you follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, then every serious subject of learning must be set to rock music before youth will listen. Our high school classrooms would thunder with reverberation as teachers taught “Biology Beat,” “Jazzing with Geography,” or “Heavy Metal History.” Absurd? You bet! Yet, we are constantly being stretched to accept this line of reasoning.
It is my view that the Contemporary Christian Rock Movement may be the final weapon that Satan will use to so divide the Body of Christ that re-assembly will be impossible. In Tolkein’s fantasy, Melkor sought to destroy everything the children of Iluvatar created. Their work was not in vain, for in the end they prevailed: “Thus was the habitation of the children of Iluvatar established at the last in the Deeps of Time and amidst the innumerable stars.” So shall it be in the church if responsible music leadership determines to prevent the loss of music of the pats in the din of noise and confusion. It’s worth fighting for!
Biblically – A High and Holy Calling
To bring sanity to the music of the late 20th century, the church will need to utilize a clear understanding of God’s principles. We have to begin now to inculcate the Body of Christ with an understanding of what is right and what is wrong in the realm of music. It must be made to see the high priority that God puts on music in the life of the church. It is important to see the channels through which His people must become involved.
As I travel the country, I am amazed at the low priority music is given in many congregations. In this day of mass media and multiple Christian broadcasting channels, satellites, and cable television, we are most-often exposed to the high-powered ministries of congregations with million-dollar budgets, and this becomes the norm in the mind of most viewers. However, the real picture is quite the contrary.
Usually, a church assembly will add to its staff an associate pastor, perhaps an administrator, a youth pastor, and then perhaps a qualified music director. For every fantastic music program that exists there are hundreds of churches that do not enjoy the privilege of having a trained musician to lead the music program, resulting from either a lack of understanding or a problem with providing the proper finances. This is not the pattern we find in God’s word.
A Prominent Place
The Old Testament records several examples of the music program and its prominence in the church by God’s design. The most important references are in I Chronicles, chapters 15, 23, and 25. In these scriptures, David, as the spokesman for God, appoints leaders from the Levitical tribe to be responsible for the tremendous task of the temple music program.
It is important for us to know that the Levites were the workers in the temple area. Many varying tasks were to be accomplished, and the scope of these responsibilities are indicated by the large number of people (thirty-eight thousand) who were assembled to do the job. In chapter 23 we are told that at least twenty-four thousand were to set the temple ministries moving; six thousand were officers and judges; four thousand were porters; and four thousand were musicians, both singers and instrumentalists. Organizing a music program in a church of 500 is no small task. Can you imagine what it must have been like to pull together a program that included four thousand musicians?
A Perfect Plan
God had a perfect plan that David revealed to the leaders of the Levites. A certain number of men were extremely gifted to lead and train the remaining number. In chapter 15, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, along with their sons and brothers, appear. Verse 21 makes it clear that they were to excel as the Hebrew word “to lead” indicates. A man named Chenaniah was chosen as the master song leader because he was “yada,” or skillful, in his abilities. In verse 27 it describes him as the “master of song.”
Chapter 25 adds the name of Jeduthan to the list of super musicians who trained others to excel in their gift of music. Whereas fathers and sons are mostly mentioned, it is interesting to note that Heman had three daughters who also lifted up the voice, and they were no doubt among a large company of women who participated in the music program.
The key to this entire exposition is found in verse 7 of chapter 25. Here we are told that the total number of these well-trained musicians was two hundred and eighty-eight. Their task was to teach others to sing properly, play correctly and facilitate a smooth-running organization. We know that these people were exceptional, for verse 7 reveals they were all skillful and verse 8 mentions that they were scholars.
A Divine Purpose
The purpose of his exposition is quite clear and most applicable to any situation today. In the economy of Israel, not just anyone was allowed to direct the music! Qualified individuals were to train others in preparing and rendering music, both by voice and instrument. The Bible makes it clear that God expects the very best from musicians who serve Him.
God places a high calling upon the man or woman who is involved in a sacred music ministry. Ichronicles 15:1-2 speaks of musicians: “them hath the Lord chosen…” They were the very elect of God. Nehemiah 12:24 informs us that a whole group of Levites were commissioned into service according to the commandment of David. After being chosen by the Lord through the commandment of David, they were appointed to specific tasks. In I Chronicles 15:11-22, 16:4-7, 37, 41-42, we read phrases like these:
In II Chronicles 20-21 we read that Jehoshaphat consulted with the people and then appointed singers unto the Lord. In Nehemiah 7:1 the record states that “Levites were appointed.” What is clear is that someone had control over the musicians to see that they were properly equipped for the task and that there was a sincere calling and approval. It sounds somewhat like an ordination council that we put our pastors through, doesn’t it? It is interesting that the musicians of Israel faced tough scrutiny before service.
