Shall we or shall we not use modern Pop/Rock music to try to bring people, particularly young people, to Jesus?
Music More For Faith than Feeling
But we need to recognize that most Bible references to music occur in direct connection with the worship and service of God. That means that music in scripture is used more in connection with man’s religious faith rather than with his general feelings.
The first of the references to music in worship is in Exodus 15. Here we find the great “freedom song” of Moses and the Israelites by the Red Sea. By the time we get to the book of 1 Chronicles religious music had become highly sophisticated and organized. King David appointed no fewer than 4,000 singers–and I quote “…to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose” (1 Chronicles 23:5). David also had 288 master musicians “trained and skilled in music for the Lord” (1 Chronicles 25:7).
I am sure you are aware that the Psalms are the “hymnbook” for Old Testament believers. It is interesting to notice that with some Psalms there are instructions as to which musical instruments are to be used. Psalm 4 has the note, “with stringed instruments”, and Psalm 5 is “for flutes”. This must have been in order to ensure that the music matched the words. God was not to be worshiped in any old way.
The Old Testament Pattern Explored
This point is important, because many of those involved in gospel music these days point back to the Old Testament and claim that it gives them all the license they need for “doing their own thing”. This is a misinterpretation of the facts. Music in the Old Testament was not a “do it one way for the young people and do another way it for the older folks.”
Hold on to your seat now, did you know that of the eight musical instruments that were used by the Israelites, only four, the harp, the lyre, the cymbal and the horn were specifically authorized for use in the temple. Timbrels were prohibited, so were flutes, pipes and dulcimers. Although these instruments are mentioned in the Psalms, and although they could properly be used in other places, they could not be used in the temple service.
Another thing, did you know that not just anyone could be involved in music in the Worship services of the Old Testament? The musicians had to come from certain families. They could play only on limited and special occasions, and then only at specific times during the service. It was not a free-for-all with anyone who could play an instrument being invited to join the band and turn the service into a music festival. Music was rigidly controlled in the temple worship. This was done to keep it from becoming a predominate factor in the worship.
Most of the 500 references to music in the Bible are in the Old Testament. There are some references to music in the New Testament, but only ten or so refer to Christians here on earth. The other texts are references to the heavenly hosts and are mentioned in the book of Revelation and of these texts two are quotations from the Old Testament.
The New Testament Pattern Explored
Of the New Testament references to music outside of the book of Revelation, two texts merely tell us that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before they left the Upper Room to go to Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26); one text tells us that while Paul and Silas were in prison at Philippi, they were “praying and singing hymns to God” at midnight (Acts 16:25); and another text tells us that Paul was determined to sing God’s praises in a language that could be understood by the hearers (1 Corinthians 14:15). In other places in the New Testament there is mention of “music and dancing” in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:25). In the book of James we have the simple instruction: “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).
This then leaves just two places in the whole of the New Testament where there is direct instruction given on the subject of music. Both texts say virtually the same thing. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19). Writing to the Colossians he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
Notice in both texts Paul mentions: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The “Psalms” would be mainly the Old Testament Psalms as we know them; “hymns” would be their own compositions in praise of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; “spiritual songs” seemed to have covered a wide range of lyrical compositions, that could have included both psalms and hymns.
And that’s it! The New Testament has nothing else to say on the subject. Though music is not mentioned often in the New Testament, there are lessons to be learned in what is said. In the first place, although variety is encouraged in worship, variety does not mean license to do anything we please. “Psalms” and “hymns” had direct reference to God, and the songs had to be “spiritual”. This is important. Music about God must reflect his glory, beauty, holiness and order, and should direct men to him and to his ways. The music that is used in worship of God should be mostly vocal. If instruments are used, they should be in the background so that the words of the songs can be appreciated and understood.
Worship Not to be a Performance
A while back someone called me up and offered to provide special music for a men’s convention. I am a believer in special music. I believe that God has given some talents that ought to be used for his glory. But I also believe that when we are worshiping God together we ought to give preference to doing just that. Worshiping him together.
I told the person that I believe that as far as music is concerned the more songs that we are able to do together in worship the better. What I am saying is that if I have a choice over whether to have the whole congregation sing or one person sing and the whole congregation listen to them, I believe I will prefer that we sing together as a congregation.
