Why is this conversation important?
Many conversations about Christian music can be boiled down to personal preference. The idea is that since Christians live in many different cultures and have different preferences of music style, shouldn’t these decisions be left to the individual’s conscience? In a sense this is true. Every Christian should come to a conclusion about what type of music he believes is pleasing to the Lord. However, this does not mean that every decision made by a Christian is equally valid. My supposition is that some musical styles are sinful and therefore inappropriate for Christian use.
How can music be sinful?
Before looking at musical styles, we have to define sinfulness. For my purposes, I will narrow the definition to worldliness as defined in 1 John 2:15-17. In those verses, John contrasts the person who does God’s will vs. the one who is worldly, and the one who loves the Father vs. the one who loves the world. How do you tell if someone is worldly? He is someone who is characterized by sinful desires (lust of the flesh), sinful thoughts (lust of the eyes), and sinful motivation (pride of life). These characteristics set apart someone who is worldly and someone who is like the Father.
Writing this article would be much easier if the only problem was worldly lyrics. I would hope that all Christians would turn away from sinful themes in their musical selections. However, the problem is not usually the lyrics; it is the music itself. Much of popular music styles today are designed to promote worldliness. Some popular music promotes unbridled sensuality by the way it is put together. Watch how people react to the music at a concert and you will see how the music affects them. It pushes them toward sensual movement and actions. Other music promotes angry emotions. Have you ever seen a “head banger” thrashing around to his music? This style and perhaps others promotes a proud and fierce defiance of authority. Because music has been designed by God to affect our bodies and emotions, we should be careful that our choice of musical style does not promote what God is against.
What about musical associations?
It is true that at different times, Christians have avoided certain musical instruments and styles due to their association with worldliness. I remember when guitars were considered unfit for use in some churches. Because the guitar was one of the main instruments used in the worldly music of the time, they wanted to distance themselves from any connection with a sinful lifestyle. Was the instrument evil in itself? No, but with a desire to “not be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:1-2), pastors have been careful about what they have allowed into their churches. I can understand that. It would seem that many churches have the opposite idea. They try to be as much like the world in their musical styles so that the world will be attracted to their message. Is that really a good idea? The motive may be right, but the method doesn’t make sense.
While there will always be a diversity of opinion about what musical styles are suitable for worship, it seems that many churches have abandoned all biblical discernment when choosing the style of music in their church services. For whatever reason, the motive and message is more important than the style of music used. Motive and message are important. But what they don’t seem to see is that the music is communicating a different message than the words no matter the motive behind it. This creates confusion for those who hear it. They hear God’s message accompanied by the call of the world. Why should this be considered acceptable?
It would be impossible to address every type of music in this short article. What about country, hip hop, rock, jazz, and music from other cultures? Can any of these rightfully be used by God’s people to sing to or about Him? To answer this question, we need to look at the principles found in the Bible. How does the musical style fit within the parameters of 1 John 2:15-17 and Romans 12:1-2? Look past the words and seek to discern whether the music promotes worldliness or conformity to the world. Our goal as Christians is not please ourselves or the world, but to please the Lord.