What we need today is a council to sanction musicians before allowing them to use their talent in national exposure. This may be viewed as a radical suggestion, but why? We make our pastors go through four years of Bible school and, in some cases, three more years of seminary before having them face a council of ordination to bestow on them the credentials to lead the people of God. Yet, a rock musician can be saved in January and be a spokesperson for Christianity in March! This is not to deny them the opportunity to serve the Lord, but the church must exercise caution in choosing its ambassadors to an unbelieving world. It should be the responsibility of each denomination or fellowship to proceed with a music ordination, to determine personal convictions in light of the Word of God in addition to musical ability.
During the fall of 1986, Anthony Campolla was speaking to the Eastern sector of the National Religious Broadcasters Conference in Philadelphia. Listen to his indictment: “Musicians claim that pastors preach verbally and they preach through their music, thus they are both in the ministry. I am on the music circuit, a speaker at those Jesus festivals. Being in the back room with many of these famous groups before they go on stage is absolutely frightening – the ego trips they are on and the language they use, to hear their hate for others – when showtime comes however, they go out on the stage with “Hey, aren’t we together in Jesus Christ and the love we share, etc.'”
If his assertion is correct, then what he has described is hardly what you would call an example of a godly calling to a ministry. It is showbiz with the trappings of Christianity! It is a wild entertainment syndrome that has engulfed many aspects of church life. It makes it easy to live the Christian life because the world can’t tell the difference in the lifestyle, although in many cases we have become a laughingstock because of our insipid music.
Many a pastor has been burned by Christian artists who are not accountable to anyone. Many times there is spiritual arrogance or a theological base that is shaky. Upon closer examination, one would probably find no church home or pastoral guidance. “There is a desperate need for Christian artists to be accountable to a local church, minister, or governing body. If para-church organizations and the pastor of the church need a governing board, so do Christian musicians.”
The need for the local minister of music to be approved by some governing board is equally important. It is he who will make the decisions as to which music is best suited for use in corporate worship. The selections can run the gamut from those of highly artistic quality – such as those at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig under J.S. Bach – to selections that are shallow and inconsequential. Many times “selection is made on the basis of expediency, familiarity, or availability rather than artistic merit or religious worth.”
The idea of ordaining a music director is not a new one. After all, he is called a “minister of music,” and the Methodists have been doing it for some time. It is also not something to run away from because of the misconception of placing some special power on a person. The New Testament does not require ordination for baptizing someone or serving the Lord’s supper or to teach the Word of God. It is state law that requires some sort of license or ordination in order to officiate at a wedding or a funeral. I see it as a simple stamp of approval or worthiness to function in the capacity of a minister of music. If a minister of music is going to accept the ministerial label, then he must function in a ministerial way.
William Lloyd Hooper puts it this way: “The minister of music is an ‘undershepherd’ to the congregation – directly he is intimately connected with those who assist him such as choir members, accompanists and others…he should conduct visitation and counseling programs, especially to those vitally engaged in the music ministry….he must realize he is to minister to the pastor through music…and, he must be grounded in theology and committed to the evangelistic outreach of the church.”
There is another aspect to the integrity of the minister of music. The Old Testament makes it clear that musicians are to have clean hearts and hands. In Numbers 8:5-14, we have recorded the entire ritual that was followed in order to make the Levites (musicians) clean before the Lord. Verse 6 records God’s commandment to Moses: “Take the Levites and cleanse them…” I Chronicles 15:12 and 14 makes it very clear that the Levites were to be cleansed before the Lord, before service was initiated: “Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel.” In II Chronicles 5:11-12 we read that these same Levites – the singers – came out of the Holy Place arrayed in white linen which, of course, symbolizes purity.
A musician who has been cleansed and made pure is spoken of in New Testament terms as being “changed into His image from glory to glory” (II Cor. 3:18). There should be the tendency to perform his music and control his life in such a way that the world will know of an inner goodness. A growth pattern will yield the proper walk and the appropriate music – “a holy man has in him the essence of good culture just as he has in him the essence of goodness.”
The emphasis upon cleansing is not an optional practice. In the book of Galatians we also read of the fruit of the Spirit (5:22). Every musician who truly knows the Lord and is walking in His ways will exhibit love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience and meekness. There is no place in the Christian walk for a “temperamental musician.” There is also no place for perversion. It is no secret that the arts – and the field of music in particular – have had its share of the sins of the flesh. Moral failures have broken the hearts of pastors, their church boards and the presidents of schools. The Christian musician needs to be on guard, for Satan seeks to destroy.
