The Music Controversy

     Music is obviously huge in today’s culture and it’s not going away anytime soon! Churches seem to continually be approached with the questions “Out with the old and in with the new?” or “Out with the new and stick with the old?” In fact, this issue hasn’t just stayed inside the church building, but has really been imprinted upon people in their homes as well. So let me tell you a bit about my struggle with this issue.

     Growing up in traditional churches, all my life I heard this issue brought up more times than I can count. I was told that rhythmic music was wrong, if it was in a minor key, if it was syncopated, or had a set of drums (or any percussion instrument for that matter), and guitars (especially electric) were bad. It seemed each person told me something different about where I should stand with music, and why it was all evil. This started to keep me up at night in thought. "What was wrong with it? Was it bad? What does the Bible say?" For years, I reserved a tight music mindset. I never listened to things with drums, electric guitars, digitization etc. Finally, I saw some major division take place over the topic and it shook me enough to start studying this topic.

    Before I dive into this, please note that I have studied music for over fourteen years now. I play violin, piano, guitar, and I sing (melody and harmony.) I played in a very well qualified orchestra, sang in a pristine acappella choir in Michigan, pit orchestras, musicals, and even studied it while in college. I do not say this in any way to boast about my musical resume. In fact, I was rarely the best musician in any group. However, I want you to know that I am qualified to speak on topics musically related, and being a pastor I believe that I am qualified to speak on things of a theological nature. 
 So for about a year, I studied the Bible; searching for anything that pertained to the topic. I tried to find something against drums, minor keys, rhythms etc. Also, I studied history of music during this time, trying to find the reasoning of what I had been taught. 

The Bible makes perfectly clear that music is important to God...

Psalms 104:33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

     Christian music should, at its core, bring praise to God. To which any Christian in the world would probably exclaim, “Duh! We know that!” But how well do we know that? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe your Christian music does not praise God? Or maybe music that you condemn actually does praise the Lord? This is a line that many Christians do not seem to think about. Do you accept any music thrown at you with the label of 'Christian' slapped on it? Do you condemn music and its listeners to be sinful and worldly when there is nothing inherently wrong with what they are doing? Both sides of this can be dangerous.

     All throughout history we see many different styles of music. Take a look at this Classical Music Timeline. This is only dealing with Western Styled music (IE: from Europe/North America)

     Now I am not gonna bore you with explaining each period and what genre did what and where. However, I will say this: Music has changed drastically throughout history and cultures. Many of the styles introduced were originally disliked. Take J.S. Bach for example. Today he is praised for his musical genius, but in his time, he was only famous for one thing: controversial worldly music. He was the organist of a few churches and he was nearly kicked out of these churches because his music was worldly. Yet, he continued to write despite the resistance.

      Fast forward to the future...

     Today, his music is praised and listened to by both Christians and non-believers alike. What’s my point? Today the very same thing is happening. As soon as someone comes up with something new, it is instantly compared to that of the worldly artists and immediately condemned (guilty by association.) This is a sad truth to see that this issue is not recent, but many years old. Ironically, we see even today people compare modern music to that same exact pagan root that Bach was accused of.

     Exodus 32 is used frequently against modern Christian music. This is when Moses comes down from the mountain and sees the people worshiping a golden calf and singing praises to the false god. Moses threw down the tablets of the ten commandments, and destroyed the idol. There is a section in the passage that compares the Israelites' false praise as ‘songs of war’. Their praise was as a loud noise and the cry of battle. So many use this verse to 'prove' that there is evil styled music (especially if it is loud.)

     Upon closer examination, this verse is really talking about their cries of false worship. I find it to be stretching the truth a bit to apply it to modern day Christian music. In fact, the Bible only talks about singing praises to God and condemning false worship. The Bible says nothing about various music styles.

      It amazes me how such a simple issue has exploded to becoming such a destroyer of Christian unity, lives, churches, hearts, and souls. Where does the Bible place this emphasis?

Ephesians 5:19 Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart...

