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Everything in life must exist to have a purpose. If there are things in this life that have no purpose then what good is their mere existence? All throughout history man has pondered the question “what is the chief and highest end of man?”1 but without an answer, what good is even the life of man? During the creation week, man was the pinnacle and supremacy of God’s creation. If man does not have a purpose, then life has no meaning. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question One asking what is the chief and highest end of man gives the answer that “man’s highest chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.”2 Man was created by God to glorify Him which is accomplished in acts of worship. Grudem claims that “the primary reason that God called man into the assembly of the church is that as a corporate assembly man might worship God.”3 In Christian circles and other religious assemblies, the term “worship is sometimes applied to all of a Christian’s life. It is rightly said that everything in our life should be an act of worship,”4 but that is too broad for the purpose of this paper. The term worship used in the context of this paper will deal more specifically to music and words that Christians listen to and partake in and the kind of music God deems acceptable for His greatest creation to partake. This matter of music is important, for music is a tool of worship. “Worship is a direct expression of man’s ultimate purpose for living”5 to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever. The purpose of this paper is to
This familiar phrase has been widely used in Christian teachings. It is found in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions One: “What is the chief and highest end of man? Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
Ibid. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 1003 Ibid., Ibid., 1
implement scholarly tools and biblical references to establish a framework to decide what music is acceptable to God and what classifies certain music as “Christian”. Music is a pervasive part of contemporary culture and is more so in this modern generation than any other before it. Experts in the music industry proclaim that “nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music…today, a very large proportion of young people between the ages of ten and twenty live for music,”6 for it is a means of personal expression, a way of life. Many wonder why music plays such a dominant role to this younger generation and why it has hit now, but one must look at the living conditions of these individuals. People in this time gap and those who live now in this computer digital age are constantly under the influence, for music is all around in many shapes and forms. It is almost unbelievable because it is so overlooked but if one were to slow down and see where music is heard, you would find it in elevators, in restaurants, on telephones while waiting for a connection, in offices, in hotel lobbies, and virtually every corner of modern life. Music has so adapted to this modern digital age that man hardly recognizes it when it fills the airwaves, or when it is used in the movies for special effects and dramatic scenes or even in commercials as a marketing strategy. The radio offers music of many genres around the clock and the technology of recording allows man to program music to suit style, taste, and play customized playlists at any time in any place. Music is no longer a means of entertainment to pass the time but has now become a way of life. This generation of young adults has been raised to believe music has fallen in the ranks of necessities such as air and water making this discussion between God and music crucial. The introduction of this paper put much emphasis on glorifying God. In the broad sense, this means that every concept of man’s life is to bring God glory. In a more specific and practical sense, this paper will explore how we seek to glorify God in the music we hear. But how can something like this be accomplished? Man is around music all the time both “Christian” and “secular.” If man is to glorify God, how is that put into terms in order to define what makes music Christian? If man’s highest goal is to
Jay R. Howard, Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), 4
worship God, what kind of music does God allow? And how does man establish a means to classify music that glorifies God rather than the alternative? With such infiltration of music and ways to easily obtain it, man is provided the unique chance to practice discernment in what music they hear. However, many young adults claim this to be unnecessary. Some Christians claim only to listen to “Christian” music, but as stated earlier, whether intentional or not, many spend innumerable hours absorbing music. The question is, what does God approve of? What makes a song “Christian” and acceptable to God? In order to attempt to answer these questions, and to develop a systematic method to solve the ethical parts within, one must first have a clear set of definitions and grasp several key concepts.