In addition to spiritual cleansing, the matter of maturity needs to be emphasized. A careful study of the Word reveals that the musicians were adults. Numbers 4:46-47 mentions the Levites who were to be numbered from thirty years of age on up to fifty. I Chronicles 23:3-5 declares that the Levites were to be numbered from thirty years of age and upward. There was no cutoff age at the top. The same chapter mentions that the children of the musicians would be included from the age of twenty years and older in verses 24 and 27.
The obvious application here is the need for maturity in the area of leadership. Most will agree that the age of twenty is a proper age to begin handling serious responsibilities, and I am certain there are few church boards that would hire an individual under that age.
Physical maturity encompasses training as well. The word “skillful” is given to David in I Samuel 16 and to Chenaniah in I Chronicles 15:22. The words “teachers as well as scholars” in I Chronicles 25:1-8 indicate that the men involved in the leadership knew what they were doing. In Nehemiah 11:22 we read about Uzzi the “overseer” – or teacher – whose residence was in Jerusalem. Another teacher of music was Jezrehiah, whose students sang with a loud voice. It goes without saying that one who educates must also be educated.
In addition to proper training, musicians were assigned a specific task involving the music program.
II Chronicles 7:6 reveals that the Levitical musicians waited in their positions like the priests, ready to praise the Lord with the instruments. In II Chronicles 8:14 Solomon’s appointment was similar. It declares that the Levites were appointed to their “charges” or their positions of work. In chapter 31, verse 2, Hezekiah’s appointment is like that of David and Solomon regarding the specific task of the musicians. And if you will check Nehemiah 11:22 you will find that Uzzi’s appointment of the musicians is greatly similar.
Finally, the musicians were to give necessary time to their work. I Chronicles 9:33 declares that the musicians worked day and night to accomplish their work. In 16:37 of this same book it reveals to us that they put in the required length of time, to “work continually, as every day’s work required.”
The Word of God leaves nothing to the imagination regarding the leadership of the musician in the service of the Lord. We are obligated to teach truths in order that stability might return to the priority of music in the mission of the church.
Three Pillars of Musical Power
Godly leadership within the sacred music community recognizes the imminent dangers of a day in which the elements of a godless society are infiltrating the life of the church. Musicians chosen of the Lord and appointed by men should be keenly aware of what has happened to our testimony in the world. Within the CCM movement there are those who voice concerns that the slick packaging of contemporary sacred music is indicative of an industry that is trying to reshape the image of the performer rather than support the ministry of the local church.
Larry Norman, considered to be the father of the modern CCM movement, is quoted as saying, “We have prostituted ourselves – we write 3 songs for the middle-of-the-road listener, 3 avant garde songs, 3 traditional songs, 1 novelty song – we write for consumption.” Don Finto, a Nashville pastor, warns against pride in the same article and Amos Dodge, a Washington, D.C. pastor, warns of the attitude that preceded Lucifer’s fall: He wanted recognition. Jimmy Owens says, “One of the big problems is an industry that seeks to reshape the image of a Christian musician in order to sell a product, and this is dangerous.”
I recently received a letter from a former jazz musician, a cardholder in the Las Vegas music local. Once a drug and alcohol addict, he accepted the Lord into his life. He writes, “I share the alarm that the music of the Evil One has found a marketplace among our churches and young people. To take a stand against this is not a popular message – to the church that is accommodating to the world in so many ways, putting on the very things that I work so hard in Christ to put off!”
Godly musicians who walk with their Lord will be sensitive in this arena of conflict. In every area of church life and in every age, there have been those who have stood up and taken a stand when it counted. The New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11, chronicles a perfect example of godly men and women standing tall when the chips were down. The former jazzman from Las Vegas puts it this way: “When Christian people get close enough to their God, He will be faithful in grieving their spirits as He has mine about this dangerous trend.”
There are three areas in which godly musicians will be sensitive. I call them the three pillars of power: excellence, distinction, and humility.