I have heard this verse defined as:

Psalms: The Book of Psalms

Spiritual Songs: Choruses we sing

Hymns: Songs we sing in our hymn book

      This is not an accurate interpretation. This false definition actually has no grounds of truth. They did not have a chorus book or a hymn book back in ancient Ephesus in the way we think today. It was everything they could do to get a copy of any Bible manuscript, let alone making up little booklets such as hymnbooks. This verse is ultimately referring to praising our God and singing songs that glorify Him and exhort us as Christians.

     As we continue to check the validity of claims against modern worship, I wish to be clear in my terms, I will often refer to Contemporary Christian Music as CCM.

“Are Drums Sinful?”

Psalms 150:1-6 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

(Also, see Isaiah 55:12)

     Besides the emphasis on praising the Lord again, we see he mentions specific instruments to praise the Lord with, and he does not seem to discriminate which ones either. He mentions wind, string, and percussive instruments. David, nor God, seemed to have an issue with them. Yet, some of these are frowned upon by churches today. Despite how you may feel about drums personally, the Bible has nothing against percussive instruments. In Psalm 47:1 it even mentions “The clapping of hands.” Many of these thoughts against such things come from the wrong application of separation and how that applies to the Christian.

     I have heard mention that the beat overwhelms all the other music. Which this can be true in some cases, but it all depends who playing the drums. This tends to be more about poor musicianship than it does about being sinful. I sang once in my church and my pianist completely drowned out my voice with the piano. This does not make it evil. It simply means poor musicianship (or not enough rehearsals if you throw things together like I do.) I should also mention that there is no Biblical validity in this claim either.

     I have also heard that the beat, in general, is evil and pleases the flesh. Of course, to state the obvious, every song has a beat. (besides traditional Gregorian chants) Next time you are singing in church, look around you. Upon observation, you may notice many congregation members swaying side to side when singing a song. If you look closely, you will notice that the swaying is generally in perfect sync with the beat. The beat helps musicians and singers stay in the correct timing, which proves to be beneficial to everyone. Feeling the music does not mean it is wrong, it means one is engaged in the music.

     Another claim against drums is they emphasize the ‘off-beat’. First off,  percussionists can emphasize whatever beat they choose. But for those of you who are not musicians I will try to explain this as easily as possible.

     In most traditional songs, there is a 4/4 time/beat pattern. Basically, to keep this simplified, this means there are gonna be 4 beats per measure. In traditional music they always emphasized the 1st and 3rd beat (IE: 1, 2, 3, 4.) and in modern music they emphasize the opposite beat (1, 2, 3, 4) It is often claimed that this is wrong because it is imitating the sounds of the world during the rock and roll movements of the '70-'80s and therefore feeds our flesh. Once again, this is a false claim. There is a lot of older music that does this same setup and is accepted openly because it is a classical piece. Take Irish styled music as an example. It has both beat patterns in it (among others.) We hear Irish styled music all the time in churches and people love it. Why? Because it’s beautiful! In southern Gospel, the off-beat is emphasized all the time, (especially by the stand up bass.) I have heard it emphasized in classical music anywhere from the medieval period to the romantic period. Off-beat emphasis has been around for a very long time. You will even notice some hymns do this if you pay attention. Oddly enough, the Bible says nothing about such beat patterns either.

“Is Syncopation Wrong?”

     Syncopation is defined as “displacing the beats or accents in music or rhythm so the strong beats become weak and vice versa.” This is pretty much the exact same thing as explained above. Even in Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, there is syncopation. It has been around for centuries. It is generally used to create a musical emphasis. This is not always the case, but often times it is.

     There was a young man at my Bible college who was really ragging on syncopated music. Yet, his favorite song was "I Have Been Blessed." I looked at his sheet music and saw that it was entirely syncopated. I pointed out the syncopation in his music and he started saying, “Wow, this song is corrupted too, I don’t think I should play this anymore...” I attempted to reason with him, but sadly, the roots of his traditionalist mindset would not be uprooted. This was a shame since  God clearly used the song to bless his heart along with many others. Syncopation should not eliminate a song from being a blessing. Ever.

     Many of these issues exist because of ignorance. We need to educate ourselves on these topics, especially if you even consider the idea of debating these issues. Remember, God says to praise Him! If God wanted a specific beat structure I am sure He would have communicated it clearly.