There is no doubt that we need more participation in worship, but if we are honest with ourselves, the things that we have added in recent years to service have not appreciably broadened the participation, but merely given more variety to those who are spectators. We have, to a large degree, only added artists and actors. I don’t mean to say that we don’t appreciate the talents that persons may have. It is just that worship is not to be a performance.
Is Using Music in Evangelism a Biblical Pattern?
Before we leave our look at music in Scripture, there is one final point to make which is probably the most important of all. In all of the Old Testament references, there is not one instance of music being used to help communicate Judaism to the heathen.
There is no record, for instance, of the Israelites organizing a Jewish religious folk festival to try to convert the Hittites, Jebusites or Amalekites! Although music was available to the church, there is no reference in the New Testament to the early church using music to reach non-Christians with the gospel. All the references to music are to the church at worship; there are no references of using music to try to bring people to Christ.
So there we have it. Music was created by God. But it’s primary purpose was to praise God and then it could be done in a certain way, at certain times, especially when it came to worship,and it was never for the communication of the gospel.
Do We Really Understand Christ’s Methods?
In the 90s we are into the “Wendy’s syndrome”. We like it our way. Many have decided that they like rock music and so they have decided that they will mix the sacred with the profane and then look around for some texts to justify what they have done.
I am not particularly impressed when someone comes along with an idea that they say can be justified from scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. I don’t need to tell you that David Koresh justified what he did from both. Do I need to say more? One of the quotations that we hear a lot these days is the quotation from the Spirit of Prophecy which says “Christ’s method alone will bring true success.” This quotation is being used in many places to justify excesses and methods that are not to the Glory of God. Just for the record let me refresh our memory as to what this quotation really is saying.
Ministry of Healing, p. 143:
The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago–a revelation of Christ. A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished. Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.
There are many reasons being given as to why we need to use pop music as an evangelistic tool. I am going to mention a few and comment on them.
Why Are We Calling People Together?
One of the big reasons that people use to defend the use of pop music is that it draws crowds. I will not deny that if you want a crowd of young people, just announce a gospel rock concert. In most places it is difficult to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. But somehow we have got to understand that if it is only crowds that we want, then we are placing ourselves and the message at great risk.
We must ask ourselves why are we calling the people together. If it is simply to call them together, then the means that we use is not important. But the purpose of the gospel is not just to communicate anything and every thing to every nation kindred and tongue and people, but to preach the everlasting gospel. Therefore we must not use methods that put the crowd above the purity and integrity of the gospel that is to be presented to them. It is said that one of the subtlest ways of flattering man is to communicate the gospel in a way that he wants, rather than the way that he needs.
The Media Always Affects the Message
Another argument that is being used a lot is that using popular music to present the gospel communicates the message to the young people in a language that they can understand. The text that is used is in 1 Corinthians 9:22 which says and I quote “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
It has been said that a text out of context is a pretext. To use this text in 1 Corinthians as a excuse to use pop music to preach the gospel is just that, a pretext. If we begin to read in verse 16 of chapter 9 it is clear that Paul is not talking about using anything and everything to spread the gospel. He is talking specifically about preaching. A person who would say otherwise is wrenching the text completely out of context. When Paul said “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” he was talking about the importance of preaching. He is not suggesting that he is open to a limitless number of alternatives!
Friends, we are deceived if we believe that the gospel message will be received the same no matter how it is conveyed–whether by book, magazine, radio, television, film, sound recording, etc. It is pure fiction to believe that if you put a gospel message into any kind of media at one end, it will come out at the other end as the same message. Please write this down in indelible ink. The media always affects the message.
Does Rock music communicate the gospel effectively and without distortion? No. We must never forget that the Bible’s primary appeal is to the mind: God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18); Christ’s summary of the First Commandment includes the need to “love the Lord your God.. . with all your mind” (Mark 12:30); Paul makes it clear that the way to prevent conformity to the world is “by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). I am pointing this out because in pop music the words are secondary. Pop is music of feeling, it speaks primarily to the body and only secondarily to the intellect.
Is Music Really Neutral?
One of the strongest arguments put forward in favor of gospel rock is that music is neutral and the words are all that matters.