EXHORTATION TO EXCELLENCE
The day in which we live is, in general, characterized by shoddiness and thoughts of only the temporal. We have cots the passion and character of the artisan who takes extreme pride in what he does. To many, a “fat” paycheck is more important than the creative work. As a result, a society has emerged which tolerates the banal and craves the finished product immediately. We live in a day of instantaneous products and services: instant mashed potatoes, microwave popcorn, instant charge, T.V. dinners, and polaroid snapshots. On a recent Paul Harvey radio newscast, he advertised a new recipe from Kerr Jars for making jams and jellies in four minutes! Wouldn’t our grandmothers have loved that! I was recently given an advertisement clipped from the Sunday paper by one of my piano students: “Play Piano or Organ Like a Pro in Only 7 Days – with our instant music system, you teach yourself in the privacy of your own home.” My student jokingly questioned why I had been holding out on her for so long!
The youth of our day are indoctrinated with the philosophy of “have it now.” I am reminded of the story about a woman who rushed up to famed violinist Fritz Kreisler after a stunning performance and cried, “I would give my life to play as beautifully as you do,” to which Kreisler replied, “I did!” The “do your own thing” philosophy of the 60’s hippie culture has twenty years later resulted in a feeling that “ignorance is bliss.” They know what they like and they want to be left alone. Societal pollution has taken on many forms, such as junk art; incomprehensible music that is here today, gone tomorrow; dress styles which foster a habitual negligence in personal appearance. This philosophy has permeated the church so completely that anything is acceptable.
Godly leadership must emphasize to the church that they must use excellence as the key to avoid becoming a cheap imitation of the world. Richard Taylor has said, “This passion for improvement is the best safeguard against cheapness. Because we are surrounded by low aims, low standards, low advertising appeals, and hence cheap people, we are in constant danger of being cheap ourselves. A cheap person is one whose values are cheap. He stops growing too soon. He settles for trashiness in entertainment, language, and appearance, when he could have quality.” Godly leadership must constantly remind our youth that they have an obligation to be the very best for God, and to do that is not easy – it takes work and sacrifice.
I like what Dave Breese says in his book, Discover Your Destiny: “No one develops confidence in the things of God and capability for wide accomplishments for Christ unless he is willing to pay the price in training, discipline and sacrifice of lesser things in order to excel in the things of God. Some turn back from paying the price that it takes to climb the heights.” This is the message that must be drilled home to the church. With the “schlock” factor so prevalent today, the need is immediate. Not only must this emphasis be made in order to further the personal growth of individuals within the church; it is imperative if the church is to gain the respect of a lost society and earn a hearing. We are being “tuned out” by society as a whole because what we present is many times less than best.
One of the best selling books of 1984-85 was In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman. It dealt with the need for development attitudes in industry and corporations in order to produce a finer product. At the center is the individual and his own personal achievements. No greater emphasis could be taught to the church. Because of the mass media exposure available today, the church and its functions have come under the scrutiny of a watching world, from television evangelists to the sacred rock videos. What they view and hear no doubt has an influence on what they perceive us to be.
On October 21, 1985, NBC produced a segment about the new sacred rock and subtitled it “For the Almighty or the Almighty Dollar?” They presented several of the touring music groups, letting them present some of their music and philosophy. NBC made it clear that presenting this kind of subject matter (winning the world for Christ) with the trappings of the rock culture is suspect.
Ken Tucker, music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer said of Amy Grant’s concert in Philadelphia: “This whole genre is an odd pop form, almost by definition a compromised sort of music – how, for example, do you sing about giving your soul to Jesus while making lusty rock music? In all too many cases, the answer to that question is to record bland, cautious music whose primary idea is to offend no one, and Grant has found the best solution to this dilemma. Her latest album does so without specific apostrophes to her religion – the ‘he’ or ‘you’ to whom many of her songs are addressed might be the Lord, or it might be a mortal loved one.”
In order to make the world sit up and take notice of who we are and what we are doing, we must select our music with extreme sensitivity and present it in such an excellent manner that the world will be forced to pay respect. John Peck in his essay on Art and Evangelism makes this statement: “Give a Gospel message on a dirty tract, and the impression is of a tatty Gospel. Make it look too glossy, and the Gospel looks like a new kind of vacuum cleaner. What this means is that unless Christians have some artistic expertise, their evangelism is going to suffer. You can’t use punk to go with words about ‘let go and let God take over.’ It is going to impose an awkward conscience. The artist has to be sensitive to the implication of shape, form and style.”
The road to excellence is paved with failures; however, the talented young person must be encouraged to push forward. George Bernard Shaw was fond of saying, “When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work!” Biblical leadership must realize that a word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than a whole book of praise after a success.
What a day of opportunity for the talented believer in any field of the arts to stand apart and be recognized for excellence, to bloom like a fresh flower in the crevice of the rock, to make a beautiful “noise unto the Lord” in a day of cacophony – this should be the encouragement given to our youth. There is a world out there watching our every move!