“The modern movement is repetitive and has no theological depth."

      Often times those who use this form of argumentation call contemporary music 7/11 music (same seven words repeated eleven times) I personally do not find much enjoyment out of repetitive music. However, there is nothing actually wrong with it. What is ironic is that some will accuse songs like "Awesome God" of being simplistic and repetitive, while saying songs such as "God is So Good" are good and acceptable for worship. Despite the fact that "God is So Good" is written simplistically in both theory and lyrics, not to mention that song's repetitive nature. However. there is a level of beauty in repeating a holy and simple truth about God. It is also worth noting that the Bible says the angels sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty” all throughout eternity.

Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

     If God finds it acceptable to sing it in heaven, then one can safely assume it is okay within our churches. Christians should not be so harsh as to put down believers for repeating a truth about God. God can be praised by repeating a simple truth about Him, or by stating a long and in-depth poetic song filled to the brim with doctrinal and theological truth. We must keep the focus on Christ, not our personal musical preferences.

     As a side note: not all modern songs constantly repeat themselves. In fact, some of them have deeper meanings than many traditional songs.

“The CCM Artists are worldly and you can’t tell the difference between them and a normal rockstar."

(Please read my Appearance of Evil and Separation from the World for more information)

     This is an interesting point to bring up. I can see the concern here, but one's physical appearance does not dictate one's spiritual state. (Unless they are entirely immodest, but even that has some subjectivity) It is also worth noting that not all of these Christian artists look like worldly rockstars. Like any group of individuals, you will find all different types. Look at the very church you attend and you will see what I mean. The church is made up of individuals and each individual is different and rightfully so. Some of us are at different points of our spiritual walk, some of us have different conviction/beliefs about various different topics, and due to all these differences, many of us can reach people that the other cannot. After all, are we not the Body of Christ?

     Jeremy Camp is a well-known song writer and CCM artist and he has an incredible testimony. Many accusers would say he is worldly, but if you take off the judgmental lenses you may actually see a genuine person here.

Jeremy Camp's Testimony

     Plus, if someone spikes their hair, has a piercing, or even eight tattoos, does that really make them less of a Christian? The Bible really does not speak against these things (within proper context) so why are we making a bigger deal about it than even God did? Remember, you do not know these people. They do not know you. To judge them from a distance is within direct violation of popular passages like Matthew 7. God looks upon the heart, do not get caught up in the over critical nature of man to look down on someone because they do not present themselves in the way you think is best.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

“CCM Music doesn’t say the name of God and sounds like it could be sung to/about anyone”

     Actually, there are a lot of songs that openly and clearly testify Christ. It is also true that a lot of songs use the personal pronoun you. Now first off, you will see in the book of Psalms that David uses the word thee, thou, you, etc. A lot of these songs are sung as prayers to God so, naturally, they would use personal pronouns (As King David did.) Below are links to a few songs within the CCM movement with amazing messages that clearly demonstrate that the above accusation is false.

     Even if the accusation was true, there are traditional songs that never use the name of God, but simply describe His attributes, or poetically describe the person-hood of God. A famous example of this is: Amazing Grace. "Amazing Grace" never once mentions the name of God directly. It mentions "God's praise" in the last stanza, but never directly refers to the personhood of God. This is fine! The song is about the human journey of experiencing God's grace. That is the entirety of the message.

     Obviously, there are many songs that are shallow. Take Get Back Up Again as an example. Does it talk about love? Yes. Does it encourage you to press on? Yes. Is its focus on Christ? Not really. Although, it is sung by a Christian artist and played on the station. This song is more of a positive message than a spiritual one. However, if we are going to bash music for being positive in its message, we may need a heart check. There are plenty of songs both old and new that can be shallow. Of course, this is basic argumentation. The most important part of all this is that there is not an ounce of Biblical support to this claim.

     Ultimately, we have to be careful not to generalize new or old Christian music. No one likes to be generalized or painted with a broad brush. That being said, be careful on what you are accusing and be sure it is consistent within your own position.

“We have to avoid music that reflects a worldly culture.”

Many people define worldliness as follows...

