Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Christians and Music: The Ongoing Controversy
I typed this up ages ago, and I am now finally getting to post it. Sorry for the delay for those who were expecting it. I intend to say in one setting all my main arguments against CCM, in as clear and concise way as I can. Let's see how this goes.
Just a few short years ago, if you stepped into your average church on your average Sunday morning, when it came time to worship, you might have heard no music, maybe a piano, or a fiddle, or perhaps a organ if it was a big church with wealthy attendants. Maybe.
Nowadays, if you step into a modern mega-church on your average Sunday morning, you are likely to hear something radically different. Instead of Newton or Spafford, or some other old time hymn writer, you hear Mercy Me, or Third Day, or some other modern rendition of "praise and worship" music.
So, this difference brings up several questions for the modern Christian.
Is modern worship music (CCM, Christian rap, rock, etc.) pleasing to God?
Is modern worship music uplifting to believers?
This is where it all ties into -
What is the standard for music? Who calls the shots?
This is a HUGE hot-button topic for reformed circles, the spectrum ranging from hymns only, to lots of hymns with some modern, to all modern, hymns are way too boring and people won't listen to it anyway.
So, to be fair, (since I have my own strong opinions on this topic), I will share both sides of the argument, and then draw conclusions. Let me state here, I do not know where to draw the line over exactly where music becomes displeasing to God. I merely wish to show the heresy of believing that we can use the world's standards of music and be pleasing to God, and how we must use EXTREME caution in this subject.
Let's start with the norm for modern Christians: CCM, Christian Rock, Christian rap, etc.
This to them is perfectly normal, and more often than not, they like it. The people who are aware of this argument that Rock, rap, etc., should not be in Christian spheres, almost always pull the same cards for their defense, the most frequent being "the Bible does not specify what types of music are sinful and not" or at least, that is the card they usually try to trump the other argument with. There is a plethora of others. Some say that it is an outreach to unbelievers, that if they put Christian words to music they like, it might get them saved, some say that they merely like the music, and since it had Christian words, they listen to it. Some say that only the heart matters and the outside doesn't, and the list goes on, changing depending upon the person.
Let's look at the other side. The other side says that rap and rock have seriously bad connotations, and Christians should never use them, they say that rap and rock is physically detrimental to your mind, and they say that rap and rock styles do not glorify God.
The question now boils down to: "Who's right?" or more ultimately, "Do we bide by the world's standards of music?" Then bigger yet, "How does God want us to worship him?"
Some people get upset right there, saying that liking rap and rock is not buying into the world's standards, if it has Christians words to it. This argument does not hold water. Think about it. Rock and Rap and Hip-Hop were started, and ruled, by the world. This is not to say that anything that is started and ruled by the world is inherently evil, (don't get me wrong here-movies, for example.) However, one could not just read the Bible, with a clean-slate mind, and have hip-hop and rock jump right out at you. In fact, if it wasn't for secular artists, we wouldn't even have rock and rap. Those genres are completely associated with rebellion to anything and everything. The very definition and origin of "rock and roll" is "s** in the back seat of a car". That is where the term came from. Wikipedia says that term (although not in a a car) is used often in lots of rock songs blatantly referring to you-know-what.
Christian rock suddenly has a different meaning doesn't it?
Taking this clearly secular invention with horrible connotations, and trying to "Christianize" it, in my opinion, is taking a dead body, and sticking a sticker that says "living" across its forehead.
How about Rap? All of my digging shows that it started with African tribal chants, and developed from there to what it is today by various artists taking it one step at a time. This Genre has connotations as well, "gansta rap" being a example, it progressing from "chants" to what is is today. Evidently in recent years though, Rap and Hip-Hop have seen a decline in sales. NPR culture critic Elizabeth Blair noted that, "some industry experts say young people are fed up with the violence, degrading imagery and lyrics" (sited from Wikipedia)
This genre has just as much evil associated with it as Rock, and to me, is out of the question.
What about the other arguments for Christian Rock or Rap?
One in particular I have heard, is that outside people, who like Rock and Rap, might listen to "Christian xyz" since they liked that style, and just might get saved. So let's look at that argument from a different angle. "If we make Christ a little more like the world, then maybe people might like him."
When shown in that light, it starts to pale a bit. Besides, what ever happened to the "let your light shine before men" part of Christianity? How can the world tell that we have the light if we're delivering that light wrapped in darkness? We as Christians are supposed to be different than the rest of the world, so that they may see our difference.