Come now my friends, let us reason together. It is obvious that a single note has neither a message nor a meaning. and so in that sense, A single note is “neutral”. But the debate is not about single notes, but about music. For the record, the dictionary definition of music is “the art and science of combining tones in varying melody, harmony, etc. so as to form complete and expressive compositions.” The words “expressive compositions” are important. This means that when single notes or tones are deliberately brought together in a musical work they are no longer neutral. When music is composed, it is not composed into a neutral nothing, but into a positive something. A composition has a form that is definite and meaningful.
Let us disabuse ourselves forever of the argument that music is neutral. We can illustrate the principle by comparing music to the printed word. Watch how this goes now. The text of Psalm 23 in the New International Version has 437 letters of the alphabet. Before they were assembled by the printer, these letters were neutral. They were complete and perfect, but they meant nothing, they had no message. But in Psalm 23 they have been grouped together to form an expressive composition. Now they are saying something, and the order in which they have been composed determines what they are saying. Can you see that?
Now take those same 437 characters, arrange them differently, and instead of spelling out a message of assurance, comfort and faith, they could spell out a message of hate, greed or even violence. Compose them in some other way and they would form a shopping list. The individual letters would be the same, but they would have lost their neutrality.
How could anyone say that music is neutral, and that it is the words that make it either good or bad? People throughout history have understood the power of music. Plato (428—348 B.C.), the Greek philosopher, wrote, “Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” In another place he contended that music could strengthen a person, or cause him to lose his mental balance, or to lose his normal willpower so as to render him helpless and unconscious of his acts. Aristotle (384—322 B.C.).
Plato’s most famous student wrote, “Music has the power to form a character.” Boethius (c. 480—c. 524), the Greek philosopher and statesman, wrote, “Music is a part of us and either ennobles or degrades our behavior.” John Calvin the protestant reformer (1509-4564) wrote, “We know by experience that music has a secret and almost incredible power to move hearts.”
Human history proves that music has the power to move mankind. It has calmed his fears, summoned up his courage, soothed his sorrows, stimulated his memory, stirred him to violence, prepared him for death.
Please don’t tell me that music is neutral. In 1 Samuel 16 we are told that King Saul called for David to play his harp for him. We are told that “Whenever the evil spirit came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then Saul would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23). To suggest in the light of all this evidence that music by itself is neutral and has no message is frankly absurd.
One more point. if music is neutral, if it can say whatever the hearer wants it to say, then why are certain kinds of music played in the background on airplanes, in supermarkets, or in places that are likely to be stressful? If music is neutral, why not play the theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho” in dentists’ waiting rooms? The obvious reason is that the music is chosen to do something; and the reason it can do something is that it is not neutral!
Couldn’t Tell the Difference
Another argument that is used these days is that there is a difference between Christian rock and secular rock. Come on now. The truth is that if you took the words away and changed them to a secular message, I don’t think you would be able to tell the music apart from pop, rock-orientated music. Some years ago a controlled test was conducted in a European youth club. When gospel and secular rock records were played, the hearers reported that they “couldn’t tell the difference”.
You see my friend, Rock is communication without words, regardless of what words are inserted into the music. The words only let you know what the music already says. The music is its own message and it can completely change the message of the words. The fact is that rock music is rock music. It is not a plastic medium that can be bent in any direction.
We cannot change the basic effect of certain kinds of rhythm and beat simply attaching a few religious or semi-religious words. The beat will still get through to the blood of the participants and the listeners.
Does This Music Really Bring Young People to Christ?
Some people argue that Gospel Rock brings many young people to Christ. In certain instances it might appear that way. I am convinced though that to use Rock rhythms to call young people to Christ is to call them to a false Christ. I hate to put it this way, but a professor of mine once said that we don’t worship God with our pelvis.
Encouraging the Spirit of Showmanship
Have you noticed that trying to use Christian Rock and Pop music to share the gospel encourages a spirit of showmanship? The tendency of the performers is to act as stars instead of servants of God.
Listen to this advertising for a Christian Rock concert. “A fantastic feast of rock and praise, the finest Christian music, leading Christian artists, highly talented newcomers, top stars, extraordinary entertainment. A mega- stage production.. get caught in it! Fifty-one hours of the finest in Christian rock music, drama teaching, worship, fellowship and fun. From main stage you’ll be under decibel attack from rock acts… etc.”
Do we need to be reminded that the purpose of the gospel is to get the attention focused on the Savior? I don’t see how we can expect to give a faithful representation of Jesus by swaying, squirming, dancing, slinking or gyrating. When these things are done on stage they are an act, part of a show. The purpose of those who spread the message of Jesus is to point people to Christ. To draw attention to a performer not only fails to help in getting the gospel across, it actually hinders the process.
