Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To Beat, or not to Beat

    Ah, the time has come for me to speak about music. In case you haven't realized it yet, I'm going to come out and be very clear: I'm opinionated. Today, I'm going to speak about something that comes up surprisingly often in Fundamentalist church settings.

    I've had several friends speak to me on this topic, from one asking me to look at a paper she'd written on the topic to an online email discussion with two other friends of mine, all in the last month. Last month, at a teen camp, I sat in on a session by a music leader on how to choose Godly music as a teenager, complete with criticisms of Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns. All that to say, it's a topic that comes up not unfrequently.

    My own background is the same. The churches I've attended all my life were hymn-only, and the music in my home was always hymn-only as well, with a smattering of choral and classical. I'd always happily accepted the arguments I'd been presented with for as long as I could remember about why contemporary Christian music (CCM) was sinful; that is, until last year.

    Last year was the year that I really began trying to know God better, and in doing so, began questioning almost all the things I had believed for so long, music included. I finally started listening to Matt Redman and Krysten Getty, quietly up in my room, Tomlin and Leeland still being too contemporary for me. Eventually, after several weeks of feeling guilty, I came out and talked to Mom and Dad, and received their permission to listen to more. Over the course of the last year, my music choices among CCM artists have expanded to include a lot more, which you can see in my extended profile.

    There is no way I can cover all the arguments against CCM in one article, even if I knew them all, which I don't. My intention is only to discredit some arguments and then respond with some of my own in the end. Let's start with the most ludicrous I've ever heard.

    1.) Oh, no, that song had a beat. Run, the devil's after us! The times I've heard this one (minus that last part; yeah, I know, warped sense of humor) I just want to scream. Then gouge out my eyes with rusty nails and jump in front of traffic! My mental image is of the person holding a red neon sign above their head that says, "I don't know anything about music!"

     Every song has a beat. Having a beat is one of the essential components of music. So by condemning the presence of a beat in music, people are literally condemning every song ever written. Every single song, whether it's "Beautiful Eulogy" rap or "The Wilds" hymns and choral arrangements, has a beat: every last one of them!

    2.) We're sticking to the old-fashioned religion. None of this new-age, weirdo religion, just old-fashioned solid hymns, out of a hymnbook, mind you, not off some overhead. These are the people who are old-fashioned for the sake of being old-fashioned. One of the churches I attended back when I lived in Georgia was this way. Everything was old fashioned, not because it was Biblically right, but because, like the Amish and the Mennonites, it would protect us from the world.

    Our morality, high standards, and old-fashioned living can't keep us from sin. That's a job reserved for God alone. When we try to replace the guardianship of my spirituality in the hands of standards I've created, we're doomed to fail, utterly and completely.

    Secondly, where did this idea that older is better come from? Ask a pioneer lady churning butter for an hour in a churn. Ask anybody living in California if they would rather go back to the Pony Express for mail delivery. Older is obviously not better all the time, so what makes us think it's better in the case of music? A preconceived preference, maybe?

    I want to make one thing clear before I continue. If you have a preference toward hymns, that's great. Sing your little heart out! My point is not that hymns are wrong. My point is that hymns are not the only way to go. If you like the older, more classic hymns, that's awesome. My own mom is that way. There's nothing wrong with that, but there is in some logic that demands only hymns.

    3.) These CCM songs are shallow; you've got to go back to the old hymns for spiritual depth. I guarantee that you won't find full atonement taught in these new songs! Lest you think I'm just making these up, I've heard every one of these, that last sentence word-for-word from a pulpit. Below I'm going to show that in a way these people are right; many new songs are spiritually shallow. It's a valid problem.

    Here are the words to praise song "Come, Now is the Time to Worship". I think the words to the chorus speak for themselves (although the verses themselves don't seem bad).

          "Come, now is the time to worship.
    Come, now is the time to give your heart.
    Come, just as you are, to worship.
    Come, just as you are, before your God.

    I'm not saying that's sinful; I'm just saying it's a far cry from the psalms. Here's another:

    "Hallelujah 5x
     For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
     Hellelujah 4x
     For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
     Hellelujah 7x."

