Church Music Conflicts, Part 2: 7 Biblical Principles for Testing Your Music

Oh so many moons ago, I wrote a book with Elmer Towns called Perimeters of Light. In that book, we talked about how to choose your music. In light of my comments yesterday about, “Church Music Conflicts,” I thought you might find this helpful.

The ideas are a bit of me and a bit of Dr. Towns. Here is the excerpt:

We must test everything by the Word of God. All of us are responsible to interpret the Bible and apply it to our life but this is where disagreement comes because we interpret differently. Music is a form that is used to convey meaning. It may be the most challenging of all forms because it involves preference, emotions, vocalization, etc.

The following seven test statements each relate to biblical principles that we should apply to our music to determine if it is Christian. Examine these seven test statements to determine if the music you prefer is Christian.

The first test is the message test. This test examines the words of the song to consider its message. Does this song express the Word of God? Does the message lift us, i.e., appeal to our higher nature, or do the words appeal to our lower nature? If we seek to glorify God, it is important that the message of the songs be consistent with the known and revealed will of God.

The second test to apply to our music is the purpose test. All music was written with a purpose in mind or heart. Determine whether the music is sad, joyful, uplifting or soothing. And again some music is designed to tempt you to sin, because it stirs your lust. Some “protest songs” of the “Hippies” were designed to get you to rebel against your government. Music that may be appropriate at one time, may not be appropriate at another time. When we apply the purpose test to our music, we choose songs that reflect our emotions or are likely to produce the emotion we wish to feel.

Third, we need to apply the association test. No music exists in a vacuum. The association test asks the question, “Does the song unnecessarily identify with things, actions, or people that are contrary to Christianity?” An otherwise good song may be rejected because of its associations with ungodly people, or worldliness, etc.

The churches that I (Ed) have pastored have generally used contemporary music. I remember coming into the worship team’s rehearsal. They were rehearsing “Amazing Grace.” This was not a song we sang frequently– and they were putting it to a new tune. That was the problem. Nothing was wrong with the song. However, the tune they chose was from another song: “The Rising Sun” or “There is a House in New Orleans.” Various artists have recorded it. If you know the tune, you will see that it fits nicely.

I explained to them that the association of the song would be unavoidable– the original song would impact the meaning today. The original song was from the drug culture.

I (Ed) was reminded of this when speaking to a group of pastors, some of whom were Jamaican. I was challenging them to consider that there is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics. I asked if God could use jazz; they said yes. I asked if God could use country/western, they said yes. I asked a few others; then I asked if God could use reggae. They were shocked and clearly expressed that it was not appropriate. Reggae music was about drugs and there would be no reason to sing about drugs in church. They had a point.

I then asked if it would be OK to use reggae music in my church where we have no concept of the drug connection. They agreed. The music was not the problem, the association was. The key question for the association test is this, “What does the music bring to mind in the heart of the worshipper?” Note, not what does it inspire in my heart– but what does it inspire in the heart of the worshipper.

For example, for me and for many others, rap music is about violence and misogyny (women hating). However, to some, it is about raging against something. Therefore, if the worshipper finds that the music helps him or her to rage against sin and the world, such a music can be associated with angst and struggle, but against something that matters. For example, one group sings:

Man is nothing, but you think that you’re bad

Fool if it wasn’t for my God, I would have already had you

Deny His name are you willing to admit it

And if so, are you willing to die for it

Cuz I am, He is my life and I don’t fear death

Cuz he already paid the Price.

What P.O.D. has done in their song “Preach” is to take a form and to use it for a different meaning. The form of rap is no less godly that the form of 4/4 time in most of our hymns. It is a canvas waiting for a picture. It does convey and associate–angst against something. P.O.D. has followed the pattern mentioned earlier.

The fourth test is the memory test. We tend to associate our memories and experiences with significant songs in our past. This can be positive or negative. The memory test asks, “Does the music bring back things in your past that you have left?” Remember, repentance is a significant step in conversion. If you have left the darkness, don’t sing those songs that make you want to return to the darkness. A song that may be enjoyed by some Christians should not be used by others who struggle with past memories.

