Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 17, 2003
Holy & Free, Part 5 – Music, part 2
This morning I want to continue from where we left off last week in our discussion of music in worship and then expand that into general principles on all music. Let me quickly summarize last week’s message before going on this morning.
Music is a very touchy subject, and this seems to be especially true when it comes to music that is used in the worship of God. This is largely because people are more committed to their selfish opinion than to humble worship. There is also a common error that equates the musical part of the service as the worship rather than simply an aspect of worship. Music itself is not worship, but it can be either a great enhancement or detriment to it. Too often people judge the quality of the worship by their personal enjoyment of the music. People will then argue about form and style of the music and miss the substance of true worship.
Remember that there is a distinction between form and content. Content is the message you want to communicate. Form is the manner by which you communicate that message. Content is what you say. Form is how you say it. Unless the proper form is used, the content will not be communicated clearly. The form can overpower, confuse or even hide the message.
Last week we saw that there is no such thing as a “devil chord,” “devil’s beat” or sound that is itself inherently evil. We looked at some of the various scriptures that describe music used in the Old Testament and found that all sorts of sounds, loud and soft, clear and noisy and even discordant ones, were used in the worship of God. The Psalms invite us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” The form of music itself is non-moral and can be used for good or evil. It is the message and the context of usage and purpose that brings about any evil associated with forms of music.
In addition, no musical instrument is good or evil in itself. We find in the Scriptures all sorts of musical instruments used in praising God. These were instruments common to the culture and also used in pagan rituals. Musical instruments are no different than our tongues, which can be used to bless or curse (James 3:10).
Again, the problem in music is not in the sound itself, but in the evil hearts of men. The responsibility for evil lies at the door of men’s hearts and not on the things themselves. We must be cautious because evil men do take sounds and arrange them for evil purposes, but there are also many ignorant people who are oblivious to the power of music. They simply want the style that pleases them without consideration of the form’s effect on the message. Good lyrics can be lost in inappropriate music and poor lyrics and heresy can be promoted through the use of a pleasing tune. These truths apply to all music, not just worship music.
MUSIC IN WORSHIP
I said last week that there is some good music being written that shows deep contemplation of God and the Scriptures. The problem is that the vast majority of what is currently being written has little thought in it. They tend to be short, simplistic choruses that are theologically shallow. A cartoonist captured this well. He drew a fellow with a guitar standing next to the pulpit saying, I want to teach you a chorus that I feel has deep theological meaning. The first line is “Praise the Lord, Hallelujah. Praise the Lord, glory to His name.” We repeat that eight times and then . . . “. It is not that repetition cannot be used, Psalm 136 certainly demonstrates that, but that so much of the repetition in modern choruses is mindless.
I have heard music leaders and even some preachers say that hymns are too old fashioned and we need to use music written in the last 5 – 10 years so that we are up to date. Folks, a hymn that has been around and sung for 300, 400, 500 or more years has proven itself and is no longer to be judged by people, it rather is a standard that judges people. Choruses can be great when used properly. Since they are usually easy to sing, they invite new people to join in our praise of God. They are also helpful in preparing us emotionally for worship. However, they cannot substitute for well written hymns. Why?
Colossians 3:16 tells us to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” A proper response to the Lord in musical worship comes only when I have the Holy Spirit controlling me (Ephesians 5:18,19). As the word of Christ richly dwells within me, I am to respond with all wisdom in teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in my heart to God.
Psalms refer primarily to the Old Testament psalms put to music, but the term is also used of vocal music of any type. The psalms magnify God primarily by focus on the nature and work of God, especially in relation to the life of a believer. A modern psalm would be something like “O Worship the King.”
Hymns center more on songs of praise and differ from a psalm only in that they specifically praise the Lord Jesus Christ. Many scholars believe that certain scripture passages such as Col. 1:12-16 were used in this manner. Modern hymns would include songs such as “May Jesus Christ Be Praised” and “Worthy is the Lamb.”
Spiritual songs is a broad category. It would include songs of testimony and any music that expresses spiritual truth. This would include many of the revival songs of the past century and many modern choruses and songs.
Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are all to be used in the worship of the Lord, and to eliminate whole categories claiming they are “old fashioned,” “not relevant for today,” or “not good worship,” displays not only ignorant arrogance, but is to severely handicap the musical aspects of worship. All categories are to be used. The key is to use them properly. Each can play a part in moving us toward the worship of God. We need to maintain proper balance.
Music is powerful and can strongly move our emotions. The problem with the various styles of music is that different people will react to various styles of music differently. A style that one person finds helpful in their worship can be very offensive to another person, especially if they equate that style with some sinful activity. This is the reason for much of the contention in music in the church, but it is a debate that really centers in both selfishness and ignorance.
The tension between contemporary and traditional music styles has and is causing division in churches, and both sides are selfish in the debate. They want what they want irrespective of the effect on other people, and more importantly, irrespective on whether they are actually worshiping God. I pointed that out last week. If you show more passion in defending your “style” of worship than in obedience and service to the Lord, or if you are more agitated by what other Christians “like” about their worship than you are grieved over your own sin and foolish heart, or if you have a greater concern about controlling or at least influencing the worship in this church than you are about being controlled by the Holy Spirit, then don’t kid yourself. You are not worshiping God, you are not adoring Him, you are selfishly seeking to serve yourself in a religious exercise.
With that said, let me present to you things that must be considered when evaluating music for their usage in worship or even for your personal entertainment. I already demonstrated last week that there are no “devil’s chords” or “devil’s beats.” The form of music itself is non-moral and can be used for good or evil. It is the context of usage and purpose that brings about any evil associated with forms of music.
EVALUATING MUSIC & MORE
Which is more dangerous, being on military maneuvers during a war or being treated in a hospital in which you are unaware that the staff is incompetent? Which concert would be more damaging to your soul – Marilyn Manson, Kenny Rogers or a “Christian” concert which was actually put on by a cult group? When the danger is apparent, we are on guard, but we put our guard down when we think it is safe and we become subject to subtle poisons. The danger in music is not the style or form, it is the content of the message, and the subtle ones are just as deadly. Most hard rock groups are blatant in their message of “do whatever makes you feel good,” and Christians properly complain about it. But Christian stations played Debbie Boone singing the love ballad, “You Light Up My Life,” even though it contained the same ethical message in the line, “How could it be wrong when it feels so right.”
There are several cautions we must take when it comes to the style of music, but the first criteria of caution is the message presented. It is the message that is most easily and objectively evaluated. What is the message of the music you listen to for entertainment? Is that message morally good, amoral or evil? Is it building you up in Christ, or at least neutral, or is it detrimental to your spiritual walk?
Secondarily we evaluate the style of the music. Why does the composer use a particular type of beat and sound? What emotion is the composer trying to create in you? Is this a proper emotion in the context in which you listening to it? Is it emotionally overpowering you, or are you still completely cognitive? This is subjective, but still proper and important to consider. Remember what I said last week about the studies in psycho-acoustics that demonstrated that certain rhythms or beats used repetitiously and played loudly can have negative effects on us emotionally and even physically.
Much of the effect of music on our emotions is because we associate the sound, rhythm, etc, with something in our experience. I like the boom of thunder because I associate it with wonderful summer vacations and hearing God’s power. Others hate the sound because lightning scares them. I like the sound of an acoustic guitar because I associate it with both home Bible studies and singing around a campfire. I am not fond of a distorted electric guitar because the sound itself grates on my nerves and I associate it with the excesses and evil messages of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. This does not make it evil to distort an electric guitar, just personally distracting if not used cautiously. You make similar associations with all sorts of music. Are those associations good, bad or neutral?
When we seek to use music to enhance worship, we must give consideration to the associations most people will have with certain styles. I must follow Paul’s cautions in Romans 14 & 1 Cor. 8 & 10 to be considerate of others. I do not want to offend people, but rather have them join me in worship. That is why we are musically conservative in playing mainstream styles and do not include radical styles. We also introduce new things slowly because we want to give people a chance to develop new associations with the style being used.