Imagine this scenario. A worldly rapper is siting in his car at the mall, windows rolled down, doors open, pumping rap, wearing gold chains, his hat sideways, and his pants a little low. Then another car pulls up next to him, the bass reverberating through the window. A man similarly dressed steps out, wearing his hat sideways, his britches a little low, and has gold earrings and a necklace. Now, just to be fair let's just say the new rapper dude (who just happens to be saved) goes up to worldly rapper dude and shares the gospel with him. What is rapper No.1 going to think? Rapper No.2 is communicating in loud terms that you don't have to change on the outside after you are saved. That leads to "being hearers of the Word" and no more. How are they supposed to see that we are different if we dress the same (that's a whole another issue) and listen to the same music?
That scene could be flipped to rockers as well, but the point is the same.
Another main stream argument I heard is that it's the heart that matters, not the outward appearance. So basically, you can look bad as long as your heart is good. You can listen to bad music that is ungodly and worldly and use it to worship God in your heart. I'll talk about in just a bit what happens to people who try to worship God their way. Their argument is that you just have to be sincere to be worshiping God right.
Well, the Muslims worship their god sincerely, so are they right with God? What about the Hindu's? Or the Greeks and Romans? They can be sincere as they like, but they are sincerely wrong. You have to worship the way God wants you to worship to be in fellowship with him, the whole topic of being saved besides.
Well, as a last card, Those who argue in favor of Christian Rock and Rap, throw down the final trump card and say "well, you can't prove to me that the Bible says that that type of music is wrong, in fact, it is unclear as to how we should worship." They usually stop there, but if they finished the thought, it dead ends into "so we can do it as we see best".
Nadab and Abihu found out the hard way in Leviticus that God doesn't take too kindly to people worshiping Him in ways that they think is best. :) Furthermore, that argument is based on the "normative principal" which, in layman's terms, is if the Bible doesn't forbid it, it's allowed. If that was the case, then tattoos would be allowed, and marijuana and crack would be just as righteous as coffee.
This is not consistent with scripture, and most people I talk to would agree heartily to the "regulative principal" but few would see that music ties into it.
But, (my mom hates it when I start a sentence with but :)) they do have a point, and this is where things get messy. The Bible does not say exactly what genres are allowed, and where exactly the lines are crossed when xyz happens. That is very true, which is what makes this so hard.
The Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword, and as the saying goes, if you hit somebody with it, there is still a sharp edge on the other side to hit you with.
Who's to say that Christian country isn't forbidden as well? (I mean, I's a country boy arn't I?) After all, it is associated with plenty of bad stuff as well, although maybe not as much as Rock, and maybe it is a little more family friendly (although with some artists that's debatable....) After all, all rappers and rockers tell the joke about what would happen if country music was played backwards. Your wife comes back, the dog lives again, the truck works. Whenever I am told that I always smile and ask what would happen if you played rap and rock backwards? I haven't ever got an answer back on that one..... :)
Anyway, you can't just point fingers at one crowd. You start questioning one type of music, you end up questioning all of music.
So, the odd thing about all of this, is that in this whole post, I have tried to show what is unacceptable, but have not actually shown what IS acceptable. This is also where it gets complicated.
I don't know exactly what is acceptable, but I do know the standard. All of music, all of its elements, all of its components, must all be balanced, and be pleasing to God, all at the same time. Not emphasizing one element of music above all the others, and balancing all the instruments to God's glory. We can't have words that glorify God with un-glorifying music, or vice-a-versa. We all know the instrument is not the issue, to a certain extent. A simple guitar can be used rightly, or be jammed out with an amplifier wrongly. A simple drum can add solidity to the background of a song rightly, or it can be booming in your ears over everything else wrongly.
So it all boils down not to what you play, but how you play it.
However, not all music must have overtly gospel themes, but must all be in its entirety glorifying to God. Saying that all music must have the gospel in it is like saying that all Christian movies must have the written out, overtly obvious gospel message, or saying that all Christian photographers can only take pictures of crosses. Both of those can be used for evil (movies and photos) but they also can be used for good. We must make sure that it aligns with God's character and essence, and brings glory to Him. You can bring glory to Him in a photo of His magnificent creation, or a photo of a loved one, made in His image, etc. Then again, that same camera can be used by a porn photographer for blatant evil. Again, it must be ALL glorifying to Him, not just glorifying Him in one aspect. Where does that line get drawn? Again, I simply don't know.
This issue is so sticky, and is tied to so many peoples emotional buttons, the only reason I dared to bring it up was due to a few questions asked at church once, and a blog post on a friend's blog supporting CCM. I wanted to share what I believe is the truth on this subject, to clear up any and all doubt regarding this issue.
So, evaluate all of your music, pray hard, and see if all of your music is living up to God's standards. After that, post your thoughts, or any other arguments going either way on this. I would love some real good conversations going on in the comments. :)