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,
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.
My desire is to be thoroughly “Sola Scriptura” in all I do, as I hope
is evident quickly as you read through this. Although I am going to
begin with a premise given to me many times over by those who condemn
contemporary music. I address this mistaken illustration initially
because anything can be proven from a false premise.
The illustration often used to prove the morality of music goes
something like this:
If I write a letter, then that letter has no moral quality. It is
neither good nor bad as it stands alone, but when I put letters
together to form words it then has value as it communicates something.
Color is the same way. Red is neither good or bad, but can be used to
paint pictures that have moral value.
The illustration then says music is the same. A single note is amoral,
but string that not along with other notes and it begins to
communicate, and once communication occurs the it is either good or
The problem with this illustration is that it is not founded upon an
accurate understanding of any of the forms of communication it uses in
the illustration. It is true that all three forms of communication are
moral, and it is true that a single letter, color, or note does not
have moral value. It is also true that once communication occurs it
carries a moral message. It fails to realize that all three of these
are not just communication forms but art forms as well. This
illustration, in not allowing for variation of style, subtly
encourages one to subjectively place the moral value completely upon
the style instead of the what is being communicated. Let me show you
what I mean by recasting the illustration in a more accurate light:
If I write a letter, that letter has no moral quality, but letters
combined make words. Even still, these words do not have a moral
quality unless they are combined to communicate ideas. It is the
sentence that communicates. I can use the word “God” positively or
negatively. It is not just the word, but the context in which it’s
used. Then there is style. One can employ prose (and in various forms)
essay, etc. Various styles will better carry the message. Even
Scripture employs different writing styles throughout, which will
determine how the words employed are interpreted.
A color, standing alone, is neither good or bad. But when employed to
paint a picture, that picture takes on a moral quality. But this
picture can be painted in the style of Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, or a
myriad of others.
Now let’s move to music. A stand alone note is not good or bad, but to
string them together in a melody begins to communicate. But I can take
the melody to “Twinkle, Twinkle” (a Mozart melody) and play that in
All factors combine to make a whole, not just the stringing together
of letters to make words, colors to make pictures, or notes to make
melodies; but one must also account for style in the evaluation of
music. Monet was an impressionistic painter, his lines were not as
much defined as Rembrandt’s’ seemingly exasperatingly detailed
portraits, but both have beauty and both can be used to draw
positively and negatively moral things. But style in art enables us to
say things through the combination of all those elements in powerful
ways we otherwise would not be able to say.
Just as there are some forms of art that are truly not art but the
equivalent of setting of a bomb in a paint shop, so every style of
music is not acceptable – but then again it would be agreed that both
in artistry and music those unacceptable styles have no symmetry or
beauty to them but are products of chaos. We must be careful not to
impose our musical preferences as the determining factor of what is
good and what is not.
So, a quick recap before we move on:
1.Music is not just a language, but an art.
2.Art have varying styles in which it communicates
3.The same style can be used for good or evil
4.There are some exceptions to the rule above, but those exceptions
are few (styles rooted in chaos)
5.We must not elevate our preferences as the determiner of good and pad style.
Does this sound complex? If so then you’re beginning to see that the
reductionism taken by those who want to simply dismiss contemporary
music out of hand has skirted the issues. This reductionism fits quite
well when trying to make areas black and white that Scripture doesn’t
address in those terms.
(to be continued…)
I was listening to a song by Charlie Hall today, and the truth it contained thrilled my heart! It was such an encouragement I thought I would share it.
I once was fatherless,
a stranger with no hope;
Your kindness wakened me,
Awakened me, from my sleep
Your love it beckons deeply,
a call to come and die.
By grace now I will come
And take this life, take your life.
Sin has lost it’s power,
death has lost it’s sting.
From the grave you’ve risen
Into marvelous light I’m running,
Out of darkness, out of shame.
By the cross you are the truth,
You are the life, you are the way
My dead heart now is beating,
My deepest stains now clean.
Your breath fills up my lungs.
Now I’m free. now I’m free!
Lift my hands and spin around,
See the light that i have found.
Oh the marvelous light
God’s Word tell us to encourage one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. I heard this the other day, and my heart began to swell! His grace is sufficient!! It is all of His grace that we even sing His praise.
This time of year is when the materialism of men gets full display. Isn’t it ironic? The season that we, as Christians, run around and tout the birth of Jesus Christ, and say it’s all about Him; are running around like greedy 5 year olds, looking for the best deal on that laptop for Dad, or the bread maker for mom. We always gott’a have more. Doesn’t it make you wonder how many people really have Christ? If you look at what they are giving their lives to, which would consume more time, thought, and money: Jesus, or their new Mac book pro?
The last part of this song is wonderful!
“To see The LORD, the promised land. Wherein all sin’s pearly gates look bland. And what was once a pearl, now is sand that blows away in light of HIM.”
So this Christmas season do something – take all the gadgets and gizmos you get and pile it up. Look at it, and tell yourself that it is all going to be burned up and the ashes blown away, and all that will remain is Christ and His work. (Does this cause your heart to sink, or rejoice?)
We say we love Jesus, but if we searched for our heart where would we find it? Where’s your treasure? Where ever that is, your heart will be right there too, clutching whatever it is that’s precious to it.
In heaven there will be no sin. This means the idolatry of materialism, and the lust for more, bigger, better, newer, faster things on the market will be obliterated. If this is what brings you joy, then what makes you think you truly desire heaven?
The pearls of earth are but dust and ash before The Almighty.
May this song, and brief thought be used of God to turn hearts to HIM.
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