Must Settle Key Issues
In the beginning of its development, contemporary Christian music was derided as a fringe genre but has recently emerged as “a commercial force to be reckoned with.”7 Christian artists had become well known and had received sufficient success without having reaching a large mainstream audience. By the end of the “1990s, Christian music sales exceeded those for classical, jazz, and New Age music combined and the market keeps growing.”8 The concept of contemporary Christian music was created to “stand in the gap between Christians and the world with evangelical Christianity on one side and youth culture on the other”9 but good intentions are not good enough. In order to see if this industry’s good intentions have been put into practice, consumers and listeners must first settle issues on lyrics, style, and tradition. The first thing that must be settled is the term. The term “Christian music” is a misnomer and generalizing this topic allows great confusion when trying to ascertain the Christianity in “Christian” music. When classifying “Christian music” in this way it is the same as declaring that music can be made Christian due to the parts that compose it. For example, there is no such thing as a special Christian vocabulary. Of course there are words that would be expressed specifically in a Christian song that may
Barry Alfonso, The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music (New York: Billboard Books, 2002), 7
Ibid., (Howard 2004, 5)
not be found in a secular song, but just because a certain word is used, does not make it Christian; it must have the right meaning, tone, placement etc. It would not be acceptable to sit by and count how many times “Jesus Christ”, or “church” is stated to be able to classify a certain song as Christian. The words that are spoken and the sounds that are combined together to make a song does not make a song Christian. The core of the music comes from the lyrics and what concept the words are trying to get across. The business owners and record labels for Christian artists declare that contemporary Christian music “from its beginnings, [has been] defined by the content of its lyrics; without an identifiable Christian element present, it ceases to have a reason to exist.”10 In view of the fact that such terminology as “contemporary Christian music” are in vogue, and even though the correct wording should be “contemporary Christian lyrics” it is an important observation to make and know that other issues are still present. It is very possible that the misunderstanding regarding “Christian music” was a product of cultural bias. Looking back to see that it is not the music but in fact the lyrics that makes a song Christian, it would be beneficial to see what else has been over looked due to lack of acceptance of things that are different. This is especially known to people who live in America who have grown to never live in want or need and whose “western ears” have come accustomed to certain sounds and have come to approve and think highly of those sounds and no others. Music is definitely a large part of any culture and is used to communicate to others, express ideas, or even carry out cultural traditions and can come to be accepted only in certain situations. Particular modes, scales, and rhythms are part of a rich musical heritage and when one hears music that is not part of that heritage, man is tempted to label it wrongly, as unfit for a Christian’s musical life and rejected as “Christian” music. The issue here is that “Christian” music does not have a certain sound, style to be played in, or specific instruments. Music is not exactly a universal language, because it is best understood within its culture and surrounding. For example, the classical music in the Middle East includes quarter tones that does not fit nice and perfect in what Americans are used to and it would sound very strange to those unaccustomed. But it would be wrong to be prejudice and label their music “non-Christian” because it sounds different. In Scripture, one finds the qualification
(Alfonso 2002, 7)
for music that is acceptable to God. The Psalmist tells us to “shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”11 Scripture says to come to the Lord and worship with gladness and to lift up joyful songs which could easily be done in a foreign tongue, played with a foreign instrument that has a foreign sound. In order to find what makes a song “Christian,” this misconception of a certain sound or tone must be adjusted to allow all tones and instruments. Next, the issue of tradition must be corrected. The typical old fashioned church is run and operated on things that have been done previously and by the establishment of tradition on any given issue, it will continue to be run and done, and carried out in the exact same way. Music can be a sort of taboo in the local church because what has been done in the past seems to carry on and the ability to change comes far and in between. Even though traditions have been set and many for the right reasons, for the sake of this paper in determining what makes a song “Christian” a musical type or even a particular musical composition cannot and should not be deemed “Christian” just because it has been accepted by a given group or people. Musical preconceptions do not die easily, and they seem to recur periodically in church history. In the church, once the individuals become familiar enough with a particular music style, song, delivery, or sound it is accepted without much friction, but until this occurs, the particular music element remains suspect and is deemed “nonChristian” and non beneficial for the Christian’s life. A modern example of this occurring in the local church can be found in the controversies surrounding the use of instruments such as drums and guitars during the worship service. This among the other issues mentioned should be seen as misnomers or false accusations because how else could one explain the differences among the local church on given topics that are not found in Scripture. It is not every church that has troubles and questions the sound of music, only some, and it is not every church that has issues with the delivery of Christian lyrics, only some. To some, these questions and issues seem inappropriate to mention but some get these issues wrong and in
Psalm 100:1-4 All references will be from the NIV unless told otherwise
order to ascertain the ethical issues within, all parties must be on the same page of understanding. As one can see, there are many misunderstanding and found within this concept of “Christian” music, and at times there seems to be a lack of consistency or absolutes which provides the material in the next section of this paper.