Turning the Gospel into Entertainment
Using the rock music medium turns the gospel into entertainment. Is that what the gospel is suppose to be? What is the gospel? As every Christian knows, the word simply means “good news”, but it is important to remember that it is not good news about the possibility of a better life-style or how to solve life’s problems and feel great. The gospel is good news about the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no gospel apart from Christ, there is no gospel without Christ and there is no gospel outside of Christ.
The life of Jesus was not a religious road show; he did not come to give a performance, but to give his life! To try to use entertainment to spread the gospel is a contradiction of terms. The gospel that is being conveyed through the mediums of entertainment in many places these days produces fans and not followers, In the work of evangelism, the church is a lifeboat, not a showboat!
Trivializing the Message
Another problem is that the rock idiom also tends to trivialize the message. For example there is a song that speaks of the resurrection of Christ. It says “You can’t keep a good man down”. This may be a “cool” way of singing about the resurrection of Christ, but it is theologically trivial and it is biblically criminal.
The Only way to reach Young people?
Many people argue that rock is the only way that young people will listen to the gospel. Youth leaders think that without a band the young people won’t listen. They think that music is the only way we can reach them.
Is that true? Listen, is there any other serious subject that needs to be communicated by music before it can be understood and accepted by young people? Imagine an eighteen-year-old employed by a company that insists on an annual medical check-up for all its staff. He seems healthy and has no sense of need, but goes reluctantly to hospital when his time comes. After a careful examination, the doctor discovers that the young man is suffering from a serious disease that will prove fatal unless he receives immediate and radical treatment. Can you imagine the doctor asking his assistant to set the man’s disease to music, rustle up a few nurses, plug in some musical instruments and then get them to sing the diagnosis to the patient—because that would be the best way to get through to a teenager? The idea is absurd—yet time and again we are told that you must have music before young people will listen.
If the rock music medium is so effective in communicating with young people, why not use it in schools, colleges and universities? Why not give biology some beat, jazz up geography, get into heavy metal history and liven up languages by doing them in a disco? The reason is obvious and that is the medium does not fit the message.
Dividing the Generations
One of the most negative results of the rock and roll rhythms with or without Christian words is that it divides the generations. An advertisement placed by Rolling Stone in the New York Times said, “Rock and roll is more than just music. It is the energy center of a new culture and youth revolution.” In Mick Jagger’s words, “There is no such thing as a secure, family-orientated rock n’ roll song.” The Beatles’ George Harrison made it clear that alienating adults was no accident: he said “Music is the main interest of the young people. It doesn’t really matter about the older people now because they’re finished anyway.” A Prominent music critic wrote, “Rock music has widened the inevitable and normal gap between generations, turned it from something healthy and absolutely necessary to forward movement — into something negative, destructive, nihilistic.”
This philosophy is being reflected in the life of the church. Young people are becoming increasingly segregated from the rest of the congregation. I believe that the trend in many places to create a “youth church” is unnatural and unhealthy. The Christian church is a family and the members of a family ought to demonstrate what they have in common rather than their differences.
As we close this presentation, I want to ask you a few personal questions.
- Does the use of Christian Rock and Pop music help us to hear the Word of God more clearly?
- Does it tend to give us a greater vision of the glory of God? Does the beat, rhythm and syncopations express the purity, majesty, holiness and serenity of God? Music about God should be like God. It should reflect him, magnify him and reveal his character.
- Does the music tend to call us to repentance?
- Does this kind of music encourage us to live a disciplined, godly living?
- Does this kind of music help us to separate ourselves from the world? The bible is crystal clear that we are not to love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.
- Would we expect to find this kind of music in heaven?
- If you forget all I have said, don’t forget this one thing: the medium is never program neutral. The medium that we use to preach the gospel is either consistent with it or it is betraying it. Gospel rock is a betrayal of the message that we have be called to preach. May God forgive us and bring us out before it is too late, is my prayer.
- Is there a madness in some of the methods that we are using to communicate the gospel? I believe the answer is yes. Using a medium that is primarily used to promote sex, violence, drugs, the occult and blasphemy is unthinkable and inconsistent with the purity and holiness of the God that we worship.