MIMICKING THE WORLD
Another danger with music is mimicking the world. We are cautioned to be separate and not bound together with unbelievers or what is evil in 2 Corinthians 6. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 admonishes us to “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” and 3 John 11 tells us to not “imitate what is evil, but what is good . . .” . This does not mean certain styles of music are automatically guilty because of association, but it does bring a strong caution to be careful in the style you use and ask why you are using it. Are you using it in a way in which you can further glorify God? Are you being “all things to all people so that you might win some? (1 Cor. 9:22). Are you doing it because you are used to that style and it pleases your own ears? Or perhaps you are doing it to make yourself more acceptable to the unsaved and you want their approval?
Some of the songs we consider to be very sacred originated from very secular music. The tune for “Amazing Grace” was first a plantation love song and had no spiritual significance until John Newton wrote new words for it. Our hymn, “Hallelujah, thine the Glory,” was first a drinking song entitled, “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,” and the reference to being revived again was alcoholic, not spiritual. Songs of composers such as Ralph Carmichael & John Peterson are now considered as a conservative Christian style, but at one time they were thought to be sacrilegious because they did not follow the standard format and used syncopation. In his time, Evangelist Billy Sunday got in trouble with much of the Christian community because of his innovative song, “Brighten the Corner Where you Are.” Its form was too much like the world.
This usage of popular form as a means to praise God is nothing new. Ronald Allen, professor of Hebrew at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, has shown that many of the Psalms are adaptations of forms used in the cultures surrounding them including adaptations of the forms used in the worship of the pagan gods. Psalm 93 for example is written in the style used for Baal worship and in fact covers many of the same themes used in Baal worship. The difference is that it is the God of Israel that is praised, and He is shown to be far superior to Baal. In verses 1 & 2 the Lord is presented as being girded with strength and firmly established on His throne from everlasting. This is in direct contrast with Baal who only “recently” had gained his position and who could lose it at any time. Verse 3-4 declares that God is greater than all the mighty waves of the sea and floods. Baal’s greatest threat was from his rival pagan god, Yamm, who controlled the sea and water. The psalm was specifically written in the form of Baal worship in a conscious attempt to glorify the true God while debunking Baal.
We must be very careful about claiming a certain style or form is evil just because it has been used by evil people for evil purposes. God has in the past often used the same forms used to worship false gods and promote evil to bring praise to Himself. How powerful our Lord must be to use the songs of His enemies to bring praise to Himself. At the same time, There is a big difference between adapting a secular song or style for use in glorifying God and mimicking the world’s style to make ourselves more acceptable to the world or to feed our own selfish desires.
It is one thing to consciously take a style or even a particular song that was used for evil and turn it around into something that praises God. It is quite another thing to mimic those who do evil because you want to identify with them. That includes manner of dress as we talked about a few weeks ago. You have to seriously consider why you do listen or play what you do. Doing it just because your friends do it is not reason enough for the Christian. You are to be a reflection of Jesus Christ. Are you reflecting Him or someone else?
THE CHARACTER OF GOOD MUSIC
With these cautions in mind, let us now consider the criteria by which we can judge music.
The first criteria to judge music by is its theological quality. Does this song match the scriptural view of the world? Does it glorify what should be glorified and admonish against what is evil? This is true not only for “sacred” music, but for “secular” music as well. The eight qualifications of Phil. 4:8 are the standards we should use for evaluation.
1) Whatever is True. alhqhV / alêthês. If it contains lies, falsehoods or is simply in error, then it does not pass the test. My first review of any song is for its theological content. Many songs, both old and new, fail at this point. They write what they feel, not what is true. We learn a lot of our theology through the songs we sing, so if we sing songs with incorrect theology, we lead people to believe things that are untrue. Again, this standard applies to both “sacred” and “secular” songs. Is it true in what is says. Example: A romantic love song that reflects Biblical values of love such as trust, fidelity, commitment, and forgiveness is wonderful. I think of songs such as “When I Fall in Love,” “Stand by Your Man,” “Longer,” “Till the End of Time” and “The Wedding Song.” But much of what is presented as “love” songs are better termed “lust” songs. They only reveal a selfish individual who is out to exploit other people. What else could you say of a song in which a guy sings, “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name.” There are many with lyrics that simply should not be repeated. Does the message of the song reflect Biblical truth?