Dave Breese says it so distinctly: “There is no one decisive experience that will relieve any Christian from paying the price of personal development. Let no emotion however ecstatic, no counselor however logical, no theology, however convincing prevent you from fully equipping yourself for the incomparable adventure of living successfully for Christ.”
DEMAND FOR DISTINCTION
When the Christian booksellers convention was held in Washington, D.C., in 1986, a local TV station (Channel 5) did a piece on what was selling. One of the highlights of the report was the news in contemporary church music – Christian Funk Rap. Borrowed from the popularity of black ghetto music, Bible stories are “rapped” (half-spoken and half-sung to a heavy disco beat) while the body sort of undulates to the catchy beat. There were stories of Moses and Elijah, and Jesus’ teaching all bopped about. The announcer asked the particular spokesperson why this was being done – the answer was, “Well, it sells.” Now, rap can sometimes be amusing, but it certainly cannot be considered a vehicle for sacred teachings.
From Youth Specialties in El Cajon, California, comes the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Teacher.” The advertisement reads, “How would you like Amy Grant, Randy Stonehill and Petra to help teach your Sunday School class? You can, with this biblically based Christian education curriculum for high school students that incorporates rock music as a reaching tool.”
The Apostle Paul speaks to the problem in I Corinthians 14:7, 8. Hermaneutics (the methodological principles of interpretation) demand that we set this in context. Paul’s concern is the clarity of that which is being heard. He warns that languages (tongues) being spoken must be understood by the hearers. He uses the example of three musical instruments: a harp, a flute, and a trumpet. They all make a distinct sound. When those instruments are played, however, whoever hears them knows exactly what is being played. Warriors in battle will be led astray if their call to battle sounds differently than what they are expecting. Therefore Paul warns the church at Corinth that gibberish can only lead to confusion – there must be a clarity in any language that is spoken.
Hermeneutics teaches us that any given biblical portion can have only one interpretation; however, that passage may have a few principles and perhaps many applications. I am simply saying there is a principle to follow here.
Music is a language. In this book we have gone to some lengths to prove that it is not neutral – it is more than a painting or a mathematical equation. Rockers know exactly what they are communicating with the style of music they use. There needs to be a distinction in the sound in today’s contemporary gospel music. It has to be different from what the world calls its own.
The world will recognize the difference, and whether or not they approve, will respect the style as consistent with the teachings to which the church subscribes. Distinction in musical sounds is a powerful pillar of influence in our world and one that should be taught by godly leadership.
HOLINESS OF HUMILITY
The effectiveness of those musicians who served God in both the Old and New Testaments was directly related to their relationship to the Almighty and to their broken and humble spirits. In the previous chapter we looked into the beautiful teaching of II Chronicles chapter 5. We saw how those who served in the capacity of a musician first had to go into the temple to be cleansed by God before ministering on behalf of the children of Israel.
God’s Word records the effect of brokenness when serving God. In Numbers 8:5-14 we have recorded the entire ritual that was followed in order to make the Levites (the musicians) clean before the Lord. Verse 6 records God’s commandment to Moses: “Take the Levites and cleanse them…” The emphasis upon cleansing was not then and is not now an optional practice. In the New Testament we read of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Every musician who truly knows the Lord and is walking in His way will exhibit love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience and meekness. This is a far cry from the contemporary setting of most of today’s sacred music which seems to display the “norm” as light shows, dry-ice machines, electrified instruments with high decibels of sound. Such display leads to an opinion that humility is not the chief aim.
There are exceptions throughout the world, and one beautiful example appeared in an issue of Ovation Magazine. It concerns the classical guitarist, Christopher Parkening, poet of the guitar. The article reveals that all who know him see him as a genuine person who cares for others and whose humility is recognized. The magazine quotes him: “I am using my talent to try to honor the Creator, rather than to get something like money or prestige or satisfaction for the ego. Even before I became a Christian, I would always feel a little uncomfortable when someone was complimenting me. I never got very high from performing, from feeling I was being praised by the people. I consider my tours are in some way an opportunity to talk about something other than the guitar or make trite comments about the weather.”
Think of the huge readership of this magazine or the thousands this year who will hear him perform: this man who is considered to be the world’s greatest classical guitarist. What an impact for God! Here is a fantastic musician who is committed to the Lord, whose testimony is clear-cut, and whom the world recognizes as great. In his life, as in many others, we see the three pillars: excellence of musicianship, a distinction in the sound of the music, and a broken spirit of service before the Lord.
© Leonard Seidal (Concert Pianist). Used by permission.