Why Such an Ethical Issue Ethics to the evangelical can be defined and viewed as applied theology. Theology is the study of the nature of God or a systematic way to think about the things of God and ethics ties directly into this. Ethics would be theology (things of God) that would be applied in everyday life doing what is morally good and right in the eyes of God and developing a framework to make those same decisions time and time again. Ethics is often a hard issue because there are multiple means or sources of authority of which to develop a foundation or framework to make decisions. This does not mean that there are multiple correct sources of authority, but the world aside from evangelicals often derive their means of making decisions from sources other than Scripture. Determining what qualifies as “Christian” music is difficult because many base their findings on foreign sources because Scripture does not speak specifically on this issue. This will be discussed in the final part of this paper. It is hard to classify what qualifies as “Christian” all because it is uncertain what claims the authority in each situation. Christian music was created for a great purpose with Christian artists writing Christian songs, but if one is done without the other, which one is needed to declare as a Christian song? The ideal answer to what classifies as a Christian song would be that a song is composed with words that are theologically correct and offered up to God in a way that pleases Him. The words that were offered up to God would be composed by an artist that fears God and has a personal, walking relationship with Christ and the
7 song was written because of what God has done in their life, but this ideal situation is hardly found in the contemporary Christian music industry. So if this perfect example does not fill the Christian music industry then what is necessary to classify a song as Christian? This is the question that identifies this concept as an ethical issue. It is obvious that the perfect situation is not always going to be found in the Christian music industry and now a defense and means must be given to determine what actually does determine a song to be Christian or not. As stated earlier it is not the words, the sound, the style, or delivery, but in fact is the lyrics and the meaning of them within the song which declares a song Christian. The problem with this proclamation is that there is the possibility that a song could look and sound like a Christian song but could in fact have been written by an artist that just knew what it took to write a Christian song but did not have a relationship with Christ. Maybe the artist was saved as a child but has grown out of his relationship with Christ or maybe he is talented enough to cater to the Christians and is able to write a song and then insert Christian lyrics and concepts that simply would not have come from the artist’s heart. The lyrics of a Christian song is where the authority is to be placed to deem a song Christian since man lives in a fallen world and it will not always be possible for a faithful Christian to write a Christian song that God placed in their heart. Music is a composition of notes, tones, style, and lyrics and is the only thing that holds weight even outside the life of the artist. If the opposite were to happen and the artist was a Christian but their lyrics were not holy and uplifting to God, then the life of the artist would not be enough to deem a song Christian. In that case, hopefully the Holy Spirit in him would produce music worthy of the artists’ heavenly calling. It appears that anything outside of a true Christian, writing Christian songs inspired by the Holy Spirit would be a hypocrite and makes this difficult but this is what makes this a debated issue and
8 worthy of looking in Scripture for insight for the Lord. It is impossible to declare an absolute answer to what is Christian music because it could depend on the person, past experience, or current audience but this same condition is found in Scripture answering the question of if it is permissible to partake in food offered over to idols. This instance in Scripture although does not pertain to music it does involve an ethical situation where there is not always an absolute yes or no but is conditional. Scriptural Response The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans offers some insights that partially point to a resolution about what is Christian in Christian music. In Romans chapter 14, Paul writes concerning food or drink that is appropriate for Christians to consume. He offers several circumstances that can be formed into principles of taste, conscience and the law of love. In this discourse, Paul states that “all foods are clean and are appropriate for Christians to eat,”12 but “individuals may decide when and what to eat as a matter of taste.”13 Some are further restricted as a matter of “conscience in their choice of foods or drink,”14 and last of all, the law of love “constrains man to avoid harming others with their choice of food or drink.”15 Paul’s defense on the consumption of food or drink may be analogous to this discussion of Christian music. Paul writes to the Romans that God created all food elements, so none is unclean. Elsewhere, Paul writes that “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,”16 and this concept of goodness of God’s creation can be carried over to apply to the creation of music. Paul had
Romans 14:14 Romans 14:6 Romans 14:21 Romans 14:21 1 Cor 10:26