This does not mean that we need to abuse the notion of “offending our brother.” It seems that many churches have adopted a “don’t-offend-anyone policy.” That is not what the scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that if what we do causes people to sin, we ought not to undertake a particular practice. Listening to contemporary music does not cause the senior adult to sin though it does offend–there is a distinct difference. The association test says, “Don’t use music that will lead people to sin.” It does not say, “Don’t use music that some will find distasteful.”

The next test is the emotions test. Music stirs our emotions. Both negative and positive emotions can be stirred by music. The emotions test asks, “Does the music stir our negative or lustful feelings?” Christian music should stir our passion for godliness, prayer and righteous living. If music stirs your lust and makes you idolize or crave sin, it is wrong; no matter how innocent it may appear. This test causes us to evaluate how music affects us emotionally.

The understanding test seeks to determine the meaning of the song. Should we use music that we don’t understand or have a difficult time finding the melody? Some people enjoy and understand classical music. Other people can’t tolerate it or hate it. Others enjoy and understand country/western. Again, other people can’t tolerate it or hate it. Applying the understanding test, those who appreciate classical music would find it easier to worship God listening to a recording of Handel’s Messiah than a southern gospel quartet.

The final test may be described as the music test. This, like many of the others, is a “cultural” test that will differ from place to place. It asks, is there a “song within the song?” The music test looks at the song to determine its merits based on hymnology. It seeks to determine if the song is singable, if it flows comfortable from one line to another. Does it make your heart join in the song? A song may have Christian words and is sung by a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, but the music is flat and leaves the audience empty. That particular song will probably pass out of existence because it fails the music test.

The history of church music suggests that every generation has its own music. Today, many older Christians reject the contemporary music of the younger believers, while the younger don’t understand or use the music of past generations.

These tests lead us to one simple conclusion: God can use ANY form of music. God has no musical style or preference. Therefore, with the exception of the message and purpose test, the only tests that we have provided are cultural. The question is asked, “What impact does this music have on the culture via association, memory, emotions, understanding, and music?” These are not easy questions–but they are essential.

When a worship team is choosing music, it needs to think through some important issues. They may have the freedom to choose, but discernment calls them to choose wisely.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

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jeff — 06/22/13 10:42 am

Would you recommend a worship team to weigh these tests equally? The first two test mentioned, message and purpose, test the biblical principles of music. These tests focus on whether the music glorifies God or man. The remaining tests focus on the group's responses versus the biblical nature of the music. These tests are better at measuring the diversity and maturity of the group versus the Biblical nature of the music. The more diverse a group is, the less effective the tests are. The more mature a group is, the more unnecessary the tests are.

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Church Music Conflicts, Part 1: Have We Really Always Done It That Way?

Music can be one of the most controversial issues in the body of Christ. Each person has his or her own unique taste in music. Christians listen to, enjoy, and are edified by all of these kinds of music. But should they?

In seeking to determine what is the right music for a church, it is important that we apply biblical principles to evaluate our music. That is not always easy, as the Bible contains no music notes and God indicates no musical preferences. Though, as I’ve written before, I do believe there are seven tests based on biblical principles that can help determine the suitability of music.

Music has always been a struggle within the church.

This evaluation is not a new thing. Music has always been a struggle within the church. It seems odd to hear Christians today insist that a certain style of music is best or act as if the recent “Worship Wars” were an anomaly in church history. Any Christian who knows our past would know that neither of those is the case.

Take a look at the patterns throughout the centuries, which Elmer Towns and I detailed in the book, Perimeters of Light:

“Get rid of that flute at church. Trash that trumpet, too. What do you think we are, pagans?”

200s: Instrumental music was almost universally shunned because of its association with debauchery and immorality. Lyre playing, for example, was associated with prostitution.

“Hymns to God with rhythm and marching? How worldly can we get?”

300s: Ambrose of Milan (339-397), an influential bishop often called the father of hymnody in the Western church, was the first to introduce community hymn-singing in the church. These hymns were composed in metrical stanzas, quite unlike biblical poetry. They did not rhyme but they were sometimes sung while marching. Many of these hymns took songs written by heretics, using the same meter but rewriting the words.

“The congregation sings too much. Soon the cantor will be out of a job!”

500s: Congregations often sang psalms in a way that “everyone responds.” This probably involved the traditional Jewish practice of cantor and congregation singing alternate verses.

“Musical solos by ordinary people? I come to worship God, not man!”