2) Whatever is honest/honorable (semnoV / semnos). These are things of a worthy character corresponding to truth. This word refers to honorable in the sense of dignified. In terms of worship music, silly songs may be fun and fine for a campfire, but do not reflect God’s character and so are not worshipful. We must also consider that in entertainment music that there are fun silly songs such as those done by Larry in the Veggie Tale videos, and those that are crude. There is legitimate humorous satire, but songs that demean cross the line and are not honorable. This is an area I have to watch because I like political satire, but I also need to show those in authority over me the proper honor due their office (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter. 2:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1f). Crude and demeaning songs are not honorable.
3) Whatever is just/right (dikaioV / dikaios). This is the adjective form of the word for “righteousness.” That which is in conformity to the rule of God. It is what is right before His eyes. Any song must be reflective of God’s standards, and His standards are different than those of men. When it comes to worship music, the outward and the inward must be considered, for God looks at the heart. A song well played by someone whose heart is far away from Him is not worship of Him. A joyful noise sung by a person yearning for fellowship with the Lord is a great praise to Him. In entertainment music, the question must be asked if the song gives a message opposing God’s. Songs that include topics as drugs, drinking, infidelity, jail, etc. can be appropriate if they reflect God’s view of those subjects, but songs that condone or advocate them are not fitting for the Christian.
4) Whatever is pure (agnoV / hagnos). This word has the same root as “holiness.” Songs of worship are set apart unto God. He must be the focus, not man. Examine the Psalms and you will see that mention of man within them is always in relationship to the Lord. The experience of the person may be described, but the focus is on the Lord’s character and actions. Many worship songs fail here because they have an “I” problem. Their focus is really on man and his feelings and not on the Lord.
In musical entertainment there is nothing wrong about singing of human experience, historical events or anything in God’s creation. The boundary for the Christian is when the song condones or advocates something as a replacement for God. The Beatles song, “Day by Day” (“My Sweet Lord”) has been sung by Christians as a prayer to God, but their original recording of it played on the radio was sung to Hare Krishna. Here is a case where you could sing this yourself to God as worship of Him, but to listen to it as entertainment is to hear the worship of a false God. That is not pure. Another song that comes quickly to mind is “I Did it My Way” which advocates self-autonomy as a virtue. That is not pure.
5) Whatever is lovely (prosfilhV / prosphilês). This is a compound word literally meaning “Toward to love in friendship.” Songs of worship should be pleasing and agreeable. Just because a certain sound or rhythm is not sinful in itself does not mean that it belongs in worship. There is a decorum that must exist.
The same is true for musical entertainment. While there is no “devil chord” or “devil beat,” sounds and rhythm are often purposely put together with an evil purpose in mind. We should be mindful of that. There is also the aspect here of loving your brother or sister in Christ. Though you might not be offended by the music you are listening to, you do need to consider the thoughts and feelings of others around you who may be. Is it offending them and causing them to stumble? The Christian life is not about you, but about letting Christ live through you. Loving others includes putting consideration for them above your own personal preferences.
6) Whatever is of good report/repute (eufhmoV / euphêmos). In worship music it means that the effect of the music on others would be to cause them to praise the Lord too. Remember, when we come together to worship we must give consideration to the effect of what we do on others. Just because you like it does not mean other people will. They may find it offense and that hinders them in the worship of God. (Romans 14).
When it comes to musical entertainment it means that the song has a good reputation among those who are godly. This qualification is important because those in the music industry often give awards to people that are depraved for songs that are also depraved, so it is not enough that a song earns secular awards. People often learn to like a style of music because their friends like it. I like Western Ballads because my father did, and my boys have learned to like them because I like them. You need to consider if your friends have enough godly discernment for you to accept what they like. Too often people decide that because a media star or someone they consider popular likes something that it must be something they should also like. That is why fads spread so quickly, and die out as quickly. This goes back to the question of association and identification that I talked about earlier. Who are you trying to identify with? The Christian should seek to identify with the godly and follow their counsel.
