Category Archives: Music

Have you ever wondered?

Have you ever wondered what your pastor does when nobody is in the church building? Besides removing bugs from the carpet in the entryway or cleaning the bathrooms, he may be praying for you, thinking through his sermon notes, or just meditating on some Scripture passage. But there are other times when the quietness of the sanctuary might be broken by him singing or playing music.

My well-used classical guitar was purchased for $25 at an antique store in Columbus, Ohio back in the 1990’s. It isn’t worth much but has accompanied quite a few songs over the past 25 years.

When I have unlocked the church doors and gotten everything ready, I usually take out my guitar and play through the sheet music in my guitar case. If you were to look through the mess of papers in there, you would find a hand written composition of O Holy Night put together by Bonnie St. John. It was written for four of us to play one Christmas in Mentor OH. That was a highlight of that Christmas holiday. Then there are copies of Xie Xie and Coffee Break in Dublin by Per-Olov Kindgren. The former is easy enough for me to play all the way through if nobody is listening. The latter is still waiting to be conquered. Then there is Bach’s beautiful Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. This is one that I have recently started playing. It is difficult but might be doable with some more practice.

There is something about playing music in an empty church auditorium. Nobody is there. It gives me the opportunity to play without anyone hearing any mistakes. I kinda like that. So, if you see the light on in the auditorium when nobody else is around, don’t call the police. It’s probably just me trying to enjoy a few moments of quiet.

Hymn: On Zion’s Glorious Summit

I grew up in a church that had a good music program. On Sunday evenings, Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell played the piano and organ to accompany our hymn singing. I learned to sing bass by listening to the organ’s low notes and to this day can pick out the bass part with little trouble. (Sadly, what I can sing and what can be heard are two separate entities.)

This beautiful hymn was written many years ago by an English shipwright by the name of John Kent (1766-1843). Hymnary.org says that, “as a working shipwright his opportunities for acquiring the education and polish necessary for the production of refined verse were naturally limited. His hymns are strongly worded, very earnest and simple, and intensely Calvinistic.” Despite his limited education, he published more than 200 hymns during his lifetime.

When you read the words to this song, replace the word Zion with heaven and it will make the song come alive for you. For those who know the Lord, this song expresses the emotions stirred up by Scripture passages such as Revelation 5:11-12 and 7:9-10. What a great reunion that will be when Christians from different times, cultures, and languages join together to sing the praises of Jesus!

On Zion’s glorious summit stood
A numerous host redeemed by blood
They hymned their King in strains divine
I heard the song and strove to join
I heard the song and strove to join

Here all who suffered sword or flame
For truth, or Jesus’ lovely name
Shout victory now and hail the Lamb
And bow before the great I AM
And bow before the great I AM

O what a sweet exalted song
When every tribe and every tongue
Redeemed by blood with Christ appear
And join in one full chorus there
And join in one full chorus there

(after last verse)

Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of hosts, on high adored
Who like me Thy praise should sing
O Almighty King

Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of hosts, on high adored
Holy, holy, holy

When Your Walls Come Tumbling Down

Words: Andy Rupert – Music: Per-Olov Kindgren

When your faith has been tested
When your confidence fails
When you can’t seem to accomplish anything
When you finally realize that you cannot succeed
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s big ambition
When the things that you’ve planned
When the goals you have worked for all your life
When you suddenly realize that the end might be near
When your walls come tumbling down

CHORUS:
It is there at that moment
When you cry out to God
As you search in the Scriptures for relief
Then with His new perspective
You find peace amidst the pain
You find hope that helps you to stand
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s close companion
When the dearest of friends
When the one who has loved you all your life
When that one is taken from you and the tears begin to flow
When your walls come tumbling down

Hymn: Master the Tempest is Raging

Words: Mary A. Baker — Music: Horatius R. Palmer

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’er-shadowed with blackness;
No shelter or help is nigh.
“Carest Thou not that we perish?”
How canst Thou lie asleep
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

CHORUS:
The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will;
Peace,(peace,be still)be still(peace, be still)
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons, or men, or what-ever it be,
No water can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies:
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will;
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will;
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled;
O waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master;
O hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast,
Linger, O blessed Redeemer, Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

Hymn: Sometimes a Light Surprises

Words: William Cowper

Sometime a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings;
when comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue
the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
“E’en let the unknown morrow bring with it what it may.”

“It can bring with it nothing, but He will bear us through;
who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed;
and He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.”

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,
yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice;
for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

Christian Hip Hop?

In the 1980’s The Christian Armory in Columbus, Ohio marketed CCM with an “if you like this secular band, you will like this CCM band…” poster. As someone who indulged in worldly music at the time, this caught my attention. It gave me the opportunity to have the world’s music and a Christian message. I eventually imbibed everything from Christian metal bands to Christian rap. But something changed when God saved me at age 19. I became convinced that musical styles can convey a message in both morality and associations. With a new desire to not be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:15-17), it seemed ludicrous to me to use worldly music to promote a Christian message.

Why would a Christian mix God’s message with an ungodly style of music?

First, there are many who do not believe that music is moral. They say that music can be used for bad purposes but in and of itself does not convey a moral message. This does not make sense to me because music affects the human body and emotions. David’s music refreshed the spirit of King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Israelites danced to wild music when worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:17-19). And personal experience confirms this. Music affects us in good and bad ways. At its worst, the popular music styles of today promote sensuality, violence, anger, and pride. The music itself pushes you toward those emotions without the words. This is not good.