600s: The monasteries, referencing “Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119:164), developed a seven-times-daily order of prayer. The services varied in content, but included a certain amount of singing, mainly by a solo singer, with the congregation repeating a refrain at intervals. The services were linked together by their common basis in the biblical psalms in such a way that the whole cycle of 150 psalms was sung every week.

“Boring, you say? Someday the whole world will be listening to monks sing these chants.”

800s: Almost all singing was done in chant, based on scales that used only the white keys on today’s piano. The monastery was the setting above all others where Christian music was sustained and developed through the Dark Ages.

“How arrogant for musicians to think their new songs are better than what we’ve sung for generations.”

900s: Music began to be widely notated for the first time, enabling choirs to sing from music. Thus new types of music could be created which would have been quite out of the reach of traditions where music was passed on by ear.

“Hymns that use rhyme and accent? Surely worship should sound different than a schoolyard ditty!”

1100s: The perfection of new forms of Latin verse using rhyme and accent led to new mystical meditations on the joys of heaven, the vanity of life, and the suffering of Christ.

“This complicated, chaotic confusion is ruining the church!”

1200s: Starting in France, musicians began to discover the idea of harmony. The startling effect of the choir suddenly changing from the lone and sinuous melody of the chant to two-, three-, or even four-part music did not please everyone. One critic commented how harmony sullied worship by introducing “lewdness” into church.

“Don’t try to sing that hymn at home; leave it to the professionals at church.”

1300s: Worship in the great Gothic-era cathedrals and abbeys used choirs of paid professionals, “a church within a church,” sealed off by screens from the greater building. Ordinary people generally had no place in the spiritual life of these great buildings, except perhaps in the giving of their finances.

“It’s too loud, and the music drowns out the words.”

1400s: Music became increasingly complex (Gothic sounds for Gothic buildings), prompting criticisms that only the choir was allowed to sing. As reformer John Wycliffe had complained, “No one can hear the words, and all the others are dumb and watch them like fools.”

“They want us to sing in today’s language. Shouldn’t God-talk be more special than that?”

1500s: The new prayerbook, pushed by King Henry VIII of England decreed that all services would be in English, with only one syllable to each note.

“Now they’re putting spiritual words to theater songs that everyone knows.”

1500s: Martin Luther set about reforming public worship by freeing the mass from what he believed to be rigid forms. One way he did this was by putting stress on congregational singing. He used hymns and music already familiar to the majority of people in Germany.

“Okay, men on verse 2, ladies on verse 3, and the organ on verse 4.”

1600s: The organ played an important part in Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism, while in the Reformed churches there was much opposition to it. Initially the organ was not used to accompany congregational singing, but had its own voice. As a result, the organist would often play a verse on the congregation’s behalf.

“Our children will grow up confused, not respecting the Bible as an inspired book.”

1700s: Isaac Watts gave a great boost to the controversial idea of a congregation singing “man-made” hymns, which he created by freely paraphrasing Scripture. Charles Wesley paraphrased the Prayer Book, and versified Christian doctrine and experience. Wesley’s songs were said to have had at least a great as influence as his sermons.

“Their leader is just asking for trouble when he says, ‘Why should the devil have all the best music?'”

1800s: William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, used rousing melodies with a martial flavor to set the tone for his Army. He is credited with popularizing the “why should the devil” question referenced above.

“These Christian radio quartets are on a slippery slope. Don’t they realize that the airwaves are the domain of Satan, ‘prince of the power of the air’?” (Eph. 2:2).

1900s: When radio was in its infancy, a handful of Christian pioneers such as Donald Grey Barnhouse and Charles E. Fuller began featuring gospel music and evangelistic teaching over the airwaves. Many Christians initially showed skepticism.

“Christian Rock is an oxymoron. The music of the world must not invade the church.”

1970s: Larry Norman sang, “I want the people to know, That He saved my soul, But I still like to listen to the radio…They say that rock and roll is wrong…I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong and I don’t confuse it: Why should the devil have all the good music…’Cause Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away.” He founded what became known as Contemporary Christian Music… and it is still controversial today.

As you can see, music has played a central, but contentious role through out church history. There is no reason to believe the disagreements will stop any time soon. Being aware of the changes and movements of the past, however, should encourage us to be more humble about our own preferences and more open to other styles of music used to worship God and point people to Christ.

 Read more from Ed here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.