    See what I mean. Praise songs are shallow... wait a minute, that last one wasn't a praise song. Some of y'all may have caught it, but those are the lyrics to the famous choral masterpiece by George Frederick Handel "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah. Except for the "eth" ending on the word "reigneth", you would never dream that that was a song written in the 1700's.

    My point is this: shallow music is not limited to the 21st century. Shallow music is shallow music, whether it be by Isaac Watts or "Jars of Clay". To limit shallow doctrine in music to the last fifty years is to be naive in the extreme. Take a minute to Google "I Come to the Garden Alone", found in almost every hymnal, yet a song that I still can't tell what the author's talking about after ten years of listening to it. "He bids me go, with a voice of woe, his voice to me is calling", huh?

    4.) Rock music is the fruit of paganism, so it must be wrong today. Okay? What does that have to do with anything? I'd like to apply that principle to geometry, since many of the precepts we know come from Euclid, an Alexandrian Greek mathmetician, who formulated his principles living in the worldly city of Alexandria under the rule of the evil Ptolemy's. I don't think my dad would let me skip geometry because of that though. Why?

    Because we don't accept that argument with a whole lot other than music. For example, Christmas trees, Roman architecture, and Greek art are all from pagan cultures. The cross itself was a symbol of Rome's evil oppression. But we don't declare any of those things null because they came from an ungodly culture. On the contrary, we simply accept them as amoral objects symbolizing something other than what their original designers intended or used them for.

    (Realize that I have been using the two phrases CCM and rock music interchangeably, even though they are not the same thing. In this case, I have been referring to the same topic each time. However, I want to specify that they are not the same thing.)

    5.) Rock music is worldly; and Christians should take no part in worldliness. To me, this is probably the best argument against CCM. They are right, Christians should take no part with worldliness. But there's a crucial problem here: what is worldliness? Is it being like the world, because we all wear jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes like the world? Is it trying to blend in to the world, because again, we all do that to a certain degree. I think all of us bow to fashion in some way, shape, or form (some of us more than others).

    I had this discussion with a good friend at church several weeks ago. What is worldliness? Where is the standard that I line up what is just normal living against what is evil worldliness? Three little words I say a lot: I don't know. However, because my mind was still fresh from having this conversation, this verse jumped out at me when I saw it this last week. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world."

    Look at how John started the verse. "ALL that is in the world..." Everything in the world not from the Father is all that pertains to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. That is worldliness. How do we tell worldliness? Simple: does it promote my flesh, my sin drive; does it promote the lust of the eyes, my own greed; does it promote my own pride, my desire to look better than I am and to promote myself? Those are your tests for worldliness.

    According to the Bible, we are not to resemble the world. What does the world look like? Sin, greed, and pride pretty much sum up the world. So that answers our problem. If CCM promotes your flesh, greed, or pride, then by no means listen to it. Ignore it, run away from it, avoid it.

    That leads me to my final point I want to make. I've made a lot of negative comments about what music standards are not, but what does the Bible say specifically about music standards? The psalms especially speak of many different instruments, such as in Ps. 150 where David specifically points out the trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, pipe, strings, and cymbals twice. And dancing. (I know, dancing is not a musical instrument. I just thought I'd include that one for fun. You know, watch Baptist's faces turn red and jump to their feet. I know, warped sense of humor.)

    "Huh, cymbals! But rockers use those!" you cry. And so did David. A quote I heard once that has been stuck in my head for several months now is, "Satan can create nothing; he can only pervert what God has created." And it's true. We give Satan credit for more power than he possesses when we make guitars and drums a taboo because Satan has perverted some songs with them. God allowed men to create them for a reason, for His own glory.

    So if CCM is a stumbling block for you, you're 100% right, don't listen to it. If it's not and it instead helps you worship God, don't let other people's condemnation of it stop you. Think logically and search the Bible for these things. At the end of the day, it's not about what I say or what your pastor says. It's about what God says, both through His Word universally and to each of us personally.



  1. Thank you so much for this! So many people need to re-evaluate their perspective on music.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It's nice to know I'm not just writing for me, Lauren!