7) If it is virtuous/excellent (areth/ aretê). Songs used for worship should be virtuous showing moral excellence. The message and quality of the form should procure high esteem for God and move people toward a deeper understanding and desire for Him.
The same should be true for the music the Christian listens to for entertainment. Does the song show moral excellence, neutrality or is it something that is morally degrading? Remember the principles from several weeks ago? Apply those to music. Is the song spiritually profitable? Is it a help or a hindrance to you or others in your walk with Christ? Does the music bring you into bondage or cause you to lose control of your thoughts or will? Are you using your freedom to listen to this music as a covering for your own evil desires? Are you violating your conscience? Does it reflect Christ likeness? Does it bring glory to God or detract from His glory?
Much of what is now popular in our society condones or advocates things that are contrary to the virtues of godliness. Listening to songs about people who are or want to cheat on their spouses will not build you up in Christ. Hearing people sing about how much they want to take drugs, get drunk or commit some crime will not help you walk in holiness. Music that is designed to turn your mind to mush and get your body pulsating to its beat is bringing you into bondage. Songs that glorify man and his accomplishments as opposed to God and His work do not reflect Christ likeness. What is the moral virtue of the music you listen to?
8) If it is praise worthy (epainoV / epainos). It is worthy for use in praising God or is it worthy of His commendation. The music of worship is for God’s pleasure, not our own. The quest is for the music to stimulate us to praise the Lord for who He is and what He has done. How much we like the song should not be an issue in worship music.
The characteristic of being praiseworthy also needs to be applied to the secular music you listen to as well. Is it worthy of God’s commendation. Or perhaps I can put it in very simple terms. If Jesus was sitting next to you while you were listening to this music, would He also be pleased? If not, then perhaps you should consider listening to something else, because Jesus Christ indwells the believer. He is always with you.
Let me close with two final practical comments. First, Don’t be hypocritical. You must correct your own listening habits too. Adults often complain, and often rightly so, about some of the music their children listen too whether it is rock, rap or something else. But be aware that much of what is in pop, country, folk & jazz does not fit the criteria of Philippians 4:8 either. That doesn’t mean you should not be correcting the listening habits of your children. It does mean that you need to be correcting your own too.
And finally, Be selective with what you fill your ears and mind. Don’t let some disc jockey who doesn’t care about God make those decisions for you. Use music in the way that God intended and not according to our adversaries design. If you don’t have enough self-discipline to punch the selection switch when an inappropriate song is played, then buy some tapes or CD’s and fill your ears, mind and soul with music that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy.
“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God:
For it pleasant, and praise is beautiful.”
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times any reference to music is made in the sermon 2) Discuss with your parents the following: What is and is not good music. How can music be used to help you walk with Christ? How you can protect yourself music that has evil influences?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others
What is the difference between form and content of music? Can a musical form be evil? Why or why not? What are the characteristics of good music for use in worship of God? What three types of music should be used in worship? Explain each. What is the tension between contemporary and traditional musical forms and how can the problem be solved? What characteristics would make a song a dangerous influence? What are the dangers of mimicking the world’s musical forms? Under what conditions could those styles be used for godly purposes? Explain each of the eight characteristics of Philippians 4:8 and how they can be applied to music you listen to for entertainment. (True, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praise worthy). What style(s) of music do you like? What makes it enjoyable to you? How does it affect you emotionally? What style(s) do you dislike? Why? How closely do you listen to the lyrics? Can you sing with the song? What do you do if you find that the lyrics promote what God says is evil? How much time per week do you listen to music? How much money per month do you spend on music? What steps can you take to make sure that music is used in your life according to God’s design instead of the devil’s. When will you make those steps?
Sermon Notes – August 17, 2003
Holy & Free Part 5 – Music Part 2
Music in Worship
Mimicking the World
The Character of Good Music
True: alhqhV / alêthês
Honest/honorable: semnoV / semnos
Just/right: dikaioV / dikaios
Pure: agnoV / hagnos
Lovely: prosfilhV / prosphilês
Good Report/repute: eufhmoV / euphêmos
Virtuous/excellent: areth / aretê
Praise worthy: epainoV / epainos
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