Worldly: of or concerned with material values or ordinary life rather than a spiritual existence. (traditional interpretation.)

     However, this definition is too vague. What is "too concerned?" what is a healthy "material value?" where is the line? At what point do I cross the threshold between, "providing for my family" and, "not being spiritually focused?" Obviously, this could become subjective quickly. Which is why I have previously written on this topic. In short, what the Bible really means is much simpler than what tradition says.

Worldly: To be enamored or ensnared by the sinful nature of the world. (Biblical interpretation)

     To be clear, we are to be separate from the world. This does not mean that people cannot be engaged within their own culture. What that means is not falling into the habits/sins of the world. It does not mean to avoid everything within your own culture/society.

     We commend Hudson Taylor (missionary to China) for adapting to the Chinese culture. This did not make him worldly, but instead made him trusted by the people. This is why it is increasingly important that churches adapt to the current culture without sacrificing Biblical truth or the content of the Gospel. Everything in this world is attached to some form of culture. So everything we do could be considered worldly. Traditional music, modern music, clothes, entertainment, books etc. all originated within a culture. That does not make it evil. The content, however, can.

“Didn't CCM emerge because of the Rock and Roll movement in the 70-80's?”

     Yes and no. Music is always evolving and adapting. But yes, it is true that a lot of what we hear today became popular during that time. But even today’s music style sounds very different than that time period. Even classical music has roots that might shock many. Most of the old classical styles are deeply rooted in sensuality. Even the styles of songs played in our Hymn books are strikingly similar in structure to those that were played in taverns/brothels of the 1700’s and onward.

     You see, music styles change according to the culture in which they are a part of. This is because that is the music people hear and are familiar with. Naturally, people write what they know. Then, over time the music changes and evolves into something else. This is a natural progression all throughout music history.

     There is an amazing book that opened my eyes to this and it is entitled "Bruchko." It is about an American missionary to the Indians in South America. There is a part where he finally witnesses to the Indians and they accept Christ as their Savior. It shocked the missionary when they were singing praises to Jesus in their typical tribal music styles. He was going to intervene, but he felt convicted by the Holy Spirit not to. He realized that the Indians did not want his style of music, but they had their own. In fact, later the Indians said that hymns sounded similar to "Wailing at a funeral." This is a great example of cultural differences and adjusting to the culture in which you are in.

“These people are always trying to put on a show and bring attention to themselves.”

     This could be true to some, but false to others. Again, it is a general claim. We cannot condemn the multitudes for the deeds of a few. Also, we cannot judge these motives for ourselves. People perform in traditional churches same as modern churches. To be the sole arbiter of someone's motive is disconcerting at best. Whether in a contemporary environment or a traditional one people can perform for their own self interests or for the Lord.

     There was a girl I knew who sang all the time at Bible College and was commended highly by the pastor/president and the entire 3,000 member church. The thing was, when you talked to her she was extremely self-absorbed. I even heard her tell someone "I'm one of the best singers here. I think some people are just jealous of that...” (she did not say this out of an attempt to be humorous either.) It would appear that certain people, even traditionalists, might be in it for the thrills and attention as well. 

     I have also heard the argument that all there hand gestures and facial expressions are to bring attention to themselves. When we get to some of these claims, it honestly feels like people are just grasping at straws to nit-pick. People make facial expressions while singing and are actually encouraged to do so by most any vocal coach (classical or otherwise.) It is often a psychological technique used to help someone reach higher notes, use better tone etc. The hand gestures are basically the same thing. There is nothing Biblically wrong with this. So why do accusers say otherwise?

Luke 16:15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."

     I have heard this verse used against all these artists. This is taking this verse out of context and running with it. There are good preachers, singers, Sunday school teachers etc. that are all looked highly upon. Being looked up to is not a sin. This verse is talking about a person’s heart. 

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 

      This goes all the way back to what was discussed earlier. In order to praise God in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, our hearts must be right with God. For God knows our hearts. Our lives do not have to be perfect, but our hearts must be in the right place. Otherwise, if it is all about our own skills and pride, it is vanity. The Bible says we must do our best in all things for the Lord. So use your talents and gifts humbly for Him.