9 written in his letter to the Corinthians that the elements of God’s creation are good and clean. So the elements of music are also good and clean allowing a single note or instrument or a human voice to be included in God’s original act and be seen as good in His eyes. The difficulty with determining which music is or is not Christian results from the assumption that Christian music without the text contains a special, musical, spiritual reaction that is not present in regular music without the text. This is similar to the dietary law in Scripture thinking that Christian food contains special spiritual supplements from non-Christian food but the essence of the Christian experience comes not with the musical object or the particular food, but rather with man’s interaction with and man’s attitude towards music or food. Paul tells the Romans that food offered to an idol and food not offered to an idol is equally nutritious for a Christian and will not bring spiritual harm, but the situation in which the food is eaten or music heard determines the ethics. When the food was served and people were informed that this food was offered to an idol, the act of eating the food was marked clean/good or unclean/evil. By analogy, Christians may also “consume” music in appropriate or inappropriate contexts. Here the object, whether food or music, is not the issue, but rather the situation that determines how it is consumed. Paul writes that food choices are a matter of individual tastes. In music, the same privileges are assumed leaving individuals the choice, style, and musical instruments but Paul cautions people in this personal freedom. Paul cautions man against despising the eating habits of others, so also man should seek to avoid judging the listening habits of others in matters simply of taste. Food that tastes good to some may not taste good to others, and one song could draw one closer to God but leave the other’s other unmoved.
10 Paul continues his discourse and cites the example of a vegetarian who out of conscience cannot eat meat and the Jew who cannot eat anything that is unclean according to their dietary law. Using this analogy to music, there are people who for the sake of their conscience should not partake in certain music. This may be due to cultural upbringing or the associate of a musical style with sinful practices. These matters of conscience are distinguished from matters of taste since a person transgressing their conscience experiences spiritual harm. Paul does not encourage a person to violate their conscience; rather they should follow its guidance. Finally, Paul ends his discourse with the law of love saying man should restrain from certain things if the consumption could cause another believer to stumble or fall. Already Paul has told that the nutrition is the same but if one believer has been told and raised to think that eating food offered to idols in wrong and the other partakes in it anyway, that action caused the other to stumble and for no apparent reason since the food is the same. The same is true for this music analogy. The music that is heard in private may not be appropriate in a public setting such as a church service. If it is insisted then this playing of music could cause others to stumble and, like the food, for no good reason. The law of love needs to guide in the type of music that is played in public. In closing, this analysis of Scripture provides an answer in this comparison to what is Christian in music. Paul’s solution to Christian dietary situations of his day was to avoid labeling types of foods as “Christian” or “secular.” Instead, he focused on the experience of the believer to determine what was right before God. Paul focused on taste, conscience, and the law of love to solve his dietary dilemmas. This concept may also be applied to the discussion on Christian music.
11 The concept of Christian music is a complicated concept that was created with good intentions, but this does not free man to not think and to challenge what he hears and what is called “Christian.” Music is all around in almost every aspect of life, so it would be unreasonable to run away from such an art. Rather, man is free to enter culture equipped with discernment, and this certainly applied to music. Man should not fear the music of this culture, but must exercise caution. An important part of Christian service to God is bringing the heavenly kingdom to earth which is central to God’s character and actions into man’s everyday existence. Man is to imitate God’s nature and His work and has been given the capacity. Christians are expected to confront this classification and consumption of music by taking part only in “things that are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise worthy—mediate on these things.”17
Works Cited Alfonso, Barry. The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music. New York: Billboard Books, 2002. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Philippians 4:8 NKJV
12 Howard, Jay R. Apostle of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004 Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 1: “What is the chief and highest end of man?”
WHAT PUTS THE “CHRISTIAN’ IN CHRISTIAN MUSIC?
A Research Paper Presented to Professor David Jones in partial fulfillment of the requirements for ETH5100
John Sanders Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary November 28th 2008
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