Second, there are many who simply like a certain style of music. We all have musical tastes and to a certain extent that is not a bad thing. The music your family listened to when you were growing up had a big influence on what you think is appropriate. However, what we like or what we are accustomed to should not be the deciding factor in many areas of the Christian life (Phil. 4:8-9; Gal. 5:16-23). Does this musical style match up to God’s desires for me? Does it help me to become more Christlike? Some music does not.

Third, there are many who use popular music styles to reach people. Christians see the popularity of a certain music style and try to use it to bring people into the church or to reach a certain demographic. The motive behind this method is noble but flawed. Think about it for a minute. Why would you want to mix God’s message with a worldly style of music? Would sensual, violent, angry, or proud music be appropriate for proclaiming God’s truth? This is not only inappropriate but also produces a mixed message of Christianity without repentance or holiness.

What about hip hop?

During a recent conversation, someone postulated the idea that using hip hop was a grey area limited only by a believer’s conscience. My initial response involved biblical principles about worldliness (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 John 2:15-17) and some of the thoughts shared above. Since then, I have done some research about the hip hop genre. It is much more than rhyming lyrics backed up with a beat. The common definition of the genre involves four characteristics:

Although widely considered a synonym for rap music, the term hip-hop refers to a complex culture comprising four elements: deejaying, or “turntabling”; rapping, also known as “MCing” or “rhyming”; graffiti painting, also known as “graf” or “writing”; and “B-boying,” which encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude, along with the sort of virile body language that philosopher Cornel West described as “postural semantics.” … Hip-hop originated in the predominantly African American economically depressed South Bronx section of New York City in the late 1970s.

https://www.britannica.com/art/hip-hop

As new styles of music are appropriated by Christian artists, there is usually a backlash from conservatives. In the case of hip hop is this backlash justifiable? Or would it be appropriate to use this genre for reaching inner-city youth? It would be impossible to investigate every form of Christian hip hop on the market. As with all music, the style and quality will vary from artist to artist. However, the artists in this series of videos certainly fall under the definition of hip hop. Notice how prominent graffiti is in several of the videos. At best, they are trying to identify with inner city youth. But isn’t graffiti (no matter how important the message) still vandalism? Note also the “virile body language” and attitudes in many of the videos. Men and women are bouncing to the beat. What do the outfits and motions of the women project? What do the outfits and motions of the men present? Is there improper sensuality or pride in their movements? Does the music support the message or bring confusion?

Conclusion

I am not an expert about hip hip music nor am I an expert about the Christian version. There are, no doubt, artists who do things better than what was portrayed in the videos. However, what I saw there does not convince me that it would be suitable for God’s purposes. The identification with the world seems very clear despite the attempt at a Christian message. The renewed mind of Romans 12:1-2 should not be limited to just the inside of man; it should control the outside as well.

Ask yourself this question: If you were to follow the advice of Romans 12:1-2, what would your life look like? If you were not conformed to the world (with its lust and pride), what would your appearance look like? What would your demeanor be like? What would your dancing be like? What would your music be like? A Christian should never allow worldly culture to dictate how he lives his life. Instead, he should be like Christ in word, thought, and conduct. Does hip hop communicate this? I don’t think so.

Sinful Christian Music

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.

Conclusion

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.

A Hymn to Follow Psalm 51

While reading Psalm 51 today, I was reminded of God’s incredible mercy to David. When you consider that an adulterer and murderer wrote this psalm, it makes its meaning stand out all the more. He had committed adultery with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, ordered the death of that soldier, and hidden his sin for about a year. It was not until Nathan the prophet confronted him that David repented of his sin. And yet… God chose to cleanse, forgive, and restore this sinful man.

“The message of this psalm is that the vilest offender among God’s people can appeal to God for forgiveness, for moral restoration, and for the resumption of a joyful life of fellowship and service, if he comes with a broken spirit and bases his appeal on God’s compassion and grace.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, p. 832)

But which one of us can cast a stone at David? We all have fallen short of the glory of God. And so, this psalm is something that true believers must read with humility, repentance, and joy — a strange but appropriate collection of emotions for those who understand what God had done for us through Jesus Christ. And when we experience his cleansing, we can say with David, “My tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.”

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Refrain
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.

Hymn: What Think Ye of Christ?

What think ye of Christ? is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him;
As Jesus appears in your view,
As he is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy, or wrath are your lot.

Some take him a creature to be,
A man, or an angel at most:
Sure these have not feelings like me,
Nor know themselves wretched, and lost;
So guilty, so helpless, am I,
I durst not confide in his blood;
Nor on his protection rely,
Unless I were sure he is God.

Some call him a Savior in word,
But mix their own works with their plan;
And hope he his help will afford,
When they have done all that they can;
If sayings prove rather too light,
(A little they own they may fail)
They purpose to make up full weight,
By casting his name in the the scale.

Some style him the pearl of great price,
And say he’s the fountain of joys,
Yet feed upon folly and vice,
And cleave to the world and its toys;
Like Judas, the Savior they kiss,
And while they salute him, betray;
Ah! what will professions like this
Avail in his terrible day.

If ask’d what of Jesus I think,
Although my best thoughts are but poor;
I say he’s my meat and my drink,
My life, and my strength, and my store,
My shepherd, my husband, my friend,
My savior from sin, and from thrall,
My hope from beginning to end,
My portion, my Lord, and my all.

—John Newton