Engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Music, Morality, and Mistaken Premises – Pt.2

What does Scripture say anyway?

Scripture doesn’t address music style (this is really the main argument between “traditional” and “contemporary” church music), but there are generally three passages that those who do not accept contemporary church music will submit as biblical footing for their stance.

“Harping” on the wrong thing:

I Samuel 16 records the event where King Saul had an evil spirit that plagued him and was advised to hire a skilled musician to play for him. He hired David, who was skilled at the harp, and when David would play the evil spirit would leave Saul.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.

It is apparent that music does have an affect on the individual. That is a point that is agreed upon by both sides of the debate. If music didn’t affect us in some way then there would be no point in employing it in worship, or love sonnets to our spouses, etc. Music can calm and relax us, facilitate in a workout or give us the perfect rhythm to dance around the room with the love of our life. I would not play “Eye of the Tiger” to a room full of 4 year old children if I was trying to get them to lie down and nap. This passage does not address musical styles, simply that music is influential. To use the passage as definitive on style would be the same as trying to say that only music played with the harp is God honoring music.

No… that’s really music, Josh:

Exodus 32:17-18 is another passage, probably the most favorite of the traditionalist.

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.

In this passage, Moses and Joshua go up the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments from The LORD. While away, the people convince Aaron to make them an image of God. They make a golden calf out of their jewelry and as they celebrate and worship their newly made god they employ music. Joshua hears it and thinks it’s war going on. Moses has a more discerning ear and correct Joshua by telling him it is not a victory cry nor cry of defeat, but singing that he hears. The point that is often attempted to be made by this passage by the traditionalist is that Joshua thought their celebration sounded like war. Most contemporary music employs drums and other rhythm instruments differently that classical, baroque, or other westernized styles. The heavy rhythm is equated to war-like sounds and lumped into the genre that Joshua must have thought he heard. It is over looked that Moses corrected Joshua, as well as the fact that since they were on a mountain and the people in the valley below, the distance alone would have distorted the clarity of the music along with the voice of the people.

Again, style of music must be superimposed on the text. If one side wants to employ Joshua for their purposes of saying the music sounded like war, the other side can just as easily side with Moses and say it’s really music. Moses wasn’t enraged with them over the idol they had erected. The text doesn’t even allude to the music tipping him off to their idolatry. It wasn’t until he saw what they were doing that his anger burned hot. It is notable, however, that music is such a vital part of worship, that it is even included in idolatry as if not even idol worship would be “complete” without it.

Music & Glory:

II Chron 5

1 Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God.2 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 3 And all the men of Israel assembled before the king at the feast that is in the seventh month. 4 And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites took up the ark. 5 And they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the Levitical priests brought them up. 6 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 7 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 8 The cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 9 And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. 10 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. 11 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, 12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; 13 and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever,”

the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). When we worship Him in word, prayer, song, or sacrament He is there with us. This passage makes a clear statement, yet with a positive example, that music is most definitely a part of worship. The ark was brought into the Holy Place, the priestly attire was being worn, but it wasn’t until the musicians played and sang that the cloud filled the Lord’s house. Yet we do not have a comment on style. We can imagine what it might have sounded like by familiarizing ourselves with whatever Jewish music we have available to us today, but that is about as close as we can get. We do know that whatever it sounded like, it poured forth from a heart of worship to God.

Music is an outgrowth of our worship. We express our emotions through it, and communicate them to others. But at the end of the day we are not left with anything definitive about music styles. This is when the traditionalist will turn to secular musicians for support. They will quote Mic Jaggar to Frank Zappa. Trying to prove the music controls people. The assumption is that if it makes you want to tap your foot, then you’re under it’s control and it could just as easily make you want to punch your parent in the face. I understand that secular rock musicians use their music to promote rebellion and wickedness. I also understand that it is a swinging away from the previously accepted genre. But this pendulum swing is what has happens in cultures. For example. The classical period, the period lasting about 70 years (1750 to 1820) and cushioned between the Baroque and Romantic periods, is just one example of the same “cultural rebellion”. It wasn’t always called “classical” in it’s own time, it was the contemporary genre of the day. In contrast to it’s predecessor complex harmonies and multiple coexisting melodies, it was more simple with clearly defined melodies as opposed to emphasized harmonies. The new music was a result of the emphasis upon ideals of classical Greek culture. Interestingly enough, in a book I read by one who is opposed to contemporary music, and in support of the classical style, the author quoted Henry David Thoreau saying, “Music… has helped cause the destruction of the Greek and Roman empires and it will sooner or later destroy America and England.” [“Music Matters” by Cary Schmidt pg. 21] I have read Dr. Jack Hyles quoting Plato as saying in his Republic, “The introduction of a new kind of music should be shunned as imperiling the whole state.” [sermon titled “Jesus Had Short Hair!” by Dr. Jack Hyles] But music styles have changed since Plato, and it’s these “new” styles (now become old) that they are wishing to cling to.

All that has been determined by the Scriptures given thus far, is that music is influential and can be used for good or bad. If the traditionalist is to assert that their style of music is godly and contemporary is ungodly then there will need to be more than an assumed dualism. The topic of musical styles and the morality of them should be founded upon Scripture alone and not a mistaken premise or faulty illustration.

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2 responses

  1. Your article is very thought-provoking. While I don’t have a problem with select CCM groups (mostly the “older” stuff) and songs for my personal listening enjoyment on the road or on the job – my personal belief is that it has no place in the church. The Bible says we are to sing “Psalms” and “Hymns” and “Spiritual Songs” — the Bible does not say anything about wanna-be “rap songs”, “Christian” Rock-n-Roll, or repetive broken-record “Praise and Worship” songs. Our music when worshipping the Lord is to be God-honoring, not singer-focused. When music is so borderline – to the point where if the words were turned off and only the music were playing, and we couldn’t tell the difference between IT and the latest hit rock song – there is a problem. God calls us to seperation, to steer far and clear from anything remotely comparable to the world… so why are we as Christians today trying so desperately hard to pin-point that fine line and straddle the fence?

    June 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    • danielpulliam

      I would ask a few questions of you:
      1. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. If you worship God individually to CCM then what is wrong with doing the same corporately?
      2. It seems that there may be a dualism in thought between “the world’s” sounds and heaven’s sounds. What you classify as non-worldly was worldly a hundred years ago.
      3. I know some extremely repetitive broken-record hymns also. Repetition isn’t bad, just read the psalms. “His mercy endureth forever” is said after every verse in some of them. Very repetitious.
      4. If you take the words out of Joyful, Joyful, you can’t tell the difference between that and Beethoven’s (who was a worldly musician) 9th symphony. Is that wrong?
      6. maybe this link will help you. http://sharperiron.org/2008/02/04/how-bach-used-the-devils-music

      June 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm

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