“CCM Focuses on emotions”

     It is not entirely emotional. Again, this is a general claim. However, if you are singing about a God who created the world, loved mankind despite its shortcomings and betrayals, sent His son to live a perfect life, endure torture and death for you, and you do not get a little emotional from time to may want to take a spiritual inventory. God created emotions and He created us in His image.

      This claim has no Biblical grounds and is ridiculous to assume something is wrong just because it can have emotions. Most music that is written is inspired by a highly emotional event such as loss or heartbreak. It is often when we are broken that God reveals His unending grace and mercy to us which results in inspiration for many Christian musicians to write.

“Christians can only listen to Christian music"

     Again, there are no Biblical grounds for this claim. The Bible never says music is only for Christians to praise God with. It simply tells us to praise the Lord with music. If you do not want to listen to secular music that’s fine, but nothing is essentially wrong with listening to secular music. This would even make love songs to a spouse or the "Star Spangled Banner" worldly and sinful by this logic. Few people would say poems about love or loneliness are wrong. So what is wrong with putting that poem to a piano or other accompaniment? In short, a song is only sinful when it encourages or praises that which is sinful.

     Even orchestral music or straight classical music has nothing to do with God, yet is generally more accepted even in the most conservative circles. This would appear to be a hypocrisy. Which would be more spiritually uplifting? A CCM song? Or a violin solo composed by Paganini?

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

      Whatever music you do choose to listen to, it should help encourage us to think on these things. I believe I can testify for numerous believers that CCM does encourage us to think upon these things.

“CCM artists say their primary reason for singing is evangelism, when God says it is to praise Him.”

      Let’s actually take a second to think this through. If someone is fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), travels, sings, and testifies Christ...does that not ultimately bring glory God? This argument, again, is a stretch. What could possibly be wrong with evangelizing with music? If they are testifying Christ and singing music to Him; God will receive honor and praise. Even the most conservative churches have Teen Meetings/Revivals and use games, pizza, skits, and competitions to reach out to teenagers. Is it mentioned in the Bible? No. Is there anything wrong with it? No. People are coming and hearing the Gospel message. In fact, I would find a Christ centered musical experience to be more spiritual than a game night with teenagers. Yet, we have the nerve to say musical evangelism is wrong? Let’s be honest, if we were as concerned about lost souls as we were these kinds of topics, there would be a huge revival in our world. However, so many prefer to tear down Christian people who are trying to influence lives than to pray for their ministry.

“Electrical Instruments are Worldly”

     Outside of using the word worldly out of context again, there is further issue with this statement. It does not matter if an instrument is electric or acoustic. My church has an electric pipe organ and I grew up using an electric piano. How the instrument functions really is of no consequence. You will find that music styles have much more in common than one might originally assume. All music styles use the same notes and scales, sheet music, beat structure, and they all play in the same keys. At the end of the day, a G chord plays 3 notes G, B, D. The G chord can be played on piano, violin, or any guitar. It can be played in any style in any place. Music instruments and their notations are really amoral. It would seem that the only consistent position would be to acknowledge that musical instruments and the notes/style they play have no real moral value.

      I would argue that it is all about the balance of the music vs. lyrics. Lyrics should be about God and praising Him, testifying Him, or praying to Him. The music should reflect that which is being sung or else it does not fit its message. Have you ever heard a song where the melody/style did not fit the lyrics? It can be jarring. This would seem to be a more appropriate complaint than the types of instruments it is played on. However, this would still be under a musical preference, not necessarily a moral issue, and certainly not a Biblical issue.


      We cannot be so tight that we shut down anything that has a new sound to it. All of these claims against CCM have no Biblical grounds and fall apart upon further inspection of music. Sure, some CCM artists are not good examples of Christianity. However, we as Christians should be able to discern that, but not all traditionalists are good examples either. If the world judged us just as harshly for our few bad apples, could you imagine the devastating result that would have on the ministry of churches today? Maybe our entire focus on this is wrong. Maybe it is not about the drums, guitars, styles etc. maybe it is about something deeper. Maybe it is about the heart of the worship itself.

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men

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